Tuesday, October 27, 2020

The 400th Anniversary of the Mayflower























After a tempestuous ten weeks at sea, on November 11, 1620 (O.S.), the ship known as the Mayflower arrived at Plymouth Rock near Cape Cod, Massachusetts. On board were 102 passengers, including adventurers, tradesmen, and English Separatists, along with 30 crew members. After leaving England for Holland in 1608, the Separatists had remained there until 1620. Seeking greater religious freedom, and the opportunity to govern themselves and earn a better living, a number of the Separatists purchased boats to cross the Atlantic for America, which they considered a “new Promised Land.” 

As devout Christians, the "English Separatists" (men and women who had separated themselves from the Church of England, and who are sometimes mistakenly referred to as Puritans) read directly from the Holy Bible (the Geneva Bible was common), sang Psalms, and believed in having a personal, covenant relationship with God. They believed, that as God’s covenant people, they would be identified as “Saints.” They also believed that living a godly life was man’s duty, guided by his conscience—described by them as “the voice of God in man.”[1] While the Separatists believed that the only way to live according to Biblical precepts was to leave the Church of England entirely, and while they shared much in common, the Puritans thought they could reform [or purify] the church from within.[2]

During that historic voyage, the crew and passengers of the Mayflower encountered many turbulent storms. In the middle of one such storm, young John Howland fell overboard. By all accounts, that should have been the end of Howland. However, as William Bradford, also a passenger on the Mayflower, reported: 

“In these storms the winds were so fierce and the seas so high the Pilgrims were forced to remain below deck. And one of them John Howland came above and, with a roll of the ship, he was thrown into the sea; but it pleased God that he caught hold of a rope that was trailing in the water and held on though he was several fathoms under water till he was hauled up by the same rope to the brim of the water, and then with a boat-hook and other means got him into the ship again and his life was saved; and though he was something ill with it, yet he lived many years after, and became a profitable member both in church and commonwealth.”[3]

"About four years after they arrived in the New World, John married fellow Mayflower passenger Elizabeth Tilley, a brave and committed daughter of God. They eventually had 10 children and nearly 90 grandchildren. But that is not where the story ends. Today, an estimated 2 million Americans trace their roots to John and Elizabeth. Their descendants include three U.S. presidents—Franklin D. Roosevelt, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush; American poets Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow; and two influential 19th-century American religious leaders—Joseph Smith, Jr. and his brother Hyrum Smith [founders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints]."[4]

Before setting anchor, the men drafted and signed “The Mayflower Compact,” a solemn agreement to govern their civic affairs as a “political body” in the new Plymouth Colony: 

IN THE NAME OF GOD, AMEN. We, whose names are underwritten, the Loyal Subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord King James, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, &c. Having undertaken for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith, and the Honour of our King and Country, a Voyage to plant the first Colony in the northern Parts of Virginia; Do by these Presents, solemnly and mutually, in the Presence of God and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick, for our better Ordering and Preservation, and Furtherance of the Ends aforesaid: And by Virtue hereof do enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions, and Officers, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general Good of the Colony; unto which we promise all due Submission and Obedience. IN WITNESS whereof we have hereunto subscribed our names at Cape-Cod the eleventh of November, in the Reign of our Sovereign Lord King James, of England, France, and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth, Anno Domini; 1620.

William Bradford, a farmer, and signatory to the Mayflower Compact—went on to serve as Governor of the Plymouth Colony (recurrently for about 30 years between 1621 and 1657). “If not for Bradford’s steady, often forceful leadership, it is doubtful whether there ever would have been a colony. [And] without his [record] Of Plymouth Plantation ... there would be almost no information about the voyage with which it all began.”[5]  Bradford later wrote, “they knew they were pilgrims,” which label stuck. 

The moment the Pilgrims stepped ashore in the new land was also described by Bradford in his journal: 

“Being thus arrived in a good harbor and brought safe to land, they fell upon their knees and blessed the God of heaven, who had brought them over the vast and furious ocean, and delivered them from all the perils and miseries thereof, again to set their feet on the firm and stable earth, their proper element.”[6]      

“The Pilgrims had originally hoped to reach America in early October using two ships, but delays and complications meant they could use only one, the Mayflower. Arriving in November, they had to survive unprepared through a harsh winter. As a result, only half of the original Pilgrims survived the first winter at Plymouth. Without the help of local Indigenous peoples to teach them food gathering and other survival skills, all of the colonists may have perished.”[7] 

A year following the Pilgrims’ landing, and after enduring the hard winter, the new colonists enjoyed a bountiful harvest. Early in October of 1621, Governor Bradford proclaimed a day of thanksgiving to be shared by all the colonists and their neighboring Native Americans. They invited Squanto and the other Indians to join them in their celebration. Their chief, Massasoit, and 90 braves came to the celebration which lasted for three days. They played games, ran races, marched and played drums. The Indians demonstrated their skills with the bow and arrow and the Pilgrims demonstrated their musket skills. Exactly when the festival took place is uncertain, but it is believed the celebration took place in mid-to-late October. The tradition of a holding a thanksgiving feast and gathering after harvest time became a religious holiday perpetuated in the American colonies and states for over two centuries. 

In conclusion, “The Pilgrims of the Mayflower arrived on the American continent with the hope and promise of a new life of freedom to worship God according to the dictates of one’s own conscience.”[8]  Their example of individual faith, humility, work and sacrifice for the common good, along with their decades-long association and friendship with the Native Americans, sets an example that we should reflect upon and always remember.

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[1] Nathaniel Philbrick, Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War (Penguin Group, New York, 2006), p. 7.
[2] "What's the Difference between Pilgrims and Puritans?" History.com [accessed October 28, 2020].
[3] William Bradford,"Of Plymouth Plantation" Early Americas Digital Archive (EADA)
[4] "The Lords Hand" M. Russell Ballard, October 20, 2019, Worchester, Massachusetts.
[5] Philbrick, p. 7.
[6] William Bradford, "Of Plymouth Plantation"
[7] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mayflower [accessed October 27, 2020].
[8] mayflowerpromise.com [accessed October 27, 2020].

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Liberty requires Unity


"[Y]our union ought to be considered as a main prop of your liberty, and that the love of the one ought to endear to you the preservation of the other." --George Washington 

Unity was indispensable to the formation of our nation and the establishment of the Constitution. George Washington, in his Farewell Address, said: "The unity of government... is a main pillar in the edifice of your real independence, the support of your tranquility at home, your peace abroad, of your safety, of your prosperity, of that very liberty which you so highly prize... it is of definite moment that you should properly estimate the immense value of your national union to your collective and individual happiness... accustoming yourselves to think and speak of it as the palladium of your political safety and prosperity." All three authors of the Federalist Papers proclaimed the benefits of a strong union. James Madison stated: "[E]very man who loves liberty ought to have it ever before his eyes that he may cherish in his heart a due attachment to the Union of America and be able to set a due value on the means of preserving it." Madison also stated: "We have seen the necessity of the Union as our bulwark against foreign danger, as the conservator of peace among ourselves, as the guardian of our commerce and other common interests, as the only substitute for those military establishments which have subverted the liberties of the old world, and as the proper antidote for the diseases of faction, which have proved fatal to other popular governments." John Jay, stated: "[T]he prosperity of America depend[s] upon its Union." Finally, Alexander Hamilton said: "I have endeavored, my Fellow Citizens, to place before you in a clear and convincing light, the importance of Union to your political safety and happiness. I have unfolded to you a complication of dangers to which you would be exposed should you permit that sacred knot which binds the people of America together to be severed." Their messages instruct us that in unity, encompassing more than the mere union on paper of the states, there is mutual strength and safety. 

Unity requires adherence to common principles -- a shared vision. Such principles include democratic standards of justice, fairness, equality, and individual freedom of religion and speech, among others. Thomas Jefferson eloquently stated in his Inaugural Address: "[E]very difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have been called by different names brethren of the same principle... Let us then pursue with courage and confidence . . . our attachment to union and representative government." In order to create and maintain unity, as evidenced by the very process by which the Constitution was forged, personal opinions must be tempered and often compromised for the benefit of the whole. Thus, the spirit of compromise is essential to the workings of our republican form of government; and the spirit of mutual commitment essential to democracy. 

In this regard, the Founding Fathers warned that "factions" are destructive to the Union and to the spirit of unity (Federalist No. 10). What are the prime causes of "the diseases of faction"? Pride, or selfishness, and greed. A proverb states: "Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall." (Proverbs 16:18). The central feature of pride is enmity (Benson). Enmity, or animosity, may be pitted against persons or groups in society. Through selfishness, greed and envy, the enmity of pride leads to contentions and strife, causing divisions and factions, thus destroying unity. Humility, gratitude and camaraderie serve as primary antidotes to dispel pride, shield principle and preserve the unity necessary to sustain liberty. "'A house divided against itself cannot stand.'" --Abraham Lincoln (quoting Mark 3:25). 

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America

Reviews of Allen C. Guelzo, Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America. (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2004). This significant book should be read by all who are interested in learning more about the end of slavery in America, including the political, philosophical, and military factors that President Abraham Lincoln grappled with (not to mention his own personal and religious struggle) in determining to emancipate the slaves during the Civil War.

A PROCLAMATION

Whereas, on the twenty-second day of September, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-two, a proclamation was issued by the President of the United States, containing, among other things, the following, to wit:

“That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom...

And by virtue of the power, and for the purpose aforesaid, I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated States, and parts of States, are, and henceforward shall be free; and that the Executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authorities thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of said persons.

And I hereby enjoin upon the people so declared to be free to abstain from all violence, unless in necessary self-defence; and I recommend to them that, in all cases when allowed, they labor faithfully for reasonable wages.

And I further declare and make known, that such persons of suitable condition, will be received into the armed service of the United States to garrison forts, positions, stations, and other places, and to man vessels of all sorts in said service.

And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution, upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind, and the gracious favor of Almighty God...”

By the President: ABRAHAM LINCOLN
WILLIAM H. SEWARD, Secretary of State.

“No other words in American history changed the lives of so many Americans as this plain, blunt declaration from Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation. But no other words in American history have been so often passed over or held up to greater suspicion. Born in the struggle of Lincoln's determination to set slavery on the path to destruction, it has remained a document of struggle, as conflicting interpretations and historical mysteries swirl around it. What were Lincoln's real intentions? Was he the Great Emancipator or just a Great Fixer? What slaves did the Proclamation actually free? Or did the slaves free themselves? Why is the language of the Proclamation so bland, so legalistic, so far from the soaring eloquence of the Gettysburg Address? Prize-winning Lincoln scholar Allen C. Guelzo presents, for the first time, a full-scale study of Lincoln's greatest state paper. Using unpublished letters and documents, little- known accounts from Civil War-era newspapers, and Congressional memoirs and correspondence, Guelzo tells the story of the complicated web of statesmen, judges, slaves, and soldiers who accompanied, and obstructed, Abraham Lincoln on the path to the Proclamation. The crisis of a White House at war, of plots in Congress and mutiny in the Army, of one man's will to turn the nation's face toward freedom -- all these passionate events come alive in a powerful and moving narrative of Lincoln's, and the Civil War's, greatest moment.”  Google Books https://books.google.com/books/about/Lincoln_s_Emancipation_Proclamation.html?id=DJmTUq9hYUoC [accessed 8-18-20].

“Allen C. Guelzo's meticulous and imaginative analysis of the origins and impact of the Emancipation Proclamation resurrects that beleaguered document as the cornerstone of freedom for America's four million slaves. Abraham Lincoln's personal commitment to emancipation has suffered egregiously at the hands of critics, both scholarly and popular, who discount his proclamation's centrality to emancipation while pointing to his zest for compensated emancipation and colonization as an indication of his true feelings—lukewarm, vacillating, and even racist—toward African‐American freedom. Guelzo's masterful reconstruction of Lincoln's motives and methods, rendered within the political and military context in which they played out, challenges the notion that the Emancipation Proclamation “accomplished nothing” (p. 2) and reinforces Lincoln's genuine personal commitment to end slavery. The crux of Guelzo's argument is his portrayal of Lincoln as an “Enlightenment president” who was steadfast in his pursuit of freedom...” 
The American Historical Review, Volume 110, Issue 4, October 2005, Pages 1186–1187.

“There was a time when every schoolboy learned that Abraham Lincoln was the “Great Emancipator” who freed the slaves. The Emancipation Proclamation, they also learned, was a critically important step in achieving that goal. Many historians have called this old conventional wisdom into question, arguing that Lincoln was not really motivated by commitment to end slavery. The proof, they claim, is his famous letter to Horace Greeley in which he wrote that “my paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and it is not either to save or destroy slavery, If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that.”

Many of Lincoln’s critics, especially African-Americans, go so far as to claim that he was no friend of blacks and did not want to risk the political fallout that would surely result from emancipation, but was eventually forced by circumstances to do so. In the words of Julius Lester, “Blacks have no reason to feel grateful to Abraham Lincoln. How come it took him two whole years to free the slaves? His pen was sitting on his desk the entire time.” Many also have questioned the real significance of the Emancipation Proclamation, arguing that it was merely a piece of propaganda and that it actually freed no slaves. As Richard Hofstadter wrote, “had the political strategy of the moment called for a momentous human document of the stature of the Declaration of Independence, Lincoln could have risen to the occasion.” Instead, he produced a document with “all the moral grandeur of a bill of lading.” In addition, the document he issued only freed slaves where the federal government had no power. It did not apply to slaves in the loyal slave states or in those parts of the Confederacy under Union control. Indeed, Lincoln did not free the slaves; they freed themselves.

Unfortunately, Lincoln’s defenders often don’t do him any favors. They claim either that he “grew in office,” progressing from a position of moral indifference and ignorance regarding emancipation at the time of his election to one who came to favor black freedom by the time of the Emancipation Proclamation, or that he had the patience to wait for the opportune moment to issue the proclamation.

In his magnificent new book, Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America, Allen Guelzo makes a strong case for the old conventional wisdom: Lincoln was indeed committed to ending slavery and the Emancipation Proclamation played a central role in achieving this goal. Guelzo argues, indeed, that “the Emancipation Proclamation was the most revolutionary pronouncement ever signed by an American president, striking the legal shackles from four million black slaves and setting the nation’s face toward the total abolition of slavery within three more years...

The Emancipation Proclamation may lack the rhetorical elegance of the Gettysburg Address or the Second Inaugural, but Guelzo makes it clear that the Proclamation is the most epochal of Lincoln’s public pronouncements. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation is the definitive treatment of emancipation. Allen Guelzo deserves our immense gratitude for returning this critical document to its place of honor in the history of the American Republic.”
--Mackubin Thomas Owens, “Abraham Lincoln Saved the Union, But Did He Really Free the Slaves?” Editorial, Ashbrook Center, March 2004 https://ashbrook.org/publications/oped-owens-04-guelzo/ (Owens is an Adjunct Fellow of the Ashbrook Center, Associate Dean of Academics and Professor of Strategy and Force planning at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island).
____________________________

Dr. Allen C. Guelzo is the Henry R. Luce Professor of the Civil War Era and the director of Civil War Era Studies at Gettysburg College. He is the author of Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President, which won the Lincoln Prize in 2000, Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America, which won the Lincoln Prize in 2005, and Lincoln and Douglas: The Debates That Defined America, which won the Abraham Lincoln Institute Prize in 2008. His most recent work in Lincoln is Abraham Lincoln As a Man of Ideas (a collection of essays published in 2009) and Lincoln, a volume in Oxford University Press’s Very Short Introductions series (also 2009). His book on the battle of Gettysburg, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion (Knopf, 2013) spent eight weeks on the New York Times best-seller list.

His articles and essays have appeared in scholarly journals and in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Christian Science Monitor, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times, and he has been featured on NPR, the Discovery Channel, the National Geographic Channel, Brian Lamb’s BookNotes, and the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. He is a member of the American Historical Association, the Organization of American Historians, the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic, the Society of Civil War Historians, and the Union League of Philadelphia.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

All Men are Created Equal: America's Defining Creed

Our nation has and continues to be in the throes of a debate and conflict, sometimes violent, over the history and meaning of the phrase in the Declaration of Independence, which declares that, “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” The author of that language, Thomas Jefferson, is also under attack – both his character and legacy – as well as his image forged and carved into statues and monuments. This Essay, focusing on the words of Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Frederick Douglass, is written in an effort to address those questions and defend against those assaults, while hopefully providing helpful evidence, answers, and insights, that we might yet embrace and uphold America’s “defining creed.”
 
Read the Essay: http://www.liberty1.org/EQUAL.pdf

Thursday, June 18, 2020

History of Juneteenth - the End of Slavery

“Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19th that the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. Note that this was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation - which had become official January 1, 1863. The Emancipation Proclamation had little impact on the Texans due to the minimal number of Union troops to enforce the new Executive Order. However, with the surrender of General Lee in April of 1865, and the arrival of General Granger’s regiment, the forces were finally strong enough to influence and overcome the resistance.

Later attempts to explain this two and a half year delay in the receipt of this important news have yielded several versions that have been handed down through the years. Often told is the story of a messenger who was murdered on his way to Texas with the news of freedom. Another is that the news was deliberately withheld by the enslavers to maintain the labor force on the plantations. And still another is that federal troops actually waited for the slave owners to reap the benefits of one last cotton harvest before going to Texas to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation. All of which, or none of these versions could be true. Certainly, for some, President Lincoln's authority over the rebellious states was in question. Whatever the reasons, conditions in Texas remained status quo well beyond what was statutory.

One of General Granger’s first orders of business was to read to the people of Texas, General Order Number 3 which began most significantly with:

"The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired laborer." 

The reactions to this profound news ranged from pure shock to immediate jubilation. While many lingered to learn of this new employer to employee relationship, many left before these offers were completely off the lips of their former 'masters' - attesting to the varying conditions on the plantations and the realization of freedom. Even with nowhere to go, many felt that leaving the plantation would be their first grasp of freedom. North was a logical destination and for many it represented true freedom, while the desire to reach family members in neighboring states drove some into Louisiana, Arkansas and Oklahoma. Settling into these new areas as free men and women brought on new realities and the challenges of establishing a heretofore non-existent status for black people in America. Recounting the memories of that great day in June of 1865 and its festivities would serve as motivation as well as a release from the growing pressures encountered in their new territories. The celebration of June 19th was coined "Juneteenth" and grew with more participation from descendants. The Juneteenth celebration was a time for reassuring each other, for praying and for gathering remaining family members. Juneteenth continued to be highly revered in Texas decades later, with many former slaves and descendants making an annual pilgrimage back to Galveston on this date.

A range of activities were provided to entertain the masses, many of which continue in tradition today. Rodeos, fishing, barbecuing and baseball are just a few of the typical Juneteenth activities you may witness today. Juneteenth almost always focused on education and self-improvement. Thus, often guest speakers are brought in and the elders are called upon to recount the events of the past. Prayer services were also a major part of these celebrations.

Certain foods became popular and subsequently synonymous with Juneteenth celebrations such as strawberry soda-pop. More traditional and just as popular was the barbecuing, through which Juneteenth participants could share in the spirit and aromas that their ancestors - the newly emancipated African Americans, would have experienced during their ceremonies. Hence, the barbecue pit is often established as the center of attention at Juneteenth celebrations...

On January 1, 1980, Juneteenth became an official state holiday in Texas through the efforts of Al Edwards, an African American state legislator. The successful passage of this bill marked Juneteenth as the first emancipation celebration granted official state recognition. Edwards has since actively sought to spread the observance of Juneteenth all across America.”
_____________________________
See: https://www.juneteenth.com/history.htm

Sunday, March 22, 2020

The Pox and the Covenant

"Tony Williams tells a rollicking good story about the contagious crisis experienced by Colonial America. The Pox and the Covenant is a superbly nuanced and well-written account of the interactions of human disease and events." -- Howard Markel, MD, PhD, George E. Wantz Distinguished Professor of the History of Medicine, the University of Michigan, author of When Germs Travel.

"For one hundred years, God had held to his promise, and the colonists had as well. When the first Puritans sailed into Massachusetts in the seventeenth century, weak from the ocean journey, they formed a covenant with each other and with God to establish a city on a hill-a commitment to live uncorrupted lives together or all suffer divine wrath for their collective sin. But now, a century later, the arrival of one doomed ship would put this covenant to its greatest test.

After several days of skirting the North American coast, on April 22, 1721, the HMS Seahorse arrived in Boston from the West Indies, carrying goods, cargo, and, unbeknownst to its crew, a deadly virus...

Boston, the largest city in the colonies, had a population of roughly eleven thousand souls. With such a large number of people, Boston rivaled the cities of mother England, save only for London. Boston was moreover one of the great hubs of the Atlantic trade network. It gathered goods from the farms of the New England hinterland and from smaller cities and ports along the American coast. These commodities were shipped all over the Atlantic while other goods were imported into the city and sent elsewhere. For a virus, a better place to contaminate could hardly be found....

After docking in Boston harbor, a skeleton crew was left on board the Seahorse while the rest of the crew and officers went ashore. At least one of the crew carried an infectious disease, one that would send a city into chaos, and put to its greatest test the covenant between the Puritans and their God. 

Soon, a smallpox epidemic had broken out in Boston, causing hundreds of deaths and panic across the city. The clergy, including the famed Cotton Mather, turned to their standard form of defense against disease: fasting and prayer. But a new theory was also being offered to the public by the scientific world: inoculation. The fierce debate over the right way to combat the tragedy would become a battle between faith and reason, one that would set the city aflame with rage and riot.

The Pox and the Covenant by Tony Williams is a story of well-known figures such as Cotton Mather, James Franklin, and a young Benjamin Franklin struggling to fight for their cause among death and debate-although not always for the side one would expect. In the end, the incredible results of the epidemic and battle would reshape the colonists' view of their destiny, setting for America a new course, a new covenant, and the first drumbeats of the Revolution."

See: https://www.amazon.com/Pox-Covenant-Franklin-Epidemic-Americas/dp/1402260938

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Impeachment and the U.S. Constitution

What does the U.S. Constitution say about Impeachment? 

Article One, Section Two: “The House of Representatives shall choose their Speaker and other Officers; and shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.”

Article One, Section Three: “The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two thirds of the Members present. Judgment in Cases of impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States: but the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to Law.”

Article Two, Section Four: “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.”

What are “high Crimes and Misdemeanors”?

One relevant source of the meaning of this phrase may be found in John Comyns’ Digest of the Laws of England (published in the late 1700's) which enumerated a series of “high crimes and misdemeanors” under the English Common Law. The first consisted of violations of criminal law (i.e., “high crimes”), such as encouraging piracy and bribery. The non-criminal violations described therein were all fiduciary breaches by a magistrate including:

• acting outside authority, as by ratifying a peace not approved by the parties, using the Great Seal without permission, and issuing unlawful and irregular orders;

• self-dealing, such as purchasing royal lands for less than true value, purchasing and holding a plurality of offices, and acting for one’s “own profit only;”

• other sorts of disloyalty such as recommending a prejudicial peace, or endangering the army or navy, etc.

(John Comyns, A Digest of the Laws of England, 4:368-69 (1780). This digest was available in America during the founding era).

What was said concerning Impeachment during the Debates in the Constitutional Convention?

In the debates of the Constitution Convention during the summer of 1787, three Virginia delegates, George Mason, James Madison, and Edmund Randolph “all spoke up to defend impeachment on July 20th, after Charles Pinckney of South Carolina and Gouverneur Morris of Pennsylvania moved to strike it. “[If the president] should be re-elected, that will be sufficient proof of his innocence,” Morris argued. “[Impeachment] will render the Executive dependent on those who are to impeach.”

“Shall any man be above justice?” Mason asked. “Shall that man be above it who can commit the most extensive injustice?” A presidential candidate might bribe the electors to gain the presidency, Mason suggested. “Shall the man who has practiced corruption, and by that means procured his appointment in the first instance, be suffered to escape punishment by repeating his guilt?”

“Madison argued that the Constitution needed a provision “for defending the community against the incapacity, negligence, or perfidy of the Chief Magistrate.” Waiting to vote him out of office in a general election wasn’t good enough. “He might pervert his administration into a scheme of peculation”— embezzlement—“or oppression,” Madison warned. “He might betray his trust to foreign powers.”

Randolph agreed on both these fronts. “The Executive will have great opportunities of abusing his power,” he warned, “particularly in time of war, when the military force, and in some respects the public money, will be in his hands.” The delegates voted, 8 states to 2, to make the executive removable by impeachment.”

(See: “Inside the Founding Fathers’ Debate Over What Constituted an Impeachable Offense,” by: Erick Trickey, The Smithsonian, October 2, 2017. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/inside-founding-fathers-debate-over-what-constituted-impeachable-offense-180965083/)

What do the Federalist Papers say about impeachment?

Federalist Papers No. 65 (Alexander Hamilton):

“A well-constituted court for the trial of impeachments is an object not more to be desired than difficult to be obtained in a government wholly elective. 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.”

“The delicacy and magnitude of a trust which so deeply concerns the political reputation and existence of every man engaged in the administration of public affairs, speak for themselves. The difficulty of placing it rightly, in a government resting entirely on the basis of periodical elections, will as readily be perceived, when it is considered that the most conspicuous characters in it will, from that circumstance, be too often the leaders or the tools of the most cunning or the most numerous faction, and on this account, can hardly be expected to possess the requisite neutrality towards those whose conduct may be the subject of scrutiny.”

“Where else than in the Senate could have been found a tribunal sufficiently dignified, or sufficiently independent? What other body would be likely to feel CONFIDENCE ENOUGH IN ITS OWN SITUATION, to preserve, unawed and uninfluenced, the necessary impartiality between an INDIVIDUAL accused, and the REPRESENTATIVES OF THE PEOPLE, HIS ACCUSERS?”
(caps in original).

Federalist Papers No. 66 (Alexander Hamilton):

“So far as might concern the misbehavior of the Executive in perverting the instructions or contravening the views of the Senate, we need not be apprehensive of the want of a disposition in that body to punish the abuse of their confidence or to vindicate their own authority. We may thus far count upon their pride, if not upon their virtue. And so far even as might concern the corruption of leading members, by whose arts and influence the majority may have been inveigled into measures odious to the community, if the proofs of that corruption should be satisfactory, the usual propensity of human nature will warrant us in concluding that there would be commonly no defect of inclination in the body to divert the public resentment from themselves by a ready sacrifice of the authors of their mismanagement and disgrace.”