The Impeachment of Andrew Johnson
»First Vetoes

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Harper's Weekly,
June 2, 1866, page 338

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Making Treason Odious
The President has directed that Raphael Semmes, the late commander of the late Alabama, shall not, while he remains unpardoned; hold or exercise the function of Probate Judge, to which office he had just been elected in Mobile. This is an indication of caution and prudence which will be commended by every good citizen.

When Mr. Johnson became President he made many speeches to many deputations, and the refrain of every speech was that treason must be made odious. No sentiment he ever uttered was more approved. It was not because he was understood to mean that there must be universal vengeance. No sensible man wished that there should be a general hanging and confiscation and outlawry. No one who knew history and human nature imagined that the peace which had been won could be secured by a vindictive policy. Treason was to be made odious by honoring patriotism. The Government was to favor those who had been faithful to it during the long, dark day of rebellion. Such a policy was founded in common sense. It was intelligible to the dullest mind. Why, then, has it been so often disregarded?

We are not of those who say or believe that the President wishes to put the Government into the hands of its enemies. It is sheer folly to insist that he is anxious to welcome red-handed rebels into Congress. A man is not proved a villain because his views appear to be shortsighted and perilous. Some of the honestest men in the world have done the most mischief, but for all that they were not bad men. That the President should wish to see the Union restored to its normal condition during his Administration is most natural and laudable; nor is it necessary to suspect the motives of such a desire. We disagree, indeed, with many of his views, and the temper in which he often discusses public affairs in his popular speeches is most lamentable. His disposition to make assent to his theories the test of patriotic fidelity is, of course, simply preposterous, and any systematic attempt upon his part, which we do not anticipate, but which is clamorously urged upon him, to prostitute the vast patronage of office to the promotion of his own purposes, however honestly those purposes may be entertained, we trust will be Constitutionally opposed to the utmost. But we believe he heartily deplores the unpromising state of feeling in large portions of the late rebel section, and while he is inclined to attribute it to the delay of Congress to admit loyal representatives from that section, he probably entirely forgets how much of the unsatisfactory condition of the late insurgent States is due to departures from the policy of making treason odious.

When the Union men of those States who have suffered every kind of outrage, who have been fined, mobbed, imprisoned, and have seen their Union neighbors hunted and tortured and hung for their fidelity to the Government, see a man like General Humphreys, of Mississippi, a conspicuous, leading traitor hastily pardoned by the President that he may become Governor; when they see Mr. Monroe, of New Orleans, another chief traitor, pardoned that he may become Mayor; when they see members of the Cabinet deliberately annulling the law of the land in order to appoint late rebels to national offices, while the most noted and tried Union men in the insurgent States ask in vain for such recognition of their fidelity, how can such men help bitterly feeling the contemptuous scorn with which the triumphant rebels regard them? How can they help asking why they might not as well have been rebels? How can they help the conviction that the policy of the Executive is conciliation of rebels and not recognition of Union men, or avoid asking with intense incredulity whether this is the way in which treason is to be made odious?

On the other hand, what is more natural than that the late rebels who, as the President solemnly declared last year, were to be made odious, seeing exactly what the Union men see, should denounce Congress precisely as they used to denounce "the North," should heap every insulting superlative upon the most loyal men in the country, should vociferously declare their "rights," and begin vehemently to expound the Constitution which for four years they have trampled under foot? What is more natural than that these men whose treason, the President taught us, was to make them odious, should persecute with savage ferocity the most unfortunate and defenseless of all Union men in the South, the freedmen, attach their teachers and assassinate the officers of the Bureau, when they see that the Executive is plainly hostile to the Freedmen’s Bureau, is reluctant to secure their civil rights, and fiercely denounces as traitors their especial friends? What is more natural than that these men who were to be made odious should make it odious to have been a Union man, and as Mr. Botts says in Virginia, should "assume a superiority over the loyal men of this State, impudent, defiant, and determined to ostracize, decapitate, and put the brand of infamy upon loyal men, and by legislation to render treason commendable and loyalty a crime." What wonder that the late rebel Mayor of Mobile, at a banquet of rebels, toasts together Andrew Johnson and Jefferson Davis, while John Minor Botts, whose fidelity to the Union will not be questioned, declares that he has abandoned President Johnson’s plan?

What is the explanation of this extraordinary state of affairs? A year ago, amidst the total ruin of the rebellion and exhaustion of the rebel section, and with the hearty sympathy and support of every loyal man in the land, Mr. Johnson became President, declaring, while all the people said Amen, that treason must be made odious. Now, when a year has passed, it is loyalty that is odious and dangerous in the disaffected section, and the vast body of loyal citizens gaze at the President in wonder. Is this situation to be explained by the delay of Congress to admit loyal representatives from unorganized States, or by the fact that the Executive has not succeeded in making treason odious in those States?

If from the moment he became President Mr. Johnson, while he reasonably pardoned and amnestied the late rebels, had strenuously supported in every way the constant Union men of the rebel States, if he had shown the most unflinching determination that every right of the freedmen should be respected, and had every where manifested the success of the Government by its official preference of those who had defended it and believed in it under terrible trials, then, whatever his differences with Congress upon questions of method might have been, his policy would have been as approved and resistless as that of Mr. Lincoln. As it is, the Union men of the Southern States are either silenced as before and during the war, or else with Mr. Botts they mean to try for their rights independently of the President.

The sad and stringent testimony of Mr. Botts and of Ex-Governor Holden of North Carolina, neither of them "Radicals," supported by the constant evidence of private letters and of the frankest statements of Southern Union men, that should the military force be withdrawn they could not continue to live at home– the incessant assaults upon the freedmen’s schools and teachers– the testimony of General Grant and of General Sheridan that a military force must be retained for a long time yet in the late disaffected States– the ferocity of the late rebel press, and the undoubted fact, as Governor Holden says, that "the true Unionists are dejected, cowed, proscribed, under the ban socially, pecuniarily, and politically," should certainly induce the President to consider whether there may not be some better explanation of the situation than the radicalism of Congress. A little radicalism is perhaps natural and even pardonable under the circumstances. And we have no doubt that if the Executive should unswervingly insist upon making treason odious, not by hanging or imprisoning or confiscating, nor by treating every man who was in arms as if he were a murderer, but by that firm preference of tried fidelity which is perfectly intelligible and practicable, the morbid truculence of tone in the late rebel section would abate, the painful and prolonged rupture in the great Union party would begin to heal, and the prospect of a truly "restored Union" would become much more promising.

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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