Thursday, January 31, 2013
The First Impeachment
While I was digging around Congressional records earlier today, I just happened to stumble upon Senate debates on the very first US impeachment, that of Tennessee Senator William Blount, in 1798-99. He was a land speculator who went into politics to further his economic interests, got into debt, hatched a plan to steal Florida and Louisiana for Britain, and was otherwise stupid enough to get caught.
Anyway, the House impeached his ass, the Senate expelled him (by a 25-1 vote), then tried him. The biggest component of the debate was apparently over jurisdiction and whether a Senator is an "officer" of the United States in the constitutional sense (which is germane even today as legislators are still in line for the Presidency). Ultimately, the Senate didn't buy the arguments presented by House Managers, so voted 14-11 to reject the assertion they could try a Senator, then again 14-11 to formally dismiss charges against Blount.
Now it might seem odd to try the man after already expelling him, but the House had impeached so the Senate was duty bound to proceed. Further, mere expulsion would still allow him to run for US office, but if found guilty he would be barred from any position of trust again in the Federal government.
Dude remained popular in his home state, despite his national disgrace. He was elected as a state senator and was even made Speaker (but karma had the last laugh and he died in an epidemic in 1800). These states' rights people, I swear, they sure do love their criminals and traitors...
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