It is difficult to estimate the importance of this trial. Not in respect merely to the exalted position of the accused, not alone in the fact that it is a trial before the highest tribunal known among us, the American Senate, upon charges preferred by the immediate Representatives of the sovereignty of the nation, against the President of the United States, alleging the commission by him of high crimes and misdemeanors; it is not alone in these respects that the trial rises in dignity and importance, but because it presents great and momentous issues, involving the powers, limitations, and duties of the various Departments of the Government, affecting the very form and structure of the Government, and the mightiest interests of the people, now and in the future.
It has been aptly termed the trial of the Constitution. Constructions of our Constitution and laws here given and precedents established by these proceedings will be quoted as standard authorities in all similar trials hereafter. We have here at issue, before this highest judicial tribunal, in the presence of the American people and of the civilized world, whether our Constitution is to be a landmark to the citizen, a guide to the statesman, and authoritative over the magistrate, or whether this is a land if anarchy, crime, and lawless usurpation. It is a trial which challenges the broadest comprehension of the statesman, the highest intellect and clearest discrimination of the jurist, and the deepest solicitude of the patriot. Its issues are to be determined by clearly ascertaining the duties and powers of the coordinate branches of the Government, all jealous of encroachment upon their functions, and all in danger if one shall usurp powers which by virtue of the constitution and laws belong to others.
Although it seems to me that no man of honest judgment and true heart can have a possible doubt as to the guilt of the respondent in this cause, and although he has long since been indicted and found guilty in the judgment and conscience of the American people of a giant apostasy to his party--the party of American nationality and progress--and of a long series of atrocious wrongs and most daring and flagrant usurpations of power, and for three years has thrown himself across the path of the country to peace and a restored Union, and in all his official acts has stood forth without disguise, a bold. bad man, he aider and abettor of treason, and an enemy of his country; though this is the unanimous verdict of the loyal popular heart of the country, yet I shall strive to confine myself, in the main, to a consideration of the issues presented in the first three articles. Those issues are simply: whether the removal of Edwin M. Stanton, Secretary of War, and the appointment of Lorenzo Thomas Secretary of War, ad interim on the 21st day of February, 1868, the President willfully violated the Constitution of the United States, and the law entitled "An act regulating the tenure of certain civil offices," in force March 2, 1867 . . .
The conclusion of the whole matter is, that if the President issued an order for the removal of Mr. Stanton and the appointment of Thomas without advice and consent of the Senate, it being then in session, then he acted in palpable violation of the plain letter of the Constitution, and is chargeable with a high misdemeanor in office. The production of his own order removing Stanton, and of his letter of authority to Thomas, commanding him to take possession of the War Office, are all the proofs necessary to establish his guilt. And when it appears, as it does most conclusively in the evidence before use, that he not only did not have the concurrence of the Senate, but its absolute, unqualified dissent, and that he was notified of that dissent by a certified copy of a resolution to that effect, passed by the Senate, under all the forms of parliamentary deliberation, and that he still willfully and defiantly persisted, and does still persist in the removal of Mr. Stanton, and to this day stubbornly retains Thomas as a member of his Cabinet, then who shall say that he has not wickedly trampled the Constitution under his feet, and that he does not justly deserve the punishment due to his great offense? . . .