It is 1868. No president has ever been impeached. For two months the House of Representatives debates. Finally House members vote to impeach Andrew Johnson. Now the matter goes to the Senate . Only they can try a president . If he is convicted of "high crimes and misdemeanors," he will be thrown out of office. Two-thirds of the senators must vote to convict, and the Republicans have more than enough votes to accomplish this .
On Saturday, May 16, the vote begins . As expected, all the Democrats vote "not guilty." And Republican after Republican votes "guilty." Thaddeus Stevens, now an old man, and ailing, is carried in on a chair. He votes guilty.
But a few of the Republicans have had second thoughts. Some have been given assurances by President Johnson that if they help to acquit him he will no longer interfere with Reconstruction. Seven Republicans decided to vote for the President. The final result is thirty-five to nineteen , exactly one vote short of the required two-thirds needed for conviction. The president is saved .
Many scholars now think the Senate acted properly. Convicting a president is a big step. The Constitution says it is to be done for "high crimes and misdemeanors." Andrew Johnson was not guilty of that. It was his ideas that were on trial. Those ideas were awfulbut ideas aren't meant to be impeached or tried. The Founders meant for voters to vote bad ideas out. But Thaddeus Stevens is bitterly disappointed. He says, "The country is going to the devil."
Stevens cares desperately about freedom and fairness for all Americans. He knows that President Johnson's ideas and policies are destroying the promise of Reconstruction. Stevens is ill and has only a few weeks to live. He uses his final days to write legislation and work on plans for free schools in the District of Columbia . When he dies, his body lies in state in the Capitol. Only Abraham Lincoln has ever received more tribute. He is buried in a cemetery where blacks and whites rest side by side. The words chiseled on his tombstone are his own: "I repose in this quiet and secluded spot, Not from any natural preference for solitude, But, finding other Cemeteries limited as to Race by Charter Rules, I have chosen this that I might illustrate in my death the Principles which I advocated Through a long life."