The Impeachment of Andrew Johnson
ĽOvert Obstruction of Congress

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Editorial
Harper's Weekly, July 29, 1867, page 402

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HarpWeek Commentary:
  After Congress adjourned in early June, President Johnson’s Attorney General Henry Stanbery issued an opinion that weakened the power of the Reconstruction Act to control voting registration. In addition, he denied the power of the commanding generals in the military districts to remove civilian officials. Stanton and Grant disagreed, but Johnson backed Stanbery.

Congress reconvened in July, concerned about Johnson’s undermining the Reconstruction Act. It passed a third Reconstruction Bill over Johnson’s veto which specifically reversed Stanbery’s interpretations. Although impeachment was again discussed, Congress adjourned on July 20 without taking action.

HOW LONG?
John Hampden and his friends found at last that Charles I. was a liar. Some veracity is essential to human affairs, but Charles showed that he had no perception of honor or good faith. Whether he signed a paper, or pledged his work, or swore a solemn oath, his conduct was the same. The moment he thought that he could safely forswear himself he did not hesitate at the meanest falsehood. And when he had fully proved his unexceptional falsity the Parliamentary leaders resolved not to trust him again, and to seek some surer foundation of English liberty than the word of a common perjurer.

Andrew Johnson, without the same duplicity as the English King, is guilty of the same weakness. When Charles assented to the Petition of Right he concealed his hostility to it, and it was supposed to be a final pacification because it was believed that he would execute it in its own spirit. When the President received the Military bill he did not pretend to like it, but when, despite his opposition, it became a law, he was bound to execute it according to its clear intention. He began in that spirit. He appointed military commanders who were acceptable to those who had made the law, and who were very sure to execute it as they meant it. The result was an instant cessation of the tumult of feeling in the Southern States, a general and happy conviction every where of a speedy return of the normal condition of the country, the reviving of trade, the resumption of industry, and universal pacification. And as a consequence of this agreeable prospect, and this truce of party contention, there was a reaction of feeling in favor of the President, and a general willingness that the project of impeachment should be no further discussed.

But it is beginning to be evident that the President, like the King, is his own worst enemy. It seems impossible for him to learn from experience. A formalist and a doctrinaire, he can not comprehend that he is the chief magistrate of the most practical people in the world, and that their minds are made up to a certain course which he can no more resist than he could resist the blow of a trip-hammer. To interpose technical objections to a law of which the intention is written with a sunbeam, to invite an Attorney-General who has declared his hostility to the law to interpret it so as to secure the power of those whose power it is the known design of the law to overthrow, is to go very far toward outraging the public patience beyond endurance, and to persuade the loyal people of the United States that their policy of reconstruction is impracticable as long as Mr. Johnson is their chief executive officer.

The Military bill, as every body knows, was meant to submit the Southern States directly to the national authority, until they were reorganized according to its provision. The existing civil officers were to be respected, unless they interfered with the working of the military system. Then, of course, they were to be superseded. There was to be no excuse for a conflict. The civil authorities were not to be equal or co-ordinate with the military, each paralyzing the other. Nor were the limits of each sharply defined, that they should be scrupulously respected. Such an attempt would be utter folly in a community radically disorganized by war. In a word, the plain intent of the bill was to make the military authority supreme and the civil subordinate. If there were any difficulty of interpretation there were but two evident courses? either the Legislature must be asked to explain its intention, or, in the absence of the Legislature, the law must be interpreted in the spirit of its well-known design.

The Attorney-General has given an interpretation of the law which is intended to defeat its purpose. It is intended to procure the restoration of Wells as Governor of Louisiana; of Abel as Judge; of Monroe as Mayor of New Orleans; and Withers as Mayor of Mobile. If the President acts upon the Attorney-General’s opinion he will break faith with the country. But that he may clearly understand what the country means, Congress should assemble on the first of July and declare its own purpose in the reconstruction law. The President should himself desire it. Then, when the wish of the country has been indicated, should he still seek to pervert the law to its own overthrow, he will compel every truly conservative citizen to ask whether it is not his manifest intention in the grave crisis to baffle the national will and to prolong the perilous position of the country.

Articles Related to Overt Obstruction of Congress:
Congress
February 2, 1867, page 67
February 16, 1867, page 99
March 16, 1867, page 163


How Long?
June 29, 1867, page 402


Reconstruction and Obstruction
July 6, 1867, page 418


The Summer Session
July 6, 1867, page 418


The Fortieth Congress
July 17, 1867, page 467


Thanks to the District Commanders
July 27, 1867, page 467


Impeachment Postponed
July 27, 1867, page 467


A Desperate Man
August 13, 1867, page 546


The Secretary of War
August 24, 1867, page 530


Samson Agonistes at Washington (cartoon)
August 24, 1867, page 544


The Stanton Imbroglio (illustrated satire)
August 24, 1867, page 542


Secretary Grant
August 31, 1867, page 546


Southern Reconstruction
August 31, 1867, page 547


The Political Situation
September 7, 1867, page 562


General Thomas
September 7, 1867, page 563


Southern Reconstruction
September 7, 1867, page 563


The General and the President
September 14, 1867, page 578


General Sickles Also
September 14, 1867, page 579


Southern Reconstruction
September 21, 1867, page 595


The President’s Intentions
September 28, 1867, page 610


Impeachment
October 5, 1867, page 626


The Main Question
October 5, 1867, pages 626-627


Suspension during Impeachment
October 19, 1867, page 658


"Disregarding" The Law
November 2, 1867, page 691


Impeachment
December 14, 1867, page 786


General Grant’s Testimony
December 14, 1867, page 786


The President’s Message
December 14, 1867, page 787


General Grant’s Letter
January 1, 1868, page 2


Secretary Stanton’s Restoration
January 25, 1868, page 51


Reconstruction Measures
January 25, 1868, page 51


The President, Mr. Stanton and General Grant
February 1, 1868, page 66


Romeo (Seward) to Mercutio (Johnson) (cartoon)
February 1, 1868, page 76


The War Office
February 1, 1868, page 77


Secretary’s Room in the War Department (illus)
February 1, 1868, page 77


The New Reconstruction Bill
February 8, 1868, page 83

 

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