IMPEACHMENT (OF. enipesehenzent, Fr. empechement. hindrance, from OF. empeseher, Fr. c-inpecher. to hinder, from ML. inipedicare. to en tangle, fetter, from Lat. in, in + pedica, fetter, from pes. foot). The act of calling a person to account for some misconduct, or of discrediting a witness, a document, or a record. Impeachment of waste is an ancient statutory proceeding in stituted to restrain and punish the commission of acts of waste by tenants for life or years. (See IMPEACHMENT OF WASTE, and WASTE.) The manner in which a document or record or witness is impeached, and the legal effect of such impeachment, are explained in the article on EVIDENCE.
There remains for our present consideration the peculiar method, known as impeachment, of prosecuting certain public offenders. In Eng land it differs from the ordinary criminal prose cution in two respects: (1) the prosecutor is the House of Commons, and not the Crown; (2) the trial court is the House of Lords, and not an ordinary judiciary tribunal. In the United States an impeachment is generally instituted and prose cuted by the Lower House of Congress or of a State Legislature before the Upper House or Senate, although a few of our States provide for impeachments in the ordinary courts of justice.
This method of prosecuting criminals was employed for the first time in the ease of Lord Latimer and others, who were accused of differ ent kinds of frauds and malpractices connected with the revenue during the latter part of the reign of Edward III.. and who were found guilty and condemned to imprisonment and removed from office. The proceeding is one of the monu ments of the Good Parliament of 1376. Several other cases of impeachment of crime followed: but after 1459 acts of attainder (see AT TAINDF.II ) took the place of impeachments frig nearly two centuries. Under the Stuarts how ever, Parliament again returned to impeachments as an effective method of dealing with officers of the Crown who were corrupt or oppressive. In 1621 Sir Giles Mompesson and Lord Bacon were impeached and convicted, removed from office, and heavily fined. for gross official misconduct. Since that date there have been fifty-two cases of Impeachment in England, of which number but one has occurred within a hundred years, and that one in 1805. The proceeding is practically obsolete there.
In the United States, however, it is still a live and vigorous institution. The court for the trial of impeachment is accounted the very capstone of our judicial systems. Federal as well as State. Its existence is secured and its organization is regu lated by national and State constitutions. For example, the organic law of the Union provides that "the Douse of Representntives shall have the sole power of impeachment" (Art. 1.. See. 2, el. 5). and "the Senate shall have the sole power to try all impeachments. When sitting for that purpose," it is declared, "they shall be on oath or affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall pre side; and no person shall be convicted without the concurrence of two-thirds of the members present. Judgment in eases of impeachment shall not extend further than to the removal from office and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust, or profit under the United States, lint the party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to indictment, trial. judgment. and punishment, according to
law." (Art. I., Sec. 3. el. 0 and 7.) The Constitu tion further provides that "the President . . . shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in eases of impeachment" (Art. II.. See. 2, a I) ; and again. "the President. Vice-President and all civil officers of the United States, shall be re moved from offiee on impeachment for, and con viction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes misdemeanors." (Art. II., See. 4.) Similar provisions are contained in nearly every State constitution, although a few States remit im peachment trials to the ordinary courts of jus. tire, It will be observed that this extraordinary proceeding is limited by the Federal Constitu tion to the punishment of Federal officers. Can a Federal officer escape impeachment by resign ing his office? The Senate decided in the case of Belknap, by n vote of 37 to 29, that he cannot. On the other hand, the Supreme Court of Ne braska has held that the prime object of impeach ment proceedings is to protect the State from official misconduct, and that as soon as an officer resigns, the reason for resorting to these pro ceedings ceases. Thereafter, the offender is to be prosecuted like any other criminal by indictment and trial in the proper judicial tribunal.
Differences of opinion have developed, also, in this country concerning the nature of impeach able offenses. According to one only such official misconduct as renders the wrongdoer liable to indictment will warrant an impeach ment : while another view is that this proceeding was intended to be very elastic and comprehen sive. and to be applicable to every sort of offi cial misdemeanor whieli is subversive of any fundamental or essential principle of govern ment or highly prejudicial to the public inter ests. This view was adopted by the House of Representatives in preparing its articles of im peachment of President Johnson, and has been approved by the Supreme Court of Nebraska. It. has been embodied in the constitutions of some of the States.
The literature upon this topic is quite exten sive, both in England and in this country. See Blackstone, Commentaries; Anson, Law and Custom of the Constitution (Oxford, 1880) ; Stephen, History of the Criminal Lame of Eng land (London, 1883) ; May, Parliamentary Prac tice (loth ed., London, 1901) ; like, Constitu tional History of the House of Lords (London, 1894) ; Poore, Federal and Stale Constitutions (Washington, 1877) ; 0 American Law nryiskr, N. S. 257, 041; State v. Hastings, 37 Nebraska Reports, 90 (1893) : Story, Commentaries on Ilia Constitution (Boston, 1882 ) ; ddison 7'ria/ (Lancaster, 1803) ; Chase's Trial (Baltimore, (1805) ; Peek's Trial ( Boston, 1883) ; Preseott's Trial (Boston, 1821 ) ; lmtn of President Johnson (Washington, 1808) ; lielknap's Trial (Washington, 18'70) Mechem, On the Lau; of Public Offices and Officers (Chicago, 1890).