The Impeachment of Andrew Johnson
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Harper's Weekly, May 9, 1868, page 290

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The result of the great trial will probable be known when this paper is issued. Nothing new in evidence, except the extraordinary dispatch to Governor Parsons, of Alabama and nothing new in argument has been developed during all the long proceedings. That the President thought the law unconstitutional; that the Cabinet were of the same opinion; that he would assert that Mr. Stanton does not stand within the law; that he would profess an edifying purity of purpose, and urge that he alone could bring the law to the judicial test, were all familiar propositions. They have been amplified, intensified, elaborated, combined, and reiterated by the skillful counsel of the President, excepting Mr. Nelson, whose speech, however well meant, must be regarded as a burlesque. But no dexterous decoration can make vulgarity seem to be refinement, and no ability of the advocate can conceal the significance of familiar facts, or bewilder the plain public judgment upon them.

For not the Senate only, but the whole country has been sitting as a Court of Impeachment. The country will also render its verdict, whatever that of the Senate may be. It is not likely to be confused by the loud cry of congressional absorption of power, because it sees that in the very nature of government, however skillfully checks and balances may be devised, no checkmate can be supposed to be intended, and therefore the final, supreme power must reside somewhere. It knows that in our system it resides with the people, under certain prescribed forms. Under those forms it remains with them always and at every moment; and therefore, when the Executive in the judgment of the representatives is accused of high misdemeanors, and in the judgment of the Senate is guilty and removed from office, it is still the people exercising under those forms the supreme sovereign power. If the action of the President within the limit of those of his powers which are vague and doubtful betrays a disposition to thwart the will of the country as decidedly expressed in Congress, it is the duty of Congress to restrain and control his action as far as it lawfully may, and to prevent the mischief which he may contemplate. And when his dullness or his daring transcend the plain bounds of his official discretion it is the duty of the House instantly to arraign him, and in the name of the people whom it represents to state why it demands his removal.

Mr. Boutwell’s argument for the Managers was the clear, ample, admirable statement of the people against the President. He showed conclusively that the assumption of the Executive was fatal to national peace; and his reasoning upon the constitutional point of the senatorial advice as necessary to removal as to appointment was peculiarly good and strictly harmonious with the seventy sixth Number of the Federalist, in which the question is fully discussed contemporaneously with the formation of the Constitution.

With great force and sobriety Mr. Boutwell also urged the view that we have constantly advocated, that it is no excuse for the violation of a law by the Executive that he wished to test its validity. He is sworn to see that the laws are faithfully executed. If he may, after exhausting his veto, still continue to impose it, under the plea of seeking a judicial approval of the constitutionality of the law, the Congress of the United States is reduced to a mere committee of suggestion, and if Congress should fail to exercise its rightful authority to withstand such usurpation, its assent would be its own abolition as the chief department of the Government, and the consummation of a revolution which would inevitably lead to an overthrow of our whole symmetrical political system. For such an act no good motive can be pleaded, because none can be supposed. When an officer has taken an oath faithfully to execute a law, and then deliberately violates it upon a plea which would make him the judge in every instance whether he would observe his oath or not, and upon a plea which necessarily clothes him with enormous and dangerous power, the fact that he says it is all done for public welfare is of no importance. If he sincerely thinks it to be so, it is still of no importance. The will of the most virtuous and sagacious man in the country can not be suffered to become the Government. If he try to make it so the presumption is wholly against him; and it is not necessary to show that his motive is bad for an act which is subversive of the fundamental law.

Nor upon the ground that Mr. Stanton does not stand within the law, and that, consequently, his removal was no violation of the law, have we ever had any doubt. The intention of the law was plainly expressed during the debate upon its passage. It was introduced after the determination of the President to thwart Congress was apparent, and when Congress felt it to be, as it undoubtedly was, its duty to limit his action as stringently as it Constitutionally could. It was felt that, if the President could remove his Cabinet at his pleasure and surround himself with men willing to be his tools, the national peril was palpably increased. The passage of the law was resisted upon the very ground that it perplexed the President in the selection of his political family and counselors. We heard this argument urged in the Senate. It was repeated in the newspapers. The law was opposed as special legislation. It was defended upon the ground that when peculiar peril revealed the necessity of a law, that fact could be no argument against it, provided there were nothing objectionable in the principle. We know that certain leading men felt the law to be imperatively necessary in order to retain Mr. Stanton in the War Department, which they considered to be an essential point. And we think that events have justified their view.

If this were the intention, there is certainly no fair doubt of the words of the law. If we follow Mr. Groesbeck into what we must call quibbling, the law says that the Secretary of War, with the other Secretaries, shall hold office "for and during the term of the President by whom they may have been appointed, and for one month after, subject to removal" with the consent of the Senate. Now, President Lincoln appointed Mr. Stanton, and when the Tenure-of-Office Act was passed Mr. Stanton held by President Lincoln’s appointment, and for President Lincoln’s term. The Vice-President succeeding Mr. Lincoln, whether in the first or in the last week of his term, serves only for the remainder of that term. Mr. Groesbeck says that the dead have no estate. Does Mr. Johnson, then, serve as President until the 15th of April 1869, which, according to Mr. Groesbeck’s theory, is the end of his term of four years? If Mr. Lincoln had lived until now would Mr. Johnson have served for four years from now? Certainly he would, unless he is filling the Presidential term for which Mr. Lincoln was elected. Mr. Groesbeck’s question of "which term" of Mr. Lincoln’s is not so important as he seemed to think it. A Secretary appointed by a President and continued by him upon his re-election is, in common-sense, reappointed. And if Mr. Stanton’s office were vacated by the Tenure-of-Office Law, then he has been holding the office by the President’s permission, who has thus contravened the second section of the Act. But if Mr. Johnson believed that Mr. Stanton did not stand within the law why did he suspend him in accordance with the law, and thus acknowledge by his official action that he recognized it as valid? Indeed, the President has no defense but a quibble—and even the quibble is not sound. Mr. Thaddeus Stevens’s speech, which it was supposed might be very intemperate in tone, was admirable both in substance and manner. Two sentences we quote, and commend to the Chicago Convention: "Good deeds will never be done, wise acts will never be executed, except by the virtuous and the conscientious. May the people of this republic remember this good old doctrine when they next meet to select their rulers, and may they select only the brave and the virtuous."

If the judgment of the Senate shall be what we have no doubt the intelligent public opinion of the country expects, Andrew Johnson will be removed from the office whose sworn duty he has violated, and which he has disgraced beyond precedent. He is not a man to remain silent. He will doubtless do all that he can do by speeches upon the stump to secure the ascendancy of the party that was friendly to the rebellion, and hates the results which the war secured—results which will surely be gradually established in the national conviction and policy. If removed, he passes from public official life without a serious regret upon the part of any human being. He cannot claim for himself, nor will any man claim for him, the dignity and consideration of a martyr to great principles. If, indeed, his character and career had been spotless, noble, and humane; had he committed the same offense with a clear and palpably upright purpose, although it might have been necessary to show by the last resort that no man, with whatever honest intention, must presume to substitute his will for the law, yet then the homage that the world always gladly pays to honest error and humane purpose would have followed his retirement.

If the judgment of the Senate shall be other than we believe it must be, that of the intelligence and loyalty of the country will still remain. The usurpation indeed will continue and increase. The national agitation will be deepened. The spirit that rebelled, and is still defiant, will be quickened into still more baleful activity. The country will move one step nearer to breaking its pecuniary faith with its creditors and its moral faith with the freedmen. The heart of every lover of liberty and of free institutions in the world will ache as he watches the results of the great victory of civilization delayed. But the conscience, and intelligence, and devotion that successfully surmounted every trial of the war would not decline the embittered political contest that the acquittal of the President would provoke; and the same sagacious, silent, resistless leader who triumphantly ended the war, would bring the old foe under a new face to unconditional surrender.

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