The Impeachment of Andrew Johnson
»Initial Impeachment Discussions

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Harper's Weekly,
December 29, 1866, page 818

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HarpWeek Commentary: This article refers to the failure of the Southern States to approve the proposed Fourteenth Amendment (guaranteeing citizenship to blacks) in their state constitutions. Therefore, Reconstruction – which had been viewed as an experiment in mid-1865 – had been a decided failure from Harper’s Weekly’s viewpoint.


The North Carolina Legislature, by a vote of 93 to 10 in the Lower House, and 44 to 1 in the Upper, has rejected the Amendment. Arkansas, Alabama, and Florida have done likewise. Governor Humphreys recommends its rejection to the Mississippi Legislature, and Governor Orr to that of South Carolina. The Georgia Legislature would prefer a Territorial Government, according to the telegram, rather than the Amendment; and the President of its Senate, "amidst great applause," declared that "human forbearance has its limits, and the worm will turn if trodden on." Mr. Raphael Semmes, Moral Philosopher, announces, in a lecture at Galveston, that he has been at home endeavoring to restore his State to her place in the Union without tarnishing her honor. The Milledgeville Southern Recorder declares that "if this Union is to stand, the rights of the South must be respected." Mr. Alexander H. Stephens is equally strenuous against the Amendment, and for "the continuous rights of States." Every leader of opinion, every newspaper of influence, the Legislatures and the Governors in the unrestored States, are unanimous against the Amendment. Not a single powerful voice in those States has been raised for it.

Meanwhile the petition of the loyal Louisianians, signed by Governor Wells and others? the declaration of Ex-Governor Holden, the President’s Provisional Governor of North Carolina, and of a Committee from that State - and the statements of the Southern Loyalist Association in Washington, all agree that the governments of the unrestored States are in the hands of men hostile to the National Government - that the Union men in these States are consequently oppressed and in constant danger - that the liberty and property of the Freedmen are virtually at the mercy of the disloyal - that justice for loyal men in the civil courts is uncertain, and military protection inadequate. To these statements must be added the reports of great destitution in certain districts; the general apathy or sense of insecurity which springs from the consciousness of a radical derangement of local public affairs; the unwillingness of capital or labor to move toward disturbed States, and the necessary paralysis of industry. Looking at these facts, with a due knowledge of history and experience of human nature, it is not very difficult to understand the situation with which the country is now called to deal.

The Amendment we must consider virtually rejected as a condition of restoration. The President’s policy, or experiment, has also failed. The unrestored States must therefore be considered as substantially in the condition in which they were when the Presidential experiment began – with this advantage, however, that their real spirit has been fully revealed. Yet we would not be unjust to those who have honestly acquiesced: who took up arms and fought; were beaten, and own it, and now ask only that the conditions of restoration shall be just in themselves, consonant with the spirit of the Constitution and with the national safety. But such are not the men nor the sentiments which control the action of the unrestored States.

In this situation, then, the first question is, whether Congress should hope for a reaction of opinion, and for the adoption of the Amendment by the unrestored States, and postpone further action of its own toward restoration? But upon what ground can a change of feeling be reasonably expected? The first response to the offer of the Amendment was the New Orleans massacre, when the controlling opinion of the late rebel States relied upon the Executive to sweep out Congress with a bayonet. Then came the Philadelphia August Convention, stimulating the unrestored States to refuse the Amendment, and claiming to represent the true sentiment of the country upon the subject. It was not surprising that those States then sneered at the Amendment. But when the question was formally submitted to the people, and they universally and overwhelmingly approved the Amendment as the condition of restoration; and after the author of the Philadelphia address, which incited the States to oppose the Amendment, told them distinctly that they must accept it or prepare for more stringent measures, there is a general haughty refusal. Undoubtedly the country believed that conditions so just and generous would be, if not heartily, yet at least silently accepted. Their imperious rejection reveals a state of mind which indicates the wisdom and necessity of other measures. The refusal of the Amendment must dispel a great deal of the doubt which many loyal men had of the actual national necessity of more stringent and radical measures. They perhaps believed in a kind and reasonable feeling in the unrestored States, which it is now evident does not exist, or does not control State action.

It would appear, then, that Congress, the only adequate authority, must begin exactly where the President did. The people of the unrestored States rebelled, and framed new local governments, which were overthrown by the National arms. They were left without any lawful government in their States, nor can they lawfully acquire any except such as is initiated and approved by Congress. Congress must therefore specify by whom the first step toward such a Government shall be taken; and when its Constitution is finished it must be, in the judgment of Congress, of such a republican form that the guarantee of the Union may be pledge to it. This leaves in the limbo of political metaphysics, where they belong, all theories of Territorial condition or State suicide. Those are abstractions which Mr. Lincoln properly described as pernicious. Equally so is the President’s assertion, and that of the Democrats who support him, that the States having been prevented from seceding have all their rights unimpaired. Why, then, did he appoint Provisional Governors, and define the qualifications of the suffrage?

There is no need of entangling ourselves with theories and definitions. The one imperative necessity is, that the measures which Congress takes to restore the governments of the States shall be just, wise, generous, and in the spirit of the Constitution. And we reserve to another day comments upon the various propositions already made.

Articles Related to the Initial Impeachment Discussions:
The President Judged by Himself

August 25, 1866, page 530

Reconstruction and How it Works (cartoon)
September 1, 1866, pages 552-553

Which Is The More Illegal (cartoon)
September 8, 1866, page 569

The New Orleans Report
October 20, 1866, page 658

The New Orleans Massacre
IMarch 30, 1867, page 202

Text from Illustration of Andy’s Trip

October 27, 1866, pages 680-681

The Great Campaign of ’66
September 29, 1866, page 610

What Next?
October 27, 1866, page 674

King Andy (cartoon)
November 3, 1866 page 696

Shall the President be Impeached?
November 3, 1866, page 690

The Popular Will
November 24, 1866, page 738

Andy Makes a Call on Uncle Sam, Who Rises to the Occasion (cartoon)
December 1, 1866, page 768

Impeachment and General Butler
December 15, 1866, page 786

December 22, 1866, page 803

What Next?
December 29, 1866, page 818


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