This impeachment will be a black mark on U.S. history

Even if you believe impeachment is correct, we’ll pay a price for the current hyperpartisan environment.

On the second day of July 1776, Samuel P. Chase pledged his life, fortune and sacred honor, and signed the Declaration of Independence. On the 12th day in March 1804, he was impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives.

President George Washington had appointed him to the U.S. Supreme Court as a justice, and he had made some decisions that the Congressional majority didn’t like.

As background we should remember that the election campaign of 1800 was characterized by levels of rabid partisanship, calumny, and lies that would shame even a veteran of our own behavior during 2016. In the end, Thomas Jefferson was elected president by a narrow margin over incumbent John Adams, and he brought a new majority to the House of Representatives.

The election in 1800 was also our first in which political parties played a major role — and we might reasonably conclude that their dominant role is linked to the scurrilous activity of the campaign.

The Jeffersonian Republicans and the Federalists had very different opinions of what the best form of government for America should be. The Federalists believed that only a strong central government could withstand the hazards of either foreign encroachment or domestic mob rule. The Republicans believed that a loose federation of states was the only form of government that would not decay into despotism.

A raw display of partisan politics, the impeachment of Samuel P. Chase ultimately failed when he was acquitted of the charges in the Senate.

Despite the sour taste that the impeachment had left, some good did come of it. To start with, it produced a general agreement that impeachment of a federal judge would comply with the same “high crimes and misdemeanors” standard as applied to a president.

At the same time, however, it also produced an understanding within the judiciary that judges would minimize their political activities, statements and writings. Justice Chase, for example, had campaigned very publicly for John Adams during the 1800 election, and that, while not a high crime, certainly drew the enmity of the Jefferson supporters and raised obvious questions about his impartiality in some federal cases.

Our current presidential impeachment proceedings have launched an intensive search for parallels in our history. The search has been largely unsuccessful, though, probably because of the paucity of examples. In the 232 years since our constitution was ratified, there have been just two previous impeachments of a U.S. president: Andrew Johnson, who had become president when Abraham Lincoln was assassinated; and Bill Clinton. Both Johnson and Clinton were acquitted after trials in the Senate.

The scarcity of exact historical parallels or precedents reflects a good thing about our country. Impeachments are truly rare and generally reflect runaway politicization as much as anything else. In these situations, members of Congress stop listening to each other, a malignant hearing impairment that spreads to the general public.

The economic effects of this malignancy are yet to be felt. Anecdotally, though, people entering the world of business are well advised to avoid disrupting the workplace by initiating or jumping into discussions of politics.

Polarized politics, though, will eventually eat at the foundations of our economic system. If we don’t amp down the rhetoric and raise the profile of the national interest, we will end up with “conservative shops” and “liberal shops”—just as we see taking root in our universities. This will interfere with the free market flows of labor and will reduce our overall productivity.

In the final stages of the present impeachment proceedings, there was Rudolph-like talk of going down in history. It is probably true that this impeachment will go down in history, but it may not be in a chapter that anyone will enjoy reading. As historically and currently practiced, politically driven impeachments of presidents are systemic failures, not victories, of our democracy.

The wisdom embedded in the Constitution is that a country dedicated to our values of liberty and democracy has its best chance of surviving in a system of checks and balances. It therefore established three branches of government — executive, judicial, and legislative — each of which acts as a limiting factor, a check, on the other two.

Presidents who serve only at the pleasure of the majority political party of the House of Representatives cannot function as intended in the Constitution, and we will pay the price for it.

No matter which side you believe is right, this impeachment is a lump of coal in America’s stocking.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Business

Lead climbers head up their respective routes at Vertical World North on Monday, Nov. 20, 2023, in Lynnwood, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Beginner’s ascent: A newcomer’s guide to indoor climbing

Indoor climbing gyms in and around Snohomish County offer thrills without winter chills.

Alexis Burroughs holds a bigleaf maple leaf while guiding her participants through sensory observation during a forest bathing session Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023, at Lord Hill Regional Park near Snohomish, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
To restore human bond with nature, locals lead forest bathing sessions

A yoga instructor in Bothell and Adopt a Stream in Everett say the meditative practice evokes emotion, health benefits.

Instructor Gael Gebow checks her stopwatch while tracking her group’s exercises during her Boot Camp fitness class Monday, Nov. 13, 2023, at the YMCA in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
YMCA fitness instructor challenges, empowers Everett residents

Gael Gebow has made inclusivity and healthy living her focus in 23 years at the YMCA.

A view of the Broadway construction site of Compass Health’s new mental health facility on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Compass Health dedicates Everett block to housing and behavioral health services

The “state-of-the-art” project is set to total over $90M. The nonprofit has asked for public support.

More than 150 people attend a ribbon cutting event on Nov. 16, 2023 celebrating the completion of Innovation Hall at the University of Washington Bothell and Cascadia College campus. The building, which highlights STEM instruction and research, opens to students in January. Credit: Tara Brown Photography/UW Bothell
New science, math facility opens in January at UW Bothell

Innovation Hall is the first new building to be constructed at the Bothell university campus in 10 years.

Rairdon Auto Group acquires Pignataro VW in Everett

Everett VW dealership is the 12th for the Rairdon Group, which marks 30 years in business this year.

A Keyport ship docked at Lake Union in Seattle in June 2018. The ship spends most of the year in Alaska harvesting Golden King crab in the Bering Sea. During the summer it ties up for maintenance and repairs at Lake Union. (Keyport LLC)
In crabbers’ turbulent moment, Edmonds seafood processor ‘saved our season’

When a processing plant in Alaska closed, Edmonds-based business Keyport stepped up to solve a “no-win situation.”

Angela Harris, Executive Director of the Port of Edmonds, stands at the port’s marina on Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2024, in Edmonds, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Leadership, love for the Port of Edmonds got exec the job

Shoring up an aging seawall is the first order of business for Angela Harris, the first woman to lead the Edmonds port.

The Cascade Warbirds fly over Naval Station Everett. (Sue Misao / The Herald file)
Bothell High School senior awarded $2,500 to keep on flying

Cascade Warbirds scholarship helps students 16-21 continue flight training and earn a private pilot’s certificate.

Rachel Gardner, the owner of Musicology Co., a new music boutique record store on Thursday, Jan. 18, 2024 in Edmonds, Washington. Musicology Co. will open in February, selling used and new vinyl, CDs and other music-related merchandise. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
New Edmonds record shop intends to be a ‘destination for every musician’

Rachel Gardner opened Musicology Co. this month, filling a record store gap in Edmonds. owner Tom Harrison at his brick and mortar storefront on Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2022 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Burst pipe permanently closes downtown Everett toy store

After a pipe flooded the store, MyMyToystore in downtown Everett closed. Owner Tom Harrison is already on to his next venture.

Melrose and Vine Collective owner Kara Langus in her vintage collection room at her store on Friday, Jan. 5, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
New and vintage women’s boutique aims to dazzle in downtown Everett

Add some sparkle to your wardrobe: Melrose and Vine Collective opened inside a former bank building on Pacific Avenue.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.