TOPICS OF THE DAY.
THE IMPEACHMENT OF PRESIDENT JOHNSON.
THE immediate future of the United States depends now on the resolutions at which Mr. Andrew Johnson may within the next few weeks arrive. Pennsylvania has given its decision, and the Pennsylvanian vote, from the equality which in quiet times exists there between the two great parties, is the test vote of the Union. It is no longer possible for the President to doubt that the North has almost unanimously rejected his policy, that it has determined to support Congress as against the Executive, and that it has decided to impose conditions upon the South which will ensure the two primary results of the war—the freedom of labour and the ascendancy of the North in the councils of the Union. If he can make up his mind to submit to these terms, to obey the people as he has so frequently expressed his readiness to obey them, the danger is over, and American politics will go on in their accustomed course. Congress will be very strong and the Executive very weak, a law or two will have to be passed over the President's head, and there will be some relaxation in the reins of official discipline, but the evil will be temporary and endurable. The South will either yield and accept its new position as a strong but not a dominant section of the com- monwealth, or remain outside until in 1868 the election of some determined Northerner demonstrates the futility of further resistance to the inevitable. The collection of one good crop of cotton by paid labour will greatly improve the temper of the great planters, while the lower whites will have time to perceive that as the aristocracy of caste cannot con- tinue, the free-soilers are their natural allies against the aris- tocracy of the land, a danger which the planters are sure to perceive, and sure also to try to avert by granting the freed- men full political rights. They may lead the negroes if they like—a fact which comes out at every turn—but between them and the landless whites there is a deep gulf fixed. If Mr. Johnson will only yield, and suffer emancipation to be made a reality, the immediate future may be, if not satisfactory, at least endurable, but if not—
Then, say American Liberals, Mr. Johnson must be deposed. The President's term of office does not expire till March, 1869, and it is quite impossible that we can endure for two years and a half more a conflict between the Government and the nation. We cannot have our political course suspended, the negroes left unprotected, the army filled with democrats, the bureaus stuffed with men whom we do not trust, concessions made to Fenians, filibusters, and schemers for foreign war, all progress paralyzed, and all finance rendered uncertain, because of the wrongheadedness of a man whom we did not elect to be the head of the States. It is impossible, allow the moderates, and the fiercer men behind them add that, whether possible or not, at least it shall not be. The great pro- ject of removing the President, to which we have so fre- quently pointed as the inevitable alternative to his submission, is rapidly acquiring form. The extreme Liberals have been ready for it ever since Mr. Johnson vetoed the Freedmen's Bill, and now the nation has begun to perceive that the dis- missal of a single officer, however highly placed, is a less evil than the continuance of political anarchy, of the old-world form of conflict between the individual and the country. Unfortunately, the difficulties in the way of such removal are unprecedented, not only in degree, but in kind. In a despotic country the matter would be settled by a short revolution, the objectionable monarch giving place to a successor more amenable to the national will. In a constitutional country the representative body would contrive to signify in some unmistakeable way that it intended to be sovereign, and the executive would either be changed or the dynasty dismissed. But in the United States the people, while determined to change either their ruler or his policy, are equally determined to preserve, if it is in any way possible, the forms of the Constitution, and under those forms it is nearly, though not quite, impossible to remove the President. The framers of that great document did indeed contemplate the con- tingency, but either from a belief that no such case could occur, or a lingering respect for the idea of kingship, or a wish to preserve the President's independence at all hazards, they left the law in a very uncertain state. The tribunal, indeed, is clear. The very able correspondent who writes to the Daily News exaggerates unconsciously the difficulties of the mere trial, for the second and third sections of the first article give the House of Representatives the power of impeachment by a simple majority and the Senate the right of trial. "The T Senate shall have the sole power to try all impeachments. When sitting for that purpose they shall be on oath or affirma- tion. When the President of the United States is tried the Chief Justice shall preside, and no person shall be convicted_ without the concurrence of two-thirds of the members present. Judgment in cases of impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honour, trust, or profit under the United States, but the party convicted shall, nevertheless, be liable and subject to indictment, trial, judgment, and punishment, according to law." It is at other points that the difficulties begin to arise so thickly. Is the President to be tried as President or to be deposed first ? The words of the Constitu- tion direct that an impeached officer shall "be removed from office on impeachment for and conviction of" such and such offences, and it is almost certain that the two words are to beread together. Yet how try Mr. Johnson while Chief Magistrate of the Republic, the actual master of the most important witnesses—the Secretaries of State Then there must be an accusation, and there are limits te - accusations. Impeachment is only possible for "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanours," and it is not settled what those "other high crimes" include. No charge of bribery- is contemplated, and treason is defined in the Constitution as " levying war against the United States, or adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort," and the Southerners are not now, technically, at all events, " enemies " of the Union. The President's legal powers are so very large that it will be difficult to prove that he has exceeded them, even in making- appointments or granting pardons, and whatever the charge, it is indispensable that it should be clearly made out. His attack on Congress as a body "on the verge of the Government " might indeed furnish moral ground for an impeachment, for it was intended to deprive Congress of its legal authority, bat. a President's speech must be in the nature of things privileged,. and to try a ruler for a speech would in any case be contrary to all American instincts. General Butler thinks a case can be made out of consistent attacks on the Constitution in making appointments, Mr. Johnson being accustomed to appoint a man on the last day of the session, and when the Senate refuses the nomination to reappoint him next day ad' interim ; but to make the Senate remove a President for an attack on its own power, is to make it prosecutor and judge at once. Besides, though he has overstepped the meaning of the. Constitution, he has not even strained its words, and the Con- stitution is always interpreted like a text or a penal law GeneralButler's second charge, that the President made peace, whereas that power belongs to Congress, is more definite, but if we are not greatly mistaken, he made it under the provi- sions of an Act intended, no doubt, to arm Mr. Lincoln, but still operative under his successor, The third charge, about the disposition of prizes, seems stronger, the prizes having been frequently returned by the President's own order to their original owners ; but here the power of pardon may be pleaded, with effect. The only charge which to us, as outside observers, seems tenable, is that the President has been guilty of a "high misdemeanour" in breaking the solemnly pledged faith of the Union to the negro troops—a charge on which there would, we believe, be irresistible evidence. Impeachment, however, in any shape is surrounded with difficulties, and the Liberals will, we believe, in the end be driven back upon a constitutional amendment. It is quite practicable, if two-thirds of both Houses and three-fourths of the States can be made to agree, to.pass a constitutioanl amendment declaring that Congress shall have the power on a two-thirds' vote to order that there shall be a new Presidential election for the remainder of any term. This would not be a removal of the President, but would compel him to submit his claim to continue in office to the people, who, if they agree with him, will simply reappoint. It would therefore remove the objection that the President was intended to represent the nation, and not Congress. That amendment, moreover, besides meeting the existing. difficulty,. would have this further advantage, that it would definitively replace the sovereign power in the Representative Body when- ever the latter is strongly in accord with the general sentiment of the nation, and so abolish the greatest evil inherent in Presidential as opposed to Parliamentary government. The power is one which it would on ordinary occasions be impossible to use, but which would remain as the strongest popular weapon in the legal arsenal, to be drawn forth only when the nation was substantially unanimous and the President unendurably out of accord with its opinions. A • stronger defence against tyranny it would be impossible to frame, or one which could be less perverted by professional politicians. To pass such an amendment would be difficult, for it would require the votes of twenty-seven out of the thirty-six States, and the North can rely implicitly only on twenty-three or four ; but to gain the other three will, we fear, be an easier task than to manage the impeachment of the legal head of thirty millions of men. They were gained for the amendment abolishing slavery. Should Mr. Johnson, misled by passion, or ignorance, or an immovable conviction of duty, attempt any overt act against Congress, then, of course, impeachment would be easy, but if he confines himself to his legal power, paralyzes business, recognizes the old legislatures in the South, and steadily vetoes Northern bills, impeachment will, we fear, be a dangerous process, even in the hands of the stern men to whom the elections will entrust the representative power. We do not mean dangerous in the sense that they may excite the President to armed resistance. That is the fancy of men accustomed to consider armies machines. The first order to the army to act against Congress would bring Mr. Johnson within the strict letter of the law, and the matter would then be very speedily decided. The South cannot conquer the North, and the South alone would be behind the President, who would in a week find himself without a Northern officer of mark, with his scattered army resolved not to fire upon the people, and a quarter of a million militiamen who have seen service advancing amid enthusiastic approval straight on Washington. But there would be danger of re-animating the Democratic party, of creat- ing the sympathy which always follows any neglect of the true principles of justice, and of alarming every State in the Union with the spectacle of a central power which to secure a political end would strain the ordinary law. Of all solutions of the ques- tion, the best would be the voluntary resignation of the Presi- dent; the next best, his enforced resignation under a constitu- tional amendment; the next, his submission; and the worst, his removal under a sentence which large sections of the people would undoubtedly consider unjust. The South would then seem to be headed by the legal chief of the Union, the North only by the creature of the representative bodies.