The Impeachment of Andrew Johnson
ĽOvert Obstruction of Congress

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Editorial
Harper's Weekly, July 6, 1867, page 418

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THE SUMMER SESSION
Whether the President communicate the Attorney-General’s latest opinion to the commanding Generals as an order or as "information" it is equally necessary for Congress to assemble. The meaning of the Reconstruction Act must be defined by the Legislature. If it were ill-considered and hastily passed there is all the more reason for repairing its defects. The members may be blamed as much as any body may desire for not discovering the weaknesses of the bill; but now that they are discovered Congress alone can apply the remedy.

Nor is there any probability that either the President or the commanders will regard the Attorney-General’s opinion merely as information. When Congress passes a law which the President is to execute, if he is in doubt of its meaning he applies to his law counselor. That officer explains the intention of the law. If his view differ from that of the President the latter may undoubtedly disregard it, and enforce the law as he understands it. But when, as in this case, he has constantly expressed an opinion adverse to the manifest object of the law, when he has denounced it as tyrannical and unconstitutional, the assumption is unavoidable that when he asks the opinion of his law officer, who is also notoriously opposed to the law, it is with the intention of receiving an interpretation of it by which, if he chooses, he may defeat its operation. If he means to execute it as Congress intended, his own judgment is as valuable as that of the Attorney-General. If the commanders ask for information the President is first to consider what Congress meant to effect by the law, and then to interpret it accordingly. That he has not done this is evident. It is a mere quibble to urge that if the commanders asked for information he was obliged to ask an opponent of the law what it meant, and then furnish the opinion as information. When he transmits the opinion he declares his interpretation of the law. Whatever has been done by the commanders, which is inconsonant with that view is unlawful; and if men have been illegally and forcibly deprived of their offices the President is morally bound to reinstate them. When the President sends the Attorney-General’s opinion to General Sheridan for his "information" he informs him that he has illegally turned Mayor Monroe, and Judge Abell, and Governor Wells out of their offices. And when these persons demand, therefore, to be restored, what has the President to say? Does he intend to become a party to a deprivation which he declares to be illegal?

This is evidently the understanding of General Sickles, and he therefore asks to be relieved and demands a court of inquiry. It is the natural result of the folly of the administration. It was well known that in the department of General Sickles the progress of reconstruction was rapid and promising. He was fully in sympathy with Congress and the country, and exercised his great powers with a strict regard to the early and peaceful solution of the difficulty. His decided action shows the interpretation which at least one intelligent commander puts upon the necessary intention of the government. The President, through the Attorney-General’s opinion, recognizes the validity of authorities which Congress has declared illegal, but which it tolerates temporarily, and so long as they do not interfere with the national authority. At any moment, therefore, the President may paralyze every District Commander; and Congress should immediately take care that the Executive understands its intention beyond the possibility of misinterpretation.

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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