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The Impeachment of Andrew Johnson

50 min

Was the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson a political tool?

Students will:

  • Understand the events that led to the impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson.
  • Analyze the constitutional and political issues that arose during the impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson.
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of the impeachment process as a way to preserve the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches.

  • Handout A: The Impeachment of Andrew Johnson
  • Handout B: The Tenure of Office Act
  • Handout C: Senators’ Statements on the Trial of Andrew Johnson

To create a context for this lesson, have students complete Constitutional Connection: Impeachment and the Constitution.

Have students read Handout A: The Impeachment of Andrew Johnson and answer the questions.

Project Handout B: The Tenure of Office Act to lead a discussion of the law:

  • Did this law require the President to get the Senate’s permission to fire Stanton?
  • If yes, do you believe this requirement itself is constitutional or unconstitutional? Explain.

Note: You may wish to distribute copies of The United States Constitution and ask students to focus on Article II, Section 2.

Having students vote by secret ballot, ask students to vote for or against the conviction of Andrew Johnson.

Divide the class into pairs and give each pair one card from Handout C: Senators’ Statements on the Trial of Andrew Johnson. Students should read the quotation and paraphrase it on their own paper. They should then complete the two questions. (While students are working, tally the votes from the secret ballot but do not reveal the outcome.)

Have one pair of students with the first quotation stand, read their quote to the class, and share their responses to the questions.

Repeat until all six quotations have been presented. Ask students which quote they found most convincing and why.

Conduct a large group discussion to answer the questions:

  • To what degree do you think the impeachment of Andrew Johnson was a trial where specific constitutional charges were asserted and proved?
  • To what degree do you think the impeachment of Andrew Johnson was a political tool?
  • If it was a political tool, was that appropriate? Explain.

Conduct a second secret ballot, again asking students to vote for or against conviction, and have a student volunteer tally the votes.

Reveal the results of the original vote, and then the second vote.

Ask students:

  • What influenced their thought processes?
  • The actual Senate vote was not by secret ballot. Does that matter?

Have students select a political cartoon about the impeachment trial available at https://www.andrewjohnson.com/. They should print out their cartoon and write a paragraph explaining the cartoonist’s point of view. Then have them draw their own cartoon in response to the cartoon’s message.

Andrew Johnson did not simply fade away after the end of his term of office in 1869. Have students conduct additional research and list his subsequent efforts to be involved in public life.

Have students learn more about the important individuals who played important roles in Johnson’s impeachment drama. Assign them a “character” to research, and then conduct a mock trial with students playing their roles. Students can begin their research at: www.andrewjohnson.com/11BiographiesKeyIndividuals/ListOfKeyPrincipals.htm

Have students research the story of Republican Senator Edmund Ross, who, in a surprise move, broke from his party to cast a vote for acquittal. The decision won him friends and enemies. Have students prepare a written or oral presentation on Ross and how, if at all, his story helps them understand to what degree politics can affect an impeachment trial.