Founders wanted power to impeach

To the editor:

Having just finished Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton, my interest in the debate of impeaching President Trump was especially piqued. Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and other founders were the architects of our Constitution, including Congress’ impeachment power. Just imagine, it was 229 years ago on September 17, 1787 when the founding fathers ratified our Constitution at Independence Hall. So important was the impeachment power that Hamilton wrote two papers on impeachment-expressing his opinion that a president must not be above the law. In a recent Washington Post article by Hamilton’s biographer Ron Chernow entitled Hamilton pushed for impeachment powers. Trump is what he had in mind, Chernow writes:

Hamilton harbored an abiding fear that a brazen demagogue could seize the office. That worry helps explain why he analyzed impeachment in such detail: He viewed it as a crucial instrument to curb possible abuses arising from the enlarged [presidential] powers he otherwise championed. From the outset, Hamilton feared an unholy trinity of traits in a future president-ambition, avarice and vanity.

Hamilton felt the impeachment power was an important link in the strong chain of checks and balances that would keep the separation of powers between the three branches: judiciary, legislative and executive in balance. The founders believed that if any branch got too powerful it would oppress the other two, thereby putting the republic at risk.

As to what are impeachable offenses, Virginia Delegate George Mason was famous for adding the terms “high crimes and misdemeanors” to the list. This did not mean crimes. From the efforts of North Carolina Delegate William Davie, it is clear that a president’s misuse of his office in a reelection campaign was an impeachable offense. Davie warned that a president might “spare no efforts whatever to get himself re-elected.” For Jefferson and Washington, a president’s inappropriate invitation of “foreign influence” would be a ground for impeachment. Based on the English model of impeachment, the founders also believed a president’s blatant use of office for personal gain should be impeachable.

Therefore, what President Trump is accused of doing-that is attempting to subvert an election by asking a foreign power to announce an investigation for his personal benefit-falls squarely within the definition of impeachable offenses. This impeachment is not about election nullification, rather this is about protecting the Constitution.


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