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Impeachment of the President: Admit the Bearer

Date: 
Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Silver Special Collections recently acquired four tickets for the 1868 Senate impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson. The tickets came from the family of Vermont Senator Justin S. Morrill, one of the thirty-five senators who voted to convict Johnson. The tickets may have been among the family possessions inherited by Morrill’s sister-in-law, Louisa Swan, upon his death in 1898.

On March 2, 1868, the Alexandria Gazette, whose publisher supported Johnson, declared, “The Chief Magistrate is to be arraigned, as a spectacle, and preparations are making in different quarters to come on to Washington, in crowds, to see the show.” The Senate took steps to handle the crowds, hiring thirty additional doorkeepers and devising a ticketing system to control the number of people in the Senate galleries.

One thousand color-coded tickets were issued each day of the impeachment proceedings. Our tickets were issued for March 30, April 15, April 29 and May 4. Most of the tickets were allocated for government officials and the press, with a smaller number available to the general public. The tickets had stubs on the left side that were collected at the main entrance to the Senate.

Senator Morrill offered a 14-page opinion on the impeachment of President Johnson on May 11, 1868. He was especially concerned that if Johnson was not found guilty, "All future Presidents may break laws or make appointments at will, and do anything which goes to make up the character of an uncurbed despot." Not enough of his colleagues agreed; Johnson was acquitted for lack of a single vote needed to achieve a two-thirds majority.