Absolute Despotism in America
In good faith Americans in the South laid down their arms in 1865 in expectation of Constitutional guarantees and rights within the Union, and President Andrew Johnson naively assumed that the Radical Congress would extend peace and such guarantees to the South. His miscalculation resulted in impeachment.
Bernhard Thuersam, Circa1865
Absolute Despotism in America:
“The veto of the Military Reconstruction bill was a more formidable document, consisting of some 200,000 words or more. [President Johnson] had examined the bill with care and anxiety; his reasons for vetoing it were so grave that he hoped the outline of them might “have some influence on the minds of the patriotic and enlightened men with whom the decision must ultimately rest.”
The bill “placed all people of the ten States therein named under the absolute domination of military rulers.” The language of the preamble of the bill, which undertook to justify such measures, failed to justify them. The preamble had asserted that, in the States in question, legal government did not exist, and that life and property were not adequately protected. The President denied that this was a true point in fact.
The ten States had actual and existing governments, quite as properly organized as those of other States, and administering and executing laws concerning their local problems.
The Reconstruction bill, he continued, showed on its face that its real object was not the establishment of peace and good order. Its fifth section . . . revealed . . . that it sought to establish military rule, “not for any purpose of order, or for prevention of crime, but solely as a means for coercing the people in the adoption of principles and measures to which it is known that they are opposed, and upon which they have an undeniable right to exercise their own judgment.”
Did not Congress realize, that such an act, in its “whole character, scope and object, was without precedent and without authority,” in open conflict with the plainest provisions of the Constitution, and “utterly destructive to those great principles of liberty and humanity for which our ancestors . . . have shed much blood.”
He analyzed the powers of the military commander of a district, as those being those of an absolute monarch. “His mere will is to take the place of all law . . . Being bound by no State law, and there being no other law to regulate the subject, he may make a criminal code of his own . . . He is bound by no rules of evidence; there is indeed no provision by which he is authorized or required to take any evidence at all. Everything is a crime which he chooses to call so, and all persons are condemned whom he pronounces to be guilty. “
Such authority “amounts to absolute despotism,” and to make it even more unendurable, the district commander could delegate it to as many subordinates as he wished. For more than 500 years, no English monarch had ruled with such power, in that time no English-speaking people “have borne such servitude.” The whole population of ten States would be reduced “to the most abject and degrading slavery.”
(The Age of Hate, Andrew Johnson and the Radicals, George Fort Milton, Coward-McCann, Inc., 1930, page 398)