[Washington, DC: October-December 1868]. Andrew Johnson prepares his final address to Congress, taking aim at Congressional Reconstruction: "The greatest injuries inflicted upon a people is by improper and unjust Legislation and the greatest good by their timely repeal and absolute revocation. Most if not all our political troubles and wrongs have resulted from encroachments upon and violations of the Constitution." A 4pp. manuscript, 5 x 8 in., in pencil, unsigned, but in Johnson's hand, approx. 275 words, part of President Johnson's early draft of his final State of the Union address. The manuscript has been neatly tipped onto a larger sheet. A very good example. While much of the text in Johnson's notes were heavily edited and greatly expanded by the time he forwarded his message to Congress that December, most of the points he outlined here were included in the final draft.
A remarkable and rare example of Johnson's holograph, as President. Here Johnson proposes paying off the National debt, Amendments to the Constitution regarding election of the President and Vice President, reductions to the Army, and the payment of taxes on Government bonds. Most particularly he emphasizes his disagreements with the legislative branch over the direction of Reconstruction.
The first three paragraphs in Johnson's notes underscore his immense frustration with the Radical Republicans who undermined his own efforts at reconciling differences with the southern states by passing their own, often more punitive measures. Indeed, when Johnson's message was published, it was these points which opened it: "Upon the reassembling of Congress it again becomes my duty to call your attention to the state of the Union and to its continued disorganized condition under the various laws which have been passed upon the subject of reconstruction. It may be safely assumed as an axiom in the government of states that the greatest wrongs inflicted upon a people are caused by unjust and arbitrary legislation, or by the unrelenting decrees of despotic rulers, and that the timely revocation of injurious and oppressive measures is the greatest good that can be conferred upon a nation. The legislator or ruler who has the wisdom and magnanimity to retrace his steps when convinced of error will sooner or later be rewarded with the respect and gratitude of an intelligent and patriotic people. Our own history, although embracing a period less than a century, affords abundant proof that most, if not all, of our domestic troubles are directly traceable to violations of the organic law and excessive legislation." Johnson expanded upon this theme by citing examples of Congress' overreach, demonstrating how it undermined his own efforts at reconciliation and instead further alienated southern whites.
Johnson then turned to the issue of the national debt. His draft notes contain several passages concerning this issue: "The national debt must be paid within sixteen years - if it is made a permanent debt, it will change the whole character of the government and cement it onto a bonded [?] or moneyed aristocracy [?] The public expenditures from the origin of the Government [?] to 1860 divided into periods also the public debt [.]" In the final message, Johnson spent a great deal of time discussing the issue of debt, taking Congress through the history of government finance, noting how Andrew Jackson's administration had successfully paid the debts resulting from the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. He also touched upon the issues of government bonds later in his draft notes. "Bonds of the Gov[ernmen]t must be taxed or there will be great complaint on part of the payers[.] They are now exempt from tax which is equal to two percent. They are made Bank Capital and make 6 per cent in circulation. The interest now paid in Gold is equal to nine per cent. Aggregate proffits [sic] on bonds is 19 per cent not counting premiums and discounts-" Johnson expanded these notes into several paragraphs containing a level of detail that would be unheard of today.
Johnson also proposed "Amendments to the constitution of the U.S. Changing the mode of electing President & Vice President &c &c--" The proposed amendment was forward-thinking, including a radical proposal to abolish the Electoral College. The final draft outlined the main points: "I renew the recommendation contained in my communication to Congress dated the 18th July last--a copy of which accompanies this message that the judgment of the people should be taken on the propriety of so amending the Federal Constitution that it shall provide-- First. For an election of President and Vice-President by a direct vote of the people, instead of through the agency of electors, and making them ineligible for reelection to a second term. Second. For a distinct designation of the person who shall discharge the duties of President in the event of a vacancy in that office by the death, resignation, or removal of both the President and Vice-President. Third. For the election of Senators of the United States directly by the people of the several States, instead of by the legislatures; and Fourth. For the limitation to a period of years of the terms of Federal judges."
Turning to the Army, Johnson proposed "A reduction of the Army beginning with the General of the Army; also a repeal of the law requiring all orders issued by the President to pass through the Gen[era]l of the Army; the preventing the States from overseeing Militia &c--" The final published message read: "The act of March 2, 1867 [ie: the Tenure of Office Act], making appropriations for the support of the Army for the year ending June 30, 1868, and for other purposes, contains provisions which interfere with the President's constitutional functions as Commander in Chief of the Army and deny to States of the Union the right to protect themselves by means of their own militia. These provisions should be at once annulled; for while the first might, in times of great emergency, seriously embarrass the Executive in efforts to employ and direct the common strength of the nation for its protection and preservation, the other is contrary to the express declaration of the Constitution that 'a well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." Whether this proposal had anything to do with Ulysses S. Grant's public feud with Johnson over the removal of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton is not clear.
Some of the elements of his 1868 message were left to other officials in his Administration. For instance, Johnson delegated the detailing of the state of U.S. foreign policy to the Secretary of State: "Our foreign policy must be presented in full by the sec[retary] of State -- It will compare most favorably with any preceding Administration--" That section of Johnson's message, likely drafted by Seward and the State Department, covered enormous ground, touching on the relations with nearly every nation on earth and consuming over 2,700 of a total 9,800 words in the message. Item #62005
Andrew Johnson was a Senator from the state of Tennessee when it became the eleventh state to secede from the Union, sparking the Civil War. Unlike every other Senator from the seceding states, Johnson did not resign his seat in the Federal Congress. A defender of the Lincoln administration, he was considered a traitor by the South. After Union forces retook most of Tennessee, President Lincoln appointed Johnson military governor there. Lincoln later tapped him to be his second Vice President in 1865. Six weeks after assuming that office Lincoln was assassinated and Andrew Johnson found himself President of the United States.
Johnson's views on Reconstruction following the end of the war favored Lincoln's amnesty plan toward readmission of the southern states to the Union. They did not include civil rights protections or the right to vote for the freed African Americans in those states. Congressional Republicans on the other hand took a more punitive view toward the old power structure in the south. The competing views led to legislation, Presidential vetoes, Congressional overrides, confrontation, and ultimately to attempts by Congress to restrict the President's powers via the "Tenure of Office Act" of 1867, and to impeachment proceedings. President Johnson survived his impeachment trial by a single vote in May of 1868.
Material written entirely in Andrew Johnson's hand, accomplished during his presidency is extremely rare. American Book Prices Current records only four other examples selling at auction in the past forty years. Of those, only one, an additional four pages of penciled notes prepared for the same 1868 address, approaches the level of importance of the present manuscript. (See, Forbes Collection: Christies, New York, Oct. 9, 2002, Lot 132, $19,120.).