Washington May 16, 1868.
My dear Sir,1
I was glad to see your handwriting once more. I do
not quite agree with you. To me the most important thing
seems to me--not that Mr Johnson should be acquitted,
or convicted,--but--that his Judges, the Senators of the United
States, should render an honest & impartial judgment
according toconstitution & the laws upon the facts
proved before them. In what I have done as presiding
officer I have endeavored to be & I believe I have
been perfectly unbiased.
I had written thus far when the time came for me
to go to the Capitol, whence I have just returned. You have
already learned the result of the vote on the th
article on which the Senate required the question to be put first;
thirty five declaring the President guilty & nineteen
declaring him not guilty; so that there not being two thirds voting
guilty he was declared acquitted.2 I was under the impression,
that the result would be the other way until the vote
had been taken: with one exception, I had never heard any Senator,
who had not pronounced his opinion in [committee],
ever intimate what his vote would be on this article;
and yet if you were to believe what is published in the
papers you would imagine that I had contrived the whole
The truth is that conviction, which should be a judicial, has
assumed very much the character of a party question; and here
in my judgment is the chief danger to our country.
What possible harm can result to the country from the
continuance of Andrew Johnson [nine] months longer in the Presidential
chair, compared with that which must arise if impeachment
becomes a mere mode of getting rid of an obnoxious President.
What would be thought of a jury or a court which would convict
or sentence a man to the penitentiary, because of "general cussedness"
to use the current phrase without sufficient proof of specific
charges of offenses or crimes. Suppose the proof insufficient of
crimes definitely charged could the jury convict? Suppose the
proof sufficient but the facts alleged not to constitute the
crimes charged, what court would sentence. If any body brought
a suit against you would you be satisfied with the Court or the
jury which would find & adjudge against you without good
warrant in law & in fact?
But I have written more than I intended. All I meant
to say when I began was that I fear you do not allow sufficiently
for honest differences of judgment, and that your old friend
is still just what you always took him to be and that nobody
shall fail of having a fair and impartial trial in any tribunal
when he presides, if your friend has the power of securing it to him.
Source: Chase Papers, Library of Congress.
1. Chase had known Williams, evidently a Cincinnati attorney, since the 1840s.
2. The Senate had voted earlier in the day. Trial of Andrew Johnson, 2:486-87.
3. Rumors circulating in the press placed Chase and the Democrats at the center of a plot to destroy Republican unity and acquit Johnson. New York Times, May 14, 1868; New York Tribune, May 14, 1868; Wilkes' Spirit of the Times, May 16, 1868.