The Impeachment of Andrew Johnson
ĽOvert Obstruction of Congress

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Editorial
Harper's Weekly, October 5, 1867, page 626-627

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THE MAIN QUESTION
Is the will of the President the law of the land? That is the question which the people of this country are now summoned to answer. He calls his will the Constitution, and his persistence obedience to the Constitution. But by what authority does the President insist that his view of the Constitution shall prevail, after Congress has declared against his view in the manner which the Constitution prescribes? When Congress has passed a law or approved a policy to which the President objects that, in his judgment, it is not constitutional, Congress must reconsider its determination, and can not make it lawful except by a majority of two-thirds. But when that is done the President has but two constitutional alternatives—one is resignation, and the other is a faithful execution of the law.

These are the most elementary truths of our political system, and the intention of the Constitution is evident. It is to avoid a conflict of authority. It is to confine the President to a purely executive function when his objections have failed to defeat the law. An honorable man of profound convictions, who, as President, had vainly opposed what he deemed fatally unconstitutional and perilous to the country, might resign, and by his resignation impress upon the country, as nothing else could, the gravity of the emergency. But no honorable man, who, as President, had objected in vain, and who did not resign, would attempt, either directly or indirectly, to thwart the will of the people in Congress constitutionally expressed. To do that would be to attempt a revolution, and that is precisely what the President is now attempting. He has not, indeed, as yet technically violated the law, but he is hedging and temporizing so that the law may be violated; and he is responsible, with the Democratic party supporting him, for the paralysis which has fallen upon the subject of reconstruction. Let us see how.

Congress has passed a law providing for registry and election in the late rebel States. The President vetoed the law. He declared that he though it wholly unconstitutional and destructive of civil liberty. Congress passed the law over his veto. Instead of resigning or faithfully executing the law in its spirit and for its declared purpose, the President began to prevaricate, to perplex, and to denounce. He repeats in public and in private his conviction that Congress is virtually treasonable to the Constitution, and appeals, as he says, to the people against Congress; that is to say, he appeals to the people against their representatives. Such a course plunges the whole country into confusion. The President arrays himself against a law constitutionally enacted; issues proclamations and makes removals of officers intended to defy and delay the will of the country as expressed by Congress, upon the ground that Congress does not represent the people, and that he, elected two years before Congress, does represent them. This brings him into an attitude of hostility to Congress, which the Constitution does not contemplate, and which no honorable officer would assume. So long as that hostility lasts it is impossible to foresee its issue. It will depend very much upon the personal character of the President whether it will not end in violence. Meanwhile it is impossible for the country to become tranquil. Industry and trade are both disturbed. The States in question are universally agitated. Immigration ceases. Capital refuses to invest. The spirit of rebellious hate to the Government and the Union is kept awake. A true loyalty is discredited and depressed, and the social disturbance of the war is indefinitely prolonged.

This is precisely the situation into which the President has thrown the country. Instead of resigning he has chosen to remain and to evade the execution of the law, hoping that a reaction might arise which would justify him in his opposition to the law. In other words, he erects his will as law, and defies Congress and the Constitution. Now what one President does any President may do. If upon a difference between the Executive and Congress the Executive may defeat the operation of a law, the whole government is substantially concentrated in him. Do the people of this country mean to approve such a view? On the contrary, if the present situation is fairly understood by them, there is no conceivable doubt that they would express themselves as they have during the war and in the last year’s election.

It is to this point that we would draw public attention. The State elections, locally important as they may be, are, of necessity, in the present situation of the country, mainly significant in their national relations. This may be a matter of regret, but it is nevertheless a fact, and we must deal with it. If the party which does not agree with the President that Congress is "a body hanging upon the verge of the Government" should be defeated even upon the local State issues, the President would not fail to regard it as a popular decision in his favor, and he would wage his war with Congress more fiercely than ever. The one point, then, which should be plainly kept in view by the country, and constantly and earnestly presented by orators and journals is, that in the coming elections we are all voting for or against the settlement of reconstruction by Congress. Wherever the Union party is defeated, the defeat will be interpreted to mean support of the President against Congress. Wherever it is victorious, the people will be understood to decide that the President’s will is not the law of the land.

Articles Related to Overt Obstruction of Congress:
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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
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Thanks to the District Commanders
July 27, 1867, page 467


Impeachment Postponed
July 27, 1867, page 467


A Desperate Man
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The Secretary of War
August 24, 1867, page 530


Samson Agonistes at Washington (cartoon)
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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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