The Impeachment of Andrew Johnson
»Military Reconstruction

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Harper's Weekly, March 16, 1867, page 162

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If the moderation and propriety of tone which mark the Veto Messages of the President were ever to be found in his speeches he would be at least respected by the country, although his views might be rejected. The Messages, indeed, have no individual character, no raciness and quaintness, like those of his predecessor, but they are decorous and inoffensive, and becoming his position. They are all disheartening, however, from the narrow technical grasp and total want of the vital comprehension which the situation demands. They are the special pleas of a dull advocate who has taken a side; not the words of a statesman who regards only the commonwealth.

The veto of the Reconstruction bill illustrates what we say. It is a long paper, but it begs the whole question from beginning to end. There is not a good suggestion in it which is not wholly inapplicable. Being asked what he thinks of an eagle, the President proceeds to prove that a buzzard is not a nightingale. He makes an assertion contradicting the fundamental assertion of the bill, and goes on with his argument from premises which no one but himself concedes. The bill declares that there is no lawful government in any of the late rebel States. The President replies that "to pronounce the supreme law-making power of an established State illegal is to say that law itself is unlawful." What is an established South Carolina? If not, how is there any establishment there which is valid in the view of the National Government? And if the President’s will established the State, where does the Constitution, which he so earnestly commends, grant him the authority? Having thus assumed the whole case the President sweeps on with generalizations which have no relation to the facts, and statements which are disproved by the most ample evidence.

The President argues at great length that the Constitution does not authorize military depostisms in the States of the Union in a time of peace. He shows in detail that despotic will is the will of the despot. He quotes the late Indiana decision of the Supreme Court that in a time of peace the only valid military law is the Congressional law for the government of the army, and declares that the bill denies the right of trial by jury to nine millions of citizens. He points out that the bill enfranchises the negroes, who have not asked to be enfranchised, and that the Constitution gives no power to Congress to legislate upon suffrage in the States. Then he shows that the bill invalidates the governments of ten States which have already adopted the Emancipation Amendment, and that the Amendment falls if their assent was illegal. Finally, he celebrates the excellence of the Constitution itself, and its adequacy to every emergency.

Throughout this long document there is no sign of the least consciousness that the country is not at peace, but is settling the conditions of peace. It is not, indeed, bello flagrante, but it is bello cessante. The President has proclaimed that the rebellion has ceased, but that no more makes peace than his appointment of Provisional Governors establishes States. Congress alone can declare war and raise and support armies and navies, and Congress alone therefore can say when war has ceased. The President as usual returns to the Congressional declaration of July, 1861, that the war was not for subjugation, and he argues that it was merely the suppression of an insurrection. But the Supreme Court, upon which he relies, has decided that it was a war, and when a insurrection has proceeded upon the scale of the late war it is for Congress, and Congress alone, to decide when it has ended. The President merely repeats Alexander Stephen’s doctrine of the continuous right of States. There has been a riot, he says, like the Shay rebellion in Massachusetts, like the whisky insurrection in Pennsylvania, and the riot being suppressed, every thing reverts to its previous condition. And this is urged by a man who insisted, after the surrender of Lee, that "traitors should take a back seat in the work of restoration," and who declared that if there were five thousand men in Tennessee loyal to the Constitution, to freedom, and to justice, they should absolutely control the work of reorganization, while every rebel should be "subjected to a severe ordeal before he is restored to citizenship." The President who says that the rebellion of a State does not destroy or interrupt its relations in the Union is the same President who, within two years, required the rebel States to adopt the Emancipation Amendment, to repudiate their rebel debt, and to disavow their secession ordinances as conditions of their return to the Union.

Every argument of the Veto Message is fatal to the policy which the President has pursued; every assertion is contrary to the express evidence, and every appeal to the Constitution is futile from a man who denies to the people in Congress a power which he alone has not hesitated to exercise. It is plain that the President has nothing more to say. His position has been as fully and ably explained as it can be, and it is utterly and indignantly repudiated by the people. Since, then, his oath binds him to execute the laws, and since the most vital laws, in his judgment, are unconstitutional, why does he consent to be an instrument of what he considers fatally destructive measures? He tells us that he is a patriot. Do patriots remain in place when they think that they are to be used to destroy the liberties of their country?

Articles Related to Military Reconstruction:
News Items
January 19, 1867, page 35

January 26, 1867, page 50

Congress and Impeachment
February 16, 1867, page 98

The Probability of Impeachment
February 23, 1867, page 114

The Louisiana Bill
March 2, 1867, page 130

March 9, 1867, page 146

The Thirty-Ninth Congress
March 9, 1867, page 146

The Veto of the Reconstruction Bill

March 16, 1867, page 162

The Fortieth Congress

March 30, 1867, page 195

The Fortieth Congress

April 6, 1867, page 211

Sprats and Vetoes

April 6, 1867, page 210

Adjournment of Congress

April 13, 1867, page 226

Prometheus Bound

March 2, 1867, page 137

The Result

March 30, 1867, page 194

The Southern Commanders

April 6, 1867, page 218

The Debate upon Impeachment

March 23, 1867, page 178

We Accept the Situation (cartoon)

April 13, 1867, page 240

The Big Thing (cartoon)

April 20, 1867, page 256

The End of Impeachment
June 22, 1867, page 386


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