A Political Process

The subjects of its jurisdiction are those offenses which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust. They are of a nature which may with peculiar propriety be denominated POLITICAL, as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself. The prosecution of them, for this reason, will seldom fail to agitate the passions of the whole community, and to divide it into parties more or less friendly or inimical to the accused. In many cases it will connect itself with the pre-existing factions, and will enlist all their animosities, partialities, influence, and interest on one side or on the other; and in such cases there will always be the greatest danger that the decision will be regulated more by the comparative strength of parties, than by the real demonstrations of innocence or guilt.

Alexander Hamilton on impeachment.  Federalist 65


We will be hearing endless blather about impeachment in the months ahead.  One thing to keep very much in mind is that an impeachment is not a legal proceeding, it is instead very much a matter of politics.  It is no accident that one of the political branches, Congress in the House, was given the power of impeachment, with the other chamber, the Senate, given the power of removal.  Thus the framers underlined that impeachment was a political act.  The phrase “high crimes and misdemeanors” has a long history under English law, where it was applied to squabbles between Parliament and the Executive, the Crown, often leading to the impeachment of some member of the Government by Parliament.  It is also no accident that the Framers made impeachment easy, a simple majority in the House, but removal, two thirds of the Senate, difficult.  Thus the House was intended to act on the popular will of the day, while the Senate was to be more resistant to momentary public passions.

Impeachment is a political struggle pure and simple.  To pretend that it is a dispassionate search for the truth is a sham pure and simple.  Both sides will fight this contest in the realm of politics, and well they should.   That is not a distortion of the process, certainly when the Presidency is in question, but is rather how the process was designed from the inception.  So  cry havoc and let loose the politicians to do their work.

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