homepage logo

Through The Lens: High Crimes and Misdemeanors

By Staff | Feb 4, 2020

Unless you have been living under the proverbial rock, you have heard the word “impeachment” a great many times recently. By the reports we hear on television and read in the paper, there are three sides to the story of impeachment. You are in favor or not or just tired of hearing about it. The side of the story you support is also dependent on your political party. Card carrying democrats have cried out he is guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors. On the other hand, card caring republicans point out democrats are still upset by the last election. I will have to say both sides believe they are correct in their outcries. The news polls give me the idea that only those two political parties have a say in this constitutional process.

If you want to know what each side of the debate sounds like, you can simply turn on your television and watch the proceedings. If you tune into the cable network that leans to the left, you will hear how they interpret the senate trial. Tune to the one that leans to the right and you will hear how they feel about the day’s events. Don’t worry about being in a rush, both sides will beat this dead horse over and over all day long and into the night. Each network invites their panel of experts to testify about the legitimacy of the process or the lack thereof.

Now, I am not going to try and change your mind on which side you should or should not support. I have been around long enough to know that changing someone’s mind about their political party or their religion is impossible. Just think about it. We debate, argue, and declare our side of the story to all that will listen, but little ever changes.

Down through our country’s history, great orators have given impassioned speeches about our government’s laws, taxes, wars, and yes even impeachment. Have you ever read where someone gave an impassioned speech about their political views and changed the other side’s minds, especially on their bed rock political beliefs? It may have happened, but not to my knowledge.

Throughout the proceedings both sides have invoked the words of Alexander Hamilton. He was among our country’s founding fathers. Hamilton was considered even back then to be an authority on the words and meaning of the proposed new constitution. He was a member of the Federalist Party. That meant he believed in national government, and promoting economic strength in the country. And as a Federalist, he also wanted to maintain a bond with Great Britain.

Hamilton’s words and thoughts have been invoked by both sides of the impeachment debate. He died a long time ago or he could speak for himself during the senate trial. From what I have read, both sides have invoked his words and thoughts to support their side of the story. It is hard for a dead guy to correct either side of the debate about how he really thinks of the impeachment.

The source for this invoking of Hamilton is for his part in the writing of the Federalist papers. Beginning in late 1787 to early 1788, three men – Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay – each helped to write these important essays and articles surrounding the roll of the government and the ratification of the constitution. A total of 85 articles were written and published. Hamilton is credited with writing most of the essays and articles.

In his Federalist 65 article, Hamilton writes about the process of impeachment and its difficult political nature. If you were to read his words, you will realize he had little doubt, that when this article of the Constitution would be needed, it would be driven by strong political ideals. He called them “Pre-existing factions.” Today we call them democrats and republicans.

Hamilton writes about the idea of the courts being empowered with the task of sitting in judgment of a public official charged with violating the public trust. He rejects that idea and emphasizes the Senate is the most empowered to sit in judgment with the Chief Justice presiding. Hamilton writes in Federalist 65 The (Constitutional) convention, it appears, thought the Senate the most fit depositary of this important trust. Those who can best discern the intrinsic difficulty of the thing, will be least hasty in condemning that opinion, and will be most inclined to allow due weight to the arguments which may be supposed to have produced it.

most incline to allow due weight to the argument which may be supposed to have produced it. Those words are important. Hamilton knew the absolute importance of any judgment and it must be based on all evidence. Hamilton gave credit to the senate with its fewer members figuring they would be an impartial jury.

During the debate over whether to include impeachment powers in the constitution, it was argued that there was no need for such provision to judge a high official. Some believed with each election the people would judge those who governed. Others believed impeachment violated the separation of power between the three branches of the government and was a key provision to our country having a future with a strong democracy. In the end, it was decided after much debate to include guidelines for impeachment we use today.

It is clear our founding fathers understood the need for a constitutional provision when a public official is accused of high crimes and misdemeanors. Hamilton also understood that such actions would always be shaped by political factions. I wonderhas our political divides over the last two-hundred years begun to erode the cornerstone of our democracy, separation of powers? Has the fact of our being so polarized as red or blue, re-defines the democracy the founding fathers worked so hard to protect in our constitution? Do you remember Hamilton’s warning of pre-existing factions?

In our country’s history, the House of Representatives has dealt with the question of impeachment sixty times. From those sixty, actions were taken only twenty times. There have been fifteen federal judges investigated with eight removed from the bench. Three presidents – Andrew Johnson, William Jefferson Clinton, and Donald Trump have been brought to trial in the senate. There also was one senator from Tennessee in 1797 who was impeached and a cabinet secretary in 1876.

One more thing is important to know when trying to understand an impeachment. The phrase, “Treason, Bribery, or other High Crimes and Misdemeanors” is much debated. We all know what treason and bribery mean. But when it comes to the words, High Crimes and Misdemeanors we are not so sure as to their meanings. We do know they came over from England and Europe. The terms were widely used during the time when our constitution was written. It is a phrase used to cover a wide variety of crimes. I believe from reading Hamilton’s writings he wanted those interpreting the words to do so in their own time in history. It tells me the crafters of the constitution hoped the flexibility of the words would make them usable far into the future. I think they were very farsighted in writing the constitution to help govern our country for the following 233 years. They also realized even back then, political factions would be impossible to write out of the constitution. Hamilton gave us a warning that factions would have to be understood as they would be part of our living democracy. If we remember his warning, then “We the People” will always have a country that is proud and free. These are my words and opinions as I look at history Through the Lens.