The Impeachment of Andrew Johnson
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Harper's Weekly, January 26, 1867, page 50

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The London Times, with its usual profound knowledge of American affairs, says that the scheme of impeachment looks like a fatal blow at the Constitution. But the impeachment of a President is as Constitutional as his election. The Constitution defines certain offenses for which he may be impeached, and adds to them "other high crimes and misdemeanors." The occasion of impeachment is thus left to the discretion of Congress, and the measure becomes merely one of expediency. But the removal of the executive head of the Government is in its nature an extraordinary measure to be invoked only in the last extremity. If difference with the majority in Congress is to furnish an adequate occasion for such a movement, it is plain that impeachment of the Executive will become an ordinary party measure; and the independence of the Executive contemplated by the Constitution being thus destroyed the balance of the whole system comes to an end. Undoubtedly, and justly, the chief power of our system is given to the Legislature as the immediate representative of the public will. The authority confided to it of impeaching and removing the President, and of organizing the Supreme Court, gives Congress, under certain stringent conditions, the supreme power. But that power is limited not only by express provision but by moral considerations which can not be safely disregarded.

When the country sees that the President has intentionally prostituted the power of his position to the overthrow of the government, or that his personal habits incapacitate him for the discharge of his duties, it would universally acquiesce in his impeachment and removal, and the Government would not be severely strained by the proceeding. The London Times would learn that if our system could endure such a shock as the assassination of the late President, it would easily bear that of the impeachment of the present. But to engineer an impeachment, to agitate for an impeachment, to twist and torture and refine upon the reasons for an impeachment, is to alienate the national sympathy and approval which are essential to justify it.

The Senate, in trying an impeachment, is not a political assembly, it is a court of law. It must deal with overt acts, not with words or opinion. The present President can not be fairly impeached for Tylerizing. He can not be tried for returning to his old party. We who elected him are justly punished for supposing that a modern Southern democratic politician could comprehend the American principle of equal rights, or work heartily for its development; but we can not fairly revenge our disappointment by impeaching him. The President is in open political alliance with those who denounced and opposed the war. He steadily resists every effort to secure its just results. He is the great impediment in the path of a swift and prosperous national settlement. But he resists thus far under Constitutional forms. He exercises the right of veto; he removes from office those who do not support his views; he has abused Congress in his speeches like a drab; he has denied its authority; he advises the unrepresented States to reject the Amendment; and he tenaciously insists that the late rebel States may return to Congress without any other conditions than those which he has himself imposed.

But all this conduct, baffling and annoying as it is, is yet not a violation of his official oath nor inconsistent with the Constitution as he understands it. When he proceeds to thwart Congress by force, when he deliberately and undeniably refuses to execute the laws, when he practically as well as theoretically denies the authority of the people of the United States in Congress, his impeachment would be felt to be a national act of justice and not a partisan measure, and would then be of the highest expediency.

If, therefore, Mr. Ashley (Representative James Ashley of Ohio) gives to the Committee upon the Judiciary, to which his charges have been referred, indisputable and conclusive evidence of criminal act or design upon the part of the President, there will be no serious hostility of public feeling to the trial. If, as the Boston Commonwealth intimates, there are facts known which point to civil commotions instigated by the President, let them be presented, and he would be as unanimously and cordially removed as Mr. Lincoln was re-elected. Mr. Ashley charges the President with "corruptly" abusing the appointing power and the pardoning power; with "corruptly" disposing of the public property of the United States, and conspiring high crimes with others. Let these charges be plainly proved, not quibbled and inferred, by the evidence which he lays before the Committee, and his accusation will unquestionably be sustained by the country. But if Mr. Ashley know no more than we all know, then we venture to say that the country does not demand an impeachment, and it would therefore be a highly inexpedient movement.

Every President in opposition is, of course, and obstacle to the majority; but does the Constitution provide impeachment as remedy for that difficulty? If the ordinary methods of our system can not endure such a strain as the performances of Andrew Johnson, what would become of them under the pressure of a sagacious and powerful conspirator? The President is a temporary obstacle to reconstruction, but he does more to confirm and develop the saving radical purpose of the country than a hundred Thaddeus Stevenses, however sturdy and efficient. The New Orleans massacre, the stumping and staggering orgies to the grave of Douglas, the exhortations to the late rebel States to reject the Amendment, the Copperhead society in which he loves to dwell, and the coarse vituperation of Senators and Representatives by name? these are all things which the intelligent mind and the generous heart of the people constantly meditate, and they have left Andrew Johnson morally impeached, amorally condemned to a disgrace more undying than that of James Buchanan and Franklin Pierce.

Of course, in extremity moral impeachment is not enough. But what is the situation? The President may delay but he can not defeat the accomplishment of the popular purpose. He is practically powerless. Commander of the army and navy, he can use them only to enforce the laws of Congress. They are not his creatures. He can not seat a single member of Congress from the disabled States. He can not count a solitary Presidential vote for them before their restoration to their functions in the Union. The new Congress will assemble and organize as the old dissolves. The utmost that the President can do is to veto laws which Congress will pass, and nominate officers whom the Senate will not confirm. Neither the Secretary of War, nor the General of the Army, nor the Secretary of the Treasury, can be suspected of complicity in any Presidential plot, however upon certain points they may differ with Congress. Above all, the people are thoroughly awake and in earnest. They watch constantly and closely. Heartily united, every unfriendly word and act of the President only binds them more firmly together. They will hear with attention and interest what Mr. Ashley has to say. But if it be a mere repetition of General Butler’s speech, it will not persuade them that the President ought to be impeached. And as for the droll effort to make adhesion to the wisdom of impeachment, without further knowledge, the test of Radicalism? in the sense of the true national policy? it is just as wise and will prove just as successful as the attempt during the war to make contempt and distrust of Mr. Lincoln the measure of patriotic fidelity.

Articles Related to Military Reconstruction:
News Items
January 19, 1867, page 35

January 26, 1867, page 50

Congress and Impeachment
February 16, 1867, page 98

The Probability of Impeachment
February 23, 1867, page 114

The Louisiana Bill
March 2, 1867, page 130

March 9, 1867, page 146

The Thirty-Ninth Congress
March 9, 1867, page 146

The Veto of the Reconstruction Bill

March 16, 1867, page 162

The Fortieth Congress

March 30, 1867, page 195

The Fortieth Congress

April 6, 1867, page 211

Sprats and Vetoes

April 6, 1867, page 210

Adjournment of Congress

April 13, 1867, page 226

Prometheus Bound

March 2, 1867, page 137

The Result

March 30, 1867, page 194

The Southern Commanders

April 6, 1867, page 218

The Debate upon Impeachment

March 23, 1867, page 178

We Accept the Situation (cartoon)

April 13, 1867, page 240

The Big Thing (cartoon)

April 20, 1867, page 256

The End of Impeachment
June 22, 1867, page 386


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