Mr. President and Gentlemen of the Senate : - The onerous duty has fallen to my fortune to present to you, imperfectly as I must, the several propositions of fact and the law upon which the House of Representatives will endeavor -to sustain the cause of the people against the President of the United States, now pending at your bar.
The high station of the accused, the novelty of the proceeding, the gravity of the business, the importance of the questions to be presented to your adjudication, the possible momentous result of the issues, each and all must plead for me to claim your attention for as long a time as your patience may endure.
Now, for the first time in the history of the world, has a nation brought before its highest tribunal its chief executive magistrate for trial and possible deposition from office, upon charges of maladministration of the powers and duties of that office. In other times, and in other lands, it has been found that despotisms could only be tempered by assassination, and nations living under constitutional governments even, have found no mode by which to rid themselves of a tyrannical, imbecile, or faithless ruler, save by overturning the very foundation and framework of the government itself. And, but recently, in one of the most civilized and powerful governments of the world, from which our own institutions have been largely modelled, we have seen a nation submit for years to the rule of an insane king, because its constitution contained no method for his removal.
Our fathers, more wisely, founding our government, have provided for such and all similar exigencies a conservative, effectual, and practical remedy by the constitutional provision that the "President, Vice-President, and all civil officers of the United States shall be removed from office on impeachment for and conviction of treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors." The Constitution left nothing to implication, either as to the persons upon whom, or the body by whom, or the tribunal before which, or the offences for which, or the manner in which this high power should be exercised; each and all are provided for by express words of imperative command.
But a single incident only of the business was left to construction, and that concerns the offences or incapacities which are the groundwork of impeachment. This was wisely done, because human foresight is inadequate, and human intelligence fails in the task of anticipating and providing for, by positive enactment, all the infinite gradations of human wrong and sin, by which the liberties of a people and the safety of a nation may be endangered from the imbecility, corruption, and unhallowed ambition of its rulers.
It may not be uninstructive to observe that the framers of the Constitution, while engaged in their glorious and, I trust, ever-enduring work, had their attention aroused and their minds quickened most signally upon this very topic. In the previous year only Mr. Burke, from his place in the House of Commons in England, had preferred charges for impeachment against Warren Hastings, and three days before our convention sat he was impeached at the bar of the House of Lords for misbehavior in office as the ruler of a people whose numbers were counted by millions. The mails were then bringing across the Atlantic week by week the eloquent accusations of Burke, the gorgeous and burning denunciations of Sheridan, in behalf of the oppressed people of India, against one who had wielded over them more than regal power. May it not have been that the trial then in progress was the determining cause why the framers of the Constitution left the description of offences because of which the conduct of an officer might be inquired of to be defined by the laws and usages of Parliament, as found in the precedents of the mother country, with which our fathers were as familiar as we are with our own?
In the light, therefore, of these precedents, the question arises, What are impeachable offences under the provisions'of our Constitution?......
I pray leave to lay before you, at the close of my argument, a brief of all the precedents and authorities upon this subject, in both countries, for which I am indebted to the exhaustive and learned labors of my friend, the honorable William Lawrence, of Ohio, member of the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives, in which I fully concur and which I adopt.
We define, therefore, an impeachable high crime or misdemeanor to be one in its nature or consequences subversive of some fundamental or essential principle of government, or highly prejudicial to the public interest, and this may consist of a violation of the Con-stitution, of law, of an official oath, or of duty, by an act committed or omitted, or, without violating a positive law, by the abuse of discretionary powers from improper motives, or from any improper purpose.
The first criticism which will strike the mind on a cursory examination of this definition is, that some of the enumerated acts are not within the common-law definition of crimes........
Mr. Christian, in his notes to the Commentaries of Blackstone, explains the collocation and use of the words " high crimes and misdemeanors " by saying, -
" When the words ' high crimes and misdemeanors' are used in prosecutions by impeachment, the words 'high crimes' have no definite signification, but are used merely to give greater solemnity to the charge".
One of the important questions which meets us at' the outset is : Is this proceeding a trial, as that term is understood so far as relates to the rights and duties of a court and jury upon an indictment for crime ? Is it not rather more in the nature of an inquest of office ?
The Constitution seems to have determined it to be the latter, because, under its provisions the right to retain and hold office is the only subject that can be finally adjudicated ; all preliminary inquiry being carried on solely to determine the question and that alone.
A constitutional tribunal solely, you are bound by no law, either statute or common, which may limit your constitutional prerogative. You consult no precedents save those of the law and custom of parliamentary bodies. You are a law unto yourselves, bound only by the natural principles of equity and justice, and that solus populi suprema est lex. .........
The first eight articles set out in several distinct forms the acts of the respondent in removing Mr. Stanton from office and appointing Mr. Thomas ad interim, differing in legal effect in the purposes for which and the intent with which either or both of the acts were done, and the legal duties and rights infringed, and the acts of Congress violated in so doing. All the articles allege these acts to be in contravention of his oath of office, and in disregard of the duties thereof. If they are so, however, the President might have the power to do them under the law; still, being so done, they are acts of official misconduct, and, as we have seen, impeachable. . . . .
This, then, is the plain and inevitable issue before the Senate and the American people: Has the President, under the Constitution, the more than kingly prerogative at will to remove from office, and suspend from office indefinitely, all executive officers of the United States, either civil, military, or naval, at any and all times, and fill the vacancies with creatures of his own appointment, for his own purposes, without any restraint whatever, or possibility of restraint by the Senate or by Congress through laws duly enacted ? The House of Representatives, in behalf of the people, join this issue by affirming that the exercise of such powers is a high misdemeanor in office. If the affirmation is maintained by the respondent, then, so far as the first eight articles are concerned, - unless such corrupt purposes are shown as will of themselves make the exercise of a legal power a crime, - the respondent must go, and ought to go, quit and free. Therefore, by these articles and the answers thereto, the momentous question, here and now, is raised whether the Presidential office itself (if it lias the prerogatives and power claimed for it) ought, in fact, to exist as apart of the constitutional government of a free people, while by the last three articles the simpler and less important inquiry is to be determined, whether Andrew Johnson has so conducted himself that he ought longer to hold any constitutional office whatever. The latter sinks to merited insignificance compared with the grandeur of the former. If that is sustained, then a right and power hitherto unclaimed and unknown to the people of the country is engrafted on the Constitution, most alarming in its extent, most corrupting in its influence, most dangerous in its tendencies, and most tyrannical in its exercise. Whoever, therefore, votes " not guilty " on these articles, votes to enchain our free institutions, and to prostrate them at the feet of any man who, being President, may choose to control them.
Article ninth charges that Major-General Emory being in command of the military department of Washington, the President called him before him and instructed him that the act of March 2, 1867, which provides that all orders from the President shall be issued through the General of the army, was unconstitutional and inconsistent with his commission, with intent to induce Emory to take orders directly from himself, and thus hinder the execution of the Civil Tenure act, and to prevent Mr. Stanton from holding his office of Secretary of War. If the transaction set forth in this article stood alone, we might well admit that doubts might arise as to the sufficiency of the proof. But the surroundings are so pointed and significant as to leave no doubt on the mind of an impartial man as to the intents and purposes of the President.....Is it not a high misdemeanor for the President to assume to instruct the officers of the army that the laws of Congress are not to be obeyed? .......
Article ten alleges that, intending to set aside the rightful authority and powers of Congress, and to bring into disgrace and contempt the Congress of the United States, and to destroy confidence in and excite odium against Congress and its laws, he, Andrew Johnson, President of the United States, made divers speeches set out therein, whereby he brought the office of President into contempt, ridicule, and disgrace. . . .
It may be taken as an axiom in the affairs of nations that no usurper has ever seized upon the legislature of his country until he has familiarized the people with the possibility of so doing by vituperating and decrying it. Denunciatory attacks upon the legislature have always preceded; slanderous abuse of the individuals composing it has always accompanied a seizure by a despot of the legislative power of a country. . .
The House of Representatives has done its duty. We has presented the facts in the constitutional manner; we have brought the criminal to your bar, and demand judgment at your hands for his so great crimes. I speak, therefore, not the language of exaggeration, but the words of truth and soberness, that the future political * welfare and liberties of all men hang trembling on the decision of the hour.