Monday, January 13, 2014

Mark Twain on the Impeachment

Mark Twain actually was in DC during the trail of Andrew Johnson and he wrote this satire about it:

Final Defeat of the Impeachment Project in the House


In this city, Feb. 13, at his lodgings in the chamber of the House Reconstruction Committee, our beloved brother, IMPEACHMENT. The malady of deceased was general debility. A short time ago his health had improved so much that a bright hope cheered the land that he would soon walk forth healthful and strong; but alas! we know not what a day may bring forth. A great fear came upon his physicians in the crisis of his disease. The weariness of watching overpowered the nurses, so that they fell asleep and neglected him -- and lo! a relapse! . . .

And so, these six, that were with Mrs. Bingham, being stronger than they that were with Mrs. Stevens, called Thad, suffered not the medicine to pass the lips of him that lay sick.

And in the self-same hour he died.

So endeth the second farce. The ancient school-boy phrase best describes the position of the Congressional bodies in this matter: ''One's afraid and 't'other darsn't.''

On Feb. 21 President Johnson ignited the final impeachment crisis by dismissing Stanton. On March 1, ''Mark Twain's Letter'' treated the event as a resurrection:


Monday, Feb. 24

The past few days have been filled with startling interest. On Friday the nation was electrified by the President's last and boldest effort to dislodge Mr. Stanton. The wild excitement that pervaded the capital that night, has not had its parallel here since the murder of Mr. Lincoln. The air was thick with rumors of dreadful import. Every tranquil brain, thrown from its balance by the colossal surprise, magnified the creations of its crazed fancy into the phantoms of anarchy, rebellion, bloody revolution! . . .

And out of the midst of the political gloom, impeachment, that dead corpse, rose up and walked forth again! . . .


The next morning that one word, Impeachment, was upon every tongue. . . . Before 9 o'clock in the morning a multitude was assembled in the Capitol grounds, and from all points of the compass the clans were still gathering. . . .

The multitude of strangers were waiting for impeachment. They did not know what impeachment was, exactly, but they had a general idea that it would come in the form of an avalanche, or a thunder clap, or that maybe the roof would fall in. Bye and bye a member rose up solemnly, and every soul prepared to stand from under. But it was a vain delusion -- he only had a speech to make about a degraded cooking stove patent. The people were justly incensed. . . .

After an hour, Twain relates, Thaddeus Stevens rose to speak.

All the faces were full of interest again in a moment. The emaciated old man stood up and addressed the Speaker . . . and when he finished, the profoundest stillness reigned in the House. Then the one man upon whom all interest centered, read the resolutions the multitude so longed to hear; and when he came to where it was resolved that ''The President of the United States be impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors,'' the prodigious words had something so solemn and so awe-inspiring about them that the people seemed inclined to think that the expcted thunder-clap was about to crash above the pictured ceiling! The strong lights and shadows, . . . the ghostly figure of the reader, the eager interest that marked the sea of faces, the impressive silence and the historic grandeur of the occasion, conspired to render the scene oe of the most striking and dramatic that has ever been witnessed in the Capitol.

Tuesday, Feb. 25.

All day yesterday, the place was densely thronged; the people wished to hear the all-important vote taken. . . . They heard strong speeches from the Republicans, and angry protests from the Democrats -- but these latter were not confident in tone. The Democrats had said, themselves, that the President had made an ill-advised move and they felt that they were fighting for a lost cause. The ''aye'' votes, in nearly all cases, came in a clear voice, but many of the ''nays'' were inaudible in the reporters' gallery.


Yesterday was reception night at the White House and several of us went there at 10 o'clock. I confess that I went out of a thoughtless curiosity to see how the Chief Magistrate bore himself under these untoward circumstances, but I did not enjoy the visit. . . . He looked so like a plain, simple, goodnatured old farmer, that it was hard to conceive that this was the imperious ''tyrant'' whose deeds had been stirring the sluggish blood of thirty millions of people. He was uneasy and restless; the smile that came and went upon his face had distress in it; when he shook hands with a guest he looked wistfully into the person's face, as if he sought a friendly interest there, and yet hardly hoped to find it; he seemed humbled -- the expression of his countenance could be made to signify nothing else; when he ceased to smile for a moment, the shadow of a secret anxiety fell upon his features, and then, if ever a man looked weary and worn, and needful of rest and forgetfulness, it was this envied President of the United States.

I never saw a man who seemed as friendless and forsaken, and I never felt for any man so much.

But any sympathy Twain had for President Johnson on the eve of impeachment did not last. A year later, after a Senate trial that ended in acquittal by one vote, the President left office in the accustomed way, upon the inauguration of his successor, Ulysses S. Grant. On this occasion Twain again parodied human mortality, offering The New York Tribune an account that cast the last meeting of the Johnson Cabinet as the funeral for an Administration riddled by all the vices Twain deplored in politicians. The article was set in type, but never ran.

Andrew Johnson, that grand old second Washington, that resurrected Moses, rose & said:

''My children, when I came before the American people four years ago to deliver my inaugural, I was too full for utterance. (Emphatic assenting sobs from the Cabinet.) My emotions at this moment are no less profound . . . In quitting my high office, I am able to look back upon my administration of its duties without regret. By diligently violating my oath; by stultifying myself upon every occasion; by being stubborn in the wrong, & feeble & faithless toward the right; by obstructing the laws; by nursing anarchy & rebellion, & by deliberate treachery to the party that made me & trusted me, I have wiped away the contempt in which, because my obscure origin & humble occupation, my own loved section of the country did formerly hold me . . . My great deeds speak for themselves. I vetoed the Reconstruction acts; I vetoed the Freedmen's Bureau; I vetoed civil liberty; I vetoed Stanton . . . I hugged traitors to my bosom; I pardoned them by regiments & brigades . . . I smiled upon the Ku-Klux . . . I have made the name of office-holder equivalent to that of rogue; born & reared 'poor white trash,' I have clung to my native instincts, & done every small mean thing my eager hands could find to do. . . . My work is done; I die content.''

There was not a dry eye in the house; neither was there a sore heart. These inspiring words had driven all grief away. It was now after 12 o'clock. No time must be lost. Gideon produced a deck of cards, & we played seven-up for the furniture.

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