The Impeachment of Andrew Johnson
»Military Reconstruction

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Harper's Weekly, March 30, 1867, page 194

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The execution of the Reconstruction bill was regarded as a test of the President’s disposition. It was felt that if he promptly executed it in its own spirit, the public mind would be softened. If he evaded it, or was satisfied with a mere technical execution, the desire of his removal would greatly stimulate the friends of impeachment. It is but fair to say that his course has been wise. Upon consultation with General Grant he has appointed Military District Commanders of whose experience and sympathy with the national purpose there can be no question. It was supposed that the President might name certain officers like Generals Granger and Custer, who have been most unpleasantly identified with his policy; but the selection of Thomas, Sheridan, Schofield, Sickles, and Ord is a sincere deference to public opinion. They are men who will execute faithfully the provisions of the bill.

Congress has been engaged in removing the difficulty which we suggested upon the passage of the bill? its failure to define precisely the method of its own execution. The Senate Supplementary bill provides that before the 1st of September 1867, the military commander shall register all voters qualified by the act. There shall then be an election to determine if a Constitutional Convention shall be held. At this election a majority of the registered electors must vote; and if a majority of those voting declare for a Convention, it shall be held agreeably to the act. The Convention, having adopted a Constitution, must submit it to the people for ratification; and if a majority of the registered voters of the State approve it, the President of the Convention must forward a copy to the President of the United States, who must immediately lay it before Congress. If Congress approves it, the State will resume its representation in Congress.

Thus the great principle is definitively settled that a State which rises in rebellion against the Union can be restored to its position in the Union only upon such conditions as the loyal people in Congress shall determine. That is the obvious common-sense of the situation, while the theory of the continuous right of States, as expounded by Alexander H. Stephens, and held by the Democratic party, is rejected as no less foolish and untenable than the old Democratic sophistries of State sovereignty and the Doctrine that the Constitution was a conditional compact instead of a national bond.

The result shows the superiority of the general popular instinct to technical chicanery. It is the vindication of the spirit against the letter. Ever since the surrender of the rebel armies the country has been confronted with a sophistical syllogism, which the President has repeated in every form, and which the Secretary of State has gravely offered as a great political truth. The syllogism was this: The war was for the Union; the Union has been maintained; therefore every State is equal with every other State. Now politics are extremely practical. A nation which has spent three thousand millions of dollars and countless precious lives in a furious war of four years to maintain its existence will hardly surrender at the summons of a syllogism. The reply which the country made to the President, the Secretary of State, the Democratic party, and the late rebels, was very simple. It was this: We have fought to maintain the Union; we have succeeded; therefore we shall do what is necessary to secure the Union from a similar peril hereafter.

That was the meaning of the elections and of the Reconstruction bill. The difference between the President and his supporters on the one side, and the loyal American people upon the other, is just this: the first see in the result the destruction of the Constitution and the end of civil liberty; the second see in it the salvation of the Constitution and the beginning of civil liberty.

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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