Would the Founders Convict Trump and Bar Him From Office?Roundup
tags: impeachment, Alexander Hamilton, Constitutional Law, constitutional convention, Donald Trump, George Mason, Founding Era
Dr. Merritt is a visiting scholar at Vanderbilt University, where he is researching the history and psychology of demagogues and writing a book about the American Revolution.
If the 55 delegates to the Constitutional Convention in 1787 were sitting today as jurors in the Senate impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump, one thing seems certain based on the historical record. Acting with vigor and dispatch, they would cast two near unanimous votes: first, to convict the president of an impeachable offense, and second, to disqualify him from holding future federal office.
They would vote in this way, unmoved by partisan passions or the defense’s claim that the Senate lacks jurisdiction, because they believed as a matter of civic principle that ethical leadership is the glue that holds a constitutional republic together. It was a principle they lived by and one they infused into every aspect of the Constitution they debated that summer in Philadelphia nearly 234 years ago.
As James Madison put it in Federalist No. 57, “The aim of every political constitution is, or ought to be, first to obtain for rulers men who possess most wisdom to discern, and most virtue to pursue, the common good of the society.”
In their speeches to the Constitutional Convention, delegates reiterated this point about a constitutional republic’s dependence on virtuous leadership almost every day of debates.
Benjamin Franklin highlighted the need to invest the government with “wise and good men.” James Wilson wanted “men of intelligence & uprightness.” Gouverneur Morris sought “the best, the most able, the most virtuous citizens.” And Madison spoke of “impartial umpires & Guardians of justice and general Good.”
They also left behind unequivocal statements describing the type of public personalities the constitutional republic must exclude from office. Through carefully designed systems and the power of impeachment, conviction and disqualification, those to be kept out of office included “corrupt & unworthy men,” “designing men” and “demagogues,” according to Elbridge Gerry.