The Impeachment of Andrew Johnson
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Harper's Weekly, April 4, 1868, page 210

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There is a persistent assertion made in some quarters that the President is not to be tried for an offense of the highest possible character, the insinuation being that he should, therefore, not be tried at all, or that his trial is a work of mere party desperation. It is very true that the President is not charged with such an offense as endeavoring to convey the forts of the United States into the hands of a foreign enemy, but he is charged with the deliberate violation of a law, with the usurpation of the powers of the other two branches of the Government; and his character and career compel every candid man to regard the offense as tentative merely; nor do we suppose any such man doubts that, had he been allowed impunity in setting aside the law, under any pretense whatever, his next step, might have plunge the country into terrible confusion. The pleas which he incessantly urges that he merely wished to test the constitutionality of the law is entitled to precisely the same respect with the declaration of a royal motu proprio that, "From considerations of affection for my beloved people, and from regard for public order, the freedom of the press is abolished." Men who mean mischief are not in the habit of saying that they mean it.

It is said that the President had been shorn of power, that he had been rendered harmless, and that there was therefore all the less reason for impeaching him, except for the highest possible offense. But how had he been shorn of power? Merely by the laws of Congress, of which the Tenure-of-Office law was one. And for what is he impeached? For violating one of those laws. Unwilling to be restrained, and resolved, if possible, to exert all his force for mischief, the President tries to set aside the laws, and naturally begins with the one which he considers the weakest, and which he believes the country will regard as the most unimportant. It is urged that he can neither control the purse nor the sword. But what have been all his efforts to get a creature of his own into the War Department, and to summon Sherman or Thomas to Washington, but attempts to discover whether he could not control the sword? If he could put Rousseau, or Steedman, or Granger into the War Department, would he hesitate to do it, and for what purpose would he place either of them there? It is childish to argue that the President is bound by the law when he is impeached for violation of the law. It is equally trivial to insist that the law is an unimportant one. It is the violation of law that is in question. It was upon a rate of thirty-one shillings and sixpence that John Hampden made his stand against the ship-money. If the King could not dispense with the law, it was as illegal to attempt the collection of a penny as of a million pounds. If the President may disregard or violate the least law, all the laws are at his mercy.

In the case of the President the constitutionality of the law is not now mooted. Is the Tenure-of Office bill a law? If so, does it include the present Secretary of War as one of the officers who can not be removed without the consent of the Senate? If so, did the President remove him without consulting the Senate? These are the questions. If they shall be answered affirmatively, what reply is it to say, even could it be proved, that the President meant no mischief? The best and wisest man in the Executive Chair could not be allowed to use his discretion in obeying the laws any more than the best and wisest Congress could be allowed to dispense altogether with the Executive. But when a man who has the confidence of no party whatever, who is merely upheld against the dominant party by political opposition which despises him, whom nobody trusts or respects, and from whose action the baffled rebellion hopes to pluck a tardy victory—when such a man in the Executive Chair assumes to violate laws at his pleasure, under whatever his plea, he can not expect an immunity that could not be wisely granted to the most trusted and beloved citizen.

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