CHAPTER I. RECONSTRUCTION AND ITS AFTERMATH
Stanton, although of a domineering and brusque personality, had ably administered the War Department under Lincoln and Johnson. During the controversy between the President and Congress, Stanton had remained in the Cabinet but was closely in touch with his chief's opponents and had even drafted one of the reconstruction acts. Johnson had tolerated the questionable conduct of his Secretary, despite the advice of many of his supporters, until August 5, 1867, when he requested Stanton's resignation. The latter took refuge behind the Tenure of Office Act, denying the right of the President to remove him, but yielding his office at Johnson's insistence. This episode had occurred during a recess of Congress and, in accord with the law, the removal of Stanton was reported when it convened in December. The Senate at once refused to concur and Stanton returned to his office. The President now found himself forced, by what he regarded as an unconstitutional law, into the unbearable position of including one of his enemies within his official family, and once more he ordered the Secretary to retire. But meanwhile the House of Representatives had been active and had on February 24, 1868, impeached the President for "high crimes and misdemeanors."
The trial was conducted before the Senate, as the Constitution provides, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court acting as the presiding officer. The House chose a board of seven managers to conduct the prosecution, of whom Thaddeus Stevens and Benjamin F. Butler were best known. The President was defended by able counsel, including former Attorney-General Stanbery, Benjamin R. Curtis, who had earlier sat upon the Supreme Court, and William M. Evarts, an eminent lawyer and leader of the bar in New York. The charges, although eleven in number, centered about four accusations: (1) that the dismissal of Secretary Stanton was contrary to the Tenure of Office Act; (2) that the President had declared that part of a certain act of Congress was unconstitutional; (3) that he had attempted to bring Congress into disgrace in his speeches; and (4) that in general he had opposed the execution of several acts of Congress. The President's counsel asked for forty days in which to prepare their case. They were given ten, although members of the House had been preparing for more than a year to resort to impeachment. The trial lasted from early March to late May.
As the trial wore on, it became increasingly evident that the House had but little substance on which to base an impeachment, and that the force back of it was intense hatred of the President. It was made clear to senators who were inclined to waver towards the side of acquittal that their political careers were at an end if they failed to vote guilty. The general conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church even appointed an hour of prayer that the Senate might be moved to convict. The lawyers for the defense so far outgeneraled the prosecutors that one who reads the records at the present day finds difficulty in thinking of them as more than the account of a pitiful farce. At length on May 16 the Senate was prepared to make its decision. The last charge was voted upon first. It was a very general accusation, drawn up by Stevens, and seemed most likely to secure the necessary two-thirds for conviction. Fifty-four members would vote. Twelve of them were Democrats and were known to be for acquittal. The majority of the Republicans were for conviction. A small group had given no indication of their position, and their votes would be the decisive ones. As the roll was called each senator replied "Guilty" or "Not guilty," while floor and galleries counted off the vote as the knitting women clicked off the day's toll of heads during the days when the guillotine made a reign of terror in France. The result was thirty-five votes for conviction and nineteen for acquittal. As thirty-six were necessary, Johnson had escaped. A recess of ten days was taken during which the prosecution sought some shred of evidence which might prove that some one of the nineteen had accepted a bribe for his vote, but to no avail. When the Senate convened again there was no change in the vote on the second and third articles, and the attempt to convict was abandoned.
For the first time in many months Johnson enjoyed a respite from the attacks of his foes. Stanton relinquished his office, and the integrity of the executive power was preserved. The race of the dictator of the House had been run, for Stevens lived less than three months after the trial.
The continuous controversies of the Johnson administration almost completely pressed into the background two diplomatic accomplishments of no little importance. The more dramatic of these related to the French invasion of Mexico. During 1861, naval vessels of England, France and Spain had entered Mexican ports in order to compel the payment of debts said to be due those countries, but England and Spain had soon withdrawn and had left France to proceed alone. French troops thereupon had invaded the country, captured Mexico City and established an empire with Archduke Maximilian of Austria as its head, despite the protests and opposition of the Mexicans under their leader Juarez. The United States had expressed dissent and alarm, meanwhile, but because of the war was in no position to take action.
As soon as civil strife was finished, however, Johnson and Seward took vigorous steps. An army under General Sheridan was sent to the border, and diplomatic pressure was exerted to convince France of the desirability of withdrawal. The occupation of Mexico was, apparently, not popular in France, and in the face of American opposition the French government sought a means of dropping the project. Accordingly the invading forces were withdrawn early in 1867, leaving the hapless Maximilian to the Mexicans, by whom he was subsequently seized and executed.