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Opposition to executive impeachment from Gouverneur Morris

by KatHowarth

Cite as: Kat Howarth, ‘Opposition to executive impeachment from Gouverneur Morris’ in Kat Howarth, Impeachment and the Convention, Quill Project at Pembroke College (Oxford, 2016), item 95.


Here Mr Gouverneur Morris sets out his opposition to executive impeachment. He believes that allowing the executive to be impeached was ‘dangerous’ on the basis that, if impeachments are to be triggered by the Legislature, the executive would then be held in their thrall, and the legislature would be able to use the threat of impeachment to force the executive to follow their wishes.

Again the notion of the executive being a ‘check’ on the legislature is referenced, showing that the separation of powers continued to be a key issue during discussions of executive impeachment. Morris’ solution at this junction was for the executive term to be a short duration so that an unfit executive could be ousted simply by voting in someone else at the next available opportunity.

Morris’ defence of an unimpeachable executive at this stage may also shows links to William Blackstone’s explanation of why the King of Great Britain could not be brought to court. Blackstone suggested executive power would be checked by being able to impeach the king’s ‘evil and pernicious counsellors’ who had suggested his course of action; Morris advocates impeachment instead of ‘certain great officers of State; a minister of finance, of war, of foreign affairs &c.’ who had ‘exercise[d] their functions in subordination to the Executive’. This suggestion implies that Morris, like other in the Convention, had taken account of the wisdom of Blackstone when forming his views on many of the issues before the Convention.

Additionally, Morris’ view ties in the possible conundrum faced by the Framers of having no past precedent on which to base a possible impeachment. Working from the English model, the comparison of the executive is between the King and the President, but with no way of removing the King from office or bringing him to court, there was no English policy to base their suggestions on. This could be the cause of the Framers taking such different positions at the start of discussions of any possible impeachment. Although judicial impeachment would have been familiar ground, new ice was being broken in with the inclusion of impeachment for the executive.

Approved for publication