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  The Heirs of Andrew Johnson: Impeachment and the American System

Fredric W. Henderson

   

   The following speech was given at the ICLC/Schiller Institute Presidents' Day Conference Feb. 13, 1999 as part of the second panel on  "The Nation‑State vs. The New Dark Age." It was given in the middle of the Republican Party led effort to Impeach President William Clinton as part of the effort to block that "legislative coup d'etat"

 

    As the trial of President William Clinton moved into the United States Senate, a trial of an American President for impeachment occurring for only the second time in this nation's history, the parallels between the impeachment of Andrew Johnson and President Clinton have been raised by many. This parallel was perhaps most forcefully stated by Representative Jesse Jackson, Jr., prior to the vote of the Republican majority of the House of Representatives for the impeachment of President Clinton. By doing so, Jackson raised real issues of importance as to both cases, even if his understanding of the historical record was incorrect. For it is one of the sad facts of history, that the real story of the impeachment of President Johnson in 1868 is so totally misunderstood.

     As Rep. Jackson pointed out, the issue then was the reconstruction of the nation after a bloody and divisive Civil War, and that the issue today is very much the same.

     Such a historical precedent offers a useful insight into today's proceedings, both in its political context and in terms of the true legal standard this nation's founders intended for the law of impeachment. And thus, we shall see how one former Tennessee Senator, Andrew Johnson, should have been impeached, and how the Republican insurrectionists of today, behind the impeachment of President William Clinton, have more in common with Mr. Johnson, than with those patriots‑‑all allies of the late Abraham Lincoln‑‑who legitimately sought Johnson's removal.

    The historical record also offers an enlightening and ironic parallel to what should be the true basis for a trial for “bribery, treason, and other high crimes and misdemeanors” against Al Gore, another former Tennessee Senator, and Vice President, who would himself be President, as a result of what can only be described as a “parliamentary assassination” of his own President.

     While the articles of impeachment upon which President Andrew Johnson was ultimately tried in the U.S. Senate were nonsensical, there is no question that Johnson deserved to be removed from office. His trial in the United States Senate was triggered by his violation of a Tenure in Office Act, passed by Congress only months before. It was a relatively silly, and dubious charge, involving his removal of Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton from his post. This however, was an operation, managed by the very same forces who opposed the American System policies of Lincoln and his allies in Congress, a pro‑British faction in the Republican Party.

     The original charges, written by Republican Congressman Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania, an ally of Henry Carey, and which never made it out of the House Judiciary Committee, were based on Johnson's {real} treasonous defense of the old order in the South, and his obstruction of the Republican plan for reconstruction of the South after the war. These circles saw the battle over reconstruction as one that involved the very survival of this nation, and with it the ultimate destruction of the British Empire.

     As an historical precedent by which to judge both the obscene attack on President Clinton and the American nation‑state today, and for understanding the basis for impeaching Vice President Gore, it provides a rich example. The issue then was the restoration of the American system, by transforming the South with such a republican reconstruction policy, and in so doing, insuring that this nation could play its historical role in the global battle against the British‑centered oligarchy. Today, both the defense of President Clinton, and the destruction of Al Gore, require the same commitment.

A Fool's Paradise

     The American South prior to the war had been an oligarchical horror‑‑as I and others have documented‑‑a fool's paradise of British free‑trade policies that had left it in backwardness and poverty. Aside from the straightforward horror of an enslaved population of four‑and‑one‑half million African‑Americans, almost all southerners suffered at the hands of a system, whose economic, political and social institutions were controlled by a tiny pro British‑minority. This was a native oligarchy that worshipped at the altar of British oligarchical doctrines, intent on destroying this nation. Much like the latter‑day Clinton haters, it was a grouping who despised the outlook and system this nation's founders had created. They hated the Federal government, and they hated the Presidency, just as today's neo‑Confederates do, because it represented the highest ideal of the nation state that has ever existed in human history.

     At the end of the war, after Union forces had successfully defeated the Confederacy, the issue of how these states‑‑the seceded states of the Confederacy‑‑were going to be returned to the Union, was a pressing question. Having defeated the forces that would have destroyed this nation, the forces of British free trade and oligarchism, on the battlefield, Abraham Lincoln and his allies fully intended to insure their defeat politically as well. Not only would every remnant of such policies be eliminated in the South, but in conjunction with Russia, which had helped to insure that Britain not intervene on the side of the Confederacy during the war, and a Germany committed to the policies of Friedrich List, an American nation recommitted to the outlook of the American system, would be the centerpiece of a growing alliance that would destroy oligarchical power globally. As Henry Carey, who had been the architect of Lincoln's economic policies, wrote in a series of open letters to Senator Henry Wilson of Massachusetts:

 

    ``British policy looks to arrest the circulation of the world by means of compelling all raw materials produced to pass through its little workshop. It is a monopoly system, and therefore it is that poverty, disease, and famine, all of which unite for the production of slavery, are chronic diseases in every country wholly subjected to British influence.

     ``Therefore, too, has it been that British agents have always been in such close alliance with the slave‑holding aristocracy of the South; and that throughout the late war, British public opinion has been so nearly universally on the side of the men who have publicly proclaimed that slavery was to be regarded as the proper cornerstone of all free institutions.

     ``British free trade, industrial monopoly, and human slavery, travel together, and the man who undertakes the work of reconstruction without having first satisfied himself that such is certainly the fact, will find that he has been building on shifting sands, and must fail to produce an edifice that will be permanent.

     ``So believing, and seeing in your Address nothing that indicates a proper appreciation of the fact that it is to a diversification of our pursuits, alone, we are to look for permanent establishment of human freedom and national independence, for permanent reconstruction of the Union, I am led to ask you to accompany me in an examination of the real causes of the rebellion....''

    Thus, the battle that then began over the policies that would be implemented south of the Mason‑Dixon, had global implications. This was certainly understood by the enemies of this nation, and the success of the policies of the Lincoln Administration during the war, in restoring such an American System outlook, underscored that point. There would be no question as to Lincoln's commitment in such a battle, nor that of the wartime leadership of the Republican Party in the Congress. It was recognized that the Southern states were not republican in character, nor were they of the type of government that ought to be part of the United States, and that what was going to have to occur, was a {process} by which these states would be reorganized, and new institutions created, with new constitutions, and new economic policies, so that they could actually be readmitted into the Union as actual participants in what was the American System‑‑the American System of government, the American system of economics.

     And there was a commitment, which was clear from what Lincoln had said and done prior to his assassination, that his view was that what had to be done at the end of the war was something very similar to the kind of economic development that the United States has been committed to, say, for example, after World War II with Japan‑‑that the thing that was most needed in the South was to go in and dig up, root and branch, this horrible oligarchical system that had been based on slavery, and create the basis for economic development: to build railroads; to develop the vast mineral resources that existed there. Create industry, where there had been none.

 

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