History of the Impeachment of Andrew Johnson
Chapter IV. First Attempt To Impeach The President

Chapter III Contents Chapter V

The Ashley Indictment

The initiation of formal proceedings for the impeachment and removal of President Johnson occurred in the House of Representatives on January 7th, 1867, in the introduction of three separate resolutions for his impeachment, by Messrs. Loan and Kelso, of Missouri, and Mr. Ashley of Ohio. As Mr. Ashley's Resolution was the only one acted on by the House, only the proceedings had thereon are here given, as follows:

Mr. Speaker:--I rise to perform a painful but, nevertheless, to me, an imperative duty; a duty which I think ought not longer to be postponed, and which cannot, without criminality on our part, be neglected. I had hoped, sir, that this duty would have devolved upon an older and more experienced member of this House than myself. Prior to our adjournment I asked a number of gentlemen to offer the resolution which I introduced, but upon which I failed to obtain a suspension of the rules.

Confident, sir, that the loyal people of this country demand the adoption of some such proposition as I am about to submit, I am determined that no effort on my part shall be wanting to see that their expectations are not disappointed. * * * On my responsibility as a Representative, and in the presence of this House, and before the American people, I charge Andrew Johnson, Vice President and acting President of the United States, with the commission of acts which in contemplation of the Constitution, are high crimes and misdemeanors, for which, in my judgment, he ought to be impeached. I therefore submit the following:

I do impeach Andrew Johnson, Vice President and acting President of the United States, of high crimes and misdemeanors:

I charge him with a usurpation of power and violation of law:

In that he has corruptly used the appointing power;

In that he has corruptly used the pardoning power;

In that he has corruptly used the veto power;

In that he has corruptly disposed of public property of the United States;

In that he has corruptly interfered in elections, and committed acts which, in contemplation of the Constitution, are high crimes and misdemeanors: Therefore,

BE IT RESOLVED, That the Committee on the Judiciary be, and they are hereby, authorized to inquire into the official conduct of Andrew Johnson, Vice President of the United States, discharging the powers and duties of the office of President of the United States, and to report to this House, whether, in their opinion, the said Andrew Johnson, while in said office, has been guilty of acts which are designed or calculated to overthrow, subvert, or corrupt the Government of the United States, or any department or office thereof; and whether the said Andrew Johnson has been guilty of any act, or has conspired with others to do acts, which, in contemplation of the Constitution, are high crimes and misdemeanors, requiring the interposition of the constitutional power of this House; and that said committee have power to send for persons and papers, and to administer the customary oath to witnesses.

The question was taken on agreeing to the Resolution; and it was decided in the affirmative--yeas 107, nays 39, not voting 45.

On the 2nd of March, 1867, the subject of impeachment again came up in the House, and the following proceedings were had:

Mr. Wilson, of Iowa, (Rep.)--I am directed by the Committee on the Judiciary to present a report relative to the official conduct of the President of the United States.

Mr. Eldridge, (Dem.)--Mr. Speaker, I wish to raise a question of order: I see by the clock that it is almost three o'clock in the morning; and I believe this is the Sabbath day. I think we should not do any more business tonight, except it be business of necessity or charity.

The Speaker.--This, in parliamentary view, is Saturday. The clerk will read the report submitted by the gentleman from Iowa.

The clerk read as follows:

The Committee on the Judiciary, charged by the House with examination of certain allegations, of high crimes and misdemeanors against the President of the United States, submit the following report:

On the 7th day of January, 1867, the House, on the motion of the Hon. James M. Ashley, a Representative from the State of Ohio, adopted the following preamble and resolutions, to-wit:

The duty imposed upon this committee by this action of the House, was of the highest and gravest character. No committee during the entire history of the Government, has ever been charged with a more important trust. The responsibility which it imposed was of oppressive weight, and of a most unpleasant nature. Gladly would the committee have escaped from the arduous labor imposed upon it by the Resolution of the House; but once imposed, prompt, deliberate, and faithful action, with a view to correct results, became its duty, and to this end it has directed its efforts.

Soon after the adoption of the Resolution by the House, Hon. James M. Ashley communicated to the committee, in support of his charges against the President of the United States, such facts as were in his possession, and the investigation was proceeded with, and has been continued almost without, a day's interruption. A large number of witnesses have been examined, many documents collected, and everything done which could be done to reach a conclusion of the case. But the investigation covers a broad field, embraces many novel, interesting, and important questions, and involves a multitude of facts, while most of the witnesses are distant from the Capital, owing to which the committee, in view of the magnitude of the interests involved in its action, have not been able to conclude its labors, and is not therefore prepared to submit a definite and final report. If the investigation had even approached completeness, the committee would not feel authorized to present the result of the House at this late period of the session, unless the charges had been so entirely negative as to admit of no discussion, which, in the opinion of the committee, is not the case.

Certainly no affirmative report could be properly considered in the expiring hours of this Congress.

The committee not having fully investigated all the charges prepared against the President of the United States, it is deemed inexpedient to submit any conclusion beyond the statement that sufficient testimony has been brought to its notice to justify and demand a further prosecution of the investigation.

The testimony which the committee has taken will pass into the custody of the Clerk of the House, and can go into the hands of such committee as may be charged with the duty of bringing this investigation to a close, so that the labor expended upon it may not have been in vain.

The committee regrets its inability definitely to dispose of the important subject committed to its charge, and presents this report for its own justification, and for the additional purpose of notifying the succeeding Congress of the incompleteness of its labors, and that they should be completed.

James F. Wilson, Chairman. Francis Thomas, D. Morris, F. E. Woodbridge, George S. Boutwell, Thomas Williams, Burton C. Cook, William Lawrence,

Mr. Ancona, the only Democrat on the committee, presented a minority report, as follows:

The subscriber, one of the Judiciary Committee, to which was referred by the House the inquiry into the official conduct of His Excellency, the President of the United States, with a view to his impeachment upon certain charges made by Hon. James M. Ashley, begs leave to submit the following report:

The Committee refuses to allow a Report to be made giving to the House at this time upon grounds which are no doubt satisfactory to themselves; therefore, I cannot report the evidence upon which my conclusion is based, which I would gladly do did the Committee deem it expedient. The examination of witnesses and the records was commenced, as appears by the majority report, about the time of the reference, to-wit: on the 7th day of January, 1867, and continued daily. A large number of witnesses has been examined, and everything done that could be, to bring the case to a close, as appears by the majority report: and the majority have come to the conclusion "that sufficient testimony had been brought to its notice to justify and demand a further prosecution of the investigation." I have carefully examined all the evidence in the case, and do report that there is not one particle of evidence to sustain any of the charges which the House charged the Committee to investigate, and that the case is wholly without a particle of evidence upon which impeachment could be founded, and that with all the effort that has been made, and the mass of evidence that has been taken; the case is entirely void of proof. I furthermore report that the most of the testimony that has been taken is of a secondary character, and such as would not be admitted in a court of justice.

In view of this conclusion I can see no good in a continuation of the investigation. I am convinced that all the proof that can be produced has been before the Committee, as no pains have been spared to give the case a full investigation. Why, then, keep the country in a feverish state of excitement upon this question any longer, as it is sure to end, in my opinion, in a complete vindication of the President, if justice be done him by the committee, of which I have no doubt,

A. J. Rogers.

The two reports were ordered printed and laid on the table.

This session of the House, and with it the Thirty-Ninth Congress, ended a few hours later, the legislative day continuing till twelve o'clock, noon, on Sunday, March 3rd. The House adjourned sine die at that hour, when all unfinished business lapsed.


The first session of the Fortieth Congress began on Monday, March 4th, 1867, and on the 7th, in the House of Representatives, Mr. Ashley (Rep.) offered the following Preamble and Resolutions:

Whereas the House of Representatives of the Thirty-Ninth Congress adopted, on the 7th of January, 1867, a Resolution authorizing an inquiry into certain charges preferred against the President of the United States; and whereas the Judiciary Committee, to whom said Resolution and charges were referred, with authority to investigate the same, were unable for want of time, to complete said investigation before the expiration of the Thirty-Ninth Congress; and whereas in the report submitted by said Judiciary Committee on the 2nd of March they declare that the evidence taken is of such a character as to justify and demand a continuation of the investigation by this Congress; therefore:

Be it Resolved by the House of Representatives, That the Judiciary Committee, when appointed, be, and they are hereby, instructed to continue the investigation authorized in said Resolution of Jan. 7th, 1867, and that they have power to send for persons and papers, and to administer the customary oath to witnesses; and that the committee have authority to sit during the sessions of the House and during any recess which Congress or this House may take.

Resolved, That the Speaker be requested to appoint the Committee on the Judiciary forthwith, and that the Committee so appointed be directed to take charge of the testimony taken by the Committee of the last Congress; and that said Committee have power to appoint a clerk at a compensation not to exceed six dollars per day, and employ the necessary stenographers.

At the close of the debate on Mr. Ashley's Resolution, it was adopted without a division, its form being changed to the following:

Resolved, That the Committee on Judiciary be requested to report on the charges against the President as aforesaid, on the first day of the meeting of the House after the recess hereafter to be determined.

Congress adjourned a few days later. It re-assembled on the 3rd of July, and on the 11th the following resolutions was offered by Mr. Stevens, (Rep.) of Pennsylvania:

Resolved, That the Committee on the Judiciary, to whom was referred the Resolution and Documents relative to the Impeachment of the President, be directed to report the evidence at this session, with leave to make further report if they shall deem proper.

That the impeachment enterprise was waning, and that its forces had received little encouragement during the recess of the Congress that had just closed, was evidenced by the fact that there could not be mustered ayes enough to put the resolution to a vote, and Mr. Wilson, of Iowa, moved the following substitute:

Resolved, That the Committee on Judiciary be, and they are hereby, authorized and directed to have the usual number of copies of the evidence taken by said committee relative to the Impeachment of the President, printed and laid on the desks of Members of the House on the first day of the next Congress, whether adjourned or regular.

The Resolution was adopted by a vote of 85 to 48, whereupon Mr. Stevens dejectedly remarked that, "after the vote which had been taken on this resolution, indicating the views of a majority of the House in regard to it, I am willing to abandon it. I therefore move that the Resolution as amended be laid on the table," which motion was agreed to.

On the 15th of July, 1867, Mr. Farnsworth, (Rep.) of Illinois, offered the following resolution and demanded the previous question thereon:

Resolved, That the Committee on the Judiciary be discharged from the further consideration of the question of the Impeachment of the President of the United States, and that the testimony already taken by said committee be printed for the use of the House.

The resolution was not seconded, and went over under the rules.

On the 25th of Nov. 1867, Mr. Boutwell (Rep.), on behalf of the Judiciary Committee, submitted the report of the majority of that committee, of the testimony taken in behalf of the proposed impeachment of the President. The report recommended his impeachment.

Mr. Wilson, submitted the report of the minority of the Committee (himself and Mr. Woodbridge), and moved the adoption of the following resolution:

Resolved, That the Committee on the Judiciary be discharged from the further consideration of the proposed impeachment of the President of the United States, and that the subject be laid upon the table.

Mr. Marshall, on behalf of himself and Mr. Eldridge, the two Democratic members of the committee, stated that though they had not signed the minority report submitted by Mr. Wilson, they joined in support of the resolution submitted by him, and asked leave to introduce and have printed separate views.

This, the first session of the Fortieth Congress, then adjourned, Dec. 2nd, 1867.

The second session of the Fortieth Congress was begun on the same day, and on the 5th, the impeachment question came up in its order in the House, on the resolution reported from the Judiciary Committee:

That Andrew Johnson, President of the United States, be impeached of high crimes and misdemeanors.

After a brief discussion of the order of business, the House adjourned for that day.

The debate was closed on the 6th, by Messrs. Boutwell and Wilson, the members of the Committee on the Judiciary having Charge of the impeachment measure. The closing passages of Mr. Boutwell's speech were as follows:

What is our position to-day? Can this House and the Senate, with the knowledge they have of the Presidents purposes and of the character of the men who surround him, give him the necessary power? (to remove alleged dishonest officials.) Do they not feel that if he be alloyed such power these places will be given to worse men? Hence, I say that with Mr. Johnson in office from this time until the 4th of March, 1869, there is no remedy for these grievances. These are considerations why we should not hesitate to do that which justice authorizes us to do if we believe that the President has been guilty of impeachable offenses.

Mr. Speaker, all rests here. To this House is given by the Constitution the sole power of impeachment; and this power of impeachment furnishes the only means by which we can secure the execution of the laws, and those of our fellow citizens who desire the administration of the law ought to sustain this House while it executes that great law which is in its hands and which is nowhere else, while it performs a high and solemn duty resting on it by which that man who has been the chief violator of law shall be removed, and without which there can be no execution of the law any where. Therefore the whole responsibility, whatever it may be, for the non-execution of the laws of the country, is, (in the presence of these great facts) upon this House. * * * I think that we can not do otherwise than believe, that he has disregarded that great injunction of the Constitution to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, that there is but one remedy. The remedy is with this House, and it is nowhere else. If we neglect or refuse to use our powers when the case arises demanding decisive action, the Government ceases to be a Government of law and becomes a Government of men.

Mr. Wilson, Chairman of the Committee, closed the debate in the following remarks:

The gentleman from Massachusetts has remarked that the President may interfere with the next Presidential election in the Southern States; that he may station soldiers at the voting places and overawe the loyal people of those States, especially the colored vote: and we must, I suppose, guard against the possibility of this by his impeachment and removal from office. This position, if I state it correctly, is startling. Are we to impeach the President for what he may do in the future? Do our fears constitute in the President high crimes and misdemeanors? Are we to wander beyond the record of this case and found our judgment on the possibilities of the future? This would lead us beyond the conscience of this House.

Sir, we must be guided by some rule in this grave proceeding--something more certain than an impossibility to arraign the President for a specific crime--and when the gentleman from Massachusetts, in commenting on one of the alleged offenses of the President, that we could not arraign him for the specific crime, he disclosed the weakness of the case we are now considering. If we cannot arraign the President for a specific crime, for what are we to proceed against him? For a bundle of generalities such as we have in the volume of testimony reported by the committee to the House in this case? If we cannot state upon paper a specific crime, how are we to carry this case to the Senate for trial?

At the close of his speech, Mr. Wilson moved to lay the subject of impeachment on the table, and the yeas and nays were ordered.

Several motions were then made--to adjourn, to adjourn to a day certain, etc.--which with roll calls practically consumed the day, and the motion of Mr. Wilson went over.

The next day, Dec. 7th, the question again came up in its order, and after several unsuccessful attempts to procure a vote on Mr. Wilson's motion to lay the Impeachment Resolution on the table, Mr. Wilson, by agreement, withdrew his motion, and called for the yeas and nays on the adoption of the resolution:

That Andrew Johnson, President of the United States, be impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors.

The yeas and nays were ordered, and the vote was yeas 57, nays 108.

So the resolution to impeach the President was rejected by the very emphatic vote of 67 to 108--nearly two to one--and by a House two-thirds Republican.

So ended the first effort to impeach the President--the first formal action to that end having been taken on January 7, 1867, and the final vote at the close, and its abandonment, December 7, 1867.

For eleven months the overwhelming Republican majority of the House had been vigorously active in its search for evidence of criminality on the part of the President that would warrant the basing of an impeachment. No effort was left untried--no resource that promised a possible hope of successful exploitation was neglected. Republican partisans were set to the work of sleuth-hounds in the search for testimony in maintenance of the charges preferred, and an ever ready partisan press teemed from the beginning to the end of that time with animadversions upon Mr. Johnson's administration and denunciation of his alleged desertion of Mr. Lincoln's plan of restoration, of treachery to the party that had elected him, and a demand for his impeachment.

To be lukewarm in that controversy, or even to fail to join in the popular denunciation of Mr. Johnson was to put one's self at once under suspicion with the great mass of the dominant party, and without the pale of its consideration.

For eleven months the country was kept in the throes of partisan turmoil--and for what? Simply to depose a President who had disappointed the partisan and personal expectations and schemes of a rule or ruin faction which was able, under the peculiar conditions of the time, to subordinate to its purposes a large proportion of the dominant party of that day.

The following are the material portions of the testimony taken by the House Committee on the Judiciary under authority of the resolutions passed by the House of Representatives on March 7, 1867, for the impeachment of Andrew Johnson.

Eighty-nine witnesses were summoned before the committee. All of them were rigidly examined, and several of them were called and examined the second and third times. Their testimony fills more than twelve hundred octavo pages of print.

The first witness was Gen. L. C. Baker, of the War Department. His testimony related principally to a certain letter alleged to have been written by Mr. Johnson, in 1864.

The first question propounded to him by Mr. Ashley, was as follows:

I wish you to state to the committee the contents, as nearly as you can, of a letter which you have in your possession, written by Andrew Johnson, some time in the early part of 1864, to a Southern man, giving information as to the troops about the Capitol and elsewhere, and advice to Jefferson Davis. State where that letter is, and give the contents as nearly as you can, the history of it.

Mr. Baker answered that he knew there was a letter of that kind, purporting to have been written by Andrew Johnson, when he was acting Governor of Tennessee. That the letter was dated at Nashville and directed to Jefferson Davis, and related to some declared policy that had been adopted by the Confederacy--that the letter was being used to secure an appointment--that reference was made to troops, but nothing about localities where stationed, or numbers, and nothing about shipment of armor, and that the letter was stolen from Andrew Johnson's table and never sent.

The question was then asked of the witness by Mr. Ashley:

State whether the whole import of the letter written by Mr. Johnson, was not to turn the whole power which he possessed in Tennessee, in a certain contingency, over to the rebel cause?

Answer--No. I did not have that opinion of the letter exactly. From what I recollect of it, the thing was that he was making a proposition making suggestions as to what their policy should be.

Ques.--And if they accepted it?

Ans.--If they accepted it, my impression was that he was going with them.

Ques.--With the rebels?

Ans.--Yes sir.

Question by the Chairman.--If there are any other letters that you have seen of Mr. Johnson's written by him to any person connected with the Confederate Government, or proposing to change the Administration of the Government in their favor after he became President, or anything of a public nature affecting the interests of the United States, please state it and state all you know about such letters.

Ans.--I do not know of any letters of that character--or of any other letters.

This constituted the substance of Gen. Baker's testimony. His examination was very lengthy, embracing more of this character of testimony, and about pardon brokerage, and other alleged corrupt practices--all evidencing a determination and expectation to fix upon Mr. Johnson a disposition to disloyalty and corruption, both before and after his succession to the Presidency, but no such testimony was obtained.

A considerable portion of the investigation was devoted to Mr. Johnson's business and personal affairs, such as could have no possible connection with or indicate implication in corrupt or disloyal practices of any sort.

A strenuous effort appears to have been made by the Committee throughout a long and searching examination of witnesses, and constitutes a conspicuous feature of that investigation, to establish the charges of corruption and disloyalty in the sale of public property, railways, etc., that had been constructed and equipped, or seized and operated, by the Government in connection with its military operations in the South. Such an accusation had been made with great pertinacity by Mr. Johnson's opponents, and was also then believed by a great many people to be true.

Among the parties examined by the committee, were Mr. James and Mr. Burns, of Nashville, Tenn., and Senator Fowler, of that State, and also the Secretary of war, Mr. Stanton. No facts whatever were elicited showing a privity to corruption in these matters on the part of Mr. Johnson.

The information obtained from Mr. Stanton, however, put an effectual estoppel to further investigation of the charge of corrupt or disloyal disposal of public property by the President. The following are extracts from Mr. Stanton's testimony, as given on February 11, 1867:

Shortly after the surrender of the rebel armies, the attention of the War Department was directed to the proper disposition to be made of the railroads and railroad stock throughout the rebel States which came into our possession, either by capture or construction. It was the subject of a good deal of consultation and conference between the Secretary of War and the Quartermaster General. It was the opinion of the Secretary of War that it was wholly impracticable for the General Government to operate these roads under any system, and that it would be greatly to the advantage of the country to make such disposition as would allow them, its speedily as possible, to become what they were designed for channels of commerce and trade between the States, and that any terms on which that could be done would be advantageous. This was especially the case in regard to the Western and Southwestern roads, where it was said there were large amounts of cotton that would be available to remove North, in exchange for supplies to go South, of which it was said they were greatly in want.

Ques.--In case of the construction of a railroad by the Government, the Government furnishing the material and the labor, what has been the custom of the Department in surrendering such roads to the companies claiming them?

Ans.--In all instances, I think such roads have been surrendered in the same manner as if they had been constructed by the companies. That subject was talked of a good deal in conference between myself and the Quartermaster General. My own views, that the great object on the part of the Government, was to get these roads operated; and that to go into an inquiry as to the cost of construction, would be impracticable, either as to the cost of construction or as to any certain rule of compensation, because many of them were constructed under the pressure of war, and for temporary Purposes. The object of arriving at the cash value or equivalent for the roads was not only impracticable, but really of very little practical interest in comparison with the great end of having the channels of commerce in the rebel states opened and carried on, with a view of getting out their produce, furnishing supplies, and getting commerce in its regular channels. In my own view, that appeared to be the most, certain and most speedy system of reconstruction we could adopt, and that it would tend more to establish harmony than any other thing that could be done by the Government. In view of all this, and after the most deliberate consideration we could give it, it was the opinion of the Quartermaster General and myself--certainly my own--that it would be impracticable to make any distinction: and so far as I know, no distinction was made in any part of the country in reference to roads built by the Government and roads that had been constructed by Companies before the war commenced.

Mr. Stanton was asked this question:

Suppose the Government, at his own expense, had constructed seventy miles of railroad in one of the rebel States, and that, at the close of the war, a company should apply to the Executive Department of the Government for a transfer of the road so constructed to it; by what authority or provision of law would Executive Department be authorized to transfer the road so constructed to the company making the application?

Mr. Stanton answered:

I do not know of any act of Congress that directly, in terms, would authorize any such transfer; but regarding the construction of the road, in time of war, simply as a means, or instrument, of carrying on war, when the war was over I would consider it strictly proven and within the scope of the power of the General Commanding, or especially of the President of the United States, as the Commander-in-Chief of the Army, to render that instrument as available for peace purposes as possible. And inasmuch as the road would be entirely useless unless it was operated, and it would be for the benefit and interest of the public, to have it operated as speedily as possible, I think it would be in the interest of a wise discretion, and exercising proper authority, to turn over that road to any company or individual who would operate it; for, in that way, he would be applying the war material to the only available use to which it could be applied. * * * I would regard the rolling stock as coming, to a certain extent, within the same principle. * * * No transfer of title was at any time made, so far as I know, or could be made, but only possession turned over. When the military use was no longer required, the railroads were turned over to their original owners, or their representatives, with permission to use them. These railroads, their plant and track fixtures, real property, of which the military authorities had only the possessory right and use, but the rolling stock and equipments, and iron not laid down, were personal property, which, by capture, or purchase, or construction, belonged to the United States. Sale could be made, and was made, of the personal property at values estimated by the proper officers. That which constituted real estate, to-wit, the railroad track, fixtures, etc., the military authorities might abandon altogether, or relinquish control and turn over possession to those who would make a beneficial use of it by working the road. Being in the nature of real estate, no title of the Government or of other persons could be divested and conveyed by military authority, but only the control relinquished and the use permitted during the existence of military authority in the department where the roads were situated.

The trend of a large portion of the testimony of witnesses called by this committee to testify as to the charges preferred against Mr. Johnson and relating to other allegations of the indictment, quite clearly indicated that the charges were based solely upon common street rumor, invented and given currency in partisan antagonism and for partisan purposes, and that the witnesses were called in the hope and expectation, on the part of the majority of the House, of developing proof of disloyalty and corruption on the part of the President, and, if not criminal connivance, at least, criminal knowledge of a conspiracy for the assassination of Mr. Lincoln.

But these expectations and hopes, in all respects, were so utterly disappointed, that there was pathos, at least, as the investigation was protracted from month to month, with no indication of the hoped for development, in the despondent inquiry of Mr. Thaddeus Stevens to one of his colleagues of the Impeachment Committee, as the inquest approached a close without results--"Well, HAVE YOU GOT ANYTHING, ANYHOW?" It was more an ejaculation of anger and disgust at failure, than a query of one seeking hoped for information.

Chapter III Contents Chapter V

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