Andrew Johnson

Remarks in Cleveland, Ohio

September 04, 1866

THE PRESIDENT: I know it has been said that I am an alien, [Laughter.] and that I did not reside in one of the States of the Union, and therefore could not be the Chief Magistrate, though the constitution declares that I must be a citizen to occupy that office. Therefore all that was necessary was to declare the office vacant, or under a pretext to prefer articles of impeachment, and thus the individual who occupies the Chief Magistracy was to be disposed of and driven from power.

But a short time since you had a ticket before you for the presidency. I was placed upon that ticket with a distinguished fellow-citizen, who is now no more. I know there are some who complain, "very unfortunately." Yes, "unfortunately" for some that God rules on high and deals in right. [Cheers.] Yes, unfortunately the ways of Providence are mysterious and incomprehensible, controlling all those who exclaim "unfortunate."

CROWD: "Bully for you!"

THE PRESIDENT: I was going to say, my countrymen, a short time since I was elected and placed upon the ticket. There was a platform proclaimed and adopted. Notwithstanding the subsidized gang of hirelings and traducers, I have discharged all my duties and fulfilled all my pledges, and I say here, to-night, that if my predecessor had lived the vials of wrath would have been poured out upon him.

CROWD: "Never." "Three cheers for the Congress of the United States!"

THE PRESIDENT: I came here as I was passing along, and have been called upon for the purpose of exchanging views and ascertaining, if we could, who was wrong.

CROWD: [Cries of...] "It's you."

THE PRESIDENT: That was my object in appearing before you to-night, and I want to say that I have lived among the American people, and have represented them in some public capacity for the last twenty-five years; and where is the man or woman who can place his finger upon one single act of mine deviating from any pledge of mine, or in violation of the constitution of the country. [Cheers.]

Who can come and place his finger on one pledge I ever violated, or one principle I ever proved false to?

CROWD MEMBER: "How about New Orleans?"

ANOTHER CROWD MEMBER: "Hang Jeff. Davis, Hang Jeff-. Davis. Why don't you hang him?"

CROWD: [Cries...] "Give us the opportunity." Have you not got the court? Have you not the Attorney General?'

CROWD MEMBER: "Who is your Chief Justice, who has refused to sit upon the trial?" [Cheers.]

THE PRESIDENT: I am not the Chief Justice. I am not the prosecuting attorney. [Cheers.] I am not the jury. I will tell you what I did do. I called upon your Congress that is trying to break up the government.

CROWD: [Cries of...] "you be d—d" [and cheers mingled with hisses, and great confusion.]

CROWD MEMBER: "Don't get mad Andy."

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I will tell you who is mad—"Whom the Gods wish to destroy they first make mad." Did your Congress order any of them to be tried?'

CROWD: "Three cheers for Congress!"

THE PRESIDENT: Then, fellow-citizens, we might, as well allay your passions and permit reason to resume her empire and prevail. [Cheers.]

In presenting the remarks that I designed to make, my intention was to address myself to your common sense—your judgment and your better feeling—not to the passion and malignancy in your hearts. [Cheers.] This was my object in presenting myself on this occasion, and to ask you how do you do and at the same time to bid you good-bye. In this assembly here to-night the remark has been made, "traitor, traitor." My countrymen will you hear me?

CROWD: [Shouts of...] "Yes."

THE PRESIDENT: And will you hear me for my cause and for the constitution of my country. [Applause.] I want to know when or where, or under what circumstances, Andrew Johnson, not as Chief Executive, but in any capacity, ever deserted any principle or violated the constitution of his country.

CROWD: [Cries of...] "Never."

THE PRESIDENT: Let me ask this large and intelligent audience if your Secretary of State, who served four years under Mr. Lincoln, and who was placed upon the butcher's block, as it were, and hacked to pieces and scarred by the assassin's knife, when he turned traitor?

CROWD: [Cries of...] "Never."

THE PRESIDENT: If I was disposed to play the orator and deal in declamation to-night, I would imitate one of the ancient tragedies, and would take William H. Seward and bring him before you and point you to the hacks and scars upon his person.

CROWD MEMBER: "God bless him."

THE PRESIDENT: I would exhibit the bloody garments saturated with gore from his gushing wounds. Then I would ask you, why not hang Thad. Stevens and Wendall Phillips? I tell you, my countrymen, I have been fighting the South, and they have been whipped and crushed, and they acknowledge their defeat and accept the terms of the conditions; and now, as I go around the circle, having fought traitors at the South, I am prepared to fight traitors at the North. [Cheers.] God willing, with your help, we will do it.

CROWD: [Cries of...] "We won't."

THE PRESIDENT: It will be crushed North and South, and this glorious Union of ours will be preserved. [Cheers.]

I do not come here as the Chief Magistrate of twenty-five States, but of thirty-six. [Cheers.] I am here to-night with the flag of my country and the constitution of the thirty-six States untarnished. Are you for dissolving this country?

CROWD: [Cries of...] "No."

THE PRESIDENT: Then I am President, and I am President of the whole United States. [Cheers.]

I will tell you one other thing. I understand the discordant notes in this crowd to-night. He who is opposed to the restoration of this government and the reunion of the States, is as great a traitor as Jeff. Davis or Wendell Phillips. [Loud cheers.] I am against both.

CROWD: [Cries of...] "Give it to them."

THE PRESIDENT: Some of you talk about traitors in the South, who have not courage to get away from your homes to fight them. [Laughter and cheers.]

The courageous men, Grant, Sherman, Farragut, and the long list of the distinguished sons of the Union were in the field, and led on their gallant hosts to conquest and to victory, while you remained cowardly at home. [Applause and cries of "bully."] Now when these brave men have returned home, many of whom have left an arm or a leg or their blood upon many a battlefield, they found you at home, speculating and committing frauds on the government. [Laughter and cheers.]

You pretend now to have great respect and sympathy for the poor brave fellow who left an arm on the battle-field.

CROWD: [Cries...] "Is this dignified?"

THE PRESIDENT: I understand you. You may talk, about the dignity of the President.

CROWD: [Cries of...] "how was it about his making a speech on the 22d of February."

THE PRESIDENT: I have been with you in the battles of this country, and I can tell you, furthermore, tonight. who have to pay these brave men who shed their blood. You speculated in, and now the people have to work it out. [Cheers.] It is time that the great mass of the people should understand what you design. And what did General Butler say? [Hisses.] What did General Grant say? [Cheers.] And what does General Grant say about General Butler? [Laughter and cheers.] What does General Sherman say?

CROWD MEMBER: "What does General Sheridan say?"

THE PRESIDENT: General Sheridan says that he is for the government that Sheridan fought for.

CROWD: "Bully!" [and renewed cries of...] "New Orleans" [and confusion.]

THE PRESIDENT: I care not for dignity. There is a portion of your countrymen who will always respect their fellow citizens when they are entitled to respect, and there is a portion of them who have no respect for themselves and consequently have no respect for others.

CROWD: [Cries of...] "Traitor!"

I wish I could see that man. I would bet you now that if the light fell on your face, cowardice and treachery would be seen in it. Show yourself. Come out here where I can see you. [Shouts of laughter.] I stand now where I stood when the rebellion commenced. Who has sacrificed more than I? Who has run greater risks? But the factions, domineering and tyrannical party in Congress has undertaken to poison the minds of the people against me.

Andrew Johnson, Remarks in Cleveland, Ohio Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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