As the Democrats’ impeachment efforts against President Trump continue to blow up in their faces (which is not to say they won’t succeed, given the establishment media’s indefatigable attempts to put a good face on the proceedings), it is useful to recall that we have been here before. No impeachment proceeding against a president has ever been as baseless, vindictive, and politically motivated as the one against Trump now, but the impeachment of Andrew Johnson comes close.
Johnson became president when Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, and his troubles began almost immediate. Lincoln was a Republican, and the Republicans had majorities in Congress, but Johnson was a Democrat. It was curious, to say the least, to have a Republican president running for reelection with a Democratic vice presidential candidate, but in the political calculus of that tumultuous time, it made perfect sense. Worried about carrying the border states that had remained, albeit precariously, in the Union during the Civil War, the Republicans formed the National Union Party, which was meant to be a big-tent party comprising Republicans and Democrats who wanted to preserve the Union. Johnson’s vice-presidential candidacy was a bid for the votes of Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, Maryland, and Delaware in an election that most thought would be extremely close.
No one expected that the most momentous outcome of the 1864 election would be that Andrew Johnson would end up president of the United States just five weeks after Lincoln’s second inauguration. He was regarded with suspicion by the faction of Republicans known as the Radicals, who meant to secure equality of rights, including the right to vote, for the freed slaves. This was a laudable and charitable goal, but not everyone saw it as such at the time. President Johnson opposed the enfranchisement and equality of rights of black people. In this, Johnson departed from Lincoln’s course, as his martyred predecessor had favored civil rights for the freed slaves, albeit not on the sweeping and unlimited terms that the Radicals favored.