|On January 1, 1649, the House of Commons impeached Charles Stuart, then King Charles I of England, for attempting “to subvert the fundamental Laws and Liberties of this Nation.” The circumstances that lead Parliament to break this new ground were undoubtedly extreme. Charles was alleged to have unlawfully subverted English democracy, and the final article of impeachment charged that he colluded with England’s foreign adversaries in his campaign against his domestic political rivals. He was found guilty. In the 17th century fashion was punished accordingly: he was executed (beheaded) for treason. It happened in London. It was January 30, 1649.|
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In an article[i] appeared on October 3, 2019 Lawfare offers compelling arguments drawing parallels between Charles I and Donald Trump impeachments by offering a solid precedent for impeaching a president (head of state) alleged to have abused his diplomatic powers in a way that failed to put the interests of the state they represent first. Let’s see how is explained.
Parallel # 1: Impeachment is more than just politics
Politics in the time of Charles I would have been assassination of the king. Politics today would be waiting until 2020, and letting the political process remove a bad head of state from office.
In 1649 the British chose a legalistic mechanism of impeachment. By doing so they sought to clarify the terms of England’s unwritten constitution in ways that profoundly shaped America’s founding generation and its understanding of what a head of state was.
In 1649 Parliament repudiated the notion that the office of the king and the person of the king were indivisible. (l’état c’est moi – I am the state.) As king, Charles could only act for the public and under the law.
In 2019 we could very clearly see that Donald Trump is not the United States. Yet, the issue at stake is still the same, Trump as President could only act for the public and under the law, not for his own personal gain and circumventing the law.
Parliament sought to prove that Charles Stuart, the man, could not be trusted to act as king.
If Trump is found guilty, it will be Trump, the man, who could not be trusted with the office of President of the United States, he would not be trusted as head of state. Congress must act and do its job.
Parallel # 2: A procedural lesson on the role of executive privilege on impeachment proceedings.
The impeachment of Charles Stuart suggests that a head of state’s communications enjoys no privileges when they contain evidence of impeachable conduct. Charles’ personal letters and papers were produced in court. His former scrivener produced documents and evidence. It follows there is a strong precedence that Donald Trump could not, under certain circumstances, use the presidency’s privileges to conceal evidence of his own impeachable conduct.
Parallel 3: What offenses are impeachable in the first place.
Is Donald Trump’s alleged a
buse of his diplomatic powers impeachable? There are no examples of a president being impeached for abusing his diplomatic powers. Something that Trump and his supporters have taken advantage on.
Nonetheless, the article refers us to the debates during the Constitutional Convention. Debates over the Impeachment Clause -as did the House of Commons back in 1649- and it points out that Benjamin Franklin cited Charles Stuart as one of the principal reasons the impeachment process needed to be formalized in the Constitution. It also mentions that Gouverneur Morris supported the idea, arguing that Congress needed the power to impeach a president for “treachery” and “corrupting his electors.”
For the English, Charles became traitor to his office as king and to England from the moment he sought to unlawfully subvert the proper functioning of English democracy. And what made his conduct all the more “treasonous” was the fact that he sought to do it with assistance from abroad.
President Trump’s alleged efforts to enlist the government of Ukraine against his domestic political rival implicates the same civil evil, the article quotes.
Summarizing, if the allegations against him are true, President Trump has not simply abused the powers of his office, he has, as Charles Stuart did, subverted his office’s very purpose for personal gain.
I’m sure we
don’t have to be super smart to put two and two together and side with honor,
logic, and the law. It is a matter of principle. At the minimum, the
impeachment process should be finished.
[i] Paradis, Michael. “Three Lessons From the First Time a Head of State Was Impeached.” 2019. Lawfareblog. October 3.