Autobiography of Seventy Years - Vol. 1

By George F. Hoar | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XVI
POLITICAL CONDITIONS IN 1869

WHEN the Republican Party came into power in 1869 under its great and simple-hearted President, it found itself confronted with very serious duties. They were enough to fill ordinary men in ordinary times with dismay. The President was without political experience. He had never held civil office. He had voted but twice in his life. He had voted the Whig ticket once and the Democratic ticket once. So he could not justly be charged with being an offensive partisan. He had no experience in business except in a humble way and in that he had been unfortunate. Congress and the President could only act under the restraint of a written Constitution. Everything done by either must pass the ordeal of the Supreme Court, a majority of whose members then had no sympathy with a liberal interpretation of the National powers. The Chief Justice had been a great Republican leader. But he had quarrelled with Lincoln, and was an eager aspirant for the Democratic nomination for the Presidency.

Of the eight years after the inauguration of Lincoln more than four had been years of actual war and more than five passed before formal declaration of peace. During all this time nothing could be considered but the preservation of the Union. From the end of the War to the accession of President Grant, Congress and the President had been engaged in a struggle with each other for power. President Johnson had been impeached and put on trial before the Senate. So there could be no important legislation from the summer of 1866 until March, 1869, that did not command the assent of two thirds of both Houses.

Yet the feeling everywhere among Republicans in Washington and throughout the North was of exultant and con-

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