The Impeachment of Andrew Johnson
»Impeachment, Trial, and Acquittal

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Harper's Weekly, May 30, 1868, page 338

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During the unparalleled excitement over the result of the Impeachment it has been asserted that true statesmanship requires the removal of the President, and that true statesmen would not go mousing about to see exactly what their oaths demand. Impeachment, it is said, and the word is used as meaning conviction and removal, is not only statesmanship but justice and peace. So it is, if it be lawfully accomplished, not otherwise. The assertion as made assumes one thing, that when a President is obnoxious to the party in power and it can control a vote of two-thirds, he should be removed. This may be advisable. The liberties of the citizen may be as secure under such a system as they are under ours. But that is not the question. It is not our system, and it can not be made so without the destruction of the peculiar safeguards which make in great measure the excellence of our system.

We have been earnest advocates of Impeachment. It seems to us that the President has deliberately violated the law, and under the circumstances it is clear to us that no good intention can be inferred. The precedent of his offense is perilous, and we think that the necessary facts are established that the President has committed the offense which the Constitution contemplates in providing for impeachment, and that he ought therefore to be removed.

But we are not the official judges—our party is not the judge—still less are the official accusers the judges. The Constitution provides the judges, and they take an especial oath. But they do not sit as judges upon the President’s political career. Their oath expressly forbids them to do that by binding them to render a judgment according to the evidence offered upon specific charges. If those charges are loosely drawn, if they are not sound in law, if they are unsupported by evidence, it is the accusers not the judges who are responsible. If the accusers have been too eager, if they have taken counsel of passion instead of reason, it is they, not the judges, who have been in error.

That Andrew Johnson has betrayed the party that elected him, that he has lamentably perplexed and delayed reconstruction, that he is virtually in alliance with those who hope to defeat the legitimate consequences of the war, and is, therefore, an enemy of peace and the Union, we have never doubted, and have always steadily maintained. But the intelligence of the Republican party, although acknowledging all this, yet held that impeachment upon the general fact of his delaying and perplexing reconstruction was inexpedient. The House of Representatives, by an immense Republican majority, ratified this view. But when the President attempted the removal of Mr. Stanton it was felt that he had now committed such an act as would justify the solemnity of Impeachment, and the same House, by a unanimous vote of the party, impeached.

But why did they wait until this particular action? Because they knew that there was but one constitutional method of removing the President, and that was by a judicial investigation of specific charges to be supported by evidence; the Managers, upon the part of the House, being the prosecuting counsel; the President’s lawyers, the defense; and the Senate, with the Chief justice presiding, "sitting" "to try" the impeachment. Is it not the Senate, as a legislative or political body, that so sits, but the Senate as a court or judicial body specially sworn to decide upon certain charges according to the evidence not according to "statesmanship," not according to its conviction of the general offenses of the President, not according to its view of party exigencies or of political necessities, but according to the evidence. If, in the judgment of the Senators, the evidence be insufficient, if the specific charges are not honestly proved, they are bound by every consideration of justice and honor and the public peace to render a verdict accordingly. If they should decide that although the evidence, according to which they were sworn to judge, was insufficient, yet that they would find the President guilty because he was bad enough to have done what was charged, they would be guilty of the plainest perjury, and every public trust would be just as much imperiled in their hands as in those of the President, whom they would convict against their oaths.

The theory that impeachment or conviction is statesmanship, justice, and peace, assumes that perjury is a virtue. The removal of the President may, indeed, be justice and peace. A Senator who is sworn to find according to the evidence, but who disregards the evidence and convicts upon a general dissatisfaction with the President, renders a false verdict, and removes him by unjust means; and if he yields to the clamor of his party, and deliberately prostitutes his sincere conviction to popular dictation, he not only fatally disgraces himself, and demoralizes the public conscience, but he betrays civilization.

If the Constitution meant that a two-thirds vote of the Senate should remove the President, it would say so. But when it provides that he shall be removed only after proper trial and the presentation of evidence upon distinct charges against which he may defend himself, it forbids his removal in any other manner whatever. The moment, therefore, that party coercion of the Senate is attempted, every man who believes that our system is in nothing wiser than in this very point, will resist the attempt to overthrow it . The process of Impeachment is a foolish and cumbrous farce if the Senate may remove the President without proved charges; and if it can not, although party threats and the vilest vituperation may ruin a Senator politically, and may even kill him by the mental struggle to which they subject him, yet they can not make the evidence more conclusive, and they can not absolve him from his oath to decide according to the evidence alone.

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