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based on this correspondence. The President had shrewdly worded his communication so as not to violate any legal technicalities.'
Having failed in his first two attacks upon Stanton, Johnson finally resorted to a still stronger measure. Completely ignoring the Tenure-of-Office Act, he addressed a letter to Stanton, February 21, removing him from office, and directing him to transfer all the property of the War Department to Adjutant General Lorenzo Thomas Thomas, having received his appointment as secretary ad interim, proceeded to the office and formally demanded possession. Stanton avoided giving a direct answer to the demand, and on the following morning Gen. Thomas was arrested for violation of the Tenure-of-Office Act. After bail had been procured he renewed his demand, but Stanton ignored his appointment. Several plans were devised by the President and Thomas' lawyers to make the contest center around Thomas, but the congressional managers decided to drop the matter, and concentrate their energies upon a presidential impeachment.”
The last step of the President opened the way for immediate action. Violation of the Tenure-of-Office Act was explicitly declared an impeachable offense, and as to the flagrancy of its violation by the order of February 21 there could be no question. Many of the wavering Republicans now had their doubts of the expediency of impeachment cleared away, and on February 24 the resolution formally impeaching the President of “high crimes and misdemeanors in office passed.3
9. On March 2, the first nine articles of impeachment
1 McPherson, 265. The fact also that Grant had refused to be governed by Johnson's instructions made the attempt still less serious.
2 See Dunning, Papers American Historical Association, 1890, p. 481. 3 McPherson, 266. The vote was 128 to 47, divided strictly on party lines.
were adopted; two additional articles were added on the 3d; and on the 4th they were presented to the Senate. On March 30, the trial began. The articles charged the President with high crimes and misdemeanors in respect of the order for the removal of Stanton, the appointment of Thomas as Secretary of War ad interim, the attempt to hinder Stanton in the exercise of his lawful duties, the wilful violation of the Tenure-of-Office Act, the attempt to seize the properties of the War Department, the attempt unlawfully to disburse moneys through the appointment of Thomas, an attempt to make General Emory violate the Tenure-of-Office Act, the attempt to injure the good reputation of the legislative department by speeches delivered at various specified places, and his determined opposition to the reconstruction policy as outlined in the various acts of Congress.
These articles were very sweeping, and were designed as a sort of drag-net to include all of the complaints which could possibly be brought against the President. Yet the House of Representatives, previous to the attempted removal of Secretary Stanton, after the most searching examination into the President's record, had failed to find sufficient ground on which to base an impeachment. Therefore the only charges that deserved really serious attention were those growing out of the violation of the Tenure-of-Office Act. In the President's reply to the charges he explains his attitude on this matter. In his opinion the Tenure-of-Office Act was unconstitutional. The very fact that he as Executive was legally held responsible for the acts of the Secretary of War made it necessary for him to exercise the power of removal or of indefinite suspension. He had at first complied with the letter of the act in order to avoid a further struggle with Congress; but, hav
1 For the full text of the eleven articles, see McPherson, 266 ff. For a critical discussion of the legal points involved in the trial, see Dunning, in Papers American Historical Association, iv, 483 ff.
ing been frustrated by Congress in his design, the only alternative that remained to him, in view of his strained relations with the Secretary of War, was the latter's unconditional removal.
10. The President's case, as to the constitutionality of his action and the unconstitutionality of the Tenure-of-Office Act, was strong, and was presented with great ability by the President's counsel. But, from the very beginning, it was obvious that the case would be determined mainly on political lines.
If the Republican party could hold all the Republican Senators to the decision of the majority, a verdict of guilty was assured. Consequently, the strongest efforts were made to bring all into line. But some proved recalcitrant. The prospect that the President of the United States was to be forced out of his office as a punishment for his opposition to the Legislative Departinent was not edifying. Hitherto the presidential office had possessed great dignity. To be sure, Johnson's conduct had gone far towards the destruction of that dignity, but a conviction on impeachment charges would drag down the office immeasurably. Some of the Senators also realized that the tendency of Congress during the whole struggle had been towards an encroachment upon the executive powers, and that there was serious danger that the balance of the governmental system might be destroyed. While, therefore, they strongly disapproved of Johnson's conduct, they felt unwilling to expose the government to the shock which would accompany his removal from the presidential chair. The trial proceeded slowly and the case was ably contested by counsel on both sides; but the prosecution was practically brought to a close on May 16, by the vote which was taken on the eleventh article of impeachment. This article was chosen for the first test of strength, because it embodied those charges which had caused the most feel
ing, and which were best calculated to cause Senators to cast aside judicial restraints and vote according to their prejudices. But, seven Republicans refused to line themselves with the radical majority. They and the twelve Democratic Senators voted for acquittal. Thirty-five Republicans voted “guilty,” but this lacked one of the needful two-thirds majority. Ten days later another vote was taken on the second and third articles, with the same result. The fight was then given up, and the court of impeachment was declared adjourned.
11. It was a fortunate thing for the country that the attempt failed. The convulsions of the Civil War had unsettled most seriously our conceptions of the relations of the three co-ordinate departments of the government. Lincoln had not hesitated to assume powers totally outside the ordinary functions of the Executive. The country had sustained him in this; but, with the return of peace, and with Johnson in the presidential chair, Congress had determined to resume its powers. Again the country responded; but the violence of the reaction caused the pendulum to swing too far in the opposite direction; and our institutions were placed in greater danger than they were in before. But, just as the Civil War had settled the question as to the indissolubility of the Union, so no less emphatically did the failure of the impeachment trial confirm the equality of the three departments of our government.
Science Quarterly, vols. i. and ii., and on The Impeachment, in Papers Am.
Hist. Assoc., vol. iv.
Bureau, etc., Lalor, Cyclopedia of Polit. Science. 3 vols. New York, 1890.
States. New York and London, 1888.