A Rare Spectacle

April 29, 1868


Thaddeus Stevens, a leader of the Radical Republicans, acts as a manager of the impeachment trial. Stevens lobbies for the conviction of Mr. Johnson.


A Rare Spectacle. Long ago Thad Stevens declared that his party was acting " outside of the Constitution." The Democratic papers of the North commented upon this declaration with much bitterness of language, denouncing him and his party in no measured terms. Thad is as audacious a man as ever let a forlorn hope; and so, instead of attempting to explain away his disgraceful declaration, he took occasion some weeks ago to return to the subject, and made a speech, which we published at the time, in which, after saying that some men are wise and some otherwise, he added that those are "otherwise" who suppose that there can be found in the Constitution any warrant for the measures adopted by Congress for the government of the southern States. Now, Thad, as one of the Managers of the impeachment trial, has made a speech in favor of the conviction of Mr. Johnson upon the charge that he is guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors. One would naturally suppose that Thad would say nothing about constitutions-indeed, that he would be as sensitive in regard to the word "constitution" as the traditional man whose father was hung was in reference to the word "rope." But not so. Thad is as eloquent upon that subject as Beast Butler upon that of the " infamous conduct " of General Thomas in prevaricating. If it were not likely to prove a serious matter for the President, one could hardly help laughing; upon reading or hearing the following remarks from Thad Stevens : " When Andrew Johnson took upon himself the duties of his high office he swore to obey the Constitution and take care that the laws be faithfully erected. To obey the commands of the sovereign power of the nation and to see that others should obey them, was his whole duty, and any attempt to escape from this would be a direct violation of his official oath, or, in other words, misprision of perjury. I accuse him, in the name of the House of Representatives, of having perpetrated that foul offence against the laws and interests of this country. That " foul offence," it will at once be seen, is the very offence of which Mr. Stevens himself is guilty ; for he, too, has repeatedly "sworn to obey the Constitution." When it shall become proper for a miser to denounce hoarding; for a perjurer to declaim against false witnesses; for a thief to denounce stealing ; for a liar to reprobate mendacity ; and for a penitentiary felon to prate about the bad associations of gentle-men-then, and not till then, will it be even tolerable for Thad Stevens to pour out the vials of his wrath upon any man charged with violating the Constitution of the United States. When old Thad commenced his harangue he said that he " would not discuss these questions in a mean spirit of malignity or vituperation " ; that " railing accusation would ill become the occasion." This was a sharp reproof of Beast Butler, whose disgraceful abuse of the President must have disgusted the more decent of the Radical senators. It must have been meant as a back-handed blow at Butler ; for old Thad entirely lost sight of it before he had finished his speech, and spoke of the President as " this offspring of assassination"- " the commander of a band of pardoned traitors and corrupt renegades." Here was another proof of old Thad's audacity. He denounces an offence in the beginning of his speech, yet, before he concludes his remarks, commits the same offence in the presence of the very body to whom he had denounced it. We suppose the history of all nations might be ransacked in vain to find a parallel in point of injustice for the spectacle which presents itself to the eyes of the world in the trial now progressing at Washington. If it shall result in the Conviction of the President, it will be the best proof of the doctrine of the total depravity of mankind that could possibly be cited.
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Mallory Haskins




“A Rare Spectacle,” Reconstructing Virginia, accessed January 17, 2022, https://reconstructingvirginia.richmond.edu/items/show/1008.