[Thursday, July 24, 1788. . . .]
"Mr. JOHN BLOUNT said, that the sole power of impeachment had been objected to yesterday, and that it was urged, officers were to be carried from the farthest parts of the states to the seat of government. He wished to know if gentlemen were satisfied.
"Mr. MACLAINE. Mr. Chairman, I have no inclination to get up a second time, but some gentlemen think this subject ought to be taken notice of. I recollect it was mentioned by one gentleman, that petty officers might be impeached. It appears to me, sir, to be the most horrid ignorance to suppose that every officer, however trifling his office, is to be impeached for every petty offence; and that every man, who should be injured by such petty officers, could get no redress but by this mode of impeachment, at the seat of government, at the distance of several hundred [Pg. 44] miles, whither he would be obliged to summon a great number of witnesses. I hope every gentleman in this committee must see plainly that impeachments cannot extend to inferior officers of the United States. Such a construction cannot be supported without a departure from the usual and well-known practice both in England and America. But this clause empowers the House of Representatives, which is the grand inquest of the Union at large, to bring great offenders to justice. It will be a kind of state trial for high crimes and misdemeanors. I remember it was objected yesterday, that the House of Representatives had the sole power of impeachment. The word "sole" was supposed to be. so extensive as to include impeachable offences against particular states. Now, for my part, I can see no impropriety in the expression. The word relates to the general objects of the Union. It can only refer to offences against the United States; nor can it be tortured so as to have any other meaning, without a perversion of the usual meaning of language. The House of Representatives is to have the sole power of impeachment, and the Senate the sole power of trying. And here is a valuable provision, not to be found in other governments.
"In England, the Lords, who try impeachments, declare solemnly, upon honor, whether the persons impeached be guilty or not. But here the senators are on oath. This is a very happy security. It is further provided, that, when the President is tried, (for he is also liable to be impeached,) the chief justice shall preside in the Senate; because it might be supposed that the Vice-President might be connected, together with the President, in the same crime, and would therefore be an improper person to judge him. It would be improper for another reason. On the removal of the President from office, it devolves on the Vice-President. This being the case, if the Vice-President should be judge, might he not look at the office of President, and endeavor to influence the Senate against him? This is a most excellent caution. It has been objected by some, that the President is in no danger from a trial by the Senate, because he does nothing without its concurrence. It is true, he is expressly restricted not to make treaties without the concurrence of two thirds of the senators present, nor appoint officers without the concurrence of the Senate, (not requiring two thirds.) [Pg. 45] The concurrence of all the senators, however, is not required in either of those cases. They may be all present when he is impeached, and other senators in the mean time introduced. The chief justice, we ought to presume, would not countenance a collusion. One dissenting person might divulge their misbehavior. Besides, he is impeachable for his own misdemeanors, and as to their concurrence with him, it might be effected by misrepresentations of his own, in which case they would be innocent, though he be guilty. I think, therefore, the Senate a very proper body to try him. Notwithstanding the mode pointed out for impeaching and trying, there is not a single officer but may be tried and indicted at common law; for it is provided, that a judgment, in cases of impeachment, shall not extend farther 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. Thus you find that no offender can escape the danger of punishment. Officers, however, cannot be oppressed by an unjust decision of a bare majority; for it further provides, that no person shall be convicted without the concurrence of two thirds of the members present; so that those gentlemen who formed this government have been particularly carefill to distribute every part of it as equally as possible. As the government is solely instituted for the United States, so the power of impeachment only extends to officers of the United States. The gentleman who is so much afraid of impeachment by the federal legislature, is totally mistaken in his principles.
"Mr. J. TAYLOR. Mr. Chairman, my apprehension is, that this clause is connected with the other, which gives the sole power of impeachment, and is very dangerous. When I was offering an objection to this part, I observed that it was supposed by some, that no impeachments could be preferred but by the House of Representatives. I concluded that perhaps the collectors of the United States, or gatherers of taxes, might impose on individuals in this country, and that these individuals might think it too great a distance to go to the seat of federal government to get redress, and would therefore be injured with impunity. I observed that there were some gentlemen, whose abilities are great, who con- [Pg. 46] strue it in a different manner. They ought to be kind enough to carry their construction not to the mere letter, but to the meaning. I observe that, when these great men are met in Congress, in consequence of this power, they will have the power of appointing all the officers of the United States. My experience in life shows me that the friends of the members of the legislature will get the offices. These senators and members of the House of Representatives will appoint their friends to all offices. These officers will be great men, and they will have numerous deputies under them. The receiver-general of the taxes of North Carolina must be one of the greatest men in the country. Will he come to me for his taxes? No. He will send his deputy, who will have special instructions to oppress me. How am I to be redressed? I shall be told that I must go to Congress, to get him impeached. This being the case, whom am I to impeach? A friend of the representatives of North Carolina. For, unhappily for us, these men will have too much weight for us; they will have friends in the government who will be inclined against us, and thus we may be oppressed with impunity.
"I was sorry yesterday to hear personal observations drop from a gentleman in this house. If we are not of equal ability with the gentleman, he ought to possess charity towards us, and not lavish such severe reflections upon us in such a declamatory manner.
"These are considerations I offer to the house. These oppressions may be committed by these officers. I can see no mode of redress. If there be any, let it be pointed out. As to personal aspersions, with respect to me, I despise them. Let him convince me by reasoning, but not fall on detraction or declamation.
"Mr. MACLAINE. Mr. Chairman, if I made use of any asperity to that gentleman yesterday, I confess I am sorry for it. It was because such an observation came from a gentleman of his profession. Had it come from any other gentleman in this Convention, who is not of his profession, I should not be surprised. But I was surprised that it should come from a gentleman of the law, who must know the contrary perfectly well. If his memory had failed him, he might have known by consulting his library. His books would have told him that no petty officer was ever impeachable. [Pg. 47] When such trivial, ill-founded objections were advanced, by persons who ought to know better, was it not sufficient to irritate those who were determined to decide the question by a regular and candid discussion?
"Whether or not there will be a receiver-general in North Carolina, if we adopt the Constitution, I cannot take upon myself to say. I cannot say how Congress will collect their money. It will depend upon laws hereafter to be made. These laws will extend to other states as well as to us. Should there be a receiver-general in North Carolina, he certainly will not be authorized to oppress the people. His deputies can have no power that he could not have himself. As all collectors and other officers will be bound to act according to law, and will, in all probability, be obliged to give security for their conduct, we may expect they will not dare to oppress. The gentleman has thought proper to lay it down as a principle, that these receivers-general will give special orders to their deputies to oppress the people. The President is the superior officer, who is to see the laws put in execution. He is amenable for any maladministration in his office. Were it possible to suppose that the President should give wrong instructions to his deputies, whereby the citizens would be distressed, they would have redress in the ordinary courts of common law. But, says he, parties injured must go to the seat of government of the United States, and get redress there. I do not think it will be necessary to go to the seat of the general government for that purpose. No persons will be obliged to attend there, but on extraordinary occasions; for Congress will form regulations so as to render it unnecessary for the inhabitants to go thither, but on such occasions.
"My reasons for this conclusion are these: I look upon it as the interest of all the people of America, except those in the vicinity of the seat of government, to make laws as easy as possible for the people, with respect to local attendance. They will not agree to drag their citizens unnecessarily six or seven hundred miles from their homes. This would be equally inconvenient to all except those in the vicinity of the seat of government, and therefore will be prevented. But, says the gentleman from Granville, what redress have we when we go to that place? These great officers will be the friends of the representatives of North Carolina. It is [pg. 48] possible they may, or they may not. They have the power to appoint officers for each state from what place they please. It is probable they will appoint them out of the state in which they are to act. I will, however, admit, for the sake of argument, that those federal officers who will be guilty of misdemeanors in this state will be near relations of the representatives and senators of North Carolina. What then? Are they to be tried by them only? Will they be the near friends of the senators and representatives of the other states? If not, his objection goes for nothing. I do not understand what he says about detraction and declamation. My character is well known. I am no declaimer; but when I see a gentleman, ever so respectable, betraying his trust to the public, I will publish it loudly; and I say this is not detraction or declamation.
"Gov. JOHNSTON. Mr. Chairman, impeachment is very different in its nature from what the learned gentleman from Granville supposes it to be. If an officer commits an offence against an individual, he is amenable to the courts of law. If he commits crimes against the state, he may be indicted and punished, impeachment only extends to high crimes and misdemeanors in a public office. It is a mode of trial pointed out for great misdemeanors against the public. But I think neither that gentleman nor any other person need be afraid that officers who commit oppressions will pass with impunity. It is not to be apprehended that such officers will be tried by their cousins and friends. Such cannot be on the jury at the trial of the cause; it being a principle of law that no person interested in a cause, or who is a relation of the party, can be a juror in it. This is the light in which it strikes me. Therefore the objection of the gentleman from Granville must necessarily fall to the ground on that principle.
"Mr. MACLAINE. Mr. Chairman, I must obviate some objections which have been made. It was said, by way of argument, that they could impeach and remove any officer, whether of the United States or any particular state. This was suggested by the gentleman from New Hanover. Nothing appears to me more unnatural than such a construction. The Constitution says, in one place, that the House of Representatives shall have the sole power of impeachment. In the clauses under debate, it provides that the Senate shall [Pg. 49] have the sole power to try all impeachments, and then subjoins, that 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. And in the 4th section of the 2d article, it says that the President, Vice-President, and all civil officers of the United States, shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.
"Now, sir, what can be more clear and obvious than this? The several clauses relate to the same subject, and ought to be considered together. If considered separately and unconnectedly, the meaning is still clear. They relate to the government of the Union altogether. Judgment on impeachment only extends to removal from office, and future disqualification to hold offices under the United States. Can those be removed from offices, and disqualified to hold offices under the United States, who actually held no office under the United States? The 4th section of the 2d article provides expressly for the removal of the President, Vice-President, and all civil officers of the United States, on impeachment and conviction. Does not this clearly prove that none but officers of the United States are impeachable? Had any other been impeachable, why was not provision made for the case of their conviction? Why not point out the punishment in one case as well as in others? I beg leave to observe, that this is a Constitution which is not made with any reference to the government of any particular state, or to officers of particular states, but to the government of the United States at large.
"We must suppose that every officer here spoken of must be an officer of the United States. The words discover the meaning as plainly as possible. The sentence which provides that "judgment, in cases of impeachment, shall not extend further than to removal from office," is joined by a conjunction copulative to the other sentence,--"and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust, or profit, under the United States," which incontrovertibly proves that officers of the United States only are referred to. No other grammatical construction can be put upon it. But there is no necessity to refer to grammatical constructions, since the whole plainly refers to the government of [Pg. 50] the United States at large. The general government cannot iutermeddle with the internal affairs of the state governments. They are in no danger from it. It has been urged that it has a tendency to a consolidation. On the contrary, it appears that the state legislatures must exist in full force, otherwise the general government cannot exist itself. A consolidated government would never secure the happiness of the people of this country, it would be the interest of the people of the United States to keep the general and individual governments as separate and distinct as possible.
"Mr. BLOODWORTH. Mr. Chairman, I confess I am obliged to the honorable gentleman for his construction. Were he to go to Congress, he might put that construction on the Constitution. But no one can say what construction Congress will put upon it. I do not distrust him, but I distrust them. I wish to leave no dangerous latitude of construction."