A Look Back: Andrew Johnson first president to face impeachment

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GREENEVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) – As the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump continues, News Channel 11 took a look back at the first president to face impeachment, who resided here in the Tri-Cities.

Born in North Carolina in 1808, Andrew Johnson moved to Greeneville in his teenage years where his political career took off.

He served as a Greeneville politician and Tennessee legislator before earning a spot in the U.S. House and Senate.

“It’s the first and really only time where we are questioning on a national level what to do with presidential power and really where the status of Congress stands,” said Emma Murphy of the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site, referring to the impeachment process of Johnson.

Johnson saw a quick transition to the presidency, spending only six weeks as United States Vice President for Abraham Lincoln before taking over.

“Johnson is kind of picking up the pieces of a nation now split,” said Murphy.

Murphy described Johnson as a conservative-democrat who clashed with the Republican-controlled Congress over issues involving reconstruction, including civil rights for freedmen.

By mid-1867, members of Congress were calling for impeachment under the basis that Johnson violated the Tenure of Office Act.

They quickly created eleven articles of impeachment.

“It’s basically having the U.S. military, union forces, not only occupy ex-Confederate states, but turn them into territories to allow for the ballot-box for the mid-year elections,” said Murphy, “and then for the long-term election coming up in 1868, to allow American citizens who have just now gained the right to citizenship to be able to vote.”

Murphy calls it “the soap opera of the era.” The trial even required tickets for spectators to get in.

“There are people in the bars around Washington D.C. around a drink, ‘do you think President Johnson is removed from office?’ ‘I’ll say 50-50!'” she said. “[They were] actually taking monetary bets on whether or not he will be removed from office.”

On February 24, 1868, Johnson became the first president ever to be impeached by the House of Representatives.

However, the Senate failed to reach the two-thirds majority required to remove Johnson from office and he was awarded acquittal, even though Republicans controlled a majority of the seats.

“I think removing a president from office is a lot more difficult than Congress had originally thought,” said Murphy.

Following the impeachment trial and presidency, Johnson faced difficulty getting back into office until he was chosen to be a state senator in 1874.

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