Founders / Framers Minute 11:
Article 1, Section 3, Clause 6-7
“The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two thirds of the Members present.
Judgment in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States: but the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to Law.”
by Cornel Rasor
Impeachment was not a popular idea among many of the founders. There was concern that such a provision would render the executive a slave to those having the power of impeachment. There was even discord over just what the term implied. Would it extend to disallowing the executive to function but leave him in office? Would it remove him from office? Would it include “coadjutors”? Who would impeach? Who would conduct the trial? There was even a move to disallow impeachment until the president was out of office. Many decried this as no inducement to good behavior.
Initial ideas revolved around the concept of “that the Executive be made removeable by the National Legislature on the request of a majority of the Legislatures of individual States”. Roger Sherman went so far as to suggest “that the National Legislature should have power to remove the Executive at pleasure.” George Mason opposed both while Madison and Wilson noted that such a plan would render small and large states equal in the decision to impeach.
John Dickenson spoke at great length (according to Madison’s notes) and allowed that regardless of the decision, leaving the great preponderance of power in the hands of the states would protect from any national government folly.
Benjamin Franklin argued in favor if only to assuage the problem of possible assassination if no formal removal was possible.
Elbridge Gerry gave the most succinct summation of the concerns when in his comments as Madison recorded them he “urged the necessity of impeachments. A good magistrate will not fear them. A bad one ought to be kept in fear of them. He hoped the maxim would never be adopted here that the chief Magistrate could do no wrong.”
John Randolph raised again the idea of composing the impeachment jury of “the Judges belonging to the states” he being a great proponent of state’s rights.
Charles Pinckney was unconcerned since he reasoned that the executive would have only certain powers prescribed in the constitution and therefore would be unable to commit much mischief.
A final vote to allow impeachment was eight-yes and two-no. As the convention finalized the clause, there was concern that upon impeachment as the clause now stood, the president of the senate to whom the trial was entrusted would then be the president. This would not do. Debate alternated from preferring the senate as jury to the supreme court. The final form we have today has the Senate trying all impeachments with the Chief Justice presiding. The House was already given the sole power of impeachment in Art 1, Sec 2, Cl 5.
Since the founding, the House has instituted the impeachment process against nineteen federal officers including two presidents. Eight were found guilty and three resigned before trial. No president has been convicted.
Founders / Framers Minute 1: Article I, Section 1 Congressional Powers
Founders / Framers Minute 2: Article I, Section 2, Clause 1-2 Composing the House of Representatives
Founders / Framers Minute 3: Article I, Section 2, Clause 3a Representation vs. Taxation
Founders / Framers Minute 4: Article I, Section 2, Clause 3b Representation a Function of Population
Founders / Framers Minute 5: Article I, Section 2, Clause 4 Filling Vacancies
Founders / Framers Minute 6: Article I, Section 2, Clause 5 Power of Impeachment
Founders / Framers Minute 7: Article I, Section 3, Clause 1 Composing the Senate
Founders / Framers Minute 8: Article I, Section 3, Clause 2 Senate Terms
Founders / Framers Minute 9: Article 1, Section 3, Clause 3 Age of Senators
Founders / Framers Minute 10: Article 1, Section 3, Clause 4 President of the Senate
Founders / Framers Minute 11: Article 1, Section 3, Clause 5 Senate Officers
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