Definition of IMPEACHMENT


const. law, punishments. Under the constitution
and laws of the United States, an impeachment may be described to
be a written accusation, by the house of representatives of the
United States, to the senate of the United States, against an
officer. The presentment, written accusation, is called articles of

2. The constitution declares that the house of representatives
shall have the sole power of impeachment art. 1, s. 2, cl. 5 and
that the senate shall have the sole power to try all impeachments.
Art. 1, s. 3, cl. 6.

3. The persons liable to impeachment are the president,
vice-president, and all civil officers of the United States. Art.
2, s. 4. A question arose upon an impeachment before the senate,
in 1799, whether a senator was a civil officer of the United
States, within the purview of this section of the constitution, and
it was decided by the senate, by a vote of fourteen against eleven,
that he was not. Senate Journ., January 10th, 1799; Story on Const.
791; Rawle on Const. 213, 214 Serg. Const. Law, 376.

4. The offences for which a guilty officer may be impeached are,
treason, bribery, and other high crimes and misdemeanors. Art. 2,
s. 4. The constitution defines the crime of treason. Art. 3, s. 3.
Recourse must be had to the common law for a definition of bribery.
Not having particularly mentioned what is to be understood by
"other high crimes and misdemeanors," resort, it is presumed, must
be had to parliamentary practice, and the common law, in order to
ascertain what they are. Story, 795.

5. The mode of proceeding, in the institution and trial of
impeachments, is as follows: When a person who may be legally
impeached has been guilty, or is supposed to have been guilty, of
some malversation in office, a resolution is generally brought
forward by a member of the house of representatives, either to
accuse the party, or for a committee of inquiry. If the committee
report adversely to the party accused, they give a statement of the
charges, and recommend that he be impeached; when the resolution is
adopted by the house, acommittee is appointed to impeach the
party at the bar of the senate, and to state that the articles of
impeachment against him will be exhibited in due time, and made
good before the senate, and to demand that the senate take order
for the appearance of the party to answer to the impeachment. The
house then agree upon the articles of impeachment, and they are
presented to the senate by a committee appointed by the house to
prosecute the impeachment; the senate then issues process,
summoning the party to appear at a given day before them, to answer
to the articles. The process is served by the sergeant-at-arms of
the senate, and a return is made of it to the senate, under oath.
On the return-day of the process, the senate resolves itself into
a court of impeacmment, and the senators are sworn to do justice,
according to the constitution and laws. The person impeached is
called to answer, and either appears or does not appear. If he does
not appear, his default is recorded, and the senate may proceed ex
parte. If he does appear, either by himself or attorney, the
parties are required to form an issue, and a time is then assigned
for the trial. The proceedings on the trial are conducted
substantially as they are upon common judicial trials. If any
debates arise among the senators, they are conducted in secret, and
the final decision is given by yeas and nays; but no person can be
convicted without the concurrence of two-thirds of the members
present. Const. art. 1, s. 2, cl. 6.

6. When the president is tried, the chief justice shall preside.
The judgment, in cases of impeachment shall not extend further than
to removal from office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any
office of honor, trust, or profit under the United States.
Proceedings on impeachments under the state constitutions are
somewhat similar. Vide Courts of the United States.

Source: Bouviers Law Dictionary 1856 Edition