The Trial of President Andrew Johnson and the Fight for Lincoln's Legacy


Impeached traces the explosive impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson to its roots in the social and political revolutions that rocked the South with the end of slavery and of the Civil War. As president after Lincoln’s assassination, Johnson, a Tennessee Democrat, not only failed to heal the nation’s wounds but rather rubbed them raw, ignoring widespread violence against the freed slaves and encouraging former rebels to resume political control of the Southern states. His high-handed actions were opposed by the equally angry and aggressive Congress, led by Rep. Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania, an ardent foe of slavery who aimed to rebuild American society on principles of equality and fairness.

The titanic collision between Congress and the president was diverted, through the constitutional impeachment process, into a legalistic dispute over whether Johnson could fire his own Secretary of War. Inept lawyering by Johnson’s prosecutors, combined with political deals, saved Johnson by a single vote.

Impeached challenges the traditional version of this pivotal moment in American history, which portrays Johnson as pursuing Lincoln’s legacy by showing leniency to the former rebels. Impeached shows the compelling reasons to remove this unfortunate president from office, reveals the corrupt bargains that saved Johnson’s job by a single senator’s vote, and credits Johnson’s prosecutors with seeking to remake the nation to accord with the ideals that Lincoln championed and that the Civil War was fought for.