Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. VIVIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 18351860
The Presiding Chief-Justice at the Trial of President Johnson
By William Maxwell Evarts (18181901)
[Born in Boston, Mass., 1818. Died, New York, N. Y., 1901. Eulogy on Mr. Chase. Before the Alumni of Dartmouth College, 24 June, 1874.]
THE FIRST political impeachment in our Constitutional history, involving, as it did, the accusation of the President of the United States, required the Chief-Justice to preside at the trial before the Senate, creating thus the tribunal to which the Constitution had assigned this high jurisdiction. Beyond the injunction that the Senate, when sitting for the trial of impeachments, should be on oath, the Constitution gave no instruction to fix or ascertain the character of the procedure, the nature of the duty assigned to the specially-organized court, or the distribution of authority between the Chief-Justice and the Senate. The situation lacked no feature of gravityno circumstance of solicitudeand the attention of the whole country, and of foreign nations, watched the transaction at every stage of its progress. No circumstances could present a greater disparity of political or popular forces between accuser and accused, and none could be imagined of more thorough commitment of the body of the courtthe Senateboth in the interests of its members, in their political feeling, and their prejudgments; all tending to make the condemnation of the President, upon all superficial calculations, inevitable .
Over this scene, through all its long agitations, the Chief-Justice presided, with firmness and prudence, with circumspect comprehension, and sagacious forecast of the vast consequences which hung, not upon the result of the trial as affecting any personal fortunes of the President, but upon the maintenance of its character as a trialupon the prevalence of law and the supremacy of justice in its methods of procedure, in the grounds and reasons of its conclusion. That his authority was greatly influential in fixing the true Constitutional relations of the Chief-Justice to the Senate, and establishing a precedent of procedure not easily to be subverted; that it was felt, throughout the trial, with persuasive force, in the maintenance of the judicial nature of the transaction; and that it never went a step beyond the office which belonged to himof presiding over the Senate trying an impeachmentis not to be doubted.
The President was acquitted. The disappointment of the political calculations which had been made upon what was felt by the partisans of impeachment to be an assured result was unbounded, and resentments, rash and unreasoning, were visited upon the Chief-Justice, who had influenced the Senate to be judicial, and had not himself been political. No doubt, this impeachment trial permanently affected the disposition of the leading managers of the Republican party toward the Chief-Justice, and his attitude thereafter toward that party, in his character of a citizen. But the people of the country never assumed any share of the resentment of party-feeling. The charge against him, if it had any shape or substance, came only to this: that the Chief-Justice brought into the Senate, under his judicial robes, no concealed weapons of party warfare, and that he had not plucked from the Bible, on which he took and administered the judicial oath, the commandment for its observance.