Federalist Paper 65: The Powers of the Senate Continued

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FEDERALIST No. 65

The Powers of the Senate Continued
From the New York Packet.
Friday, March 7, 1788.

HAMILTON

To the People of the State of New York:

THE remaining powers which the plan of the convention allots to the
Senate, in a distinct capacity, are comprised in their participation
with the executive in the appointment to offices, and in their judicial
character as a court for the trial of impeachments. As in the business
of appointments the executive will be the principal agent, the
provisions relating to it will most properly be discussed in the
examination of that department. We will, therefore, conclude this head
with a view of the judicial character of the Senate.

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.

The convention, it appears, thought the Senate the most fit depositary
of this important trust. Those who can best discern the intrinsic
difficulty of the thing, will be least hasty in condemning that opinion,
and will be most inclined to allow due weight to the arguments which may
be supposed to have produced it.

What, it may be asked, is the true spirit of the institution itself? Is
it not designed as a method of NATIONAL INQUEST into the conduct of
public men? If this be the design of it, who can so properly be the
inquisitors for the nation as the representatives of the nation
themselves? It is not disputed that the power of originating the
inquiry, or, in other words, of preferring the impeachment, ought to be
lodged in the hands of one branch of the legislative body. Will not the
reasons which indicate the propriety of this arrangement strongly plead
for an admission of the other branch of that body to a share of the
inquiry? The model from which the idea of this institution has been
borrowed, pointed out that course to the convention. In Great Britain it
is the province of the House of Commons to prefer the impeachment, and
of the House of Lords to decide upon it. Several of the State
constitutions have followed the example. As well the latter, as the
former, seem to have regarded the practice of impeachments as a bridle
in the hands of the legislative body upon the executive servants of the
government. Is not this the true light in which it ought to be regarded?

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?

Could the Supreme Court have been relied upon as answering this
description? It is much to be doubted, whether the members of that
tribunal would at all times be endowed with so eminent a portion of
fortitude, as would be called for in the execution of so difficult a
task; and it is still more to be doubted, whether they would possess the
degree of credit and authority, which might, on certain occasions, be
indispensable towards reconciling the people to a decision that should
happen to clash with an accusation brought by their immediate
representatives. A deficiency in the first, would be fatal to the
accused; in the last, dangerous to the public tranquillity. The hazard
in both these respects, could only be avoided, if at all, by rendering
that tribunal more numerous than would consist with a reasonable
attention to economy. The necessity of a numerous court for the trial of
impeachments, is equally dictated by the nature of the proceeding. This
can never be tied down by such strict rules, either in the delineation
of the offense by the prosecutors, or in the construction of it by the
judges, as in common cases serve to limit the discretion of courts in
favor of personal security. There will be no jury to stand between the
judges who are to pronounce the sentence of the law, and the party who
is to receive or suffer it. The awful discretion which a court of
impeachments must necessarily have, to doom to honor or to infamy the
most confidential and the most distinguished characters of the
community, forbids the commitment of the trust to a small number of
persons.

These considerations seem alone sufficient to authorize a conclusion,
that the Supreme Court would have been an improper substitute for the
Senate, as a court of impeachments. There remains a further
consideration, which will not a little strengthen this conclusion. It is
this: The punishment which may be the consequence of conviction upon
impeachment, is not to terminate the chastisement of the offender. After
having been sentenced to a prepetual ostracism from the esteem and
confidence, and honors and emoluments of his country, he will still be
liable to prosecution and punishment in the ordinary course of law.
Would it be proper that the persons who had disposed of his fame, and
his most valuable rights as a citizen in one trial, should, in another
trial, for the same offense, be also the disposers of his life and his
fortune? Would there not be the greatest reason to apprehend, that
error, in the first sentence, would be the parent of error in the second
sentence? That the strong bias of one decision would be apt to overrule
the influence of any new lights which might be brought to vary the
complexion of another decision? Those who know anything of human nature,
will not hesitate to answer these questions in the affirmative; and will
be at no loss to perceive, that by making the same persons judges in
both cases, those who might happen to be the objects of prosecution
would, in a great measure, be deprived of the double security intended
them by a double trial. The loss of life and estate would often be
virtually included in a sentence which, in its terms, imported nothing
more than dismission from a present, and disqualification for a future,
office. It may be said, that the intervention of a jury, in the second
instance, would obviate the danger. But juries are frequently influenced
by the opinions of judges. They are sometimes induced to find special
verdicts, which refer the main question to the decision of the court.
Who would be willing to stake his life and his estate upon the verdict
of a jury acting under the auspices of judges who had predetermined his
guilt?

Would it have been an improvement of the plan, to have united the
Supreme Court with the Senate, in the formation of the court of
impeachments? This union would certainly have been attended with several
advantages; but would they not have been overbalanced by the signal
disadvantage, already stated, arising from the agency of the same judges
in the double prosecution to which the offender would be liable? To a
certain extent, the benefits of that union will be obtained from making
the chief justice of the Supreme Court the president of the court of
impeachments, as is proposed to be done in the plan of the convention;
while the inconveniences of an entire incorporation of the former into
the latter will be substantially avoided. This was perhaps the prudent
the judiciary, which so considerable an augmentation of its authority
would have afforded.

Would it have been desirable to have composed the court for the trial of
impeachments, of persons wholly distinct from the other departments of
the government? There are weighty arguments, as well against, as in
favor of, such a plan. To some minds it will not appear a trivial
objection, that it could tend to increase the complexity of the
political machine, and to add a new spring to the government, the
utility of which would at best be questionable. But an objection which
will not be thought by any unworthy of attention, is this: a court
formed upon such a plan, would either be attended with a heavy expense,
or might in practice be subject to a variety of casualties and
inconveniences. It must either consist of permanent officers, stationary
at the seat of government, and of course entitled to fixed and regular
stipends, or of certain officers of the State governments to be called
upon whenever an impeachment was actually depending. It will not be easy
to imagine any third mode materially different, which could rationally
be proposed. As the court, for reasons already given, ought to be
numerous, the first scheme will be reprobated by every man who can
compare the extent of the public wants with the means of supplying them.
The second will be espoused with caution by those who will seriously
consider the difficulty of collecting men dispersed over the whole
Union; the injury to the innocent, from the procrastinated determination
of the charges which might be brought against them; the advantage to the
guilty, from the opportunities which delay would afford to intrigue and
corruption; and in some cases the detriment to the State, from the
prolonged inaction of men whose firm and faithful execution of their
duty might have exposed them to the persecution of an intemperate or
designing majority in the House of Representatives. Though this latter
supposition may seem harsh, and might not be likely often to be
verified, yet it ought not to be forgotten that the demon of faction
will, at certain seasons, extend his sceptre over all numerous bodies of
men.

But though one or the other of the substitutes which have been examined,
or some other that might be devised, should be thought preferable to the
plan in this respect, reported by the convention, it will not follow
that the Constitution ought for this reason to be rejected. If mankind
were to resolve to agree in no institution of government, until every
part of it had been adjusted to the most exact standard of perfection,
society would soon become a general scene of anarchy, and the world a
desert. Where is the standard of perfection to be found? Who will
undertake to unite the discordant opinions of a whole commuity, in the
same judgment of it; and to prevail upon one conceited projector to
renounce his INFALLIBLE criterion for the FALLIBLE criterion of his more
CONCEITED NEIGHBOR? To answer the purpose of the adversaries of the
Constitution, they ought to prove, not merely that particular provisions
in it are not the best which might have been imagined, but that the plan
upon the whole is bad and pernicious.

PUBLIUS

____

Federalist Paper 65: The Powers of the Senate Continued


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THE FEDERALIST PAPERS
by Hamilton, Jay, and Madison
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