Political and Ethical Aspects
By: Cynthia Roberts
LS500 Legal Method and Process
Oct 18, 2010
This paper compares and contrasts the political and ethical aspects of the three presidential impeachment trials, Andrew Johnson, the seventeenth president of the United States, William J. Clinton, the forty-second, and rather than face impeachment and conviction, President Richard M. Nixon, the thirty-seventh president, resigned. Legally, the impeachment is not as self-evidently insupportable as it once seemed. Scholars and public officials now generally agree that impeachable offenses need not be indictable crimes. Former president Bill Clinton is the most recent chief executive whose administration has been associated with a major scandal—and he was impeached as a result of it—but he is not the first president to commit abuses of power or to be implicated in serious wrongdoing while in office. Major scandals have tarnished the executive office over the years, with higher-level government officials attempting to cover up their involvement. The U.S. Constitution secures the right to impeach the president. Article II, Section 4 discusses the grounds for impeachment, "the President, Vice President, and all civil officers of the United States shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors." Article I, Sections 2 and 3 discusses the procedure required to impeach a President: * A formal accusation, or impeachment, by the House of Representatives, * A trial and conviction by the Senate. Impeachment requires a majority vote by the House and a conviction requires a two-thirds vote by the Senate.
The first attempt of Johnson’s impeachment failed (Dec., 1867), but on Feb. 24, 1868, the House passed a resolution of impeachment against Johnson even before it adopted (Mar. 2–3) 11 articles detailing the reasons for it. Most important of the charges, which were purely political, was that he had violated the Tenure of Office Act in the Stanton affair. On Mar. 5 the Senate, with Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase presiding, was organized as a court to hear the charges. The President himself did not appear. In spite of the terrific pressure brought to bear on several Senators, the court narrowly failed to convict; the vote, on the 11th article (May 16) and on the second and third articles (May 26), was 35 to 19, one short of the constitutional two thirds required for removal. Based on the theory that the Southern states had never been out of the Union, Johnson quickly restored civil government in the ex-Confederate states but was not prepared to grant equal civil rights to blacks,and he did not press for the wholesale disqualification for office of Confederate leaders, so he was roundly denounced by the radical Republicans. Thaddeus Stevens, Republican leader, set out to undo Johnson's work on the convening of the 39th Congress in Dec., 1865. In Apr., 1866, Johnson’s political power began to decline sharply when Congress passed the Civil Rights Act over Johnson's veto. The remainder of his administration saw one humiliation after another. His “swing around the circle” in the congressional elections of 1866 was unsuccessful. Baited by mobs organized by the radicals and slandered by the press, he struck out at his enemies in such harsh terms that he did his own cause much harm. On Mar. 2, 1867, the radicals passed over his veto the First Reconstruction Act and the Tenure of Office Act. In a political move to protect the Republicans, Congress passed the Tenure of Office Act in 1867 which prohibited the president from dismissing office holders without the Senate's approval. Johnson suspected his Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton, of conspiring with congressional leaders, violated the Tenure of Office Act which became the basis for impeachment in 1868. Johnson’s trial was...