Impeachment Clauses

Document 16

Luther Martin, Impeachment Trial of Justice Samuel Chase, Senate

23 Feb. 1804Annals 14:429--32, 436

We have been told by an honorable Manager, (Mr. Campbell,) that the power of trying impeachments was lodged in the Senate with the most perfect propriety; for two reasons--the one, that the person impeached would be tried before those who had given their approbation to his appointment to office. This certainly was not the reason by which the framers of the Constitution were influenced, when they gave this power to the Senate. Who are the officers liable to impeachment? The President, the Vice President, and all civil officers of Government. In the election of the two first, the Senate have no control, either as to nomination or approbation. As to other civil officers, who hold their appointments during good behavior, it is extremely probable that, though they were approved by one Senate, yet from lapse of time, and the fluctuations of that body, an officer may be impeached before a Senate, not one of whom had sanctioned his appointment, not one of whom, perhaps, had he been nominated after their election, would have given him their sanction.

This, then, could not have been one of the reasons for thus placing the power over these officers. But as a second reason, he assigned, that, if any other inferior tribunal had been entrusted with the trial of impeachments, the members might have an interest in the conviction of an officer, thereby to have him removed in order to obtain his place; but, that no Senator could have such inducement.

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I see two honorable members of this Court, (Messrs. Dayton and Baldwin,) who were with me in Convention, in 1787, who as well as myself, perfectly knew why this power was invested in the Senate. It was because, among all our speculative systems, it was thought this power could no where be more properly placed, or where it would be less likely to be abused. A sentiment, sir, in which I perfectly concurred, and I have no doubt but the event of this trial will show that we could not have better disposed of that power.

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Will it be pretended, for I have heard such a suggestion, that the House of Representatives have a right to impeach every citizen indiscriminately? For what shall they impeach them? For any criminal act? Is the House of Representatives, then, to constitute a grand jury to receive information of a criminal nature against all our citizens, and thereby to deprive them of a trial by jury? This was never intended by the Constitution?

The President, Vice President, and other civil officers, can only be impeached. They only in that case are deprived of a trial by jury; they, when they accept their offices, accept them on those terms, and, as far as relates to the tenure of their offices, relinquish that privilege; they, therefore, cannot complain. Here, it appears to me, the framers of the Constitution have so expressed themselves as to leave not a single doubt on this subject.

In the first article, section the third, of the Constitution, it is declared that, judgment in all cases of impeachment, shall not extend further than removal from office, and disqualification to hold any office of honor, trust, or profit, under the United States. This clearly evinces, that no persons but those who hold offices are liable to impeachment. They are to lose their offices; and, having misbehaved themselves in such manner as to lose their offices, are, with propriety, to be rendered ineligible thereafter.

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The truth is, the framers of the Constitution, for many reasons, which influenced them, did not think proper to place the officers of Government in the power of the two branches of the Legislature, further than the tenure of their office. Nor did they choose to permit the tenure of their offices to depend upon the passions or prejudices of jurors. The very clause in the Constitution, of itself, shows that it was intended the persons impeached and removed from office might still be indicted and punished for the same offence, else the provision would have been not only nugatory, but a reflection on the enlightened body who framed the Constitution; since no person ever could have dreamed that a conviction on impeachment and a removal from office, in consequence, for one offence, could prevent the same person from being indicted and punished for another and different offence.

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I again repeat, that as the framers of the Constitution of the United States did not insert in their Constitution such a clause as is inserted in the constitution of Pennsylvania, it is the strongest proof that they did not mean a judge or other officer should be displaced by an address of any portion of the Legislature, but only according to the Constitutional provisions.

The Founders' Constitution
Volume 2, Impeachment Clauses, Document 16
The University of Chicago Press

Annals of Congress. The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States. "History of Congress." 42 vols. Washington, D.C.: Gales & Seaton, 1834--56.

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