The Impeachment of Andrew Johnson
ĽOvert Obstruction of Congress

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Harper's Weekly, February 1, 1867, page 66

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The action of General Grant in surrendering his office to Mr. Stanton, after the decision of the Senate, baffled the President’s undoubted purpose of forcing an issue before the Supreme Court. The law left to the General no alternative; for it makes the attempt to exercise the duties of the office under the circumstances in which General Grant found himself a high misdemeanor. The Tenure of Office Bill, as it is called, is undoubtedly the law. It has been properly enacted by Congress. The President has objected, and it has been constitutionally passed over his veto. It may be a distasteful law; it may be inexpedient; but it can not be considered unconstitutional merely because the President says so.

The truth is, that the question involved is very open one. The veto with which the President returned the law to Congress shows no more than that the point has been settled by precedent and even by construction. The question arose in the House of Representatives in 1789, and was vigorously argued upon both sides. Mr. Madison, in the Federalist, had maintained that the consent of the Senate was necessary to removal; but in the debate he declared that he had changed his opinion. Notwithstanding his change of view, however, the question was decide in favor of the President’s sole power only by a vote of thirty-four to twenty in the House, and in the Senate by the casting vote of the President. In 1839 the Supreme Court declared that it was a subject upon which there had been at the formation of the Government great difference of opinion, but it thought the general rule of construction had become that the President’s power is exclusive. Judge Story, in commenting upon the question, said that it had always been believed that the final decision was greatly influenced by respect for the character of President Washington then in office; and he adds, that it is "the most extraordinary case in the history of the Government of a power conferred by implication upon the Executive by the assent of a bare majority in Congress which has not been questioned on many other occasions." Mr. Webster admitted the uniformity of the practice, but denied the justice of the view upon which it was founded.

The time has come when Congress, holding the same view with Mr. Webster, questions the propriety of the decision of "the bare majority" of the earlier Congress, and agrees with Mr. Madison’s first opinion. The right to do so is undeniable, and the action which it takes in accordance with its judgment is certainly good law until it is contradicted by something more imposing than President Johnson opinion. It is a law in any case which he can not refuse to execute without impeachment; for if his opinion of the constitutionality of laws which are passed over his veto is to prevail against the will of Congress, his will is the law of the land, and Mr. Johnson has decided for himself, according to Mr. Seward’s notorious phrase, that he will be king and not President.

We must not omit to state, however, that the President had acknowledged the authority of the law, after it was finally passed. He "suspended" Mr. Stanton according to the law, and in obedience to it also he sent into the Senate the reasons of his action. But he hoped, of course, before the matter ended, to effect his original object, which was to be rid of Mr. Stanton, and to ruin General Grant by making him appear to be a cat’s-paw. It is a very homely remark to make, but it is very intelligible, that if the President expects to "use" the General-in-Chief he must be up very early in the morning. The General does not say much, but his acts are very eloquent. They are so eloquent, indeed, that those who have been sorely troubled by his silence have no further doubt of his meaning. He means to obey the laws, and not to aid the President in thwarting them.

That we presume to be also Mr. Stanton’s intention. He does not remain in the War Department for his own pleasure, but certainly he has no right whatever upon any point of etiquette to allow the President the smallest opportunity to frustrate the plan of reconstruction which Congress has adopted. The President and his friends ought to remember that if he had shown a disposition to adhere faithfully to the Constitution, of which he is so fond of speaking, and to execute in good faith and according to their spirit the laws which he did not like as well as those that he approved, the Civil Tenure Bill would not have been passed. When, however, it became evident that in every way, short of an actual refusal to observe the law, he was aiming to baffle its purpose, Congress, which might not see reason for impeachment, could very properly do what might seem uncourteous but was not unconstitutional. The situation is perfectly comprehensible, and will be misunderstood only by those who are resolved not to understand.

Articles Related to Overt Obstruction of Congress:
February 2, 1867, page 67
February 16, 1867, page 99
March 16, 1867, page 163

How Long?
June 29, 1867, page 402

Reconstruction and Obstruction
July 6, 1867, page 418

The Summer Session
July 6, 1867, page 418

The Fortieth Congress
July 17, 1867, page 467

Thanks to the District Commanders
July 27, 1867, page 467

Impeachment Postponed
July 27, 1867, page 467

A Desperate Man
August 13, 1867, page 546

The Secretary of War
August 24, 1867, page 530

Samson Agonistes at Washington (cartoon)
August 24, 1867, page 544

The Stanton Imbroglio (illustrated satire)
August 24, 1867, page 542

Secretary Grant
August 31, 1867, page 546

Southern Reconstruction
August 31, 1867, page 547

The Political Situation
September 7, 1867, page 562

General Thomas
September 7, 1867, page 563

Southern Reconstruction
September 7, 1867, page 563

The General and the President
September 14, 1867, page 578

General Sickles Also
September 14, 1867, page 579

Southern Reconstruction
September 21, 1867, page 595

The President’s Intentions
September 28, 1867, page 610

October 5, 1867, page 626

The Main Question
October 5, 1867, pages 626-627

Suspension during Impeachment
October 19, 1867, page 658

"Disregarding" The Law
November 2, 1867, page 691

December 14, 1867, page 786

General Grant’s Testimony
December 14, 1867, page 786

The President’s Message
December 14, 1867, page 787

General Grant’s Letter
January 1, 1868, page 2

Secretary Stanton’s Restoration
January 25, 1868, page 51

Reconstruction Measures
January 25, 1868, page 51

The President, Mr. Stanton and General Grant
February 1, 1868, page 66

Romeo (Seward) to Mercutio (Johnson) (cartoon)
February 1, 1868, page 76

The War Office
February 1, 1868, page 77

Secretary’s Room in the War Department (illus)
February 1, 1868, page 77

The New Reconstruction Bill
February 8, 1868, page 83


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