Wendell Phillips, as quoted by The Revolution, boldly called for a president who would pledge “not [merely] his words,” but his “life” to the betterment of Black lives.
Phillips is, of course, referring to Andrew Johnson, a Southern sympathizer who assumed the presidency after the assassination of Lincoln in April 1865 and who actively opposed the Reconstruction Acts, “laws that provided suffrage to freed slaves and prevented former Southern rebels from regaining control of the state governments.”
To further inflame his party, especially the egalitarian-minded Radical Republicans as they were called, Johnson defied the Tenure of Office Act in 1867, an act that “made it impossible for the president to dismiss important government officials without the permission of the Senate.” His dismissal of checks-and-balances came in the form of Johnson’s 1867 removal of the Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton, “the only member of Johnson’s cabinet who supported the Radical Republicans’ program for reconstruction.”
The House of Representatives formally impeached Johnson on February 24, 1868 by a vote of 126 to 47, charging him with violation of the Tenure of Office Act and, additionally, for acting out of “disgrace, ridicule, hatred, contempt, and reproach [for] the Congress of the United States.”
On May 16, 1868, Johnson escaped removal from office by just one vote in the Senate. That November, the Republican candidate, General Ulysses S. Grant, won the presidency.
From The Revolution, February 6, 1868
At the recent meeting in Boston of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society, Wendell Phillips said:
The pusillanimity of the Republican party has already brought loss as well as disgrace upon themselves. If they had been true to the negro they would not have lost the States of Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Kentucky. If they continue to prove false to the blacks, the party will go to ruin. A party should have some principle and stand by it. The Republicans ought long ago to have put Sherman, Trumbull, Fessenden and the other obstructionists out of the way. Do you ask what we shall do? Try to do better. Give the next nomination to a man whose life pledges him to you—not his words only. And when you attack the treacherous President, do it directly, by impeachment—not by undermining and circumventing.
The Republicans have failed through their own blunder. If one direct and above-board effort had been made, the President would have been removed, the people would have sustained the action, the crisis would have been safely passed. If Johnson is unfit to hold the powers of the President, why not still impeach him. The course now pursued is not statesmanlike; it is letting down the enthusiasm of the nation. Neither will the matter be amended by putting Grant in the chair.
Mr. Phillips then read a resolution of thanks to the ladies who had aided the cause by serving at the refreshment tables, thus enabling out-of-town friends to get their dinner and tea without going into the wet streets:
“Resolved, That the thanks of this Society be presented to those ladies who have so cordially devoted their time and labor to our social entertainment by presiding at the tables through the day.”
Mr. Phillips thinks that “had the Republicans been true to the Negro, they would not have lost so many States at the last autumn elections.” If he and his friends had been true to the women of the country, they would have at least saved the negro; and in Kansas and Wisconsin might and probably would have been given to woman. He well and truly adds, “If they continue to prove false to the blacks, the party will go to ruin.” And if Mr. Phillips proves false to the women, the cause of the blacks will be ruined also. Reformers, too, as well as Republicans, “should have some principles, and stand by them.” And if “Republicans have failed through their own blunder,” so too, it may be inferred, have the expediency abolitionists who ask suffrage for only one-half of those who have equal right to it. The republican party in Connecticut have as much good right to stab the black man in his claim to the ballot, as have abolitionists to the same or worse as regards women. In the South, black men vote and are voted for. They frame constitutions, enact laws, and execute them. They sit on juries, plead at the bar, and will soon come as judges to the bench. But the women of Boston, the “hub of the universe,” “the Athens of the world,” do none of these things. So let them busy themselves in providing collations for abolitionists who ignore their rights, and be paid in polite votes of thanks “for such cordial devotion of their time.”