The President of the United States has so singular a combination of defects for the office of a constitutional magistrate, that he could have obtained the opportunity to misrule the nation only by a visitation of Providence. Insincere as well as stubborn, cunning as well as unreasonable, vain as well as ill-tempered, greedy of popularity as well as arbitrary in disposition, veering in his mind as well as fixed in his will, he unites in his character the seemingly opposite qualities of demagogue and autocrat, and converts the Presidential chair into a stump or a throne, according as the impulse seizes him to cajole or to command. Doubtless much of the evil developed in him is due to his misfortune in having been lifted by events to a position which he lacked the elevation and breadth of intelligence adequately to fill. He was cursed with the possession of a power and authority which no man of narrow mind, bitter prejudices, and inordinate self-estimation can exercise without depraving himself as well as injuring the nation. Egotistic to the point of mental disease, he resented the direct and manly opposition of statesmen to his opinions and moods as a personal affront, and descended to the last degree of littleness in a political leader, — that of betraying his party, in order to gratify his spite. He of course became the prey of intriguers and sycophants, — of persons who understand the art of managing minds which are at once arbitrary and weak, by allowing them to retain unity of will amid the most palpable inconsistencies of opinion, so that inconstancy to principle shall not weaken force of purpose, nor the emphasis be at all abated with which they may bless to-day what yesterday they cursed. Thus the abhorrer of traitors has now become their tool. Thus the denouncer of Copperheads has now sunk into dependence on their support. Thus the imposer of conditions of reconstruction has now become the fore- most friend of the unconditioned return of the Rebel States. Thus the furious Union Republican, whose harangues against his political opponents almost scared his political friends by their violence, has now become the shameless betrayer of the people who trusted him. And in all these changes of base he has appeared supremely conscious, in his own mind, of playing an independent, a consistent, and especially a conscientious part.
Indeed, Mr. Johnson’s character would be imperfectly described if some attention were not paid to his conscience, the purity of which is a favorite subject of his own discourse, and the perversity of which is the wonder of the rest of mankind. As a public man, his real position is similar to that of a commander of an army, who should pass over to the ranks of the enemy he was commissioned to fight, and then plead his individual convictions of duty as a justification of his treachery. In truth, Mr. Johnson’s conscience is, like his understanding, a mere form or expression of his will. The will of ordinary men is addressed through their understanding and conscience. Mr. Johnson’s understanding and conscience can he addressed only through his will. He puts intellectual principles and the moral law in the possessive case, thinks he pays them a compliment and adds to their authority when he makes them the adjuncts of his petted pronoun “my”; and things to him are reasonable and right, not from any quality inherent in themselves, but because they are made so by his determinations. Indeed, he sees hardly anything as it is, but almost everything as colored by his own dominant egotism. Thus he is never weary of asserting that the people are on his side; yet his method of learning the wishes of the people is to scrutinize his own, and, when acting out his own passionate impulses, he ever insists that he is obeying public sentiment. Of all the willful men who, by strange chance, have found themselves at the head of a constitutional government, he most resembles the last Stuart king of England, James II.; and the likeness is increased from the circumstance that the American James has, in his supple and plausible Secretary of State, one fully competent to play the part of Sunderland.