History of the Impeachment of Andrew Johnson
Chapter XII. Was It A Partisan Prosecution?

Chapter XI Contents Chapter XIII

The weakest point in the entire record of the Prosecution of President Johnson, from the indictment by the House of Representatives to the finish in the Senate, (except the Bill of Impeachment itself, was the refusal of the more than three-fourths Republican majority of the Senate to permit the reception of testimony in his behalf. That majority naturally gave them absolute control of the proceedings, and they should have realized from the outset that they could not afford to give it the least tinge of partisan bias.

It is therefore not material to discuss in detail the instances of the two interrogatories put by counsel for the Prosecution and rejected, Nos. 4 and 28, because it was shown that their answer would prove nothing against the President, but rather to his vindication, and their rejection could not have occurred but for the intervention of many more nay Republican than Democratic votes--but will pass to the analyzation of the votes on the twelve interrogatories propounded by counsel for Defense and rejected, which rejections could not have occurred but by the intervention of a large preponderance, in every instance, of the Republican votes cast thereon, and many of them by a unanimous Republican vote.

Without doubt, many of these votes on the admissibility of testimony were governed by, the usual rules prevailing in the courts, but it was deemed by others that every question not manifestly frivolous, or not pertinent, should be permitted answer without objection, regardless of such rules--that the Senate sitting for the trial of an Impeachment of the President of the United States--the occasion a great State Trial--should not be trammeled or belittled by the technicalities common to ordinary court practice--that the Senate was composed supposedly of gentlemen and lawyers of high standing in their profession and familiar with public affairs and public law--that they were sitting in a semi-judicial capacity--not merely as Senators or jurors, but, judges also--judges of fact as well as of law--and constituted the highest trial body known to our laws--a tribunal from which there was no appeal--that each of its members had taken a solemn oath to "do impartial justice" in this cause, absolutely unswerved by partisan or personal considerations, and that as such each member had not only the right, but it was his duty under his oath, as well, to hermit no obstacle or condition to unnecessarily keep from him a knowledge of all available facts pertinent to the cause, no matter on which side they might weigh--to help or to hurt. That the body, each member for himself, was the proper party to determine the admissibility of testimony, as Mr. Manager Boutwell had declared in his opening argument, "AFTER HE HAD HEARD IT,"and knew its trend an purport. Every member of that body had the right to know all the witness knew about the case, and, moreover, the witnesses were brought for the purpose, and for the sole purpose, of telling what they knew.

The same assurance of absolute fairness as that of Mr. Boutwell, was also given by Mr. Bingham, another of the Managers of the Prosecution on the part of the House, in his opening plea before the Senate: "It is," said he, "certainly very competent for the Senate, as it is competent for any court of justice in the trial of cases where questions of doubt arise, to HEAR THE EVIDENCE, and, where they themselves are the judges of both the law and the fact, to DISMISS SO MUCH OF IT AS THEY MAY FIND INCOMPETENT, if any of it be incompetent. * * * Under the Plea of Not Guilty, as provided in the rules, every conceivable defense that the accused party could make to the Articles here preferred, can be admitted."

Mr. Manager Butler also said, on the same occasion: "Upon this so great trial, I pray let us not belittle ourselves with the analyses of the common law courts, or the criminal courts, because nothing is so dangerous to mislead us."

These and other like assurances were given of the widest reasonable latitude in the reception of testimony in the trial then opening. There was thus every reason to expect that Mr. Johnson would have a fair trial. But no sooner had the Prosecution completed its examination of witnesses, in which but seven interrogatories had been objected to of the long list proffered by the Prosecution, than a different rule seemed to have been established for the treatment of proffered testimony, and a large mass of relevant and valuable testimony in behalf of the President was ruled out on objection of the Prosecution, as inadmissible, and, as a rule that, had very few exceptions, on partisan divisions of the Senate.

Of course it will not be admitted, nor is it here charged, that these refusals to hear testimony were because of any fear that the answers would have any improper force or effect upon the Senate. Nor will it signify to say that the President's attorneys could not have proved what they offered to prove. They hail the right to an opportunity to so prove, and the denial of that right and opportunity was not only a denial of a manifest right of the attorneys, but especially in this case, a more flagrant denial of the rights of the accused, and not only that, but they amounted to an impugnment of the discretion of the Senate.

It is conspicuous, too, that while the defense objected to but seven of the interrogatories submitted by the Prosecution, and five of them were permitted answer by the vote of the Senate; twenty-one of the proffers of testimony by the defense were objected to by the prosecution and but nine of them permitted answer: and that condition was aggravated by the fact that the numerical strength of the majority party in the Senate was sufficient to determine absolutely the disposition of every question, and they could therefore afford to be strictly fair to the accused, and by the further fact that the objections to testimony offered in behalf of the defense were as three to one of the objections to testimony offered in behalf of the prosecution.

These denials of testimony in behalf of the defense were unfortunate. That practice lowered the dignity of the occasion and of the proceeding, as they could but have given ground for criticism of partisan bias and a vindictive judgment in case of successful impeachment. Most, if not all these rejected interrogatories implied important information in possession of the witnesses which the Senate had a right to, and which the party offering had the right to have produced. Moreover, it was the right and the duty of the Senate to know what the witness was presumed to know, and then to judge, each Senator for himself, of the relevancy of the testimony.

As stated, the principal averment against the President, was his alleged violation of the Tenure-of-Office Act in the removal of Mr. Stanton from the office of Secretary of War, presented in various phases throughout the Articles of Impeachment.

In illustration of the treatment of testimony offered in the President's behalf by a majority of the Republican Senators, the record shows that on the eighth disputed interrogatory, the second put by the defense, General Sherman being on the witness stand:--Defense asked as to a certain conversation relating to that removal, had between the General and the President at an interview specified. The prosecution objected to the question being answered, and a vote of the Senate was demanded. The vote was--for receiving the testimony, 23; against receiving it, 28. Of the latter number, twenty-seven, all Republicans, voted at the close of the trial to convict the President of violating the Tenure-of-Office Act, in the removal of Mr. Stanton, after refusing to hear testimony in his behalf on that charge.

The next interrogatory, No. 9, was "when the President asked the witness (Gen. Sherman,) to accept the War Office, was anything further said in reference to it?" This was objected to by the prosecution, and the vote thereon was 23 to 29. Twenty-eight of the twenty-nine gentlemen thus refusing answer to this question, afterwards voting to convict the President, after refusing to bear the testimony of a very important witness in his behalf, which his counsel proposed to produce and tried in vain to get before the Senate.

On the tenth interrogatory, by Defense, "whether the President had stated to the witness, (General Sherman), his object in asking him to accept the War Office," the vote was 7 to 44 against receiving it, and thirty-one of the gentlemen voting not to hear this testimony, at the close of the hearing voted to convict Mr. Johnson of a high misdemeanor in office in the removal of Mr. Stanton, after refusing to hear his defense.

The next, No. 11, was as to the President's attempt to get a case before the Supreme Court for a judicial determination of Mr. Stanton's right to retain the War Office against the President's wish. This testimony was refused by a vote of 25 to 27--every nay vote being cast by a Republican, every one of whom at the close of the trial, voting in effect to convict Mr. Johnson of a high misdemeanor in office in seeking resort to the courts to test the legality of an act of Congress passed for the practically sole purpose of restricting an executive function never before questioned.

The next interrogatory, No. 12, was whether the witness, (General Sherman, had formed an opinion whether the good of the service required a Secretary of War other than Mr. Stanton. It was well understood that General Sherman believed that for the good of the service Mr. Stanton ought to retire, and as the Chief Officer of the Army his opinion was certainly entitled to weight, and the President had a right to the benefit of his judgment. This interrogatory was objected to by the Prosecution, and was rejected by a vote of 18 to 35--thirty-one of the thirty-five being Republicans, who at the close of the trial voted to convict Mr. Johnson of a high misdemeanor in the removal of Mr. Stanton, after refusing him the benefit of the opinion of the Chief Officer of the Army on a question affecting the military service, and to which he was in all fairness clearly entitled.

No. 13, General Sherman was asked whether he had advised, the President to appoint a successor to Mr. Stanton. (It was well understood that he had.) Answer to this was refused, 18 to 32--thirty of the latter, all Republicans, voting at the close of the trial to convict Mr. Johnson, after refusing to hear this important testimony in his behalf. No. 16. The answer to the last interrogatory, ("if he did, state what his purpose was,") was received by a majority of one, 26 to 25--every nay vote being a Republican, and constituting a majority of the Republicans of the Senate.

No. 21. Mr. O. E. Perrin on the stand, was asked as to the President's statement that Mr. Stanton would relinquish the office at once to General Thomas--"that it was only a temporary arrangement"--that he would "send to the Senate at once the name of a good man," (which he did). This testimony was rejected by a vote of 9 to 37--thirty of the latter number being Republicans who at the close of the trial voted to convict Mr. Johnson of a high misdemeanor in sending to the Senate the name of Thomas Ewing, Senior, for appointment as Secretary of War, vice Stanton removed in assumed violation of the Tenure-of-Office Act.

The next offer of testimony to be rejected was No. 23--Mr. Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy, on the stand, to prove that the Cabinet had advised the President to veto the Tenure-of-Office Bill as unconstitutional. The Chief Justice ruled the testimony admissible for the purpose of showing the intent with which the President had acted in the transaction. Prosecution objected, and by a vote of 20 to 29, the decision of the Chief Justice was overruled. No answer to this interrogatory was permitted, every vote to refuse this testimony being cast by a Republican, every one of whom, at the close of the trial, voting to convict and remove Mr. Johnson for alleged violation of a law which he believed to be unconstitutional--which he was advised by the head of the Law Department of the Government was unconstitutional and therefore not a law which he had sworn to execute, and the constitutionality of which he had endeavored to get before the courts for adjudication--those 29 Republicans so voting after having refused to hear testimony in his defense on these identical points.

The next disputed interrogatory was No. 24--that Mr. Johnson's Cabinet had advised him that the Secretaries who had been appointed by Mr. Lincoln and still holding, (Mr. Stanton, Mr. Seward, and Mr. Welles,) were removable by the President, notwithstanding the assumed restriction of the Tenure-of-Office Act. The Chief Justice ruled this testimony to be admissible. Objection was made by the Prosecution, and a vote taken, and the interrogatory was rejected--22 to 26--every nay vote being a Republican, every one of whom at the close of the trial, voting to convict and remove Mr. Johnson from office, after having refused to hear this very important testimony in his behalf.

Defense next offered to prove (No. 25) that it was determined by the President, with the concurrence of the Cabinet, that an agreed case for the determination of the constitutionality of the Tenure-of-Office Act should be made. This testimony was objected to, and a vote taken, which was 19 to 30. Every one of the gentlemen voting to reject this testimony, Mr. Johnson's right to which cannot with any possible showing of fairness be successfully disputed, were Republicans, and after so voting, at the close of the trial, declared by their several verdicts that he had been fairly proven guilty of a high misdemeanor in office, by violation of the Tenure-of-Office Act in seeking a judicial determination of the validity of a disputed Act of Congress, and should be expelled from office.

No. 26, was as to any suggestion by the President of the employment of force for the vacation of any office, (relating of course, to the War Office.) Mr. Johnson had been charged with seeking the removal of Mr. Stanton by force, should he resist. Knowing perfectly that the answer would be in the negative, the Senate refused to permit answer to this interrogatory, by a vote of 18 to 26, every one of the twenty-six gentlemen at the close of the trial in effect voting that the President was guilty as charged, of seeking to remove Mr. Stanton by violence, after refusing to hear either his denial or witnesses in his behalf on that point.

No. 27. Defense proposed to prove that the Cabinet had advised the President that the Tenure-of-Office Act did not prevent the removal of those members who had been originally appointed by Mr. Lincoln. This testimony, which, if permitted answer, would, in the minds of unprejudiced people, have at once set aside the entire impeachment scheme, was not permitted answer. The vote was 20 to 26--every one of the twenty-six gentlemen who voted to reject that most important and conclusive testimony in Mr. Johnson's behalf, at the close of the examination voting to convict him of a high misdemeanor in office by violating the Tenure-of-Office Act in removing Mr. Stanton from the office of Secretary of War--after refusing this offer to prove by his Cabinet advisers; the witness himself, (Mr. Welles, and his testimony, if received, was to be followed by that of Mr. Seward and Mr. Stanton, all of whom had been appointed by Mr. Lincoln and not re-appointed by Mr. Johnson,) that that act did not apply to or protect them against removal at the pleasure of the President. So that on eighteen of these twenty-one disputed interrogatories put in behalf of the Defense, a majority of the Republicans of the Senate refused in every instance to hear testimony, after having sworn to give Mr. Johnson a fair and impartial trial.

But the most flagrant case of unfairness to the defendant in this examination of witnesses occurred in the treatment of interrogatory No. 3, put by the prosecution, in their introduction of a letter from the President to General Grant, purporting to enclose letters from different members of the Cabinet in substantiation of the position of the President in the controversy then pending between Gen. Grant and himself. These letters were enclosed with, and specifically referred to and made a part of the President's communication, and were necessary to a correct apprehension of the controversy, from the President's or any other standpoint.

Being so enclosed and referred to in the letter transmitting and enclosing them, they became quite as much a part of the President's communication as his own letter which enclosed them. Counsel for Defense objected to the introduction of the President's letter without the enclosures, but the objection was not sustained and the letters were not permitted to be introduced, but the letter enclosing and referring to them was. The vote on the production of the enclosures was, yeas 20, nays 29--twenty-eight of the thirty-eight Republicans present, voting to exclude this essential testimony in the President's behalf, and twenty-seven of the number afterwards voted to convict him of a high misdemeanor in office in removing Mr. Stanton from the War Office, after refusing him the benefit of the testimony of his Constitutional Cabinet advisers in this important matter.

It is possible that under other conditions this proceeding might have been legitimate and proper; but Mr. Johnson was on trial under grave charges, before the highest, and supposably fairest tribunal on earth, and had a right to the benefit of the testimony of his cabinet, in full, and more especially when that testimony was presented in a distorted and garbled shape by his accusers. Moreover, every member of the Court had the right to know what was in those letters, if any part of the correspondence was to be received. But whether or not Mr. Johnson had the right to the testimony in his behalf which it was claimed these enclosures contained, he certainly had the right to resist the introduction of mutilated testimony against him. The purpose of the trial was to ascertain the facts in the case--all the facts bearing on either side. The Court was sitting and the witnesses were called for that purpose, and no other.

This record shows, that in but three instances out of twenty-one, did a majority of the Republicans of the Senate vote to receive testimony offered in the President's behalf--that on one interrogatory there was an equal division--that on seventeen of the twenty-one interrogatories put by the Defense, a majority of the Republicans voted to exclude testimony, in several cases by a two-thirds vote--and that but nine of the twenty-one interrogatories put in behalf of the President were by Republican votes permitted to be answered--also that, as a rule which had very rare exceptions, such interrogatories in behalf of the President as were permitted answer, were so permitted by very close majorities.

It is undoubted that every Republican member of the Senate entered upon that trial in the expectation that the allegations of the Prosecution would be sustained, but it was also expected that a fair, free, full, open investigation of all the charges preferred would be had, and that all the information possible to be obtained bearing upon the case, pro and con, would be admitted to testimony--but that expectation was not realized.

To sum up this feature of the proceeding--the Republican majority of the Senate placed themselves and their party in the attitude of prosecutors in the case--instead of judges sworn to give the President an impartial trial and judgment that their course had the appearance, at least, of a conspiracy to evict the President for purely partisan purposes, regardless of testimony or the facts of the case-that public animosity against Mr. Johnson had been manufactured throughout the North by wild and vicious misrepresentations for partisan effect--that practically the entire Republican Party machinery throughout the country was bent to the work of prosecution. The party cry was "Crucify him!" "Convict him anyway, and try him afterwards!" With rare exceptions, the Republican Party of the country, press and people, were a unit in this insensate cry.

They were ready to strike, but not to hear.

There can be but one conclusion from these premises, established by the record of the trial--that the entire proceeding, from its inception in the House of Representatives to its conclusion in the Senate, was a thoroughly partisan prosecution on the part of the majority in both Houses, and that the country was saved from the shameful spectacle, and the dangerous consequences of such a proceeding, by the intervention and self-sacrifice of a few gentlemen who proposed to respect the obligation of their oath, and give Mr. Johnson, so far as in their power, a fair trial and judgment--and not having had such a trial--to give him the benefit of what he claimed he could prove in his own behalf and was not permitted to--and a verdict of "Not Guilty," regardless of consequences to themselves.

What every member of the Court had sworn to do was "impartial justice" to Andrew Johnson, and nothing less. The Counsel on neither side had taken that oath, but the Court had; and its performance of that oath was impossible without possession of all the information relating to and bearing upon the case that it was reasonably possible to obtain. That is the essential ingredient and characteristic of a fair trial.

THAT ESSENTIAL INGREDIENT OF JUDICIAL FAIRNESS WAS NOT SHOWN TO MR. JOHNSON IN THIS CASE BY THE REPUBLICAN MAJORITY OF THE SENATE, as the official record of the trial clearly establishes. It was an ill-disguised and malevolent partisan prosecution.

Chapter Contents Chapter

127 Wall Street, New Haven, CT 06511.