Illustrated Chicago News – May 1, 1868

This cartoon was published in the second issue of the short-lived Illustrated Chicago News. The paper had recruited Nast to become its political cartoonist, but didn’t make it past its eighth issue. After Andrew Johnson (King Andy) was acquitted, Nast depicted Senator Ben Wade offering the President his crown back with appropriate Shakespearean dialogue. (Henry IV, Part Two, IV).

There were a number of reasons why impeachment failed. The political ones had to do with insufficient evidence; the threat to the traditional structure of government and the long-term effects on that; and the fact that Johnson only had nine months left in office. Ben Butler’s weak but bombastic arguments were unconvincing, while the President’s defense team — headed by former Attorney General Henry Stanbery and respected newcomer William Evarts — totally outlawyered him. Thad Stevens, who had led the impeachment effort in the House was failing rapidly and couldn’t lobby for conviction; he died three months later.

Perhaps the most critical factor was the strong distaste that many Republicans had for fellow Senator Ben Wade of Ohio. As president pro tem of the Senate and acting Vice President of the country, Wade would have replaced Johnson in the White House; all knew that Wade should have recused himself from voting for impeachment because of his blatant conflict of interest. Important Moderates like William Fessender of Maine and James Grimes of Iowa preferred to keep Johnson in office for nine months more rather than have to deal with Wade. Ohioans must have agreed because Wade was not returned to the Senate that fall.