The Conspiracy at Washington
THE people of the United States now have the mortification of standing before the world in the attitude of a swindled democracy. Their collective will is crossed by the will of one individual, whose only title to such autocracy is in the fact that he has cheated and betrayed those who elected him. There might be some little compensation for this outrage, it the man himself possessed any of those commanding qualities of mind and disposition which ordinarily distinguish usurpers ; but it is the peculiarity of Mr. Johnson that the indignation excited by his claims is only equalled by the contempt excited by his character. He is despised even by those he benefits, and his nominal supporters feel ashamed of the trickster and apostate, while condescending to reap the advantages of his faithlessness. No party in the South or in the North thinks of selecting him as its candidate, for the vices and weaknesses which make an excellent accomplice and tool are not those which any party would consider desirable in a leader. Whatever office-seekers, partisans, traitors, and public enemies may find in Mr. Johnson, it is certain that they find in him nothing to respect. He is cursed with that form of moral disease which sometimes renders a man ridiculous, sometimes infamous, but which never renders him respectable, — namely, vanity of will. Other men may be vain of their talents and acccomplishments, but he is vain of the personal pronoun itself, utterly regardless of what it covers and includes. Reason, conscience, understanding, have no impersonality to him. When he uses the words, he uses them as synonymes of his determinations, or as decorative terms into which it pleases him to translate the rough vernacular of his wilfulness and caprices. The “ Constitution,” also, a word constantly profaned by his lips, is not so much, as he uses it, the Constitution of the United States as the moral and mental constitution of Andrew Johnson, which, in his view, is the one primary fact to which all other facts must be subordinate. His gross inconsistencies of opinion and policy, his shameless betrayal of his party, his incapacity to hold himself to his word, his hatred of a cause the moment its defenders cease to flatter him, his habit of administering laws he has vetoed, on the principle that they do not mean what he vetoed them for meaning, his delight in little tricks of low cunning, — in short, all the immoral and unreasonable acts of his administration have their central source in a passionate sense of self-importance, inflaming a mind of extremely limited capacity.
Such a person, whose mere presence in the executive chair of a constitutional country is itself “a high crime and misdemeanor,” is of course the natural prey of demagogues, and he now appears to be surrounded by demagogues of the most desperate class. His advisers are conspirators, and they have so wrought on his vulgar and malignant nature that the question of his impeachment has now come to be merged in the more momentous question whether he will submit to be impeached. Constitutionally, there is no limit to the power of Congress in this respect but that which Congress may itself impose. The power is plain, and there can be no revision of the judgment of the Senate by any other power in the government. But Mr. Johnson thinks, or says he thinks, that Congress itself, as at present constituted, is unconstitutional. He believes, or says he believes, that the defeated Rebel States whose representatives Congress now excludes are as much States in the Union, and as much entitled to representation, as New York or Ohio. As he specially represents the defeated Rebel States, it is hardly to be supposed that he will consent to be punished for crimes committed in their behalf by a Congress from which their representatives are excluded ; and it is also to be presumed that the measures he is now taking to obstruct the operation of the laws of Congress relating to reconstruction are but preliminary to a design to resist Congress itself.
The madness of such a scheme leads judicious people to disbelieve in its possibility ; but in respect to Mr. Johnson it has been found that the only way to prevent the occurrence of mischief is to diffuse extensively among the people the suspicion that it is meditated. Judicious and dispassionate persons are often poor judges of what men of fierce passions and distempered minds will do ; for they unconsciously attribute to such men some of their own ideas of honesty, propriety, and regard for the public welfare. The legislators whom Louis Napoleon outwitted were overthrown, because, bad as their opinion of him was, it was not so bad as events proved it ought to have been. In the case of Mr. Johnson, there is not the same excuse for misconception, since his cunning is utterly divorced from sagacity, and he has not the intelligence to conceal what his impulses prompt him to attempt. The kind of man he is would seem to be obvious to the most superficial observer ; the natural inference is, therefore, that he will act after his kind ; but this is an inference which dispassionate statesmen have hesitated fully to draw. They have been continually surprised at acts which they should have foreseen. They were surprised that, during the months he was left to his own devices and to the counsels of Southern politicians, he matured his policy of reconstruction. They were surprised that he would not abandon his policy rather than break with the Republican party. They were surprised when they learned that he meditated a coup d'etat on the assembling of the Fortieth Congress. They were surprised when they found that no law could be made which would bind him according to its intent. They were surprised when, as soon as Congress adjourned, he began to take measures which can have no other intelligible purpose than that of making him master of Congress when it reassembles. And to crown all, though it has been apparent since February, 1866, that he was the enemy of the country, they have still had technical reasons for retaining him as the proper executive of its laws.
It would then seem that, in dealing with such a man as Andrew Johnson, it is the part of wisdom to suspect the worst. Without any special knowledge of the treasonable intrigue now going on in Washington, it is still possible to fathom the President’s designs, and to understand the resources on which he relies. In the first place, his conceit makes him believe that he is the first man in the nation, and that he is not only adored at the South, but popular at the North. The slightest sign of reaction in Northern and Western elections he considers a testimony to his individual merit, and an indorsement of his policy. In case he refuses to recognize the present Congress, turns its members by military power out of their seats, and appeals for support to the white population of the Rebel as well as Loyal States, he will count on being sustained by the nation. The Democratic party agrees with him as far as regards the constitutionality of the laws which he will, in the name of the Constitution, be compelled to disregard in order to get possession of the military power of the country ; and he thinks that party will support him in resuming those functions as commander-in-chief of which he has been deprived by a ‘‘ usurping ” Congress. The army and navy, with all Republican officers removed, including, of course, General Grant and Admiral Farragut, he thinks will obey his orders. The South, he supposes, will rally round him to a man. The thoroughly Rebel military organization in Maryland, controlled by a Governor after his own heart, will interpose obstacles to the passage of troops from the Northern States to Washington. The Democrats in those States will do all they can to prevent troops from being sent. Before there could be any efficient military organization in the Loyal States brought to bear on his dictatorship, he expects to have a Congress of “ the whole nation ” around him, of which at least a majority will be defeated Rebels and Copperheads. The whole thing is to be done in the name of the Constitution ; and the Proclamation he has issued to all officers of the United States, civil and military, telling them to obey the Constitution (i. e. Mr. Johnson), may be considered the first step in the development of the scheme.
It is needless to say that such a scheme could only find hospitable reception in the head of a spiteful, inflated, and unprincipled egotist, for such an egotist Mr. Johnson assuredly is. It is needless to say that it would break down through the refusal of General Grant to give up his command, and through the refusal of the great body of the army to obey the President; for the danger is not so much the success of the attempt as the convulsion which the mere attempt would occasion. That the danger is a serious one, provided the October and November elections show a considerable Republican loss, is evident from a consideration of the President’s position. He has already gone far enough in his course to exasperate Congress, and unite its Republican members, conservative and radical, in favor of his impeachment. Without going over the long list of delinquencies and usurpations which would justify that measure, it is sufficient to name the recent Proclamation of Amnesty as an act which promises to secure it. That Proclamation is a plain violation of the Constitution as the Constitution is understood by Congress ; and it is upon the Congressional interpretation of the Constitution that, in the matter of impeachment, the President must stand or fall. Congress, by giving the power of granting amnesty to Mr. Lincoln, evidently conceived that it was not a power given to him by the Constitution ; by taking it away from Mr. Johnson, it as evidently conceived that it could not be exercised by him except by usurpation. In usurping this power, Air. Johnson must have known that his act belonged, in the opinion of Congress, to the class of " high crimes and misdemeanors,” for the commission of which the Constitution expressly provides that Presidents may be impeached ; and he must also have known that Congress, in judging of his infractions of the Constitution, would be bound neither by his individual opinion of his constitutional powers nor by the opinion of the Supreme Court, but was at perfect liberty to act on its own interpretation of his constitutional duty. It is not therefore to be supposed that he intended to limit his defiance of Congress to the mere issuing of the Amnesty Proclamation, especially as the principle on which that Proclamation was issued would cover his refusal to carry out the whole Congressional plan of reconstruction. His conviction or assertion that Congress has no right to withhold from him the power to pardon defeated rebels and public enemies by the wholesale, is certainly not greater or more emphatic than his conviction or assertion that, in its plan of reconstruction, Congress has granted to subordinates powers which constitutionally belong to him. If he can exalt his will over Congress in the one case, there is no reason why he should not do it in the other.
Indeed, in the Proclamation of Amnesty, Mr. Johnson practically claims that his power to grant pardons extends to a dispensing power over the laws. But it is evident that the Constitution, in giving the President the power to pardon criminals, does not give him the power to dispense with the laws against crime. At one period, Mr. Johnson seems to have done this in respect to the crime of counterfeiting, by his repeated pardons extended to convicted counterfeiters. Still there is a broad line of distinction between the abuse of this power to pardon criminals after conviction, and the assumption of power to restore to whole classes of traitors and public enemies their forfeited rights of citizenship. By the pardon of murderers and counterfeiters, the President cannot much increase the number of his political supporters ; by the pardon of traitors and public enemies, he may build up a party to support him in his struggle against the legislative department of the government. The reasons which have induced Mr, Johnson to dispense with the laws against treason are political reasons, and bear no relation to his prerogative of mercy. Nobody pretends that he pardoned counterfeiters because they were his political partisans ; everybody knows he pardons traitors and public enemies in order to gain their influence and votes. A public enemy himself, and leagued with public enemies, he has the impudence to claim that he is constitutionally capable of perverting his power to pardon into a power to gain political support in his schemes against the loyal nation.
But it is not probable that the President will limit his usurpations to a measure whose chief significance consists in its preliminary character. Before Congress meets in November, he will doubtless have followed it up by others which will make his impeachment a matter of certainty. The only method of preventing him from resisting impeachment by force, is an awakening of the people to the fact that the final battle against reviving rebellion is yet to be fought at the polls. Any apathy or divisions among Republicans in the State elections in October and November, resulting in a decrease of their vote, will embolden Mr. Johnson to venture his meditated coup d'état. He never will submit to be impeached and removed from office unless Congress is sustained by a majority of the people so great as to frighten him into submission. Elated by a little victory, he can only be depressed by a ruinous defeat; and such a defeat it is the solemn duty of the people to prepare for him. Even into his conceited brain must be driven the idea that his contemplated enterprise is hopeless, and that, in attempting to commit the greatest of political crimes, he would succeed only in committing the most enormous of political blunders.
Still, it is not to be concealed that there are circumstances in the present political condition of the country which may give the President just that degree of apparent popular support which is all he needs to stimulate him into open rebellion against the laws. It is, of course, his duty to recognize the people of the United States in their representatives in the Fortieth Congress ; but, on the other hand, it is the character of his mind to regard the people as multiplied duplicates of himself, and a mob yelling for “Andy” under his windows is to him more representative of the people than the delegates of twenty States. In the autumn elections only two Representatives to Congress will be chosen ; the political strife will relate generally to local questions and candidates ; and it is to be feared that the Republicans will not be sufficiently alive to the fact, that divisions on local questions and candidates will be considered at Washington as significant of a change in the public mind on the great national question which it is the business of the Fortieth Congress to settle. That Congress needs the moral support of a great Republican vote now, and will obtain it provided the people are roused to a conviction of its necessity. But a large and influential portion of the Republican party is composed of business men, whose occupations disconnect them from politics except in important exigencies, and who can with difficulty be made to believe that politics is a part of their business, as long as the safety of their business is not threatened by civil disorders. They think the reconstruction question is practically settled, and when you speak to them of plots such as are now hatching in Washington, and which seem as preposterous as the story of a sensational novel, their incredulity confirms them in the notion that it is safe to allow things to take their course. Their very good sense makes them blind to the designs of such a BobadilCromwell as Andrew Johnson. The great body of the Republican party, indeed, shows at present a little of the exhaustion which is apt to follow a series of victories, and exhibits altogether too much of the confidence which so often attends an in completed triumph.
The Democratic party, on the contrary, is all alive, and is preparing for one last desperate attempt to recover its old position in the nation. Its leaders fear that, if the Congressional plan of reconstruction be carried out, it will result in republicanizing the Southern States. This would be the political extinction Of their party. In fighting against that plan, they are, therefore, fighting for life, and are accordingly more than usually profligate in the character of the stimulants they address to whatever meanness, baseness, dishonesty, lawlessness, and ignorance there may be in the nation. Taxation presses hard on the people, and they have not hesitated to propose repudiation of the public debt as the means of relief. The argument is addressed to ignorance and passion, for Mirabeau hit the reason of the case when he defined repudiation as taxation in its most cruel and iniquitous form. But the method of repudiation which the Democratic leaders propose to follow is of all methods the worst and most calamitous. They would make the dollar a mere form of expression by the issue of an additional billion or two of greenbacks, and then “pay off” the debt in the currency they had done all they could to render worthless. In other words they would not only swindle the public creditor, but wreck all values. A party which advocates such a scheme as this, to save it from the death it deserves, would have no hesitation in risking a civil convulsion for the same purpose. Indeed, the reopening of the civil war would not produce half the misery which would be created by the adoption of their project to dilute the currency.
Now, if by apathy on the part of Republicans and audacity on the part of Democrats the autumn elections result unfavorably, it will then be universally seen how true was Senator Sumner’s remark made in January last, that “ Andrew Johnson, who came to supreme power by a bloody accident, has become the successor of Jefferson Davis in the spirit by which he is governed, and in the mischief he is inflicting on the country ” ; that “the President of the Rebellion is revived in the President of the United States.” What this man now proposes to do has been impressively stated by Senator Thayer of Nebraska, in a public address at Cincinnati : “I declare,” he said, “upon my responsibility as a Senator of the United States, that to-day Andrew Johnson meditates and designs forcible resistance to the authority of Congress. I make this statement deliberately, having received it from an unquestioned and unquestionable authority.” It would seem that this authority could be none other than the authority of the Acting Secretary of War and General of the Army of the United States, who, reticent as he is, does not pretend to withhold his opinion that the country is in imminent peril, and in peril from the action of the President. But it is by some considered a sufficient reply to such statements, that, if Mr. Johnson should overturn the legislative department of the government, there would be an uprising of the people which would soon sweep him and his supporters from the face of the earth. This may be very true, but we should prefer a less Mexican manner of ascertaining public sentiment. Without leaving their peaceful occupations, the people can do by their votes all that it is proposed they shall do by their muskets. It is hardly necessary that a million or halt a million of men should go to Washington to speak their mind to Mr. Johnson, when a ballot-box close at hand will save them the expense and trouble. It will, indeed, be infinitely disgraceful to the nation if Mr. Johnson dares to put his purpose into act, for his courage to violate his own duty will come from the neglect of the people to perform theirs. Let the great uprising of the citizens of the Republic be at the polls this autumn, and there will be no need of a fight in the winter. The House of Representatives, which has the sole power of impeachment, will in all probability impeach the President. The Senate, which has the sole power to try impeachments, will in all probability find him guilty, by the requisite two thirds of its members, of the charges preferred by the House. And he himself, cowed by the popular verdict against his contemplated crime, and hopeless of escaping from the punishment of past delinquencies by a new act of treason, will submit to be removed from the office he has too long been allowed to dishonor.