TOPICS OF THE DAY
AVERY original, very determined, it may be very dan- gerous, but unquestionably very powerful man, has succeeded Abraham Lincoln. The public in this country has been deceived as much by the formal utterance of 312. John- son when accepting the Presidency as by the accident which threw such ridicule over his inauguration in the subordinate office. This is no feeble ruler, sure to be a tool in the hands of his secretaries or the parties around him, any more than it is a drunken rough elevated by an accident and incapable of an idea, but a strong, self-reliant man, accustomed to rule, and to rule in a revolution, with a policy as distinct as that of the oldest European statesman, and a will which, be that policy wise or rash, will assuredly make resistance to it a most dangerous task. There is no single point in politics which it is so important to Englishmen to understand as the character of the American President ; they cannot afford a second mistake such as that committed about Mr. Lincoln, and we have passed hours in studying the speeches and acts of Mr. Johnson as Governor of Tennessee. The more we have read the more strongly has the conclusion grown on us that the new American President is one of the most indi- vidual men on the continent,—a ruler who, whatever else he may do or leave undone, will most assuredly rule, who will borrow knowledge, but accept advice only when it harmonizes with his own preconceived convictions. "A Quaker," says Sam Slick, "who dissents from Quakerism must have a pretty stiff upper lip," and a man who, born a Southerner, raised himself into the idol of slaveowning democrats, and then, convinced that slavery was an evil, flung himself down from his position, down to the very bottom, a homeless, land- less, friendless man, and then fought his way back to the very top as chief of the anti-slavery democrats, is not the man to be " guided " by softer politicians. Andrew Johnson, unless we mistake utterly all the indications of his life, is simply An- drew Jackson over again, and we are not certain whether the repetition of the character is not conscious, whether Mr. Johnson has not recognized his resemblance to that prototype and modelled himself to make the resemblance visible. He is always talking of him, always quoting him, and the acci- dental analogy of careers must frequently have struck him. Like Jackson, Mr. Johnson was born in the Carolinas, a poor if not a " mean " white,—he says "I picked cotton as an apprentice, and picked twice as much as any slave "—and like him emigrated to Tennessee, and there became the idol of the democracy. Like him, too, he contracted, apparently through the force of an imagination which requires strong ideas to stir it, a passion for the Union, and therefore a resolution to defend it at all times by all means legal and lawless equally. Had Jackson been encountered, as he was threatened, with a slaveholders' revolt, he would, we can hardly doubt, have passed, as Mr. Johnson has done, onwards from resisting slaveowners to an iron determination that slavery should end, end, as the new President says, "now, unconditionally, for ever," so that no State shall have the power to re-establish it. On that point there is in Mr. Johnson's mind no possibility of truce or compromise.
Not to pursue the external analogy, it appears certain that internally, in heart and brain, Mr. Johnson is a democrat—we use the word in its English sense—of the Jackson type, a democrat, that is, with a tendency towards equality as well as freedom, a restlessness under law, a disposition to act in emergencies with revolutionary energy or violence. His mind has none of the bias towards legality which his life as a lawyer had impressed upon Mr. Lincoln, none of that desire for moderation as in itself a good which so distin- guished that great man. On the contrary, he places the will of the people above the law as distinctly as Denton ever did. "What," he said to the people of Tennessee in January, when already elected Vice-President and, as he remarked, placed above "all double dealing and demagoguism,"—what "are Governments? They come from the people ; you are the people, hence you cannot do wrong." It is sufficient defence, he continued, to a charge of over-stepping the laws, to be sure that you have saved the Republic. "The people must sometimes take the law into their hands, and do desperate and irregular acts to save the life of a nation." Indeed he pre- ferred, in emergencies, irregular acts, for permanent changes in the law left, he thought, unpleasant memories, which were better avoided by temporary and explicit Acts, utterances of the will of the people, "which can make and unmake law," which obviously in Mr. Johnson's mind is law, provided always it accepts the Union. That, or in other words villa reipubliece, is as supreme an object in his mind as ever it was in the mind of a Roman patrician or a Parisian Septembriser. There is nothing that we know of in that whieh Englishmen can blame. We also should do strong acts if the life of the nation required them, we also indeed did do them when only the future of a dependency was in question. But the tendency of Mr. Johnson's mind is to do them when it is possible to dis- pense with them, to prefer strong measures to legal means as the swifter and more direct road. Thus he rejected Mr. Lincoln' s plan of emancipating for service to the Union as too tardy and in- complete, and hurried back to Tennessee to secure permanent, uncompensated emancipation by a constitutional change. To. secure it he had almost to overturn society by a system of test. oaths, but he thought the " emergency " warranted that " desperate " remedy, and he succeeded in his design. A convention composed of loyal men abolished slavery for ever,. but even this was too slow for the strong-willed Governor.. While the discussion was still going on, he stood one evening on the steps of the State Capitol, and there uttered these- remarkable words :—" Coloured Men of Nashville—You have all heard of the President's proclamation, by which he announced to the world that the slaves in a large portion or the seceded States were thenceforth and for ever free. For certain reasons, which seemed wise to the President, the benefits of that proclamation did not extend to you or to your- native State. Many of you consequently were left in bondage. The taskmaster's scourge was not yet broken, and the fetters still galled your limbs. Gradually this iniquity has been passing away, but the hour has come when the last vestiges of it must be removed. Consequently, I, too, without- reference to the President or any other person, have a pro- clamation to make, and, standing here upon the steps of the- Capitol, with the past history of the State to witness, the present condition to guide, and its future to encourage me,. I, Andrew Johnson, do hereby proclaim freedom, full, broad, and unconditional, to every man in Tennessee !" Not a man to be " guided " that, rather a man with Jacobin instincts, who once satisfied that a cause is that of the peo- ple, strives to carry it without laws, by intense will, and if necessary by the exertion of that popular sovereignty, that. majesty of mere volition, which laws human and divine were alike intended to limit.
The " Red " tone, so to speak, may be heard under all his utterances. It was a remarkable point in President jacksont that he alone among American Presidents, or with the partial exception of Jefferson, had the idea that freedom in the United States ought to tend towards social equality, had a latent hos- tility towards money-power, and the aggregation of property,. as essentially aristocratic. Jackson's war with the National Bank was throughout justified by him as an attack on a new aristocracy, and he hated Biddle, the Bank President, as the representative of a power essentially undemocratic. So well was this understood, that Seba Smith, in the extraordinary series of satires called Major Downing's Letters —which have scarcely been heard of in this country, but which so nearly changed the course of the American Government that Jackson on his deathbed excepted their author from his general for- giveness to mankind,—used his wit chiefly to prove that powerful men were not dangerous to the Republic. Jackson_ abolished them none the less, and Mr. Johnson evidently shares his feeling. He was incessantly attacked in Ten- nessee as an "agrarian," and though he expressly and re- peatedly denies that charge, he nevertheless regards great pro- perties entails, and land "monopolies," with a rooted distrust, and, When accumulated out of the profits of slave labour with a feeling not easily to be distinguished from hate. "I am no agrarian," he said. "I wish to see secured to every man, rich or poor, the fruits of his honest industry, effort, or toil- I want each man to feel that what he has gained by his own skill, or talent, or exertion, is rightfully his, and -his alone. But if, through an iniquitous system, a vast amount of wealth has been accumulated in the hands of one man, or a few men, then that result is wrong, and the sooner we can right it, the better for all concerned. It is wrong that Mack Cockrill and G. W. Harding, by means of forced and unpaid labour, should have monopolized so largo a share of the lands and wealth of Tennessee; and I say if their immense plantations were divided up and parcelled out amongst a number of free, in-
dustrious and honest farmers, it would give more good citizens to the Commonwealth, increase the wages of our mechanics, enrich the markets of our city, enliven all the arteries of trade, improve society, and add to the glory of the State."
Naming men, even though rebels, whose properties are to be divided among an audience then and there listening, is for a Governor a strong measure, but Mr. Johnson repeated his theory in his farewell speech. Then, as now, he affirmed that the "leading rebels, not the rank and file," the "intelligent, conscious rebels," must suffer the penalty of death, and the lands of the great planters be so distributed "that they should contribute to restore to the thousands of suffering poor the little substance they have lost by the devasta- tions and burnings of this war." This is doubtless the policy to which he adheres in his speech of the 16th April to the deputation from Illinois, and the reason which has induced him to stop the sales of confiscated land in South Carolina until he has made up his mind how. the estates should be re-distributed. We should fail by mere extracts to give our readers the full impression these speeches have made on us, and must content ourselves with stating the conviction left on our ewn minds that 31r. Johnson does not only hate slavery, but that type of society of which slaveholding is the extreme form—society with violent chasms between classes and excessive disparities of condition. We should not even wonder, so strong do we believe this feeling to be, if it influenced the system of taxation to be ultimately adopted by the Union, and suggested a great development of that extra- ordinary measure, the effect of which will one day be felt on the price of labour throughout the world, the Home- stead Law. As for slavery, the President will make no terms with it whatever, will evidently root it out absolutely and finally, making it a condition of peace that the States shall abandon the right to re-establish the system, and venting, so far as we gather, no manner of compensa- tion. Indeed it is not hard to trace in these speeches a distinct plan for the completion of the work still remaining to be done, to which the President, who is palpably inflexible except on details, will in the main adhere. This plan is to secure two changes in the national constitution, the first making slavery for ever illegal and abolishing distinctions of colour, the second declaring the Union a Republic one and indivisible. In every State as it is subdued by the troops a convention will be called to insert unconditional freedom to all men among the clauses of the State constitution, and then the Confiscation Act will be worked so as to allow of the sub- division of the larger plantations among the poor whites and coloured men. Society will thus, he believes, be revolu- tionized from the foundation, and, as he himself says in one place to which we have lost our reference, a middle class will be created which can have no interest save in freedom, of labour. Slavery in fact instead of dying easily, as it might under Mr. Lincoln, will be stamped into powder by a strong man who holds that the popular will is the ultimate Constitution, and who, with his Red tendencies and over frank personal ways, is sure to have at his back the irresistible physi- cal power of the mass. The terrible crime of Wilkes Booth will work a terrible retribution upon that system of society for which, as appears from his recently-published letter, it was perpetrated. For the rest, it seems clear that Mr. Johnson, while likely to be haughtily American in his foreign policy, has, like Mr. Lincoln, at heart a liking for England, his strong 13,peech to Sir F. Bruce, in which he declared the amity of the two countries essential to civilization, being little more than a repetition of his speech of January, when still only Governor of Tennessee. lie then made an admission not frequent with American politicians, that the British Government was in its essence popular, "that the fresh infusion of popular ideas kept it continually vigorous and flourishing. So long as the popular voice was heard, and the popular influence felt in her councils, so long would England continue to be potent and respected among the nations." His tone was full of friendli- ness, as full as the really remarkable saying in which, address- ing Sir Frederick Bruce, he recognized the States-men and the Canadians as branches of the same "American people," though swayed by two Governments, who in their joint responsibility ought to find a reason for an enduring peace. We have carefully avoided in drawing up this sketch the expression of any convictions as to the merits of the policy tow most probable. Our object has been sinIply to show that the Union, with that bewildering good fortune which seems to triumph over obstacles deliberately placed in the path of a sound choice, has gained in this "accident of an accident" a President who is competent not only to rule, but to rule in revolutionary tunes. We are, however, bound to add that we hold the Jackson form of democracy to be one of the most dangerous forms that spirit has ever assumed, tending directly to the canonization of the idea "Vex populi vox Del" which is so fatal to principle, and that we regard executions as, even if Just, fatally impolitic.