- Students will examine the major events that shaped the methods and acts of Congress as they responded to a rapidly-changing political and economic landscape.
- Students will take an in-depth look at the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson, and analyze Congress’s power of impeachment.
- Students will analyze the separation of powers among the three branches, and understand how that balance is maintained in the Constitution.
- Speaker of the House
- Political party
- Disappearing quorum
- Thomas B. Reed
- Joseph Cannon
- Standing Committee
- Stalwarts/Radical Republicans
- Select Committee
- Rules Committee
- Ways and Means Committee
- Appropriations Committee
- Tenure of Office Act
- Distribute and assign for homework Handout A: Background Essay: The Golden Age of Parties—The Civil War to 1910
- Lead the class in a discussion of the groups that contended for power during Reconstruction and the Gilded Age. Have the students identify and describe issues that were important to the people of the time.
- As a class, read the introduction on Handout B: The Impeachment of President Andrew Johnson
- As a class, read and discuss the introduction to Handout B. Ensure students have a general understanding of the circumstances surrounding the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson.
- Break students into groups of three to five and have them read Handout C: Excerpts from the Articles of Impeachment for President Andrew Johnson and answer the critical thinking questions.
- Lead the class in a discussion about the impeachment of President Johnson. Possible discussion questions are listed below.
- How is the power of impeachment intended to help to maintain the balance of power between the branches? To what extent is impeachment successful in that goal?
- Johnson’s impeachment is often characterized as merely political, and not reflective of constitutional principles. After reading the articles of impeachment, to what extent do you believe this to be so? Explain.
- What are the dangers of a political impeachment?
- Today, the power of the executive branch has grown immensely. To what extent has this increase in executive power had an effect on the importance of the power of impeachment? Explain.
- The Senate conducts the trial in impeachment proceedings, yet they are also charged with being the president’s counsel. To what extent do you believe this is a possible conflict of interest? Explain.
- Lead the students to an understanding of how their choices compared and contrasted to the real historical strategies of the individuals involved.
- Postscript: Explain that, though the trial was primarily about the Tenure of Office Act, Johnson’s detractors also said that he represented the return of “Slave Power” to the United States because of his preference for leniency to the South. At the end of the impeachment trial, thirty-five senators voted to convict Johnson, only one vote short of the two-thirds majority necessary to remove him from office. Johnson served the remaining 10 months of his term, continuing to veto bills that he believed were unconstitutional. Congress continued to override his vetoes. However, he did enforce the laws when passed. The Tenure of Office Act was largely repealed in 1887, and its principles were declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1926 in Myers v. United States.
Constitutional Principles: Separation of Powers
Do you understand why separation of powers is important for protecting our freedom? This short, engaging video focuses on the constitutional principle of separation of powers. Clear definitions and graphics, an engaging historical narrative, brief scholar interviews, and memorable quotes will make this 6-minute video perfect for use any time of the year!
Separation of Powers with Checks and Balances
The Founders understood the principle expressed by the British historian, Lord Acton, “All power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Through the complex system of checks and balances developed in the U.S. Constitution, they sought to assure that no person or branch of government could exercise unrestrained power. As James Madison advocated in Federalist No. 51, ambition should counteract ambition in a fashion that advances the public good.
International Relations and the Constitutional Separation of Powers
In 1787 the Constitution granted significant new powers to the central government, including those traditionally held by sovereign nations. In response to Anti-Federalist concerns about a too-powerful central government, James Madison explained that the new system of government was designed to work with human nature.
War and Constitutional Separation of Powers
The U.S. Constitution divides war powers between the president and Congress. The delegates to the Constitutional Convention were focused on creating a government powerful enough to protect liberty, but not so powerful that it would threaten liberty. They worked carefully to craft the war powers of the new government, knowing that history was full of examples of war, so that war powers were necessary, but also of rulers who had abused the power and endangered liberty in order to make war.