The Impeachment of Andrew Johnson
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News Article
Harper's Weekly,   September 15, 1866, page 583

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HarpWeek Commentary: By September 1866, Harper’s Weekly was leery of President Johnson but did not condemn him outright. This article and the one on the following page were accompanied by the same picture of him used on May 13, 1865.


We have had in our political four eminently critical Presidential administrations: Washington’s, in which the Constitution, established in 1787, was first tested in operation; Jackson’s, in which this Constitution was for the first time seriously threatened by Calhoun’s adherents in South Carolina; Lincoln’s, in which Calhoun’s doctrines, finding support in eleven Southern States, culminated in open rebellion against the Constitution; and Johnson’s, in which the rebellion, having been suppressed and the Constitution having triumphed over its armed opponents (or misinterpreters, if they prefer that designation), it became necessary for the General Government to step in, and, under the Constitution, to guarantee to disorganized States "a republican form of government," and to secure the peace of the country and the perfect allegiance of all its citizens, which had been obtained by military conquest. The first three of these administrations were eminently successful. Under Washington the Constitution, then for the first time put into operation, fully justified the hopes of its distinguished founders, who, after years of often-repeated and often-baffled attempts, had finally secured its adoption by the people. Jackson, with characteristic firmness, silenced the Nullifiers of 1832. Lincoln, with a fidelity to the Constitution and an honesty of purpose in enforcing its claims, equally characteristic, suppressed the rebellion of 1860 – 61. The issue of Johnson’s administration remains yet to be decided.

Andrew Johnson, the seventeenth President of the United States, is probably as remarkable a man as our country has produced. His career is a notable one. He was born in Raleigh, North Carolina, December 19, 1808. At the age of 10 years he was apprenticed to a tailor in his native city. The circumstances of his early life were calculated to give him an appreciation of many of the worst evils of the Slave system prevalent in the South. The disadvantages under which he, as a poor boy, labored as contrasted to the advantages of the privilege few, were only too apparent to him at every step. No institution of learning opened its doors to him. During the seven years of his apprenticeship he learned to read, an acquisition due, in part, to accident but still more to his own ingenuity and untiring perseverance. His first reading-book¾ and that was a borrowed one¾ was a volume of speeches, chiefly those of British statesmen. In 1826, at the age of 18, he removed to Greenville, in East Tennessee, where he was so fortunate as to marry a young lady who was competent to teach him writing and the first rudiments of arithmetic. This was the completion of Andy’s schooling; the refinements of a college education were beyond his reach; the knowledge which he had, though not securing the ends of a higher and more scholastic culture, fitted him for the uses of life.

As might be supposed, when we find him at the age of twenty entering upon the arena of political conflict, his instincts and opinions are emphatically democratic. His first political success was against the aristocratic element in Greenville, his own town, where for three years he held the office of Alderman, and was immediately afterward promoted to the Mayoralty, which he held for three years. In 1834 he was influential in securing for his State a new Constitution, guaranteeing the freedom of speech and of the press, and enlarging the liberties of the masses. In 1835 he was elected to the Tennessee Legislature; in 1840 was one of the Presidential Electors from that State; in 1841 was sent to the State Senate; in 1843 was elected to Congress, and re-elected in 1845 and 1847; in 1853 was elected Governor of Tennessee, being re-elected in 1855; was elected United States Senator in 1857 for the full term of six years; and in 1862 was appointed by President Lincoln Military Governor of Tennessee.

Such was the curriculum of official life run by Andrew Johnson before he was, in 1864, elected Vice-President of the United States. His political record during all these years has been well defined, and, in the main, consistent. His maiden speech in Congress was made in support of the resolution to restore the fine imposed upon General Jackson for having placed New Orleans under martial law. Judging from his Congressional record, we should set him down as a stiff Democrat of the Andrew Jackson school. He warmly advocated the annexation of Texas, and he thought that State would "prove to be the gateway out of which the sable sons of Africa are to pass from bondage to freedom, and become merged in a population congenial with themselves"¾ a prophecy which had no basis and no verification. He has made since his accession to the Presidency a somewhat liberal use of the veto power; but we find that in 1847 he made a very eloquent argument in favor of the exercise of this power, in the course of which he said that Jackson had exercised this power nine times. In this respect Johnson may certainly claim to have successfully imitated his prototype. He was a strong advocate of the Mexican war, and he opened the agitation of the Homestead bill, of which he was an ardent supporter until its passage.

But it is in Andrew Johnson’s Senatorial career, and especially in his denunciation of the Secession movement of 1860, that the strong points of his statesmanship are most apparent. He can justly claim the rare merit, which all will cheerfully accord him, of having been the only Southern representative in Congress who stood firm to the Union in its greatest peril. Of course this destroyed his popularity at the South. In his own State he was burned in effigy. Passing through Lynchburg at the height of this Secession excitement, in the winter of 1860, he was groaned and hissed by a mob, who threatened to take him form the cars to hang him. The Memphis Avalanche of April 25, 1861, exultantly described his having his nose pulled by another mob at Liberty, in Virginia. It was this noble stand taken by Andrew Johnson for the enforcement of the Constitution which insured him the Vice-Presidency.

In the special session called by President Lincoln in the summer if 1861 we find Mr. Johnson the ablest supporter of the apparently arbitrary acts of the President in increasing the army, claiming that Mr. Lincoln had only anticipated Congressional legislation. Yet Mr. Johnson stood by the Constitution even in making war upon its enemies. It was he who introduced into the Senate, July 26, the following resolution (previously adopted in the House), and which passed by a vote of 80 against 5:

Resolved, That the present deplorable civil war has been forced upon the country by the disunionists of the Southern States, now in revolt against the Constitutional Government, and in arms around the Capitol; that, in this national emergency, Congress, banishing all feeling of mere passion or resentment, will recollect only its duty to the whole country; that this war is not prosecuted upon our part in any spirit of oppression, nor for any purpose of conquest or subjugation, nor for the purpose of authorizing or interfering with the rights or established institutions of those States, but to defend and maintain the supremacy of the Constitution and all laws made in pursuance thereof, and to preserve the Union, with all dignity, equality, and rights of the several States unimpaired; that as soon as these objects are accomplished the war ought to cease.

The principle involved in this resolution is the key-note of Andrew Johnson’s policy to-day. And this brings us down to the immediate present. We pass over Mr. Johnson’s career as Military Governor of Tennessee, which was thoroughly consistent with his Congressional record. He was, without parade, inaugurated President of the United States upon the day of Mr. Lincoln’s death. We shall not here quote what he had previously said about hanging conscious traitors, nor, as is the habit of many, shall we denounce him for not having made the unsparing use of the halter which he once threatened. This journal has never advocated the execution of these threats, has never indeed recommended any vindictive policy as against the persons of those lately in rebellion. It is not worth our while to inquire what has turned Mr. Johnson toward a more lenient policy¾ the policy of pardoning rebels instead of hanging them. It may have been that a deep sense of his responsibility upon the assumption of the Presidential office led him to change his mind as to the expediency of such measures as he had formerly proposed, or it may have been the example of his predecessor which altered his purpose. Whatever it may have been, we have no fault to find with him in this regard.

The main objection presented against Mr. Johnson’s conduct of the problem of reconstruction by those who were formerly his supporters arises from a divergence of views between him and them as to the expediencies and necessities of the situation. They wish to secure the results of the war, and they go somewhat farther than he does in the guaranties which they ask of the late rebels. The case stands simply thus: The rebels in arms were disarmed by our soldiers; submission to the arbitrament of war was the least that could be expected of them¾ this was simply the recognition of defeat, and by no means involved of necessity a return to their allegiance. But they claimed that they not only recognized their defeat, but were willing also to yield their allegiance to the Government and to unite with their victors in such a restoration of peace and union as was dictated by the necessities and proprieties of the situation in which the war had left the country. They accordingly nullified secession, repudiated the rebel debt, and ratified the Constitutional Amendment abolishing slavery. President Johnson accepted these acts as satisfactory evidences of the good faith and loyalty of Southern citizens. He recognized the rebel States a restored to their normal relations with the General Government, except in the very important matter of representation, which he must leave to Congress. Well, Congress, upon its assembling, claimed that the Legislative Department had something to determine in this matter of restoration¾ something more than was involved in the mere examination of the credentials of Southern Congressmen. In short, Congress was not satisfied with the guaranties which the President had secured: these were good as far they went, but still others were necessary. In the first place, Congress determined it was necessary to secure the equal rights before the law of all citizens without respect to race, class, or color; and still further, the States ought, by an amendment of the Constitution, to be put upon as equal footing in their basis of representation.

Congress decided, therefore, that these two things must be secured, precedent to its recognition of the States as restored. Here, in few words, is the difference between the President and the Thirty-ninth Congress. Between them the people are to decide. We have, in this place, no arguments to offer in support or opposition of either side. Arguments of this nature are presented every week in our Editorial columns. One thing, however, seems certain. The difference between the President and Congress has brought on a deplorable situation in the South. It seems to be taken for granted there that the late rebels will be sustained in their proscription of Union men and their infuriated animosity against the freedmen; and it is to be feared that a popular victory on the side of the President will tend to confirm this assumption. This is a consideration eminently worthy the attention of all who are in favor of equal rights, and who are not willing to forget those in the South who have been faithful adherents of the Union cause during the war.

Articles relating to Johnson's Background:
Andrew Johnson (small bio)

June 25, 1864, page 402

The Union Nominations
June 25, 1864, page 402

President Andrew Johnson
May 13, 1865, page 289

The President and the Secretary of State
May 20, 1865, page 306

Andrew Johnson
September 15, 1866, page 583

Andrew Johnson
September 15, 1866, page 584

The Vice-Presidency
September 14, 1867, page 578

The Vice-Presidency
December 7, 1867, page 770


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