Opposition to Impeachment/ Butler's Declaration

February 5, 1867


Many senators who very recently were supporters of Johnsons Impeachment are retracting their support, stating it was only a way to get more votes. The large portion of the group that wanted Johnson impeached has dwindled, and there were no actions carried out in this favor.


The impeachment question continues to be the absorbing theme of conversation here. That which is below set forth is substantially a correct statement of the fact known tonight: General Butler is reported to have said today to several of his acquaintances who called on him that he is not in favor of any further action by Congress in the matter of impeachment. The proposition did well enough tor electioneering purposes, but it would not do for Congress to attempt to carry it out. Senators Sumner and Wilson also stated yesterday, in a private conversation, that they are opposed to the impeachment project. Very generally it is conceded that the number of members of Congress who oppose the further prosecution of the irnpeachment has greatly increased, and therefore there are many who suppose that the House will not adopt articles of impeachment, even if the Judiciary Committee should report such articles. But, nevertheless, it is a fact, all statements to the contrary notwithstanding, it the Judiciary Committeo have been engaged in procuring testimony looking to impeachment, and I am warranted in reiterating my paragraph on that subject in your paper of yesterday. I can state, in addition, that no testimony on behalf of the President if expected to be offered before the committee. There are but twenty-three of the impeachers proper--or those who are actively and energetically working up a case against Mr. Johnson. These members justify the removal of the President upon the higher law theory, and accord in full with Wendell Phillips as to the political necessity of deposing Mr. Johnson. Many of the political friends of these men, however, admit that, strictly pursuing the legal definition and purport of the language of the Constitution--viz., "Treason, treachery, and other high crimes and misdemeanors," there is no evidence extant that will sustain articles of impeachment, in view of the rule of law that penal statutes must be construed strictly, and that they cannot be extruded by their spirit or equity to other offences than those clearly described and provided for. But the promoters of the scheme believe that the end sought to be accomplished justifies the means they have adopted, which consist of a pro forma impeachment by the House and immediate suspension of Mr. Johnson in the exercise of his official functions. Unless, therefore, it can be found by a previous canvass or counting of noses that there is a majority of the House in favor of this plan, no attempt will be made to adopt articles of impeachment, and the Judiciary Committee will merely report the testimony that shall be taken. Should the number of opponents of impeachment increase in the coming week in the ratio of their gain last week, the scheme will be abandoned. ln the mean time the action of the Reconstruction Committee is awaited with intense anxiety. The committee were called together at 9 o'clock yesterday morning, and it was expected that they would bring in a report to Congress in the afternoon, but they have doubtless been unable to agree upon a plan, though it is understood that a majority of the members concur upon the main features of a practicable measure, which, if adopted by Congress, will be acceptable to the southern people, and will speedily settle the difficult question of reconstruction.
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Walker Black




“Opposition to Impeachment/ Butler's Declaration,” Reconstructing Virginia, accessed March 29, 2023, https://reconstructingvirginia.richmond.edu/items/show/513.