You don't have to break a law to be impeached

According to Raoul Berger, author of “Impeachment: The Constitutional Problems,” one of the first authoritative books on impeachment (which caused a run on stores when it came out in the fall of 1973, when the possibility of impeaching Nixon became a live topic), the Founders lifted the wording of the impeachment clause from English law, which provided a way of punishing a king’s ministers, an indirect way of denying a king absolute power.

As it happened, while the Founders were drafting the Constitution, the English House of Commons (on which our House of Representatives was modeled) was considering the impeachment of Warren Hastings, a former governor general of British India. The statesman Edmund Burke, opening the proceedings, said: “It is by this tribunal that statesmen who abuse their power are accused by statesmen, and tried by statesmen, not upon the niceties of a narrow jurisprudence, but upon the enlarged and solid principles of state morality.”

Alexander Hamilton offered probably the best explanation of the impeachment provision in Federalist 65, one of the papers that he, James Madison and John Jay wrote after the Constitutional Convention to explain and promote the new experiment. He said the purpose of impeachment was to deal with “the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust.”

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