The True State of the Game

March 26, 1868


The truth behind the "game" between the political parties is assessed. The split between President Johnson and Congress formed in their plans to restore the Union. Johnson's plan for reconstruction was much more sympathetic and less damaging to the South than Congress' plan. Johnson's valiant plan never made any progress during his time due to his ineffective leadership.


The True State of the Game. A few words will plainly trace out the state of the party game which is now going on with increased rapidity at Washington. To go back a little, we must remember that the immediate cause of the split between Congress and the President was their different plans of restoring the Union. Both plans were unconstitutional. The President, from having been in the beginning as extreme as Congress in his rigid policy against the South, moderated his views considerably, and presenting a plan more expeditious and less injurious to the South and the nation than that of Congress. It met the approval of the helpless South, not because they considered it constitutional, but because it was more wise and more humane than its rival. Mr. Johnson's great mistake was in not recognizing the fact, apparent to all reflecting men, that this is the military age, and that none but a military man can, for a period at least, preside over the destinies of this nation. He sought to secure his own election for the next term instead of picking out, as he should have done, the military man who was to succeed him, and by forming an alliance with that man, have triumphed over Congress. This Mr. Johnson could easily have done, and thus have had the whole game in his hands. But he shut his eyes, and proceeded blindly in defiance of the " logic of events." Most strangely, he quietly contemplated the inroads of Congress upon his own powers, made no effective changes through his authority over the offices, and kept as his counsellors his bitterest enemies. Congress saw what Mr. Johnson did not. It saw that a military man must be the next President-it saw, as all many-headed tyrannies do see, the absolute necessity of a strong military arm on which to lean. They profited by their sagacity. They courted and won General Grant, and they appeased the aspirations of General Sherman. While these two grand movements were made, they had completely fettered the President; and when he made an effort to recover his arms and to use his legs he found himself entirely helpless. Helpless as he was, he struck a weak blow, vainly reiving upon the Constitution and laws to sustain him : forgetting that at a time of lawlessness the man who has no better defence than those silent protectors must fall. Posterity may pronounce the act which dooms a man to fall thus a great crime : but that decision is of little benefit to the defeated, and of no consideration with the victors. The President might have allied himself with the whole array had he been more wise than ambitions. Grant, Sherman, and all the really able generals of the war, were with him in his early effort to hasten reconstruction and compose the troubles of the land. But he neither propitiated them nor got rid of the spies and enemies about him. Congress has taken out of his very hands the powerful weapons which were in them. He falls. He is torn, lacerated, and disabled, by the thorns of the tree he himself planted, and in all human probability is about to be driven into retirement, with a long period for reflection upon the sad mistakes he has within three years committed.
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Mallory Haskins




“The True State of the Game,” Reconstructing Virginia, accessed September 20, 2020,