Autobiography of Seventy Years - Vol. 1

By George F. Hoar | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XXV
BELKNAP IMPEACHMENT

MARCH 3, 1876, a message was sent to the Senate from the House of Representatives, impeaching General Belknap, the Secretary of War. He was charged with having received corruptly a large sum of money, payable in quarterly instalments, for the appointment of a Post Trader, an Officer appointed by the Secretary of War. This was a very lucrative position, the profits of which depended very largely upon the Secretary. I was chosen one of the Managers of the Impeachment by the House. There was no serious question of the guilt of the Secretary. But he resigned, and his resignation was accepted, after the discovery of his misconduct, before the proceedings of impeachment were inaugurated. The whole struggle was over the question of the Constitutional right of the Senate to convict a public officer on impeachment proceedings instituted after he had left office. Upon that question I made a careful and elaborate argument. A majority of the Senate (37 to 25) were for sustaining the proceedings. But the Senators who thought the Senate had no jurisdiction to enter a judgment of guilty when the proceedings were commenced after the person left office, deemed themselves constrained to vote Not Guilty as the only mode of giving that opinion effect.

So General Belknap was acquitted for the want of the two-thirds vote for his conviction. Every Democrat voted for conviction except Mr. Eaton of Connecticut. The following Republicans voted for conviction: Booth, Cameron of Pennsylvania, Dawes, Edmunds, Hitchcock, Mitchell, Morrill, Oglesby, Robertson, Sargent, Sherman, and Wadleigh.

It is difficult to believe that the Senators who voted for acquittal were not, perhaps unconsciously, influenced by the

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