THE PRESIDENT AND HIS POWER.
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT.]
tary of State for Foreign Affairs, but with this difference, that with you it is not Her Majesty but the Secretary who is r,spon- sible to the country, while with us it is not the Secretary) but the President,—the importance, then, of Mr. Lincoln's act., and the grave responsibilities which weighed upon him, and of which he showed such an ever present consciousness, not un.laturally led European observers to suppose that the President his a formative power which he does not possess, and an adminatrative power much greater than that which he does possess. But the fact is that Mr. Lincoln exercised a power differing not only greatly in degree, but absolutely in kind, from that which ever was, and it is to be hoped from that which ever will be, exercised by any other President. This was because we were in a state not only of war, but of civil war, and the President added to his ordinary function of Chief Civil Magistrate, his in fact usually dormant or merely formal function of Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy, and because Congress gave him the power of suspending the operation of the writ of Habeas Corpus. Exercising this tremen- dous war power within the limits of the country, and wherever there was occasion for its exhibition, in the North as well as in the South, he seemed, in fact really was, little less than an absolute monarch, responsible directly to Congress as the representative of the people. It is perhaps difficult for European political students to conceive of a nation baying a rigidly inflexible Constitution like ours, and yet a Government so flexible in its working that such an almost absolute ruler as our President was one year ago, hav- ing more than lmlf-a-million of men under arms at his command, should now, in the natural and orderly course of things, have become a mere civil magistrate, for the proper execution of laws which he has no share in making, other than the liberty of giving advice which nobody is bound to heed, or imposing a veto which can be very easily set aside. Yet such a flexible Government is ours. So nearly absolute was the President, so nearly impotent is the President of the United States, and what he was civil war may make him again. But with the war his power as a ruler ceased ; now he has, except as a magistrate, only influence. Therefore it is that I direct attention to the following passage in a leading article in the Pall Mall Gazette of January 5, an article by no means peculiar in the view which it presents to British readers:—
"Probably few statesmen or rulers, oven if statesmen by profession and rulers by hereditary right, ever had so hard a task set before them as that to which the accidental President of the United States is now bending all the energies of his vigorous but uncultivated mind. He has to restore peace after a civil war unexampled in its magnitude and almost unexampled in the strength and bitterness of the angry passions it evoked. He has to organize industry, government, production, and prosperity—or at least to pave the way for their reorganization—through a vast country, in which all previously existing social relations have been utterly abolished and reversed, and all old administrative agencies have been cast down. He has to recover a thoroughly exhausted territory as rapidly as possible from an exhaustion which, if it lasts, threatens famine and destitution to incalculable numbers. He has to reconstruct a Union severed by one of the fiercest convulsions that ever rent States asunder," &c.
It is evidence of no incapacity or want of observation in a European writer that he should be so much in error upon this point, but the fact is that none of these statements are true. President Johnson has not to restore peace, or to organize industry, or to recover exhausted territory, or to reconstruct a Union. Peace was restored with the cessation of military resistance to national authority ; with the organization of industry, the Govern- ment has even in time of peace nothing at all to do, or with the recovery of the energies of an exhausted territory, that is left with us to private enterprise ; and as to the reconstruction of the Union, even if the Union needed reconstruction, that is a matter entirely in the hands of Congress, as to which the President can only advise, with no present prospect of his advice being particularly regarded by a majority which is strong enough even to nullify his veto. Of what the President's function is, now that there is peace in the land, Mr. Johnson appears to have a very clear idea, as he is wont, and to cling to it very tenaciously, after his man- ner. He has recently set forth to various people in private, or with semi-publicity, his views of what there is to be done and of his power to do it ; and as his declarations have been given, evidently with his sanction and from written memorandums, in the Washington correspondence of a Cincinnati paper, perhaps I canna do better for the readers of the Spectator than to set these views succintly before them.
For the many amendments of the Constitution now proposed President Johnson has not a high respect. To the proposal on the part of the Radicals that if he would be satisfied with amend-
meats basing representation on voters, making all men equal before the law except in the matter of suffrage, repudiating the rebel and guaranteeing the national debt, they would take directly hold of the question of reconstruction, and admit Tennessee at once, on her acceptance of these amendments, Mr. Johnson replied that althougu he once thought well of Constitutional amendments, his judgment was now against them ;—that they unsettled the foundation of the republic, and made the provisions of its organic law " li„ke the work of town meetings." Repudiating the rebel debt, and guaranteeing that of the Government by a clause in the Constitution, he simply scouted. And indeed, to obtrude. comment, would it not be ridiculous, almost puerile, for a powerful nation to incorporate in its Consti- tution/one provision that it will not pay the debts which its en es incurred to attain its destruction, and one other, that it
--will pay those it incurred to ensure its own safety? Mr. Johnson objects particularly to the proposal of Constitutional amendments in a Congress representation in which is denied to certain States of the Union. They must be passed upon by all the States, and ratified by three-fourths of them. States expected to do this should also be permitted to act upon the proposal of these amend- ments. Nor did he think it right to demand the adoption of any amendment whatever, as the condition of representation in Con- gress, because the States lately in rebellion were now in the Union, and " entitled to all the rights of States." This particular objection to the proposed Constitutional amendments, Mr. Johnson applies equally to the endeavour to impose the same conditions upon the Southern States by legal enactments. He regards all these proposals as " bills for the dissolution of the Union," because they virtually turn out the States in providing conditions for their return. The assumption that the Confederated States were ever out of the Union he regards as a mere fiction. The loyal Government was temporarily overthrown, and has to be restored again ; but " these States were entitled to be repre- sented in Congress all through the rebellion," and Congress dealt with them at that time as States, while since the rebellion their claims to representation and consideration have increased because " their governments are more republican, more democratic, more in harmony with the spirit of our institutions than they ever were before." More, these States are in the Union because they were submitting to the national laws, receiving the benefit of regular national administration, and performing, as far as they are con- cerned, all their State duties and functions. As to the admis- sion of their representatives to seats in Congress, that did not touch the question of their being, as States, an integral part of the Union. Representation is but one of the rights of the States. The admission of, members to seats is the prerogative of Congress, and if disloyal men, or men objectionable from past enmity to the Government, were sent as delegates, let them, for those reasons, or for any others which apply to them personally, be excluded. But he regards it as grossly wrong to deprive States of represen- tation because of objections to individuals; and as to keeping them out of the Union, or in any way affecting their rights by such a course, that of course, for the reasons above given, is impossible. In the case of such exclusion, the States are merely deprived of rights to which their claim is complete and undeniable.
This is Mr. Johnson's view of the present political situation. But he said something more which is of especial interest in regard to the subject first mentioned in this letter, and which will show his European critics how much they have misunderstood his posi- tion in regard to what is called " reconstruction." This was that his action in prescribing terms on which the States lately in rebellion should be recognized, " in so far as he had pre- scribed any, was in reality, and was meant only to be, advisory." He went on so say in conclusion upon this subject, that " He had not intended that his own requirements should be considered as conditions precedent, which the Executive, or any branch, or all branches of the Government had any right to exact, before these States should be entitled to recognition as States of the Union." A very significant declaration this, and it is made the more so by the character of Mr. Johnson's mind, and his constant habit of looking to the whole people, rather than to Congress even, for sanction of his course in every respect. Mr. Johnson is a very considerate man. He looks at all sides of every question that is brought before him ; considers it in regard to its merits, and as to what is politic ; he labours hard, and makes up his mind slowly, acting all the while with a certain cold-blooded indifference to what may be called the sentimental aspect of the case. He regards himself as a kind of intellectual machine for executing the laws and preserving the Constitution. If there is to be any reform of the Government, it is to be effected through Congress and through the people at large. As to him, he has his instructions in the Constitution, and he obeys orders. He lacks a certain sad sweetness that softened Mr. Lincoln's rugged nature, no less than the humour that cheered him under his heavy burden. Mr. Johnson is hardly even a sociable man ; has no close, intimate friends ; seems to think little even of the charms of family intercourse. He takes his seat at table just when business makes it convenient ; sometimes before, sometimes after the rest, and cares little where he sits, at head, foot, or side. Mr. Lincoln, with all his lack of polish, was careful about these matters, because he took to heart the sentiment of which they are the outward sign. From such a character as Mr. Johnson's traits reveal no reform measure, no philanthropic policy could well be looked for, even if it belonged to the President to take the initiative in such matters. But in time of peace the President of the United States has not the power of originating, either directly or through his Ministers, a single measure, however trifling, or of compelling Congress to pursue a line of policy in accordance with his views. He has only the right of advising and of administering the Government for four years, in accord with Congress or at issue with it. As to the people, in my judg- ment they may be looked to for an unqualified and almost unanimous support of Mr. Johnson, in his present views of his