[JOHNSON, Andrew]. CHASE, Salmon P. (1808-1873), Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. Autograph document signed ("S.P. Chase") as Chief Justice, n.p. [Washington, D.C.], [about 10 a.m.], 15 April 1865. 1 page, 4to (9 13/16 x 7 7/8 in.), integral blank, very slight repair at folds in right-hand margin. Verso with Chase's autograph docket: "Oath of V.P. Johnson on taking the Office of President and the certificate of Chief Justice, Apl. 15, 1865."
"...PRESERVE, PROTECT AND DEFEND THE CONSTITUTION...": THE PRESIDENTIAL OATH OF OFFICE IS ADMINISTERED TO ANDREW JOHNSON, A FEW HOURS AFTER LINCOLN'S DEATH, BY CHIEF JUSTICE CHASE
An historic document, certifying Andrew Johnson's succession to the office of President and vividly recording the orderly process of succession as prescribed by Article II of the Constitition. Johnson's oath-taking, some three hours after Lincoln's death, as officially recorded here by Chase, constitutes the first instance in the nation's history in which Presidential succession resulted from the assassination of a President. (Ironically, Chase had administered the oath of office to Abraham Lincoln at his second inauguration, a little over a month before.)
In the upper portion of the sheet, Chase has written in a bold hand the text of the oath: "I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States." Beneath, he has added his certification: "I Salmon P. Chase, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, certify that on this fifteenth day of April ..., at the City of Washington in the District of Columbia, personally appeared Andrew Johnson, Vice President, upon whom by the death of Abraham Lincoln, Late President, the duties of President of the United States have devolved, and took & subscribed the oath of office above set forth."
Vice-President Johnson, lodging at Kirkwood House, was awakened at about 10:15 p.m. on April 14 by a friend, former Governor Leonard J. Farwell of Wisconsin, who had been present in Ford's Theater and witnessed the assassination. Farwell rushed to Johnson and reported the momentous news. A contingent of soldiers arrived momentarily, to protect the Vice-President in case there was a further plan to murder him as well. Shrugging off the offer of a military escort, Johnson hurried to the Peterson House, across from the theater, where Lincoln had been carried. When he ascertained that the President was unlikely to recover, Johnson returned to Kirkwood House, "where he paced the floor of his room while wringing his hands, and saying 'They shall suffer for this. They shall suffer for this'" (Trefusse, Andrew Johnson: A Biography, p.194).
The next morning, Johnson was officially notified that President Lincoln had died at about 7:22 a.m. Asked when and where he wished to take the oath of office, the former Tennessee tailor specified that the ceremony should take place as soon as possible, preferably at his lodgings. A delegation accordingly went to Kirkwood House where Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase administered the oath of office, between ten and eleven o'clock. Present were Secretary of the Treasury Hugh McCulloch, Attorney General James Speed, Frank Blair and his son Montgomery, Senators Solomon Foot, Alexander Ramsay, Richard Yates of Illinois, William M. Stewart, John Hale and Congressman John F. Farnsworth. "All were deeply moved by the great tragedy and watched the proceedings with sad faces. Johnson repeated the oath after Chase 'very distinctly and impressively.' At its close, he kissed the Bible. When he handed the book back to the chief justice, Chase said to him 'You are President. May God support, guide and bless you in your arduous duties.' The other guests also offered their congratulations, though, under the circumstances, it was difficult for them to find the right words." Johnson made a brief, informal address, noting that he was "almost overwhelmed" by Lincoln's murder, and that he felt "incompetent to perform duties so important and responsible." Anticipating questions as to his future policies, he stated that "the only assurance I can now give of the future is reference to the past." He reassured his audience that he would strive to "establish and perpetuate the principles of free government" and that "the Government in passing through its present perils will settle down upon principles consonant with popular rights more permanent and enduring than heretofore" (ed. S.D. Richardson, Messages and Papers of the Presidents, 6:305-306, as published in the Sunday Morning Chronicle, 16 April 1865).
Johnson's accession to the presidency, as a recent biographer has observed, "was to have fateful consequences--for the freedmen, for their former masters, and for the country" (Trefusse, p.196.).
Provenance: The Oliver R. Barrett Lincoln Collection (sale, Parke-Bernet, 20 February 1952, lot 671, full-page illustration); Philip D. Sang (sale, Sotheby Parke Bernet, 20 June 1979, lot 725, full-page illustration).