The Impeachment of Andrew Johnson
»First Vetoes

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Harper's Weekly,
August 4, 1866, page 482

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HarpWeek Commentary: In addition to the rupture with Congress, Johnson lost the services of three cabinet members who disagreed with him. James Speed resigned as Attorney General as mentioned in paragraph 2; James Harlan resigned as Secretary of the Interior and William Dennison as Postmaster General. Only Secretary of State William H. Seward, who supported Johnson, and Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, who disapproved of his policies, remained from his original cabinet in August 1866. Four members of Johnson’s original Cabinet (appointed by President Lincoln) remained by August 1866. Three of them supported Johnson’s policies? Secretary of State William H. Seward, Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles and Secretary of the Treasury Hugh McCulloch? and one key member, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, opposed them. Stanton’s opposition played a key role in Johnson’s impeachment.

The Case Stated
The rupture between the President and Congress is lamentable, but it is decided. As his policy failed to command the approval of the Union party, and it can not be denied that it has, his only alternative was to relinquish it or to await other support. That could come from one quarter only, from the Democratic party. It was not to be expected that the President would relinquish what he deemed the sole constitutional and sagacious policy; and therefore the elected candidate of the Union party of 1864 has no other party support than that of the Democracy.

Regrets and recriminations are equally vain. It is too late to wonder whether, had the wise and patient Lincoln lived, the party which sustained him and the war would not have settled without serious apposition the great question of reunion. It is vain also to blame the President or to asperse him. Men act from mixed motives, and it is both unmanly and unwise to traduce those with whom we profoundly differ, and whom we most steadfastly oppose. The welfare of the country, through the triumph of the fundamental American principle, which Mr. Speed well defines in his letter of resignation as "the political liberty and equality of mankind under the law,"* this is the end which every thoughtful citizen will constantly bear in mind, and it is therefore of very little importance whether the President is influenced by the desire of re-election; by the wish to live his future years peacefully in Tennessee; by an ineradicable "Southern" proclivity; by an inextinguishable hostility to what is called "Radicalism;" by incapacity to comprehend the situation, or by the most conscientious desire to do his duty faithfully. It is vain to turn upon him the fire of his own words when he was military Governor of Tennessee, or when he succeeded to the Presidency; for a man of ardent temperament and of utterly undisciplined mind says many things under extraordinary excitement for which he can not fairly be held responsible. Whatever the President’s motives may be, he has distinctly declared his policy. That policy will be sustained by the Democratic party, and must be estimated not by his personal character, but by its own merits and by the necessities of action which the new coalition will impose upon him.

This is true also of the policy of Congress. Our judgment must be determined not by our opinion of Mr. Thaddeus Stevens, or of Mr. Ingersoll, or of any other ardent or unwise declaimer; not by the ill-humor of debates, or by the occasional folly of certain acts. Neither is it of present importance whether Congress has been too slow or too fast in arriving at its conclusions. Congress has been maligned, derided, and denounced as the President has been. It is enough that each has declared its policy of reunion. Upon those policies the country will decide at the autumn elections; and every sensible man will weigh them well

The exact point, then, is this: The President holds that the States lately in rebellion, having accepted certain conditions which he has imposed without consultation with representatives of the people, have now the right to be admitted to Congress upon the same terms as the other States. Congress holds that the Legislative and not the Executive department of the Government is the rightful judge of the situation, and that the public safety requires another condition as the necessary complement of those already accepted, and opposes admitting any late insurgent State to an equal share in the Government until it adopts the amendment proportioning representation to voters, and excluding from office at the pleasure of Congress certain conspicuous offenders. The object of this amendment is of vital importance. To state it is to prove it; for it proposes merely that no State which has tried to destroy the Government shall, as a result of its abortive effort, gain increased power in the Government.

There is thus no difference of principle between the President and Congress, although there is that difference between him and the Democratic party which denies the right to impose any conditions whatever. But the President has done it. It was the necessity of the case, and he could not help it. Either South Carolina had the right to demand to resume her old share in the Government without accepting the Emancipation Amendment, or revoking her act of secession, or repudiating her rebel debt, or she has no right to demand it until she has satisfied any other condition which the Government may require for the same purpose of security to the Union. The President, indeed, claims that his conditions are the only constitutional terms that can be asked. But that is merely his opinion. Nobody denies that every State enjoying equal rights in the Union is entitled to representation. But the very issue is, when and upon what terms a State which has just failed in a conspiracy to destroy the Union may safely resume its equality of rights within it. The President insists that his terms re a sufficient security. Congress insists that something more is necessary to make them secure. The country will decide between them.

We believe that Congress will be overwhelmingly supported; we do not doubt that the country feels its proposition to be wiser, and know that the renewed ascendancy of the Democratic party would be an incalculable disaster. It is neither extravagant, nor unfriendly, nor dangerous, nor impolitic, to insist that no State engaged in the late rebellion shall resume its national relations until care is taken that it shall not have gained political power by the rebellion. If any such State refuse to accede to a condition so intrinsically just and so unprecedently moderate, can it fairly accuse the loyal Union men of the country of wickedly excluding it from Congress and dangerously delaying reunion? The almost universal testimony of the best witnesses of the condition of the late insurgent section - the tone of its leading and popular newspapers and addresses - the evidence of conspicuous insurgent leaders before Congress - their frank, private avowals and conduct, and the result of the local elections, all show that the hostitlity to the Union, in which the Southern citizens of this generation were bred, has not - and it is not surprising that it has not - been torn out of them by a terrible war which has devastated their homes and ruined their properties. Justice, policy, humanity, every wise and generous consideration, demand that they be not, therefore, harshly repelled and denied the fellowship of the Union. But the same conclusive reasons certainly require that they shall not have gained increased power in the Union. They and their purposes and policy are not new to the country. They are devoted, wily, audacious. A great party stands ready organized and eager to act with them. They are, indeed, for the moment prostrate, but they are not powerless; and as the Union takes them into its bosom again to renew their life, it is not unkind nor unwise if it seeks to guard against their sting.

Articles Relating to Johnson's First Vetoes:
A Long Step Forward
January 27, 1866, page 50

February 10, 1866, page 83

Education of the Freedmen
February 10, 1866, page 83

The Veto Message
March 3, 1866, page 130

The Freedmen’s Bureau
March 10, 1866, page 146

The President’s Speech
March 10, 1866, page 147

The Political Situation
April 14, 1866, page 226

The Civil Rights Bill
April 14, 1866, page 226

The Civil Rights Bill
April 21, 1866, page 243

The Congressional Plan of Reorganization
May 12, 1866, page 290

The Trial of the Government
May 26, 1866, page 322

Making Treason Odious
June 2, 1866, page 338

The Final Report of the Reconstruction Committee
June 23, 1866, page 387

The Report of the Congressional Committee
June 23, 1866, page 386

The Case Stated
August 4, 1866, page 482

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