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- John Marshall and the Constitution, - 10/27 -


in essence to Giles's theory. But Rodney and Nicholson, both much abler lawyers, openly disavowed such latitudinarian doctrine. In a general way, their view of the matter may be stated thus: Because judges of the United States are guaranteed continuance in office only during "good behavior," and because impeachment is the only method of removal recognized by the Constitution, the "high crimes and misdemeanors" for which impeachment is the constitutional resource must include all cases of willful misconduct in office, whether indictable or not. This seems sound theory and appears today to be established theory. But sound or not, the managers of the Republicans were not a unit in urging it, while their opponents put forward with confidence and unanimity the theory that "high crimes and misdemeanors" were always indictable offenses.

More calamitous still for the accusers of Chase was the way in which, when the evidence began to come in, the case against him started crumpling at the corners. Lewis, who had been Fries's attorney and whose testimony they had chiefly relied upon to prove the judge's unfairness on that occasion, had not only acknowledged that his memory was "not very tenacious" after so great a lapse of time but had further admitted that he had really dropped the case because he thought it "more likely that the President would pardon him [Fries] after having been convicted without having counsel than if he had." Similarly Hay, whose repeated efforts to bring the question of the constitutionality of the Sedition Act before the jury had caused the rupture between court and counsel in Callender's case, owned that he had entertained "but little hopes of doing Callender any good" but had "wished to address the public on the constitutionality of the law." Sensations multiplied on every side. A man named Heath testified that Chase had told the marshal to strike all Democrats from the panel which was to try Callender; whereupon a second witness called to confirm this testimony stated facts which showed the whole story to be a deliberate fabrication. The story that Chase had attacked the Administration at Baltimore was also substantially disproved by the managers' own witnesses. But the climax of absurdity was reached in the fifth and sixth articles of impeachment, which were based on the assumption that an act of Congress had required the procedure in Callender's case to be in accordance with the law of Virginia. In reply to this argument Chase's attorneys quickly pointed out that the statute relied upon applied only to actions between citizens of different States!

The final arguments began on the 20th of February. The first speech in behalf of Chase was delivered by Joseph Hopkinson, a young Philadelphia attorney, whose effort stirred the admiration of Federalists and Republicans alike. He dwelt upon "the infinite importance" of the implications of this case for the future of the Republic, contrasted the frivolity of the charges brought against Chase with the magnitude of the crimes of which Warren Hastings had been accused, and pointed out that, whereas in England only two judges had been impeached in half a century, in America, "boasting of its superior purity and virtue," seven judges had been prosecuted within two years. More loosely wrought, but not less effective was Martin's address, the superb climax of a remarkable forensic career! The accusation against Chase he reduced to a charge of indecorum, and he was ready to admit that the manner of his friend "bore a stronger resemblance to that of Lord Thurlow than of Lord Chesterfield," but, said he, our judges ought not to be "like the gods of Epicurus lolling upon their beds of down, equally careless whether the laws of their country are obeyed or violated, instead of ACTIVELY discharging their duties."

The closing argument, which fell to the managers, was assigned to Randolph. It was an unmitigated disaster for the cause in behalf of which it was pronounced. "I feel perfectly inadequate to the task of closing this important debate on account of a severe indisposition which I labor under," were Randolph's opening words, but even this prefatory apology gave little warning of the distressing exhibition of incompetence which was to follow. "On the reopening of the court," records John Quincy Adams in his "Memoirs," "he [Randolph] began a speech of about two hours and a half, with as little relation to the subject-matter as possible...without order, connection, or argument; consisting altogether of the most hackneyed commonplaces of popular declamation, mingled up with panegyrics and invectives upon persons, with a few well-expressed ideas, a few striking figures, much distortion of face and contortion of body, tears, groans and sobs, with occasional pauses for recollection, and continual complaints of having lost his notes." So ended the ambition of John Randolph of Roanoke to prove himself another Burke!

But while their frontal assault on the reason of the court was thus breaking down, the impeachers, led by the President, were attempting a flank movement on its virtue. They especially distrusted the "steadiness" of certain New England and New York Senators and hoped to reach the hearts of these gentlemen through Aaron Burr, the Vice-President. Burr had heretofore found himself vested with the role of Lucifer in the Republican Paradise. Now he found himself suddenly basking in a perpetual sunburst of smiles both from the great central luminary, Jefferson, and his paler satellites, Madison and Gallatin. Invitations to the President's dinners were soon followed by more substantial bribes. Burr's step-son became judge of the Superior Court at New Orleans; his brother-in-law, secretary to the Louisiana Territory; his intimate friend Wilkinson, its military commandant. Then Giles, whose view of impeachment left him utterly shameless in the matter, drew up and circulated in the Senate itself a petition to the Governor of New Jersey asking him to quash the indictment for murder which the Bergen County grand jury had found against Burr as a result of the duel with Hamilton. At the same time, an act was passed giving the retiring Vice-President the franking privilege for life. In the debate Senator Wright of Maryland declared that dueling was justified by the example of David and Goliath and that the bill was opposed "only because our David had slain the Goliath of Federalism."

Whether Burr made any attempt to render the expected quid pro quo for these favors does not appear, but at least if he did, his efforts were fruitless. The vote on the impeachment of Chase was taken on the 1st of March, and the impeachers were crushingly defeated. On the first article they could muster only sixteen votes out of thirty-four; on the second, only ten; on the fifth, none; on the sixth, four. Even on the last article, where they made their best showing, they were still four votes short of the required constitutional majority. When the result of the last ballot was announced, Randolph rushed from the Senate chamber to the House to introduce a resolution proposing an amendment to the Constitution, requiring that judges of the United States "shall be removed by the President on joint address of both Houses of Congress." At the same time Nicholson moved an amendment providing legislative recall for Senators. Thus exasperation was vented and no harm done.

Meanwhile word had come from Philadelphia that the impeachment of the State Supreme Court judges had also failed. Here, even more impressively than in the case of Chase, had been illustrated that solidarity of Bench and Bar which has ever since been such an influential factor in American government. The Pennsylvania judge-breakers, failing to induce a single reputable member of the Philadelphia bar to aid them, had been obliged to go to Delaware, whence they procured Caesar A. Rodney, one of the House managers against Chase. The two impeachments were thus closely connected and their results were similar. In the first place, it was determined that impeachment was likely to be, in the petulant language of Jefferson, "a farce" not soon to be used again for partisan purposes. In the second place, it was probable that henceforth, in the Commonwealths as well as in the National Government, political power would be exercised subject to constitutional restraints applied judicially. In the third place, however, the judges would henceforth have to be content with the possession of this magnificent prerogative and dispense with all judicial homilies on "manners and morals." It was a fair compromise and has on the whole proved a beneficial one.

CHAPTER IV. The Trial Of Aaron Burr

When, on March 30, 1807, Colonel Aaron Burr, late Vice-President of the United States, was brought before Chief Justice Marshall in the Eagle Tavern at Richmond on the charge of treason, there began the greatest criminal trial in American history and one of the notable trials in the annals of the law.

"The Burr Conspiracy" still remains after a hundred years an unsolved enigma. Yet whether Burr actually planned treason against the United States in the year of grace 1806 is after all a question of somewhat restricted importance. The essential truth is that he was by nature an adventurer who, in the words of Hamilton, "believed all things possible to daring and energy," and that in 1806 he was a bankrupt and asocial outcast to boot. Whether, therefore, his grandiose project of an empire on the ruins of Spanish dominion in Mexico involved also an effort to separate some part of the West from the Union is a question which, if it was ever definitely determined in Burr's own mind, was determined, we may be sure, quite independently of any moral or patriotic considerations.

Burr's activities after his term of public office ended in March, 1805, were devious, complicated, and purposely veiled, involving many men and spread over a large territory.* Near Marietta on an island in the Ohio River, Burr came upon Harman Blennerhassett, a genial Irishman living in a luxurious and hospitable mansion which was making a heavy drain upon his already diminished resources. Here Burr, by his charm of manner and engaging conversation, soon won from the simple Irishman his heart and his remaining funds. He also made the island both a convenient rendezvous for his adherents in his ambitious schemes and a starting point for his own extended expeditions, which took him during the latter part of this year to Natchez, Nashville, St. Louis, Vincennes, Cincinnati, and Philadelphia, and back to Washington.

* An account of the Burr conspiracy will be found in "Jefferson and his Colleagues," by Allen Johnson (in "The Chronicles of America").

In the summer of 1806 Burr turned westward a second time and with the assistance of Blennerhassett he began military preparations on the latter's island for a mysterious expedition. On the 29th of July, Burr had dispatched a letter in cipher to Wilkinson, his most important confederate. The precise terms of this document we shall never know, but apparently it contained the most amazing claims of the successful maturing of Burr's scheme: "funds had been obtained," "English naval protection had been secured,"


John Marshall and the Constitution, - 10/27

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