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Moreover, the flourishing condition of the spoils system served to aggravate the antagonism between the two departments. History shows that, while selfish motives are always indignantly repudiated by politicians, they account for many of the more important political movements of the century. With the immense federal patronage at his disposal, Johnson realized that he had a powerful instrument of revenge at hand, and he did not hesitate to use it. At a time when every congressman was under the strongest pressure from his home constituency, inability to gratify the demands of the voracious office-seeker was indeed a cause for bitterness.
We can thus easily distinguish three causes which, working together upon a strongly Republican Congress, resulted in the attempted removal of the President. First, the antagonism arising from different fundamental political ideas, the strained conditions of the times, and the woeful tactlessness of Johnson; second, the almost morbid yet natural fears of the Republican party regarding the sometime seceded States; third, the anger aroused by the use of federal patronage to further the interests of the President.
2. Impeachment, however, was too serious a matter for Congress to enter upon lightly. Art. II, sec. iv, of the Constitution provides for impeachment as follows: “The President, Vice-President and all civil officers of the United States shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” Obviously the President had not committed and would not commit anything that could legally be called treason or bribery: Had he done or would he do anything which could be construed as a high crime or misdemeanor? The answer largely depended upon the person's point of view. The extreme radical held that Johnson's whole career as President could be considered as an attempt treasonably to reinstate the Southern States in a position of power. The
more moderate Republicans could not be made to acquiesce in this view, and it soon became evident that Johnson would never be brought to trial on impeachment, unless he could be made to violate some clearly defined law. The radical element, however, did not easily accept this situation. By every means possible they tried to force the moderates into line. The whole past career of the President was critically studied, and every act which could by any possible means be construed as a breach of presidential duty was put the list of offences for which he should be tried. But all to no purpose. Something more tangible must be produced, or the trial would never occur.
3. Notwithstanding the evident indisposition on the part of many to proceed to extreme measures, the radicals determined to force matters to an issue, if possible. Under Mr. James M. Ashley of Ohio as leader, the attack was begun shortly after the opening of the second session of the Thirty-ninth Congress. On December 17, 1866, Mr. Ashley moved to suspend the rules so as to permit him to report a resolution from the Committee on Territories. His motion was not agreed to, and the first step towards impeachment was therefore a failure. The motion is of interest, however, as evidencing the deliberate intention of the radicals to discover some act which would justify impeachment. The resolution provided for a select committee who were to inquire “whether any acts have been done by any officer of the Government of the United States which in contemplation of the Constitution are high crimes or misdemeanors, and whether said acts were designed or calculated to overthrow, subvert or corrupt the Government of the United States, or any department thereof."
Again on January 7 resolutions looking to impeachment were offered by Mr. Ashley and two other persons. Mr. Ashley's resolution was adopted, while the others were re
ferred to the Committee on Reconstruction and the Committee on the Judiciary. The resolutions which were referred gave as a reason for impeachment, “the purpose of securing the fruits of the victories gained on the part of the republic during the late war, waged by rebels and traitors against the life of the nation”-a decidedly strong statement to make, in view of the predominance of the Republican party at the time, and its ability to render nugatory any attempt of the President to take away from the republic “the fruits of the victories gained.” Exaggerated expressions of this sort show how far the contest had degenerated from a conflict of opinions as to the constitutional position of the revolted States, into a personal warfare. Another significant reason for impeachment given in these resolutions was, that it was necessary in order to give "effect to the will of the people as expressed at the polls during the recent elections by a majority numbering in the aggregate more than four hundred thousand votes." It has already been shown how disastrously the campaign resulted for Johnson, and how it furnished popular sanction for the radical reconstruction legislation which was passed over the presidential vetoes. But, to assume that a popular expression of disapproval of the President's political program made impeachment a moral necessity, was to assume a novel position. It was also declared in these resolutions that the President was to be impeached for the high crimes and misdemeanors “of which he is manifestly and notoriously guilty, and which render it unsafe longer to permit him to exercise the powers he has unlawfully assumed."
These expressions seeming to be too indefinite, the specific charges submitted by Mr. Ashley met with more favor, and were accordingly adopted. These charges centered about an alleged “usurpation of power and violation of law” which was to be found in corrupt uses of the appointing, pardoning,
and veto powers, improper disposition of public offices and corrupt interference in elections. These were clinched again by the general charge that the President had “committed acts which, in contemplation of the Constitution, are high crimes and misdemeanors,”—a charge obviously introduced to include any points which might in the future be made against him.
4. As the event proved, the attempt to bring matters to a successful issue in the 39th Congress was a failure. The Committee on the Judiciary went to work vigorously, calling many witnesses and collecting as much material as possible; but on the 28th of February it reported, with only one dissenting voice, that in spite of all its efforts not enough testimony had been gathered to warrant any report beyond a recommendation that the investigation be continued. The ninth member of the committee, Mr. Rogers of New Jersey, reported emphatically that a careful examination of the subject had convinced him that “there is not a particle of evidence to sustain any of the charges," and that “the case is wholly without a particle of evidence upon which an impeachment could be founded.” He further declared that but little of the testimony taken would be admitted in the courts, and that the whole matter should be dropped, as it would certainly end “in a complete vindication of the President.” Logically, the standpoint of Mr. Rogers was a correct one. From a strictly legal view of the case, there was very serious doubt as to the advisability of attempting impeachment; but the opponents of the President counted upon their large majority to force the matter, and the line of action recommended by the majority of the committee was adopted.
As has been seen, the toth Congress assembled immediately upon the adjournment of the 39th; and on March 7, 1867, the new Judiciary Committee was authorized to
proceed with the investigation, and to continue it during any recess the House might take. By another resolution agreed to March 29, the committee was requested to report immediately upon the reassembling of Congress, which was to be in the following July, if political conditions seemed to require it."
The committee accordingly continued its investigations, but, though the radicals felt sure that it was composed of men who would favor impeachment, it at first reported by a majority of five to four against impeachment. A recommitment resulted in the conversion of one member of the committee? to impeachment views; and on November 25 Mr. Boutwell, of Massachusetts, reported from the committee a resolution impeaching the President for high crimes and misdemeanors.
5. The debate on this resolution was entered upon in December, 1867, and was marked by the effort on the part of the radicals to support a most indefinite and general charge. In spite of the thoroughness of the investigation of the Judiciary Committee, in which neither time nor expense had been spared, the attitude of the moderates was justified. Nothing had been unearthed which from the legal standpoint could be considered a high crime or misdemeanor. Failing in this, Mr. Boutwell assumed the ground that the evidence showed that President Johnson had been deliberately using his office to bring back, so far as possible, the Democratic party into power, and that his efforts to restore the insurrectionary States to their former power had been in the interest of the rebellion.
Although most Republicans at this time could not believe that the inhabitants of the Southern States were sincere in
1 McPherson, 190.
? Dunning, in l'apers of the American llistorical Association, iv, 473; Congressional Globe, ist Session, 40th Congress, p. 565.