The Impeachment of Andrew Johnson
»First Vetoes

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Harper's Weekly,
April 14, 1866, page 226

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The Political Situation
It was unfortunate that the President should have lately said to a delegation from New Jersey that he is too old to change, for the greatest changes of his life have occurred within the last five years, and no reasonable man is ever too old to be convinced. Especially at a time like this, when the wisdom of public policy and the national welfare depend not upon theories but upon the actual condition of affairs, it is surely the part of wisdom to cultivate patience and toleration and an open mind. During the dark days of the war a Union Senator came one day from an interview with President Lincoln and exclaimed, impatiently: "There’s no bracing atmosphere at the White House! The President’s mind is never made up. No Union man is stronger for seeing him." Then it was a very dull Union man. Mr. Lincoln was strong because he was patient. His patience enabled him to know and to weigh exactly the force of opinions. If he had constantly said upon the vital points of the war, "My mind is made up. I am not to be moved," he would have lacked precisely the distinctive quality of his greatness as a man and of his fitness as President.

President Johnson’s temperament differs from President Lincoln’s as General Jackson’s did from General Washington’s. Mr. Johnson likes a fight. All his life he has been a sturdy political champion. He has been trained in the most orthodox discipline of the most despotic of parties, and he gives blows as well as takes them. At the close of a fierce war he stepped into the Presidency over the body of his predecessor murdered by those who would gladly have killed him; and his grim resolution to maintain the Constitution and Union, as he understood them, promised to be inflexible against all whose views differed from his own. But forgetting, as it seems to us, that the most patriotic men may honestly differ in a crisis like the present, he rather imprudently recognizes as the only friends of the Union those who support his policy in every point, without weighing the probable and obvious motives of such support in many quarters. Thus while he declares himself with peculiar emphasis the defender of the Union and Constitution it is remarkable that those who have not shown during the war that they were its enemies doubt the wisdom of some of his measures, while those who have been the open and bloody or secret and treacherous foes of the Union, now vehemently applaud every word he utters and every act he does. Is it that those who with Andrew Johnson have hitherto defended the Union against every assault did not comprehend what they were doing; or is it that those who after long deliberation struggled fiercely to destroy it, are at heart its most intelligent advocates, its truest friends, and the safest counselors in its reorganization?

But this rapturous approval of the President by his political enemies is not a new phenomenon. The party which advised surrender to the rebellion, and exhausted the language in contemptuous vituperation of Mr. Johnson while he stood like a rock against their treasonable fury, has no course left but to excite and exasperate division between him and his friends. They applaud him not because he demands that treason shall be made odious, not because he maintained military rule and suspended the habeas corpus in the disturbed States, not because he imposed assent to emancipation upon those States and excepted large classes from amnesty, not because he demanded that "a public enemy* * * should be subjected to a severe ordeal before he is restored to citizenship," but because his measures do not command the unqualified support of all Union men, and because they hope to widen a difference into a fatal breach. When Mr. S. S. Cox, who said at Chicago in 1864 that Lincoln and Davis ought to be brought to the same block together now says at New Haven that Mr. Johnson, the faithful friend of Mr. Lincoln and elected with him, is the best of Presidents, it is hard to believe that a politician so experienced as Mr. Johnson does not estimate such support at its true value. He must know that the breach between him and the Copperheads is irreparable. He must know that they would willingly use him as a wedge to split the Union party, as a stalking-horse to their own purposes, as a spring-board to leap into power; that they would use him to the last and then contemptuously discard him. He ought surely to know that the party which must rely for success upon its old alliance with the old spirit of Slavery in the South, and not upon the new spirit of Union and Liberty there, would as soon vote for Charles Sumner as for Andrew Johnson. The Copperhead policy of to-day is a vast reaction against the spirit and results of the war and in favor of the old Southern policy. In such a reaction does the military Governor of Tennessee, the Senator who alone from his section defied to the death the leaders of that old Southern policy, think that he has any place? Had the Presbyterian chiefs honor and confidence in the Court of the Restoration?

The President can not hope to create a new party however doubtful States may waver. The Union Party comprising that overwhelming majority of loyal men who sustained the war can not disband merely because the war is over. It will of necessity cohere until the fair results of the war are secured. With who, then, will the President trust himself, with his friends or his foes? However he may differ with those friends, can the difference be really so radical as it is with his opponents? We have no wish to conceal that difference. The various views and measures which compose what is called "the President’s policy" are undoubtedly held and proposed by him in perfect good faith. They are inspired by the conviction that the great object now to be attained is security with conciliation, and the preservation of our constitutional system. In this conviction all patriotic men will agree. But upon the question what is security, and what is or is not Constitutional, there are wide differences. When the President assumes that by a formal acceptance of the terms he has imposed the Union is really restored, when he refuses to hear of further delays or conditions; when he opposes any constitutional amendment, or any serious national legislation whatever until the late rebel States are represented in Congress: when he thinks that the present remedies of law are sufficient for whatever friction or wrong there may be in States so long distempered, or, if they are inadequate, that they should not be strengthened until those States have a voice in Congress, he differs from the vast body of the Union party, and apparently begs the very question at issue, which is, upon what conditions those States shall have a voice?

It is not enough that he declares himself the defender of the Constitution against those whom he calls its new assailants. It is not enough that he declares his abhorrence of centralization. It is not enough that he declares that he stands by the Union, and that those who do not agree in every point of his policy are enemies of the Union. That question still remains. The President is unquestionably pure of purpose, and very determined. He may be clear in comprehending and skillful in interpreting the Constitution. He has certainly proved his fidelity to the Union. But the equal integrity, and ability, and devotion, and firmness of Congress can not be questioned. President Johnson must see that the Union party can not accept the indiscriminate support of all his views and measures as the test of constitutional fidelity; and he makes a profound mistake if he regards the situation as a struggle between himself and Mr. Thaddeus Stevens. When he sees those who have as little respect for Mr. Stevens’s wisdom as he has himself gravely questioning his course, it is a fatal delusion if he sees only Mr. Stevens.

The question is simple. Is it possible for the President to believe that the party whose last general and official manifesto was the Chicago Platform of 1864 is sincerely the Union party of this country? Would he trust to that convention to settle the questions of to-day more than of two years ago? If the alternative is presented to him of surrendering to that party, or of attempting to form a party composed of the Copperheads, the late rebels, and a few recruits from the Union line, or of continuing to act with those who have fought with him the good fight, but who now, in some important points, differ with his judgment, we shall believe, until belief is impossible, that he still holds to his words of the 8th of February, "that he might differ with some of his friends, and he should feel wholly at liberty so to differ, and to state the grounds of his contrary belief or opinion; but he considered himself identified with the great Union party , and had no desire or intention of being found outside. He intended to exercise his own judgment, but was ready to yield it when he found it was not sustained by the judgment of the people.

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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