Federalist Papers Summary 65
The Federalist Essays Summary No 65: Alexander Hamilton March 7, 1788
Hamilton continues the discussion of the powers of the senate focusing in this paper on it being the court for the trial of impeachments. He discusses why other possible ways the court could be constituted for this function would not be as favorable.
Passions will be inflamed because it is public men that are the subjects of impeachments and the prosecution of them will incite the whole community and divide it into parties more or less friendly to the accused. There is a danger that a decision will be based more on the strength of the parties than the guilt or innocence of the accused. This danger would be apparent if the body making up the court was elected periodically and thus more likely to be biased in their judgment particularly if it is the leaders of the parties that are the subjects.
“The Convention thought the Senate the most fit depository of this important trust” and the following are the arguments that produced this outcome. If one body, the House originates the inquiry should not the other share in the inquiry? This concept is taken from the British model where the house of commons prefers the impeachment and the house of lords decides upon it. Several states have also followed this example.
If not the Senate then where? How about the Supreme Court? He doubts the members would be endowed with the fortitude necessary for such a difficult task and even more doubtful that they would have the credit and authority to satisfy the people to a decision. Further the court is too few in numbers to have the awful discretion to doom to honor or to infamy the most distinguished characters of the community. The Supreme Court is also a poor choice because after guilt is determined the party is subject to civil and criminal proceeding which may have to be decided by this same court thus depriving the accused of an independent second trial. This consideration also removes the proposal to combine the Supreme Court and the Senate for the trial.
A final proposal considered is to have a third body of government just for the purpose of impeachment trials. Since as previously argued they would have to be numerous in number there would be a significant cost, and who would they be, members of state governments or perhaps permanent officers at the seat of government? If the members were not in place then long delays would incur assembling them injuring the innocent and providing the guilty with advantages for intrigue and corruption.
He finishes the paper with an interesting and weak argument made for the first time in these papers, that even if there are proposals that are better than that proposed by the Convention, the document should still be ratified. Government can not wait until every part is perfection and where is the standard of perfection to be found? “Adversaries to the Constitution 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.” I find this statement disappointing for I would like to think our Constitution consists of the best of the provisions considered at the time but perhaps it was necessary to stop endless arguments and to move on to ratify the new government concept. In the next paper he specifically addresses the critics objections.
Federalist 65 Summary Written by Donald Mellon