The Impeachment of Andrew Johnson
»Military Reconstruction

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

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The Thirty-ninth Congress has been as fiercely denounced as any legislative body in history. From the President of the United States down to the smallest Copperhead cur, its enemies have constantly snarled or growled or snapped, while its friends have been often impatient and complaining, forgetting how necessarily and wisely slow the action of such a body at such a time ought to be.

The first thing that strikes the observer of this Congress is that it had no proper leader, while it had many noted and able men. There was no conspicuous figure like Henry Clay or Mr. Gladstone. Mr. Thaddeus Stevens, by his age, his long fidelity to the principles of the dominant party, his uncompromising spirit, his distinct purpose, and a certain personal force, was the most prominent member of the House. But Mr. Stevens seldom carried his points. A true leader must command the general confidence of his followers, but this Mr. Stevens never did. There was no doubt of his sincerity, as there was none of his purpose; but there was a doubt of his general good sense and of the sagacity of his judgment. His tongue was remorseless; his sarcasm stung like hail; but he is no leader who exasperates instead of conciliating a faltering follower. The general direction of Mr. Stevens was that of the House and of the country, and upon the great questions all moved together? not always, however, without a protest from him. Hearty, genial, of an undaunted spirit, and of the sharpest speech, Mr. Stevens will be always one of the memorable figures of this Congress, and always honored for his sturdy loyalty to the great cause. Nothing is more comical than the portraits drawn of him by rebel letter-writers, who saw in him the Robespierre of the time. Mr. Stevens is as like Robespierre as the city of Washington to-day is like old Paris. He is just as much Robespierre as the present situation of the country is a reign of terror.

Turning from its men to its acts, the great monuments of the Thirty-ninth Congress are seen to be the Civil Rights bill, the pending Constitutional Amendment, the District Suffrage bill, and the Reconstruction bill. They are the most important acts of legislation in our history, with the sole exception of the Emancipation Amendment; for they provide for the equal rights of all citizens of the United States, complete the work of emancipation, and secure the results of the war. These laws were the fruit of careful investigation and wise deliberation. Their inspiration was the wish and conviction of the people, which, as we understand it, no Congress ever more truly represented than this. They are not imperiled by transcending in the least the popular sentiment. The plain danger of a Congress at a time like the last two years is emotional legislation. It is in peril of enacting hasty, crude laws, which return to plague their supporters. But this misfortune has been avoided. The very conditions of the situation, which seemed so threatening, have been propitious. The certainty of a veto upon every wise and humane measure of reconstruction has forced Congress to be wary and to frame only such laws as should be sure of the two-thirds vote. It has marched, therefore, even-paced with the people, and they have approved what the President vetoed.

Lastly, the Thirty-ninth Congress will be always memorable for its contest with the President. In all Parliamentary governments at some time this contest has developed itself and the Executive has been conquered. But while in other countries the contest has been often fearful, in ours it has been simply ludicrous. The President, supported by the Secretary of State, undertook to absorb the most essential function of the supreme power of Congress, and to sustain and vindicate their extraordinary action ? which was sheer usurpation ? by destroying the great party which had victoriously finished the war, and forming a new one composed of the late rebels, their Northern allies, and the camp followers of the loyal host. Doubtless it was the Executive intention, if a clear majority of a Congress had not been elected by the Union party, to recognize a body composed of rebels and Northern Copperheads as the Congress of the United States, and doubtless, also, many weak persons supported the Philadelphia movement in the hope of avoiding trouble by yielding to the maker of trouble. For a moment, and for moment only, the plot seemed threatening; then it utterly miscarried, amidst the mingled indignation and contempt of the loyal people which it proposed to betray. The political ruin of the chief conspirators was more sudden and total than has ever been known. Congress was triumphantly sustained. When it assembled it appeared that, while the Democratic party tactically supported the Executive against the Union party, they cared for him as little; and the President, who was elected by a vast and hearty majority, and who had one of the few great opportunities in history, has no Congressional supporters whatever but a few political hermaphrodites whose names will scarcely survive the session.

The virtual re-election of Congress was the sentence of the President. He has not yielded indeed, for a mind which could be blind to so great an opportunity would not be likely to see a smaller one. But his persistence has been of true service to the country, not only in the way we have already mentioned, but by compelling the people to understand more exactly the precise structure of the Government and the relation of its parts. The victory of Congress culminates in the perception which is now universal that the supreme power of every Government must be lodged somewhere, and that our Constitution gives it to Congress.

We trust that the Fortieth Congress will be worthy of its predecessor.

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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