Founders / Framers Minute
Article 1, Section 2, Clause 5
“The House of Representatives shall chuse their Speaker and other Officers; and shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.”
by Cornel Rasor
This clause engendered quite a bit of debate regarding impeachment. The power to choose a Speaker and other officers was generally agreed upon without dissent. The dangers of abusing the power of impeachment were debated at length. For the purposes of the constitution, impeachment is the leveling of charges against an official. There are 4 sections in the constitution that deal with impeachment. The three others are located at, Art 1, Sec 3, Cl 6-7, Art 2, Sec 4 and Art 3, Sec 1.
Concern centered around several issues. If the legislature could impeach an executive, might he, in fear of losing office cater to the House which had sole power to impeach? Or might he cower in front of the Senate which could actually try him? There was discussion about having the executive be unimpeachable and hold office as judges do, subject to good behavior.
John Dickinson even attempted to assure “that the Executive be made removeable by the National Legislature on the request of a majority of the Legislatures of individual States.” James Madison was in opposition to this idea. His main concern was that this might subject the executive to the “intrigues” of the states.
The final decision to give the Senate the power to try impeachments was after the fact applauded by attorney Luther Martin who at the founding was a prominent anti-federalist. During the impeachment trial of Justice Samuel Chase for whom he was the defense attorney, he said:
“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.”
Concluding, the House has the exclusive power to impeach and as such the separation of powers was maintained in this exclusivity.
Founders / Framers Minute 1: Article I, Section 1
Founders / Framers Minute 2: Article I, Section 2, Clause 1-2
Founders / Framers Minute 3: Article I, Section 2, Clause 3a
Founders / Framers Minute 4: Article I, Section 2, Clause 3b
Founders / Framers Minute 5: Article I, Section 2, Clause 4
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