American History Finds Its Way Into the Impeachment Report

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 Alexander Hamilton

Read it the entire impeachment report here. A taste (in bold):

The Framers of the Constitution well understood that an individual could one day occupy the Office of the President who would place his personal or political interests above those of the nation. Having just won hard-fought independence from a King with unbridled authority, they were attuned to the dangers of an executive who lacked fealty to the law and the Constitution. 

Here is Alexander Hamilton in Federalist 75:

But a man raised from the station of a private citizen to the rank of chief magistrate, possessed of a moderate or slender fortune, and looking forward to a period not very remote when he may probably be obliged to return to the station from which he was taken, might sometimes be under temptations to sacrifice his duty to his interest, which it would require superlative virtue to withstand. An avaricious man might be tempted to betray the interests of the state to the acquisition of wealth. An ambitious man might make his own aggrandizement, by the aid of a foreign power, the price of his treachery to his constituents. 

In response, the Framers adopted a tool used by the British Parliament for several hundred years to constrain the Crown—the power of impeachment. Unlike in Britain, where impeachment was typically reserved for inferior officers but not the King himself, impeachment in our untested democracy was specifically intended to serve as the ultimate form of accountability for a duly-elected President. Rather than a mechanism to overturn an election, impeachment was explicitly contemplated as a remedy of last resort for a president who fails to faithfully execute his oath of office “to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Accordingly, the Constitution confers the power to impeach the president on Congress, stating that the president shall be removed from office upon conviction for “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” While the Constitutional standard for removal from office is justly a high one, it is nonetheless an essential check and balance on the authority of the occupant of the Office of the President, particularly when that occupant represents a continuing threat to our fundamental democratic norms, values, and laws.

Alexander Hamilton explained that impeachment was not designed to cover only criminal violations, but also crimes against the American people. “The subjects of its jurisdiction,” Hamilton wrote, “are those offenses which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust. They are of a nature which may with peculiar propriety be denominated political, as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself.”

This comes from Federalist 65.  Read it here.

Similarly, future Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court James Wilson, a delegate from Pennsylvania at the Constitutional Convention, distinguished impeachable offenses from those that reside “within the sphere of ordinary jurisprudence.” As he noted, “impeachments are confined to political characters, to political crimes and misdemeanors, and to political punishments.”

This paragraph comes from James Wilson‘s “Lectures on Law.”

Wilson James

James Wilson

 

FOUND: A New Parchment Copy of the Declaration of Independence

national treasure

Read all about it at The New York Times.  Harvard University professor Danielle Allen discussed her find yesterday at the Yale University conference honoring Bernard Bailyn. She thinks the mid-1780s parchment was copied by order of James Wilson.

Here is a taste of Jennifer Schuessler’s story on the find:

Archival research doesn’t get much more exciting than the 2004 heist movie “National Treasure.” Nicolas Cage, playing a historian named Benjamin Franklin Gates, discovers a coded map on the back of the Declaration of Independence. Globe-spanning intrigue ensues — accompanied, offscreen, by a tsunami of eye-rolling by actual historians.

But now, in a bit of real-life archival drama, a pair of scholars are announcing a surprising discovery: a previously unknown early handwritten parchment of the Declaration, buried in a provincial archive in Britain.

The document is the only other 18th-century handwritten parchment Declaration known to exist besides the one from 1776 now displayed at the National Archives in Washington. It isn’t an official government document, like the 1776 parchment, but a display copy created in the mid-1780s, the researchers argue, by someone who wanted to influence debate over the Constitution.

It may not hold the key to a Masonic conspiracy, as in “National Treasure.” But its subtle details, the scholars argue, illuminate an enduring puzzle at the heart of American politics: Was the country founded by a unitary national people, or by a collection of states?

“That is really the key riddle of the American system,” said Danielle Allen, a professor of government at Harvard, who discovered the document with a colleague, Emily Sneff.

That riddle has bedeviled American history, from debates over Southern secession to calls to abolish the Electoral College today. And it was the burning question in the mid-1780s, when the American experiment was at risk of falling apart, and the push for a federal constitution, creating a strong national government (with, crucially, the right to tax), gained steam.

The new parchment will hardly end the argument. But it “really shifts our understanding in how the nationalist position emerged,” Ms. Allen said.

It remains to be seen what scholars will make of the discovery, which will be announced on Friday at a conference at Yale. A paper, posted online, runs through a wealth of textual and material evidence supporting the claim that the document, while found in Britain, was created in America in the 1780s. Ms. Allen and Ms. Sneff’s conference presentation will focus on their leading candidate for person behind it: James Wilson, a Pennsylvania lawyer and one of the strongest nationalists at the 1787 Constitutional Convention, who probably commissioned the parchment.

Some historians who have previewed their research are impressed.

“The sleuthing they’ve done is just remarkable,” said Benjamin Irvin, an associate professor of history at the University of Arizona and the author of “Clothed in Robes of Sovereignty,” a 2011 study of the Continental Congress. The identification as American, from the mid-1780s, he added, “looks pretty watertight.”

Read the rest here.