Impeaching a President
Those Republicans who had pushed the Civil Rights Act through Congress against President Johnson's wishes were led by an intense, determined lawyer from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, who didn't waste words; he just got things done. His name was Thaddeus Stevens , and he had been born poor in Vermont with a clubfoot and an alcoholic father. What he had going for him was a brilliant mind and a fierce honesty. He never seemed to care what others thought. He just did what he believed to be right. He couldn't be bribed or temptedthough some tried to do both. During the Civil War Stevens worked in Congress to write laws that would provide for a fair government for all people. His Yankee mind told him that "all men are created equal" meant all mennot just all white men. He said: "No government can be free that does not allow all its citizens to participate in the formation and execution of her laws. Every other government is a despotism."
Stevens believed that the southern states should not be admitted back into the Union until blacks were given the vote, land, and guarantees of equality under the law . Andrew Johnson, on the other hand, believed it was not the responsibility of the nation to help the newly freed men and women get fair and equal treatment before the law. He thought that was the states' job. Stevens knew that the states had not done that and would not. President Johnson called Stevens a traitor and said he should be hanged. Stevens detested the President and said he should be impeached.
Impeachment is a process, set up in the Constitution, that can lead to a trial and the removal from office of public officials who are guilty of treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors. The Radical Republicans wanted Andrew Johnson out of office. They thought he was unfit to be president. They began impeachment hearings .