Historically yours – The impeachment trial of justice samuel chase


The Senate was created by our Founding Fathers to be “independent, to stand against the tyranny of presidential power and the tides of public opinion,” according to Robert A. Caro, author of the book, “The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Master of the Senate.” It worked exactly as intended, according to Caro, as the Senate saved the Judiciary, Supreme Court Justice Chase and most probably Chief Justice John Marshall from President Thomas Jefferson’s excessive use of power, even though he was backed by public opinion.

The Founding Fathers, in the Constitution, vested the Senate with the power to try impeachments. Our first two Presidents, George Washington and John Adams, were members of the Federalist Party. In a sweeping political revolt in 1800, Republican Party Jefferson was elected President. In 1804, Jefferson won re-election by a landslide, leading his Republican Party to overwhelming majorities in both the House and Senate. It was a great personal triumph for Jefferson, who now “focused his attention on the lone branch of government still dominated by the Federalists.” He restored “impeachment as a way of ridding the federal bench of judges whom he considered dangerous to his views”. Chase and Marshall were towering figures on the Supreme Court; however, Jefferson believed their decisions “were dangerous.” Chase had been a signer of our Declaration of Independence. Historians regard Marshall as our country’s greatest Chief Justice. Jefferson first went after Chase, with Marshall to follow.

Blinded by Jeffersonian popularity, public opinion was against Chase. His conviction would have established a precedent that would have eliminated our system of checks and balances, and “undermine the independence of the courts, and thereby endanger justice itself.” The Jeffersonian dominated the lower House, on party lines, and impeached Chase by a vote of 73-32 on 18 articles; not a single Republican in the House voted against it. In the Senate, twenty-three of the thirty-four Senators were necessary for conviction; twenty-five of which were Republican. The trial lasted one week. Chase’s attorney argued that “judges should not be impeached just because they held opinions contrary to the party in power.” All during the trial, Jefferson invited all Senators to the White House “for dinner and private conversation.” The first vote by a Republican Senator on the first article of impeachment was “Not Guilty.” He was joined by other Republicans, with the first vote 18 to 16 against conviction. Chas was found “Not Guilty” on all charges. As the Founding Fathers had envisioned, in that important moment in American history, the Senate exercised fairness, independence and courage against the political pressure of the party the “tyranny of presidential power and the tides of public opinion.”

Sources: Wikipedia, “Samuel Chase,”: The Free Dictionary, By Farlex, “The Samuel Chase Impeachment Trial,”: Encyclopedia-com, “Impeachment Trial of Samuel Chase,”: Constitution Club, “The impeachment of Samuel Chase,”: Encyclopedia Britannica, “Samuel Chase-United States Jurist,”: Quizlet, “The Impeachment Trial of Samuel Chase.”

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