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19 May 2006
STANTON, Edwin M. Autograph letter signed ("E. M. Stanton") to Senator John Conness (1821-1909), Washington City, 21 February 1868, 6 p.m. 1 page 4to, War Department stationery.
"I AM AT THE WAR DEPARTMENT AND MEAN TO CONTINUE..." STANTON AT THE BARRICADES DURING THE JOHNSON IMPEACHMENT CRISIS
A dramatic artifact from Stanton's remarkable act of civil disobedience: "I am at the War Department," Stanton tells Conness, a Republican Senator from California, "and mean to continue in possession until expelled by force. Lorenzo Thomas is not so far as I know issuing any orders as Secretary of War." Thomas was the man President Johnson wanted in the office instead of Stanton. The President had fired Stanton over the disagreements over how to Reconstruct the defeated Southern states. But Stanton's Radical Republican allies in the Senate were outraged. The firing violated their Tenure in Office Act, which called for Senatorial consent before the President could remove a Cabinet officer. It was concocted specifically for the purpose of keeping Stanton in office, but Johnson ignored it, and offered the Cabinet post to war hero Ulysses S. Grant, who refused. Johnson turned next to Adjutant General Lorenzo Thomas, who agreed to serve, but by that time Stanton had barricade the door. In The Forbes Collection, Part Three, we had a Stanton letter from a later phase of this episode (lot 113). In that instance, on 1 March, Stanton resolved to stay put until Johnson was impeached. Here, at the outset of the crisis, he expects to be removed by force. General Thomas did show up to try and claim his post, but he was rebuffed by Stanton's supporters at the door. Stanton stayed until the House delivered its Articles of Impeachment to the Senate for trial, where Johnson was acquitted by a single vote.
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