The President and Congress

THE President of the United States was not elected to the office he holds by the voice of the people of the loyal States ; in voting for him as VicePresident nobody dreamed that, by the assassination of Mr. Lincoln, he would constitutionally succeed to the more important post. The persons who now form the Congress of the United States were elected by the people or the States for the exact positions they hold. In any comparison between the two as to the direct derivation of their power from the people and the States, Congress has everything in its favor ; Mr. Johnson, nothing. The immense power he enjoys, a power not merely greater than tiiat of Queen Victoria, but greater than that of Earl Russell, the real British Executive, is the result not of design, but of accident. That the executive power he holds is legitimate, within its just constitutional bounds, must not blind us to the fact that it did not have its origin in the popular vote, especially now when he is appealing to the people to support him against their direct representatives.

For the event which the Union party of the country was so anxious to avert, but which some clearly foresaw as inevitable, has occurred ; the President has come to an open rupture with Congress on the question of reconstruction. No one who lias witnessed during the past eight months the humiliating expedients to which even statesmen and patriots have resorted, in order to avoid giving Mr. Johnson offence, without at the same time sacrificing all decent regard for their own convictions and the will of the people, can assert that this rupture was provoked by Congress. The President has, on the whole, been treated with singular tenderness by the national party whose just expectations he has disappointed ; the opposition to his schemes has, indeed, exhibited, if anything, too much of the style of “ bated breath ” to befit the dignity of independent legislators ; and the only result of this timorous dissent has been to inflame him with the notion that the public men who offered it were conscious that the people were on his side, and concealed anxiety for their own popularity under a feigned indisposition to quarrel with him.

The President seems to belong to that class of men who act not so much from principles as front moods ; as his moods vary, his conduct changes ; but while he is possessed by one of them, his mind is inaccessible to evidence which does not sustain his dominant feeling, and uninfluenced by arguments which do not confirm his dominant ideas. Mr. Covode and Mr. Schurz could get no hearing from him, because they were sent south to collect evidence while he was in one mood, and had to report the results of their investigations when he had passed into another. This peculiarity ot his mind makes the idea of a “Johnson party ” so difficult of realization ; for a party cannot be founded on a man, unless that man’s intellect and integrity are so manifestly pre-eminent as to dwarf all comparison with others, or unless his conduct obeys laws, and can therefore be calculated. Thus the gentlemen who spoke for him in New York, on the 22d of February, at the time he was speaking for himself in Washington, found that they were unwittingly his opponents, while appearing as his mouth-pieces, and had accordingly to send telegrams to Washington of such fond servility, that the vindication of their partisanship could only be made at the expense of provoking the hilarity of the public. But one principle, taken up from personal feeling, at the time he resented the idea that “ Tennessee had ever gone out of the Union,” has had a mischievous influence in directing his policy, though it has never been consistently carried out ; for Mr. Johnson’s mode of dealing with a principle is strikingly individual. He uses it to justify his doing what he desires, while he does not allow it to restrain him from doing what he pleases. The principle which he thus adopted was, that the seceded States had never been out of the Union as Stat'es. 11 would seem to be clear that, constitutionally speaking, a State in the American Union is a vital part of the government, to which, at the same time, it owes allegiance. The seceded States solemnly, by conventions of their people, broke away from this allegiance, and have not, up to the present moment, formed a part of the government. The condition in which they were left by their own acts may be variously stated ; it may be said that they were “ States out of practical relations to the Union,” -—which is simply to decline venturing farther than one step in the analysis of their condition, — or “ States in rebellion,” or “ States whose governments have lapsed,” or “ Territories ” ; but certainly, neither in principle nor in fact, were they States in the Union, according to the constitutional meaning of that phrase. The one thing, certain is, that their criminal acts did not affect at all the rights of the United States over their geographical. limits and population ; for these rights were given by conventions of the people of all the States, and could not therefore be abrogated by the will of the particular States that rebelled. Whether or not the word “Territories” fits their condition, it is plain that they cannot be brought back to their old “practical relations to the Union” without a process similar to that by which Territories are organized into States and brought into the Union, if they were, during the Rebellion, States in the Union, then the only clause in the Constitution which covers their case is that in which each house of Congress is authorized “to compel fhe attendance of absent members ” ; but, even conceding that we have waged war in the character of a colossal sergeant-at-arms, we should, by another clause of the Constitution, be bound to compel their attendance as members, only to punish their absence as traitors.

Still, even if we should admit, against all the facts and logic of the case, that the Rebel communities have never been out of the Union as States, it is plain that the conduct of the Executive lias not, until recently, conformed to that theory. He violated it constantly in the processes ot his scheme of reconstruction, only to make it reappear as mandatory in the results. All the steps he took in creating State governments were necessarily subversive ot universally recognized State rights. The Secessionists had done their work so completely, as regards their respective localities, that there was left no possible organic connection between the old States and any new ones which might be organized under the lead of the Federal government. The only persons who could properly call State conventions were disqualified, by treason, for the office, and might have been banged as traitors while occupied in preserving unbroken the unity of their State life. In other words, the only persons competent to act constitutionally were the persons constitutionally incompetent to act, — a gigantic practical bull and absurdity, which met Mr. Johnson as the first logical consequence of his fundamental maxim. He accordingly was forced to go to work as principle hampered him. He assumed, at the start, the most radical and important of all State rights ; that is, from a mixed population of black and white freemen lie selected a certain number, whose distinguishing mark was color ; and these persons were, after they had taken an extra-constitutional oath, constituted by him the people of each of the seceded States. A provisional governor, nominated by himself, directed this people, constituted such by himself, to elect delegates to a convention which was to pass ordinances dictated by himself. In this, lie may have simply accepted the condition of things ; he may have done the best with the materials he had to work with ; still he plainly did not deal with South Carolina, Mississippi, and the rest, as if they were States that " had never been out of the Union,” and entitled to any of the rights enjoyed by Pennsylvania or New York. But the hybrid States, which are thus purely his own creations, he now presents, in a veto message, to the Senate of the United States as the equals of the States it represents ; informs that body that he is constitutionally the President of the States he has made, as well as the President of the States which have not enjoyed the advantage of his formative hand ; and unmistakably hints that Congress, unless it admits the representatives of the States he has reconstructed, is not a complete and competent legislative body for the whole Union,— is, in plain words, a Rump. The President, to be sure, qualifies his suggestion by asking for the admission only of loyal men, who can take the oaths. But is it not plain that Congress, if it admits Senators and Representatives, admits the States from which they come ? The Constitution says that " the Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State ” ; that “ the House of Representatives shall be composed of members chosen every second year by the people of the several States.'” Now let us suppose that some of the South Carolina members are admitted on the President’s plan, and that others are rejected. What is the result ? Is not South Carolina in the Union? Cana fraction of the State be in, and another fraction out, by the terms of the United States Constitution? Are not the "loyal men ” in for their term of office simply, and the State in permanently? The proposition to let in what are called loyal men, and then afterwards to debate the terms on which the States which sent them shall be admitted, might be seriously discussed in a Fenian Congress, but it would prove too much for the gravity of an American assembly. The President thinks Congress is bound to admit “loyal men” ; but in conceding this claim, would not the great legislative bodies of the nation practically confess that they had no right or power to exact guaranties, no business whatever with “reconstruction”? It is the office of the President, it seems, to reconstruct States ; the duty of Congress is confined to accepting, placidly, the results ,of his work. Such is the only logical inference from Mr. Johnson’s last position. And thus a man, who was intended by the people who voted for him to have no other connection with reconstruction than what a casting vote in the Senate might possibly give him, has taken the whole vast subject into his exclusive control. Was there ever acted on the stage of history such a travesty of constitutional government ?

The loyal States, indeed, come out of the war separated from the disloyal, not by such thin partitions as the President so cavalierly breaks through, but by a great sea of blood. It is across that we must survey their rights and duties ; it is with that in view we must settle the terms of their readmission. It is idle to apply to 1866 the wordtwisting of i860. The Rebel communities which began the war are not the same communities which were recognized as States in the Union before the war occurred. No sophistry that perplexes the brain of the people can prevent this fact being felt in their hearts. The proposition that States can plunge into rebellion, and, after waging against the government a war which is put down only at the expense of enormous sacrifices of treasure and blood, can, when defeated, return of right to form a part of the government they have labored to subvert, is a proposition so repugnant to common sense that its acceptance by the people would send them down a step in the zoological scale. Have we been fighting in order to compel the South to resume its reluctant rôle of governing us ? Are we to be told that the States which have sent mourning into every loyal family in the land, and which have loaded every loyal laborer’s back with a new and unexampled burden of taxation, have the same right to seats in the Senate and the House of Representatives which New York and Illinois can claim ? The question is not whether the victorious party shall exercise magnanimity and mercy, whether it shall attempt to heal wounds rather than open them afresh, but whether its legal representatives, constituting, as it was supposed, the legislative department of the United States government, shall have anything to do with the matter at all. The President seems to think they have not; and finding that Congress, by immense majorities, declined to abdicate its functions, he and his partisans appealed to such legislative assemblies as could be extemporized for the occasion. Congress did not fairly represent the people of the whole Union ; and Mr. Johnson accordingly unfolded his measures to a body which, in his opinion, we must suppose did, namely, a Copperhead mob which gathered under his windows at Washington. The Secretary of State addressed a meeting in New York, assembled in a hall which is the very symbol of mutation. Some collectors and postmasters have, we believe, been kind enough to take upon themselves the trouble of calling similar legislative assemblies in their respective cities ; and Keokuk, it is well known, has won deserved celebrity for the rapidity with which its gathering of publicists passed the President’s plan. Still more important, perhaps, is the unanimity with which the “James Page Library Company,” of Philadelphia, fulfilled its duty of legislating for the whole republic. This mode of taking the opinion of the people, if considered merely as an innocent amusement of great officials, may be harmless; but political farces played by actors who do not seem to take their own jokes sometimes lead to serious consequences; and the effect upon the South of suggesting that the Congress of the United States not only misrepresents its constituents, but excludes “loyal men” who have a right to seats, cannot but give fierce additional stimulants to Southern disaffection.

We are accordingly, it would seem, in danger of having a President, who is at variance with nearly two thirds of Congress, using his whole executive power and influence against the party he was supposed to represent, and having on his side the Southerners who made the Rebellion, the Northerners whose sympathies were on the side of the Rebellion, a small collection of Republican politicians called “the President's friends,” and the undefined political force passing under the name of “the Blairs.” But Congress is stronger than the whole body of its opponents, and is backed by the great mass of the loyal people, determined not to surrender all the advantages of the position which has been gained by the profuse shedding of so much loyal blood.

“ Constitutional government is on trial” in this contest; and Mr. Johnson seems neither to have the constitutional instinct in his blood, nor the constitutional principle in his brain. The position of the President of the United States is analogous, not so much to that of a Napoleon or a Bismark, as to that of an English prime-minister. In the theory and ordinary working of the government, he is one of a body of statesmen, agreeing in their general views, and elected by the same party; what are called his measures are passed by Congress, because the majority of Congress and he are in general accord on all important questions ; and it is against the whole idea of constitutional government that the executive will is a fair offset to the legislative reason, — that one man is the equal of the whole body of the people’s representatives. The powers of an executive are of such a character, that, pushed wilfully to their ultimate expression, they can absorb all the other departments of the government, as when James the Second practically repealed laws by pushing to its abstract logical consequences his undoubted power of pardon ; but a constitutional government implies, as a condition of its existence, that the executive will have that kind of mind and temper which instinctively recognizes the practical limitations of powers in themselves vague ; for if the executive can defy the legislature, the legislature can bring the whole government to an end by a simple refusal to grant supplies. In his Washington speech, the President selected for special attack the chairman of the House Committee of Ways and Means, and the chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations ; but it would be difficult to conjecture how he could carry on the government without the aid of what these men represent, for Mr. Stevens pays him his salary, and Mr. Sumner gives effect to his treaties. Bismark, in Prussia, snaps his fingers in the faces of the Prussian Chambers, and still contrives to get along very comfortably; but an American President does not enjoy similar advantages. He can follow his own will or caprice only by the toleration of the legislative body he defames and disregards. His great power is the veto ; but the perverse use of this could easily be checked by the perverse use of many a legislative power which a mere majority of Congress can effectively use. The fallacy of the argument of “ the President’s friends," in their proposition that Congress should settle the dispute by the easy method of allowing Mr. Johnson to have his own way, consists in its entire oversight of the essential character of constitutional government.

And now what would be the consequences of the yielding oi Congress in this struggle ? The first effect would be the concession that, in respect to the most important matter that will probably ever be brought before the United States government, the executive branch was everything, and the legislative nothing. The second effect would be, that the Rebel States would re-enter the Union, not only without giving additional guaranties for their good behavior. but with the elated feeling that they had gained a great triumph over the “fanatical” North. The third effect would be the establishment of the principle, that they had never been out of the Union as States ; that, accordingly, a doubt was over the legality of the legislation which had been transacted in the absence of their representatives ; and that, Congress having, for the past five years, represented only a section of the country, that section was alone bound by its measures. The moment it is admitted that the national legislature, as now constituted, is an incomplete body, and that it needs Southern “loyal men” to make its laws operative over the South, a whole brood of deductive reasoners will spring up in that region, eager to carry the principle out to its remotest logical consequences. After two or three of those cotton crops on which some persons rely so much to make the South contented have given it the requisite leisure to follow long trains of reasoning, it will by degrees convince itself that the whole national legislation during the war, including the debt and the Anti-Slavery Amendment, was unconstitutional, and that, as far as it concerns the Southern States, it is void, and should be of no effect. Persons who are accustomed to nickname as “radicals” all those statesmen who do not consider that the removal of an immediate inconvenience exhausts the whole science of practical politics, are wont to make merry over this possibility of Southern repudiation, or to look down upon its fanatical suggesters with the benevolent pity of serenely superior intelligence ; but nobody who has watched the steps by which Calhoun’s logic was inwrought into the substance of the Southern mind,— nobody who has noted the process by which the justification of one of the bloodiest rebellions in the history of the world was deduced from the definition of an abstraction,— nobody who explores the meaning of the phrase, common in many mouths, that “ the South thought itself in the right,” — will doubt that the seeming bugbear may turn out a dreadful reality. It is impossible, in fact, for the most far-sighted mind to predict all the evils which may flow from the heedless adoption of a vicious principle ; if the war has not taught us this, it has taught us nothing.

But it is not to be supposed that Congress will yield, for to yield would be to commit suicide. There is not an interest in the nation which is not concerned in its adherence to the principle, that in it the whole legislative power of the United States government is vested, and that it has the right to exact irreversible guaranties of the Rebel States as the conditions of the admission of their Senators and Representatives. They are not in the Union until they are in its government; and Congress has the same power to keep them out that it has to let them in. By the very nature of the case, the whole question must be left to its judgment of what is necessary for the public safety and honor. Its members may be mistaken, but the only method to correct their mistake is to elect other persons in their places, when their limited period of service has expired ; and any new Congress will, unless it is scandalously neglectful of the public interests, admit the Rebel States to their old places in the Union, not because it must, but because it thinks that a sufficient number of guaranties have been obtained to render their admission prudent and safe. It is in this form that the subject is coming before the people in the autumn elections ; and this explains the eager haste of the President’s friends to forestall and mislead the public mind, and sacrifice a great party, founded on principles, to the will of an individual, veering with his moods.

We think, if the vote were taken now, that Congress would be overwhelmingly sustained by the people. We think this, in spite of such expressions of the popular will as found vent in the President’s meeting at Washington and Mr. Seward’s meeting in New York, — in spite even of the resolutions of Keokuk and the address of the “James Page Library Company ” of Philadelphia, — in spite, above all, of the perfect felicity in which, if we may believe the Secretary of State, the President’s speech left the American people. The loyal men of the loyal States do not intend that the war they carried on for great ends shall pass into history as the bloodiest of all purposeless farces, beginning in an ecstasy of public spirit and ending in an ignominious surrender of the advantages of hard-won victory. They demand such guaranties, in the shape of amendments to the Constitution, as shall insure security for the future from such evils as have scourged them in the past; and these guaranties they do not think have been yet obtained. They make this demand in no spirit of rancorous hostility to the South, for they require nothing which it is not for the permanent welfare of the South to grant. They feel that, if a settlement is patched up on the President’s plan, it will leave Southern society a prey to most of the influences which have so long been its curse, which have narrowed its patriotism, checked its progress, vitiated its character, educated it in disloyalty, and impelled it into war. They desire that a settlement shall be effected which shall make the South republican, like the North, homogeneous with it in institutions, as uadi as nominally united to it under one government,— a settlement which shall annihilate the accursed heresy of Secession by extinguishing the accursed prejudice of caste.

Such a settlement the people have not in the “President’s plan.” What confidence, indeed, can they place in the professions of the cunning Southern politicians who have taken the President captive, and used him as an instrument while seeming to obey him as agents ? There is something to make us distrust the stability of the firmest and most upright statesman in the spectacle of that remarkable conquest. Mr. Johnson, when elected, appeared to represent the most violent radical ideas and the most vindictive passions engendered by the war. He spoke as if the blacks were to find in him a Moses, and the Rebels a Nemesis. It seemed as if there could not be in the whole land a sufficient number of sour-apple trees to furnish hanging accommodations for the possible victims of his patriotic wrath. One almost feared that reconciliation would be indefinitely postponed by the relentless severity with which he would visit treason with death. But the Southern politicians, finding that further military resistance was hopeless, resorted at once to their old game of intrigue and management, and proved that, fresh as they were from the experience of violent methods, they had not forgotten their old art of manipulating Presidents. They adapted themselves with marvellous flexibility to the changed condition of things, in order to become masters of the situation, arid began to declaim in favor of the Union, even while their curses against it were yet echoing in the air. They wheedled the President into pardoning, in the place of hanging them ; they made themselves serviceable agents in carrying out his plan of reconstruction ; they gave up what it was impossible for them to retain, in order to retain what it would destroy their influence to give up ; they got possession of him to the extent of insinuating subtly into his mind ideas which they made him think he himself originated ; and finally they capped the climax of their skilful audacity, by taking him out of “practical relations ” with the party to which lie was indebted for his elevation, and made him the representative of the small party which voted against him, and of the defeated Rebel Confederacy, which, of course, could not do even that. The Southern politicians have succeeded in many shrewd political contrivances in the course of our history, but this last is certainly their masterpiece. Its only parallel or precedent is to be found in Richard’s wooing of Anne : —

“What ! I, that killed her husband and his father,
To take her in her hearths extremist hate ;
With curses in her mouth, tears in her eyes,
The bleeding witness of my hatred by,
Having God, her conscience, and these bars against me,
And I no friends to back my suit withal,
But the plain devil, and dissembling looks,
And yet to win her, —all the world to nothing !”

Now can the people trust these politicians to the extent of placing in their hands the powers of their State governments, and the representative power of their States in Congress, without exacting irreversible guaranties necessary for the public safety ? Can the people uphold, as against Congress, a President whose mind seems to be so much under the influence of these men that he publicly insults the legislature of the nation ? Is the President to be supported because he sustains State Rights against Centralization ? The only centralization which is to be feared, in this case, is the centralization of all the powers of the government in its executive branch. Is the President to be supported because he represents the principle of “no taxation without representation”? The object of Congress is to see to it that there shall not be a “representation ” which, in respect to the national debt, shall endeavor to abolish “ taxation ” altogether,—which, in respect to the freedmen, shall tax permanently a population it misrepresents, —which, in respect to the balance of political power, shall use the black freemen as a basis of representation, while it excludes them from having a voice in the selection of the representatives. Is the President to be supported because he is determined the defeated South shall not be oppressed ? The purpose of Congress is not to commit, but prevent oppression ; not to oppress the Rebel whites, but to guard from oppression the loyal blacks ; not to refuse full political privileges to the late armed enemies of the nation, but to avoid the intolerable ignominy of giving those enemies the power to play the robber and tyrant over its true and tried friends. Is the President to be supported because he is magnanimous and merciful ? Congress doubts the magnanimity which sacrifices the innocent in order to propitiate the guilty, and the mercy which abandons the helpless and weak to the covetousness of the powerful and strong. Is the President to be supported because he aims to represent the whole people ? Congress may well suspect that he represents the least patriotic portion, especially when he puts a stigma on all ardent loyalty by denouncing as equally traitorous the “ extremists of both sections,” and thus makes no distinction between the “fanaticism ” which perilled everything in fighting for the government, and the “ fanaticism ” which perilled everything in fighting against it. And, finally, is the President to be supported because he is the champion of conciliation and peace ? Congress believes that his conciliation is the compromise of vital principles; that his peace is the surrender of human rights ; that his plan but postpones the operation of causes of discord it fails to eradicate; and that, if the war has taught us nothing else, it has taught us this, — spreading it out indeed before all eyes in letters of fire and blood,— that no conciliation is possible which sacrifices the defenceless, and that no peace is permanent which is unfounded in justice.