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On the Impeachment of Judge Chase.

House of Representatives, February 21, 1805.

Mr. HOPKINSON. What part of the Constitution declares any of the acts charged and proved upon Judge Chase, even int eh worst aspect, to be impeachable? He has not been guilty of bribery or corruption; he is not charged with them. Has he, then, been guilty of "other high crimes and misdemeanors"? In an instrument so sacred as the Constitution, I presume every word must have its full and fair meaning. It is not, then, only for crimes and misdemeanors that a judge is impeachable, but it must be for high crimes and misdemeanors. Although this qualifying adjective "high" immediately precedes, and is directly attached to the word "crimes," yet, from the evident intention of the Constitution, and upon a just grammatical construction, it must also be applied to "misdemeanors." If my construction of this part of the Constitution be not admitted, and the adjective "high" be given exclusively to "crimes," and denied to "misdemeanors," this strange absurdity must ensue -- that when an officer of the government is impeached for a crime, he cannot be convicted, unless it proves to be a high crime; but he may, nevertheless, be convicted of a misdemeanor of the most petty grade. Observe, sir, the {453} crimes with which these "other high crimes" are classed in the Constitution, and we may learn something of their character. They stand in connection with "bribery and corruption" -- tried in the same manner, and subject to the same penalties. But, if we are to lose the force and meaning of the word "high," in relation to misdemeanors, and this description of offences must be governed by the mere meaning of the term "misdemeanors," without deriving any grade from the adjective, still my position remains unimpaired -- that the offence, whatever it is, which is the ground of impeachment, must be such a one as would support an indictment. "Misdemeanor" is a legal and technical term, well understood and defined in law; and in the construction of a legal instrument, we must give words their legal significations. A misdemeanor, or a crime, -- for in their just and proper acceptation they were synonymous, -- is an act committed, or omitted, in the violation of a public law, either forbidding or commanding it.

[Note. In the few cases of impeachment which have hitherto been tried, no one of the charges has rested upon any suitable, misdemeanors. It seems to be the settled doctrine of the high court of impeachment, (the Senate,) that though the common law cannot be a foundation of a jurisdiction not given by the Constitution or laws, that jurisdiction, when given, attaches, and is to be exercised according to the rules of the common law; and that what are, and what are not, high crimes and misdemeanors, is to be ascertained by a recurrence to the great basis of American jurisprudence. -- Story's Comm.]


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