The Impeachment of Andrew Johnson


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by John Adler, Publisher

Harper's Weekly and Andrew Johnson

uring the Reconstruction period, Harper’s Weekly was the most important national periodical in the country. It both shaped and reflected public opinion. In a time when print media was the only way to reach a nationwide audience, its circulation exceeded 100,000 and its estimated readership was over half a million. Its news and editorial columns, cartoons and illustrations were comparable to a combined version of Time, Life, Newsweek and CNN today. George William Curtis, the editor of Harper’s Weekly from 1863 until his death in 1892, was one of the most influential and well respected editorial writers of his time. Thomas Nast, whose 16 cartoons skewered "King Andy" Johnson, was the leading political cartoonist of all time.

Vice President Andrew Johnson became the seventeenth President of the United States on April 15, 1865, after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. He served until March 4, 1869, when Ulysses S. Grant was inaugurated. Johnson was a Democrat from Tennessee, who once owned slaves. He, alone among Southern pre-war Senators, supported the Union during the Civil War. He was appointed as military Governor of Tennessee by Lincoln in 1862.

During Johnson’s term as President, both Houses of Congress were controlled by Republicans. Their ideas of how to reconstruct the eleven Southern states which had seceded to form the Confederacy differed from Democrat Johnson’s. Moreover, within the Republican Party, there were three distinct groupings – radical, moderate and conservative.

Harper’s Weekly portrayed in everyday detail to its readers of 1865-1869 the current events, issues and personalities that were central to Reconstruction and the impeachment of Andrew Johnson. Several good books and articles have been written about Johnson’s life in general and his impeachment in particular. However, none of them can provide today’s politicians, students, faculty, press and general public with the week-to-week progression of events and controversies that the readers of that time received.

About This Presentation
This free Web presentation has been derived from information found in HarpWeek’s primary commercial database products. These consist of a chronological series of complete, detailed, manually compiled, interactive electronic indexes to the content of Harper’s Weekly, along with scanned images of the pages, for the years 1857-1865 and 1866-1871. Current plans call for the cumulative database to be extended through 1900.

As part of the overall project, HarpWeek’s scholar-indexers read every word and looked at every illustration, cartoon and advertisement in the 200-plus issues of Harper’s Weekly that covered the 1865-69 period. All index entries relevant to Andrew Johnson were reviewed, and the pertinent (re-typed) news articles and editorials, illustrations and cartoons included on this Website. They can be found in What’s Here from Harper’s Weekly, and searched by keyword or phrase.

Among the Harper’s Weekly materials on this Website are 27 political cartoons, as well as 47 news articles, briefs, and explanations of some of the 34 illustrations. The latter include two realistic depictions of the House and Senate chambers, drawn to scale from the architect’s plans by Harper’s Weekly artist Theodore R. Davis.

HarpWeek has added several features that make this presentation especially timely for today’s Congress and public. First, is the inclusion of 90 editorials, many of which bear directly on the issues of impeachment. Along with the arguments made by both the prosecution and the defense in Johnson’s actual Senate trial, these editorials provide insight into the legal, political and Constitutional issues which related to the definition of what constitutes an impeachable offense by a president. Although 1998’s impeachment topics obviously differ, the thinking and arguments of 1868 have substantial relevance today as people grope with the issue of defining impeachable "high crimes and misdemeanors." Accordingly, HarpWeek has prepared a special index of the specific legal, political and Constitutional arguments for and against impeachment.

Finally, HarpWeek has commissioned Eric Rothschild, a retired high school history teacher, to prepare an  Impeachment Simulation game based on the Senate trial of 1868. We anticipate that students and teachers will find it useful in bringing to life the circumstances and arguments under which Andrew Johnson was impeached, tried and acquitted.

Notes About Harper's Weekly
Harper’s Weekly came out two Saturdays before the date of the current issue, similar to today’s magazines which bear a future date. For example, the acquittal decision which occurred on May 16, 1868 was reported in the issue dated May 30, 1868. It probably went to press on the night of Saturday, May 16.

Harper’s Weekly spellings and punctuation varied somewhat from today’s; for example, Johnson’s home town of Greeneville, Tennessee was spelled Greenville. HarpWeek has retained the original spellings and punctuation except where Harper’s Weekly made an obvious mistake.

HarpWeek LLC is making the Impeachment of Andrew Johnson available as a public service. The editor is John Adler, publisher of HarpWeek. This Website was designed by Greg Weber.   Major creative and technical contributions have been made by Marge Nee and Richard Roy. Dr. Robert C. Kennedy compiled the special index on the editorial topics and wrote most of the biographies; Dr. Daniel Worthington and Allen Brahin compiled most of the basic index. Draper Hill, editorial cartoonist of the Detroit News, made significant contributions to the interpretation of the Thomas Nast cartoons.

For commentary, please contact John Adler, Publisher at


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