The Impeachment of Andrew Johnson
»Military Reconstruction

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Harper's Weekly, February 23, 1867, page 114

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A Government is practically overthrown when its laws are unexecuted. The Constitution of the United States, therefore, provides that for high crimes and misdemeanors, the chief of which is failure to execute the laws, the President may be impeached and removed. But it is of the highest importance that the evidence be so plain as to convince the country; otherwise an impeachment merely excites instead of composing trouble.

It is unquestionably becoming the public conviction that Mr. Ashley, (Representative James Ashley of Ohio) although sincerely persuaded that the President was guilty of impeachable offenses, was not so fully furnished with conclusive evidence as to satisfy the Judiciary Committee, and justify a recommendation of impeachment. His specific charges were: corrupt abuse of the appointing and pardoning power; corrupt disposition of the public property; corrupt interference in elections; and, in general, that he had committed high crimes and misdemeanors. These specific charges of corruption would undoubtedly be difficult to prove. Nothing would be of avail but distinct evidence of overt acts; and of such evidence there would be various acts; and of such evidence there would be various interpretations. The guilty, treasonable intention would hardly be more than inferential; and except upon the most incontrovertible proof the Senate would not convict.

But there is one point which, if evident, would unite the country in a demand for impeachment; and that is, a refusal to execute the laws. It is the duty of Congress to regulate by law the States in which as yet there is no valid government. Those laws should be mild, temperate, and just. Congress should provide adequately for their enforcement, and thus compel the President to reveal his intentions. If he faithfully and honorably executed the laws, whether they had been passed over his veto or not, the difficulty between him and Congress would disappear. If he failed to execute them, Congress should demand his reasons. If those reasons were adequate, Congress would be satisfied. If they were insufficient, then, as under the circumstances there could be no question of the Executive intention to defeat the purpose of the people in Congress, he would be promptly impeached and removed with the consent of the whole country.

The most authentic information that we have leads us to doubt if an impeachment can be carried upon the charges which have been preferred. We have seen no reason to change our opinion that there must be plain proof of a willful non-execution of the law before so grave a measure could be taken. Mr. Phillips’ charge that the President is an "obstacle," although it has been much derided, is all-sufficient if it can be proved. A President who will not execute the law is precisely that obstacle to the fulfillment of the popular will which impeachment is intended to remove. That the President is an obstacle of this kind, as Mr. Phillips declared that his instincts assured him, is very possible. But let us bring it to the proof. In certain parts of the West horse thieves are hung, not because they are known to have stolen a particular horse, but upon their general bad reputation. And certainly if general bad reputation were sufficient, a clear case could be made out against the President. But the Constitution does not make an ill name an impeachable offense.

It is sometimes charged that the Civil Rights bill is not enforced. If the President can be shown to have failed in his duty of enforcing it let us have the evidence. We all know that he vetoed it. We all know that civil rights are not respected in the Southern States. We all know that if there were a President who was in sympathy with the people, those rights would not be generally disregarded. But this kind of knowledge is not enough. We must know also when and how the Executive failed or refused. And therefore the laws for the regulation of the Southern States should be made so that his defection will be evident. If Congress orders a brigade of the army to be kept in certain districts subject to the orders of certain specified officers, and the President, as Commander-in-Chief, orders them away upon plea of the public service, let him be compelled to show why the public service required their removal, and if his reply is quibbling or evasive, he will be seen at once to have intended to thwart the will of Congress. That will be enough for the Senate and for the country.

Articles Related to Military Reconstruction:
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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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