The Impeachment of Andrew Johnson
»Military Reconstruction

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Harper's Weekly, April 6, 1867, page 210

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There is a very old story of which President Johnson’s vetoes are sure to remind every one who ever heard it. A man and his wife quarreled at the table about a certain fish. Were they sprats or smelts? The wife vehemently declared for sprats, until in the violence of her action and gesticulation she broke down her chair and sank upon the floor. But as she fell, not knowing what fate was in reserve, she shouted triumphantly, "Sprats! Sprats! If I die for it!" So, in the long debate between the President and the country, he will not make even a sign of surrender. Congress declaring that rebel States shall be restored only upon certain conditions enacts laws and submits them to the Executive. His argument is long since outworn, but for the twelfth time, on Saturday, the 23d March, he retorted that the States were in the Union and Congress was a usurper: "Sprats! Sprats! If I die for it!"

As he was the first so the President seems resolved to be the last serious obstacle to a reconstruction of the Union. He came into office, metaphorically speaking, foaming at the mouth. He was so tremendous in his denunciations of treason, and smiled so savagely that "rebels must take back seats" in the work of reconstruction, that sensible men were afraid that wisdom was to be swallowed up in wrath, and revenge defy reason. But although the roaring was appalling the author of the noise soon whispered that he was only Snug the joiner, and that we need not fear that anything would happen. Instantly the men who had supposed when they were conquered that they must yield began to hope that they might recover by craft what they had failed to retain by force. Instantly loyal men were compelled by the treatment they received from the Government and the late rebels, to ask what they had gained by their loyalty? Instantly the conquered citizens began to sneer that the Government was afraid of them, and did not understand its own victory or dare to use it. And this restless insolence rapidly poisoned the public mind in the Southern States, carefully fostered by the President and Mr. Seward, until it actually mastered, through its Northern supporters, the Doolittle Philadelphia Convention, which was, upon the whole, as ludicrous as it was lachrymose, and is by far the most utterly absurd Convention in our political history.

This hope at the South of recovering power without paying any penalty for one of the greatest crimes in history? for so mankind must always regard a bloody war to destroy a mild Government not charged with oppression, and to destroy it in order to perpetuate human Slavery? was due to the President. He declaimed, he protested, he raged against the conscience and common- sense of the country until with one vast indignant voice the country replied that it had won a victory and meant to secure it. But sprats, sprats was the reply. Veto after veto fell, until Congress passed a simple act reorganizing the rebel States upon Republican principles, and prescribing the details of the method. From that moment the future was clear. Men like Ex-Governor Brown, Wade Hampton, and General Longstreet, who did the hard work of the rebellion, and who, educated by Slavery, understand when aye means aye and no no, begin at once to counsel submission and co-operation. They understand that their cause is lost, and they act accordingly.

The President’s last veto is the weakest of all the vetoes. The bill secures equal protection in life and liberty by the only power which experience has shown to be equal to the occasion and it provides for a Government based upon all the people, excluding certain rebels, at the pleasure of Congress. Nothing simpler, more necessary, more humane, more American and Republican, could be devised. But the President throws at it the feeble remnants of his old argument. He even has the hardihood to declare in his extremity that "in all these States there are existing Constitutions formed in the accustomed way by the people." It is the last expiring shriek of "Sprats! Sprats! If I die for it!"

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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