Rep. Jerry Nadler: ‘Benjamin Franklin Called Impeachment ‘a Substitute for Assassination’” Staff
By Staff | March 25, 2019 | 2:59 PM EDT

Rep. Jerry Nadler (D.-N.Y.) at Judiciary Committee impeachment hearing, Dec. 10, 1998. (Screen Capture)

( - Rep. Jerry Nadler (D.-N.Y.) sat in the House Judiciary Committee on Dec. 10, 1998, and explained why he opposed the impeachment of President Bill Clinton by citing an argument that Benjamin Franklin had made in the Constitutional Convention.

“Benjamin Franklin called impeachment ‘a substitute for assassination,’ Nadler said in a speech that has been memorialized on video by CSPAN.

The House Judiciary Committee did in fact vote to approve four articles of impeachment against Clinton, finding that he had committed perjury, obstructed the administration of justice and abused his office.

“Today, for only the third time in our nation's history, this committee meets to consider articles of impeachment against the president of the United States,” Nadler said in the Judiciary Committee on Dec. 10, 1998. “This is a momentous occasion, and I would hope that despite the sharp partisan tone which has marked this debate, we can approach it with a sober sense of the historic importance of this matter.

“I believe we need to get back to basics--the Constitution--and what the impeachment power conferred on the Congress requires of us,” Nadler said.

“Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution says that a president ‘Shall be removed from office on impeachment for and conviction of treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.’ End quote,” said Nadler.

“We have received testimony from some of the nation's leading scholars and historians who agree that impeachable offenses are those which are abuses of presidential power, that undermine the structure or functioning of government or constitutional liberty,” he said.

“Benjamin Franklin called impeachment ‘a substitute for assassination,’” said Nadler. “It is in fact a peaceful procedure for protecting the nation from despots by providing a constitutional means for removing a president who would misuse his presidential power to make himself a tyrant or otherwise to undermine our constitutional form of government. To impeach a president, it must be that serious.”

Nadler’s reference to Benjamin Franklin relates to a statement Franklin made at the Constitutional Convention on July 20, 1787. One of the issues debated that day was whether the Constitution should permit the impeachment of the president.

Franklin thought it should—and would actually be “favorable to the executive.”

“Docr. Franklin was for retaining the clause as favorable to the executive,” say James Madison’s notes from that day. “History furnishes one example only of a Magistrate being formally brought to public Justice. Every body cried out agst this as unconstitutional.

“What was the practice before this in cases where the chief Magistrate rendered himself obnoxious?” said Franklin. “Why recourse was had to assassination in wch. He was not only deprived of his life but of the opportunity of vindicating his character.

“It wd. be the best way therefore,” said Franklin, “to provide the Constitution for the regular punishment of the Executive when his misconduct should deserve it, and for his honorable acquittal when he should be unjustly accused.”

[The paragraph above is James Madison's summary of what Benjamin Franklin said about the impeachment power at the Constitutional Convention on July 20, 1787.]

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