Tenure of Office Act

views updated May 17 2018

Tenure of Office Act (1867).This statute resulted from a fear on the part of congressional Republicans that President Andrew Johnson, in the course of a bitter dispute over Reconstruction policy, would make sweeping removals of federal officeholders and replace them with Democrats. The law sought to protect officials appointed with Senate consent “until a successor shall have been in like manner appointed and duly qualified.” Cabinet officers were to remain in place “for and during the term of the President by whom they may have been appointed, and for one month thereafter.”

The latter provision appeared to protect Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, who had allied himself with the congressional position on Reconstruction. Since the U.S. Army was the chief enforcement agency for federal policy in the South, control of the army, through the War Department, was vital to both Johnson and Congress. Johnson vetoed the measure as unconstitutional; Congress overrode the veto on 2 March 1867.

In February 1868, Johnson appeared to violate the act by removing Stanton. The House of Representatives impeached Johnson, citing his violation of the Tenure of Office Act as one reason. At the trial, the president's defense team raised serious questions about the statute's constitutionality. They also raised doubts that it even applied to Stanton, who had been appointed not by Johnson but by Abraham Lincoln. These doubts, together with other considerations, caused enough senators to vote not guilty that Johnson escaped conviction by a single vote. Efforts to repeal the law began in 1869 and succeeded in 1887. In 1926, the Supreme Court, reviewing the presidential removal power in Myers v. United States, held unconstitutional the Tenure of Office Act and an 1876 successor.
[See also Commander in Chief, President as.]


James E. Sefton , The United States Army and Reconstruction, 1865–1877, 1967.
Hans L. Trefousse , Andrew Johnson: A Biography, 1989.

James E. Sefton

Tenure of Office Act

views updated Jun 08 2018


TENURE OF OFFICE ACT, passed by Congress in 1867 over President Andrew Johnson's veto, was designed to restrict greatly Johnson's appointing and removing power. When Johnson attempted to remove Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, the Radical Republican Congress proceeded with its long-laid plans for the impeachment and trial of the president. As Stanton was not a Johnson appointee, the act could not be applied to him. Passed during, and as part of, the struggle between Johnson and Congress over Reconstruction, sections of the act were repealed early in Ulysses S. Grant's first administration; the rest of the act was repealed 5 March 1887.


Benedict, Michael Les. A Compromise of Principle: Congressional Republicans and Reconstruction, 1863–1869. New York: Norton, 1974.

Kutler, Stanley I. Judicial Power and Reconstruction. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968.

McKittrick, Eric L. Andrew Johnson and Reconstruction. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960.

Thomas, Benjamin P., and Harold M. Hyman. Stanton: The Life and Times of Lincoln's Secretary of War. New York: Knopf, 1962.

Willard H.Smith/a. g.

See alsoImpeachment Trial of Samuel Chase ; Liberal Republican Party ; Stalwarts ; Wade-Davis Bill .

Tenure of Office Act

views updated May 14 2018


The assassination of President abraham lincoln on April 14, 1865, left the post–Civil War United States in the hands of his ineffectual and unpopular successor, andrew johnson. It became Johnson's responsibility to determine a reconstruction policy, and he incurred the anger of the Radical Republicans in Congress when he chose a moderate treatment of the rebellious South.

Congress sought to diminish Johnson's authority to select or remove officials from office, and the Radical Republicans particularly wanted to protect Lincoln's secretary of war, edwin m. stanton. Stanton, a valuable member of the existing cabinet, supported the Radicals' Reconstruction policies and openly opposed Johnson. On March 2, 1867, Congress enacted the Tenure of Office Act (14 Stat. 430), which stated that a U.S. president could not remove any official originally appointed with senatorial consent without again obtaining the approval of the Senate.

Andrew Johnson vetoed the measure and challenged its effectiveness when he removed the dissident Stanton from office. Stanton refused to leave, and the House of Representatives invoked the new act to initiate impeachment proceedings against Johnson in 1868. The president was acquitted, however, when the Senate failed by one vote to convict him. Stanton subsequently relinquished his office, and the Tenure of Office Act, never a popular measure, was repealed in 1887.

further readings

Hearn, Chester G. 2000. The Impeachment of Andrew Johnson. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland.