Andrew Johnson: A Study in Courage

By Lloyd Paul Stryker | Go to book overview

LXVIII
ALTA VELA

BETWEEN the 13th and the 23rd of March the President's counsel were busily engaged in the preparation of his answer. But there was one of them who was pressing his enthusiasm and all of his large talents into other channels. He was using these precious days in planning how to take advantage of the embarrassments of his client.

Off the coast of Haiti there lay a guano island, Alta Vela. American citizens in 1859 took possession in the name of the United States. The Dominican Republic later seized it. Two citizens of the United States, Patterson and Murginendo, claimed rights there and had engaged Jeremiah Black to look out for them. He now demanded the dispatch of an armed vessel to safeguard American interests. Seward refused, relying on the precedent established by Black himself, when in 1857 as Buchanan's Attorney-General, he had rejected an American claim to Cayo Verde, an island in the Caribbean.1

Black criticized Seward's report with asperity and requested Johnson to review it, and five days after the impeachment articles were filed, began pressing the Alta Vela claim with an unwonted importunity. It was a good time, he thought, to take advantage of the necessities of one client in order to enrich another. What more subtle means of duress could he employ than the enlistment of the managers in furtherance of his demands upon the President! And so, four days before the commencement of the trial, he procured from Butler a written opinion favorable to the claim. But Black went further still, he obtained from Stevens, Logan and Bingham their written concurrence in Butler's opinion, and forwarded this document to the President.2

Here was indeed a club! What an opportunity for a trade!

-612-

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