While we look forward to a second trial against the Trump Senate, many are referring to the impeachment of Senator William Blount, who was expelled when he was indicted. This case has always been as anomalous as the impeachment of a former legislature. It was rejected by the Senate. The more relevant case to the immediate problems is that of former Foreign Secretary William Belknap.
I have written about these impeachments in various academic papers. This is exactly what I wrote about the impeachment of Blount and Belknap in The Executive Function Theory, The Hamilton Affair, and Other Constitutional Mythologies, 77 North Carolina Law Review 1791 (1999):
1. William Blount (1798-99)
The impeachment of Senator William Blount of Tennessee may have been the most interesting, both factually and legally. In fact, Blount was accused of conspiracy with Britain to take over territory in Florida and Louisiana (where Blount owned substantial property). The conspiracy was revealed in a handwritten letter in Blount’s hand. Despite the fact that the Senate had banned Blount from membership, the Senators believed that a former official could be indicted; However, the Senate did not believe that a senator or legislative officer was a “civil servant” in the sense of impeachment. Accordingly, the Senate dismissed the case on judicial grounds. While the Senate clearly opposed the exclusion of lawmakers from impeachment proceedings, it did not seriously question whether the underlying conduct was worthy of impeachment, even though the conduct was not viewed as a violation of any Senate duty or criminal law. In their examination of the case, Professors Hoffer and Hull state that “Blount has not been charged with a recognized crime or violation of the law. His offense was to humiliate himself; to abuse his office for his own speculative purposes. “Blount has never been charged with any act related to the conspiracy, and he has never been charged with abuse of office.
7. William W. Belknap (1876)
The impeachment of former Secretary of War William Belknap is a critical case from the perspective of Congress regarding the scope and importance of the impeachment. Since Belknap was no longer in office at the time of his trial, the Belknap case indicates that resignation from office does not prevent the impeachment proceedings. In this case, there was no need to bring charges to protect the public from additional harm or to ensure the proper functioning of the government. There was no “threat” to the system of keeping an official in office, as advocates of executive function theory often point out. Instead, the House indicted and the Senate tried Belknap in response to a political violation, a corrective measure that helped the system regain its legitimacy.
Belknap was accused of accepting bribes for contracts related to Indian territory. The property managers accused Belknap of having “disregarded” his duty as Minister of War and prostituted his high office on principle because of his desire for private gain. Belknap first advanced the judiciary’s argument that impeachment was not extended to former or retired civil servants. ”The Senate voted on this question of threshold jurisdiction and confirmed by thirty-seven to twenty-nine votes that it was responsible for former civil servants. However, Professor Pollitt rightly noted that many senators continued to question jurisdiction and apparently voted for an acquittal on that basis. There was little talk of guilt, especially given that Belknap refused to answer impeachment proceedings. Ultimately, only three senators believed Belknap was innocent, but twenty-two senators had doubts about jurisdiction. The final vote on the closest item was thirty-seven to twenty-five in favor of impeachment. However, this vote was only four votes less than the number required for conviction. With only three senators cast their votes on persistent doubts about the guilt on the matter, Belknap’s acquittal can be attributed to a senator who questioned jurisdiction.
The impeachment process against Blount was flawed on several levels. The expulsion was clearly carried out with the authority of the Senate. It was rejected for legal reasons. Few people today regard impeachment as an adequate means in such cases. His impeachment was surprising in their language too. Blount was accused of effectively betraying the country through a conspiracy with Britain. The motivation seemed to be land speculation and profit. However, the impeachment procedures were comparatively vague. In particular, Blount served in the State Office for the rest of his life.
Belknap is closer to the current dispute as a senior executive. Belknap was specifically charged after he left office, unlike Trump, who was charged shortly before he left office. However, the threshold question of the process of removing a president who is actually an ex-president who has already resigned remains. That is the subject of my column in USA Today today. Almost half of the Senate voted on a threshold lawsuit to reject the basis of the process. He was eventually acquitted.