The Impeachment of Andrew Johnson
»Early Presidency

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Harper's Weekly,
September 30, 1865, page 610

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The President's Experiment
We elsewhere call attention to a remarkable speech of General John A. Logan’s in Jacksonville, Illinois. The General says that the policy of reconstruction adopted by the Administration is an experiment, and that it is the duty of all good citizens to stand heartily by the President until it is proved a failure.

That is precisely the ground which a true Conservatism now occupies. The Democratic Conventions, in breathless haste to eat their own words of the last few years, vociferate their adherence to the President’s policy, and amiable poets of the morning press behold vast hosts of Jacobins marshaling under blood-red banners to oppose it. But as the President is merely trying an experiment, it is rather premature vehemently to support or rancorously to oppose his policy; nor is any country in a very "parlous state" when its Jacobins are the most intelligent, conservative, and substantial part of its population.

The President, acting from the necessity of the case and for the public safety, has set aside the civil officers elected in various States under their Constitutions, and has appointed provisional Governors of his own. He has further prohibited thirteen certain classes of voters under the Constitutions of those States from exercising the right of suffrage, and has authorized a certain number, who are also qualified by the State Constitutions, to vote for members of a Convention. This Convention is to remodel the existing State Constitutions, and to proceed, under them, to elect State Officers and representatives in Congress. The Constitutions and, by consequence, the validity of the officers elected, are to be submitted to the Government for approval. In the President’s words, the Convention is "to present such a republican form of State Government as will entitle the State to the guaranty of the United States therefore, and the people to protection by the United States against invasion, insurrection, and domestic violence."

This is all that the President has done. This is his whole policy thus far. It is, as General Logan says, "an experiment." The President virtually says to certain persons in the States, "See what you can do. Suggest your plan." But he does not say that the plan shall be adopted. He does not promise that the Constitution shall be approved and the elections under it legitimated. The very object he has in view is to try the temper of the class of the population which he selects. To prove whether the local political power of the States may be safely confided to them. Nor does he assume finally to decide so vital a question. He leaves it. Where it belongs, to the nation itself, to the representatives of the people.

The Democratic resolutions and the amiable chatter about opposition assume that it is not an experiment: that the President has declared the Constitution framed by the voters he has selected, and the elections held under it, to be the law without further process or approval. This is exactly what he has not done, and could have no pretense of authority for doing. If he had done it, if he had said that a certain class of persons in the States named by him should elect a convention, that that convention should frame a Constitution, that the elections should be held under the Constitution, and that thereupon that State should be recognized as having resumed all its relations in the Union, and its Representatives and Senators should be admitted to Congress as a matter of course, then, indeed, he would have laid down a policy, and the whole country would have crackled in opposition to it.

But the President is much too sagacious a man to have declared within less than two months after the surrender of Lee that a Constitution for South Carolina such as Mayor Macbeth or Wade Hampton might devise should be accepted by the loyal people of the United States. He said, simply, "Let us find out where we are. If Mayor Macbeth and Wade Hampton should happen to be wise, so much the better. There is no harm in trying. If they are not wise, we can try again."

Thus far the President is merely trying an experiment, and whether we think the principles upon which it proceeds promise success or failure, we ought loyally and patiently to await the event. So says General Logan; so says Maine; so says Vermont; so says California; so say we all.

Articles related to Johnson's Early Presidency:
President Johnson’s Amnesty Proclamation
June 10, 1865, page 355

Pardon-Seekers at the White House
October 14, 1865, page 641

General Logan upon Reorganization
September 20, 1865, page 611

The President’s Experiment
September 30, 1865, page 610

Moses and John Tyler
October 7, 1865, page 627

The President’s Fidelity
December 9, 1865, page 771

The President’s "Friends"
November 4, 1865, page 691


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