The Impeachment of Andrew Johnson
»Military Reconstruction

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Harper's Weekly, March 9, 1867, page 146

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The Reconstruction bill was fully discussed in Congress, and probably no bill was ever more thoroughly understood by the country. Nothing is more absurd than to assume to speak for the people; but there can be little doubt in the mind of any one who watches closely, that the earnest and profound conviction which finally dominates public opinion is, upon the whole, satisfied with the bill as it finally passed.

Every student of politics and public affairs will have his theory of reconstruction. For ourselves, we still think that universal suffrage should be secured by the Constitution of the United States; and there are points in the Louisiana bill which in our judgment are unwisely omitted in the Reconstruction bill as adopted. But in such a crisis, and upon such measures, entire satisfaction with every detail is not to be expected. The bill is, upon the whole, so radical and excellent that the country will approve it as heartily as it approved the Civil Rights bill. It was passed, however, at so late a moment of the session that filibustering over the vote upon the veto may prevent its becoming a law. In that case, we hope that the Fortieth Congress will immediately repeat the action of this, that the bill may be a law before the month ends.

It will then be the duty of the President to execute it as effectively as if he had approved it. It may be presumed, of course, that he will do what he technically can to defeat its purpose. Those only will think differently of his probable action who believe that he has executed the Civil Rights bill cordially and efficiently. The Bill requires the President to appoint certain military Governors from a grade no lower than a Brigadier-General. If he appoints a man like General Fullerton or General Stedman we may know what to expect; and if his action reveals a purpose virtually to defeat the intention of the people in Congress there would undoubtedly be a very general desire of his impeachment.

Our objection to the impeachment as hitherto proposed has been founded upon the shadowy nature of the charges which would render the issue of a trial very uncertain. To impeach and acquit the President would be surely to convict his accusers of a most dangerous partisanship. But to impeach the President upon the ground evident to the whole country that he was deliberately thwarting the loyal national will in reorganizing the Union would be very different. There would be very grave and natural doubt whether a merely technical plea should avail. If, however, the Governorships should be given to Thomas, Sheridan, and others, whom the whole people trust, the President would show a sincere desire of fair play which would be of the best promise.

So far as the civil reorganization of the rebel States is concerned the Senate bill of reconstruction is merely tentative. It leaves the initiation of civil order unsettled, and in this it seems to us inferior to the Louisiana bill. The question is inevitably suggested by the present bill, who shall begin the effort for a civil government? May any person who is not a felon nor excluded by the amendment call a convention to frame a constitution? And if "the people of any one of the said rebel States" may proceed to political action, how many of them may do so? The Louisiana bill provided for a registry; and although the military Governor under the new bill may be hereafter authorized to take the initiative, the Louisiana bill appointed elections and made it the duty of the Secretary of War to register the voters.

The Senate bill, however, is undoubtedly in harmony with the general wish to leave as much local action as may be wisely left to the rebel States. If it is found that no action is taken, and that inaction is undesirable, a further step will be taken by Congress. The whole movement of Reconstruction necessarily proceeds slowly but surely. The people have clearly no intention of going backward. They began very moderately with the Constitutional Amendment. Its rejection has by no means dismayed them. They do not recede but advance. The new bill secures directly what the Amendment was intended to reach indirectly, general suffrage and personal protection. If this fails to start the wheels of State reorganization the people in Congress will advance to the next step for which the Louisiana bill provides, the initiative of State government by national authority although not wholly under the terms of that bill. Under the present bill the attitude of those who are accustomed to control public opinion and action in the rebel States will probably be sullen and defiant. They will encourage passivity. It will then be for Congress to decide whether a government established by the few who may vote shall be regarded as the government of the State, or whether the State shall be held directly by the military hand until a due proportion of the people shall consent to vote.

Of course this is not a pleasant alternative. But the situation offers only a choice of evils. We must either tolerate the present condition of the South, or we must secure the protection and justice which are now denied. The first alternative is simply impossible. Honor and humanity forbid. We must then accept the other. All but a few persons in the States concerned may for various reasons refuse to vote. We can not make them vote, and we certainly shall not be coerced or cajoled by their not voting into the stupidity of surrendering to their will, time is the great physician. We can wait if the Southern citizens can. But we beg them not to cherish the fatal delusion that they can tire us out. The loyal people know distinctly what they fought for, and they will secure their victory if they have to wait for a generation.

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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