The Federalist Papers

The Federalist Papers Summary and Analysis of Essay 65

Summary

Hamilton defends the use of the Senate as a court of impeachment for public officials impeached by the House of Representatives. He argues that there are certainly disadvantages to having a political institution serve as judges given the significant potential for partiality. However, the Senate is the best option available. The Supreme Court would be inadequate due to its small size and the fact that an official, once removed from office, might then find himself judged in criminal court by the same judges who removed him from office.

Hamilton also dismisses the idea of having a separate institution or collection of officials to serve as a court of impeachment. He warns that such a body would be too expensive.

Analysis

This paper is striking in its admission of imperfection. Hamilton acknowledges that having a political body serve as a court creates the possibility of politically motivated trials of public officials. However, he believes the Senate is the best available option for fulfilling this necessary role. This argument serves as a reminder that the defenders of the Constitution did not necessarily consider it a perfect document, but merely the best available and far superior to the Articles. Hamilton expresses frustration with critics who attempt to hold up the ratification of the Constitution on the basis of small imperfections that are inevitably parts of any system of government.

In the interesting to note that the provisions in the Constitution for removing officials from office have been relatively rarely used. In fact, less than two dozen federal officials have been impeached in American history, and even fewer have been removed from office. Only two presidents have been impeached, Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, but both were acquitted by by the Senate.