Impeachment and the Founding Fathers
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Impeachment and the Founding Fathers

October 14, 2019

[KARIN WULF] The sources of disagreement
around impeachment are whether or not you should set up a process other than
election to remove someone from office, and whether you can create a process that
is legal and fair and that best
represents the interests of the people. I think there are two things that are
really relevant about the Constitutional Convention debates in
that summer of 1787, especially in regards to impeachment. One is just a deep understanding that the
delegates reflected a broader concern with and hesitancy about
a powerful executive. They had just fought a revolution to
overthrow monarchy. The second thing about impeachment is just
their very thoughtful dicussion about how it should be conducted and
on what basis it should be conducted. So there are delegates to the Convention
who say “Look, impeachment, if it’s conducted by
the House of Representatives, it can be purely a matter of factions,”
what they meant by parties, “and it can become a kind of political
fracas, impeachment.” But others say, and these others carry
the day, they say “No, if you don’t have
a process for impeachment, you have an executive with so much power
that they can essentially ensure their own
re-election, that they can abuse and damage the nation
that we have just tried to bring to life,” and I think that sense of concern for
process and principle is
absolutely salient. So, this is July 20 of 1787, and these
records are from James Madison’s notes
of the Convention. They’re debating whether there should be
an impeachment of the executive, and on
what basis. “Gov. Morris’s opinion had been changed by
the arguments used in the discussion. He was now sensible of the necessity of
impeachment if the executive was to
continue for any time in office.” This is Randolph of Virginia who says that “propriety of impeachments
was a favorite principle with him. Guilt, wherever found, ought to
be punished.” You can’t look back to 1787, or any other
moment, and say, “Here’s what we need to know. Here is the
real, true basis of our government, and here is the moment when we all
agreed.” It’s not there. What’s there is the
framework for debate and disagreement, and for accepting the will of the people
once they have made a choice.

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