The Impeachment of Andrew Johnson
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Harper's Weekly, March 28, 1868, page 194

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"It is a pity to show how easily a President can be removed," say some. "It is a pity to make a precedent that will lead every Congressional opposition in the majority to remove the Executive," says others. To the first remark we reply that the removal of a President for a clear violation of law is no easier a process than the Constitution intended it to be. And which is the greater pity—that the Executive should continue to impose his veto after its constitutional expiration, until he can procure the judgment of the Supreme Court, or that an Executive which refuses to obey the law should be legally removed? And if the President should be removed, is it "easily" done? Let us see:

When the proposition was originally made, more than a year ago, the universal feeling among those who had elected Mr. Johnson was that, although he was strenuously endeavoring to baffle the intentions of the people as expressed by their representatives, yet he was ingeniously keeping within the letter of the law; while, to make sure of a successful impeachment, technical guilt was necessary. His conduct in connection with the New Orleans massacre; his reeling tour and maudlin speeches in the summer of 1866, might, if themselves—as it seemed to many—have justified a charge of "misdemeanor," if nothing more. But it was remarked that while he coarsely insulted Congress he yet recognized its authority; and the good-sense of the country concluded that it was expedient to await the ordinary method of an election to remove an obstacle to its will. This conclusion was more emphatically declared by the enormous majority against impeachment at the opening of the present session, when the laws that had been passed over the veto of the President had made his efforts to paralyze the equitable reconstruction of the Union still more abortive. His malevolence was evident; but although a great misfortune to every national pacification, it was better to endure it to the end than to impeach without palpable and technical guilt which should satisfy every one who was not skeptical of every thing that Congress could do.

Under plea of testing the constitutionality of a law by making a case for the Supreme Court, the President violated the law. He had now supplied the technical offense. His whole career, and the immediate circumstances of the case, tended to show that his act was tentative merely. There could be no reasonable doubt that, if not at once arrested in his course, the President would not hesitate to take steps still more daring; and the same House that a little more than two months before had so decidedly opposed impeachment now by the whole Republican vote impeached. We ask those who think the impeachment will show how easily a President may be removed, what else could Congress have done? If it be said that it might have awaited the opinion of the Court, we reply that it could only have done so, if at all, when it had reason to believe in the honest purpose of the President; and even if it had been sure of that purpose, it might properly have said that the precedent was too dangerous. For if the Executive may continue to impose his veto when it has been constitutionally over-ruled, in one case, he may do so in every case.

If, indeed, President Lincoln had vetoed any law passed by the Thirty-ninth Congress, upon the ground of unconstitutionality, and it had been passed over his veto, we can very well understand that he might have arranged with Congress that it should be judicially determined by a case mutually agreed upon; but only because of the extraordinary circumstances of the time and of the remarkable confidence that was reposed in him personally. But if Breckinridge, or Pendleton, or Seymour had been President at the time, and had directly violated the law under plea of awaiting a judgment of the Court, we can not imagine that Congress would have delayed impeachment for a single week. The declared opinions and antecedents of those three persons would have furnished a conclusive presumption against the loyalty of their intentions. Congress could not safely have trusted them. If an Executive were ever to be removed by impeachment, the case would have arisen.

That a party majority in the House will hereafter naturally resort to impeachment when a mere difference arises with the President we have no fear. This is not a difference with the President; it is, in the judgment of the House, a violation of law. As for party majorities and their action we presume that there is nobody who doubts that had a democratic Congress under its slaveholding leaders found itself opposed by the President, and at the same time in command of a two-thirds vote, it would have promptly impeached him if he had refused to obey a law passed over his veto until the Supreme Court could move in the matter. The present impeachment is a party measure, undoubtedly, but no more than the opposition to it; and it is necessarily a party measure, because the law which the Executive violated was passed by a party majority. Impeachment contemplates a political offense, among others, and the trial is of necessity a political trial. It need not therefore be strictly and offensively partisan, although, as the members of a great party naturally sympathize upon political questions, it will almost inevitably assume a party aspect. Yet it must be always remembered that the Republican majority refused to impeach the President for betraying the cause which he was elected to serve. He is impeached not for treason to his party, but for violating the law which he had sworn to execute. If he be removed it can not be said that a Republican Congress punished a President because he differed in opinion, but because, against the Constitution, he endeavored to make his opinion law.

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