The Impeachment of Andrew Johnson
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Harper's Weekly, May 30, 1868, page 338

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A thousand-fold more important to the welfare of this country and to human liberty than the removal of any President, for any offense whatever, is the conscientious discharge of duty by public men. Party-spirit, inflamed into ferocity, lost to reason and the moral sense, is the perpetual menace of free institution. We are at this moment seeing it in its worst aspect. The point of national interest and concern has suddenly changed. It is not whether the President shall be removed—it is whether public men shall be honest.

Our history has given us the most fearful and memorable example of the perils of party-spirit in the career of the Democratic party, beginning with the claim of the rights of man, and ending in a desperate struggle to overthrow the best of governments for the purpose of perpetuating human slavery. The party behest was the only rule of action allowed, and the party order was issued by the most unscrupulous of party leaders. " I would vote,"said one of the Democratic orators, "for the Devil himself if he were the regular nominee." The party drill was marvelous. The rule of the Democratic Party became almost a tradition. There were those who really supposed that any effort to throw off its supremacy was hopeless. In 1856 Mr. Seward made a speech at Detroit, one of the few that he made during the Fremont compaign, in which he showed in startling detail the absolute possession of every part of the Government by the Democratic party and its policy. Every little rural Northern and Western Post-office was an outpost of slavery, which was then the Democratic Party policy. Every Custom-house berth was a point of advantage for it. Every committee of both Houses of Congress was controlled by it. Unquestioning fidelity to it was the tenure of national office everywhere. All the patronage, and prestige, and habit of the Government were with the Democratic part and its policy. Men, it was reluctantly thought by many, must always as a mass be ignorant, and their moral sense must be torpid. Trade also is timid, and we are an enormously trading and prosperous people. Moreover, there are constitutional doubts and perplexities, and what on earth can you do with millions of foreign and degraded slaves? So the Democratic party and its policy of Slavery seemed to be as firmly fastened upon the country as the Old Man of the Sea upon Sinbad’s shoulders.

But in 1848 the break had begun. Democrats of strong convictions grew restive under the party despotism. They would not be yoked to fetch and carry for slavery, and protested that they would not submit to a party rule that preferred docile acquiescence in the interested whims of certain leaders to honest independence of thought. These men left the party, and took with them its hereditary prestige. From that moment the party policy became even more violent, and unreasonable, and inhuman. The extreme Southern leaders prescribed a still more revolting course; and the party which, in 1856, was in supreme possession of the Government, in 1860 was thrown out of power, and for four years was engaged in a war of malignant hate upon the Government and its principles; the Southern wing in arms, and the Northern wing embarrassing in every way, as a party, the methods pursued by the Government for its salvation.

Any party which is so abandoned to party-spirit as to ostracize and slander those of its friends who honestly differ upon points of detail and method, while they sympathize with the great party aims, will necessarily fall to pieces. Parties undoubtedly are essential in a free Government. Unquestionably every man must make his choice between one or the other. But there are times when party-spirit is so fierce, and the character of party leaders so destructive of moral confidence, that a man can act heartily with neither. And when there are many men who feel so the formation of a new party is at hand.

It is a profound and perilous mistake, made by many citizens, that they must support their party under all circumstances lest the party should lose ground and be defeated. A defeat is often the best possible event that can occur. For we must remember that under our system we are in the hands of certain party managers who presume, upon the theory that the party nominations will be supported in any case, to nominate bad and unworthy men. Now, no Government is safe, liberty is not safe, nothing is safe, in the hands of bad and unworthy men. And the only way in which the party managers can learn that truth, and understand that honest men will not vote for dishonest men, is to suffer the dishonest men of our own party to be beaten. And what is true of honesty is true of policy. An unwise policy must be criticized in the same way. Otherwise certain party leaders will dictate their crude, or furious, or corrupt will as the party policy, and depend upon whipping in the voters by slander, denunciation, and vituperation.

Of course it is often difficult to say what really is the party policy, because there is no universally recognized supreme party authority. It is generally held in this country that the platform of a national convention is the standard of party faith. But between the assembly of such conventions there is generally some legislative policy which is accepted as a party measure. Such, for instance, were the Civil Rights Bill and the Reconstruction Bill. But whatever the authority may be the tone of the party can be maintained only by the individual independence of the members. For then only such measures as are sure to command the assent of the whole are likely to be proposed, and only such men as are honest and capable to be nominated. It was said of the old Whig party that it could not count upon its own members in a pinch, and that it had no daring. This was merely to say that it was partly composed of men who valued conscience and country more than party. You could not count upon such men if the Devil were the regular nominee, and party managers did not dare to propose what might be repugnant to many partisans. In a certain way the charge of timidity was true. The Whigs did not dare to adopt a strong slavery policy, and were equally destroyed. Mere daring is cheap. The important point is not to dare to do, but to dare to do right.

This country is now undergoing one of its severest trials in the effort to crush the individual conscience by party terrorism. But as we show elsewhere there are enough sagacious and influential members of the party to protest against so fatal a course, and to prevent the party of liberty from destroying by general consent the most sacred and essential rights of free citizens of a free nation.

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