The Impeachment of Andrew Johnson
»Impeachment, Trial, and Acquittal

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Harper's Weekly, March 28, 1868, page 195

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The impeachment trial opened with great dignity and tranquillity. The President, by his counsel, asked for forty days to prepare his answer; which request, after due deliberation, was declined, and the 23d of March was appointed as the day upon which he must answer. To this answer the Managers of the House make a replication, and the Senate resolved that unless otherwise ordered, for cause shown, the trial should at once proceed. There certainly can be no reason for such delay as the President requested. Mr. Nelson, one of the President’s counsel, urged that the great claim of judicial proceedings upon public respect and confidence is that they hasten slowly. But Mr. Nelson surely does not forget that the law’s delay is one of the most ancient and intolerable of grievances. The circumstances of this trial demand as much promptness as is consistent with deliberate justice, and there is no variety of charges which fairly compels postponement.

The spectacle of the trial, in itself so simple, is imposing from the considerations which attend it. That the official chief of one of the great nations can be removed by legal process, absolutely and peremptorily from his position, is a truth which seems to us a matter of course, because, until the rebellion, our traditions and our training had not prepared us for any thing but the peaceful rule of law. But to other nations so great a change would seem to be the necessary signal of vast civil commotions. One great reason indeed for the calmness of the public mind is undoubtedly that the President has no political party behind him. He is impeached and tried by the party that elected him, and the Democratic Party merely attacks the Impeachment as it would any other grave measure upon any grave public question which the Republican party might adopt. There is no partisan sympathy for the President. The Democrats who denounce the Republicans are very careful to say that they are no friends of the President; and many of them, indeed, must feel that if a man who so disgraces the highest office in the land can be properly and justly removed, it is not a misfortune.

If, however, the President had been elected by the Democratic party, it is impossible to say whether the same tranquillity would have prevailed. A party which, in half the country, conducted its campaign of 1860 by a threat of civil commotion if it were defeated, and in the other half tolerated the threat without protest and palliated and half justified it; whose chief leaders actually rose in rebellion because they were outvoted; a party whose orators are very fond of speaking of "the physical force" upon their side, and whose fierce and constant cry is of hostility to the poorest and most friendless class of the population is not a party of which tranquil submission to the law is to be expected as of course. If the perpetuity of a peaceful acquiescence in the constitutional methods of relief from political difficulties were intrusted to the Democratic party, we should not feel quite as sure of it as we do of the regular recurrence of seed-time and harvest.

It is fair to presume, however, under the circumstances, that the removal of the President, should such be the judgment, will be accomplished without trouble. If the Managers shall decide to press the article offered by General Butler the trial must take a wide range, and must last for a long time. If, however, they confine themselves to the immediate occasion of impeachment the proceedings need not occupy many days. Mr. Thaddeus Stevens says, indeed, that that occasion is not sufficient, but the country seldom agrees with Mr. Stevens’s opinions however it honors his indomitable persistence in the course he sincerely adopts. The trial of the President will undoubtedly furnish another illustration of the practical value of our political system.

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