United States. Congress.

Abridgment of the Debates of Congress, from 1789 to 1856. From Gales and Seatons' Annals of Congress; from their Register of debates; and from the official reported debates, by John C. Rives online

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Online LibraryUnited States. CongressAbridgment of the Debates of Congress, from 1789 to 1856. From Gales and Seatons' Annals of Congress; from their Register of debates; and from the official reported debates, by John C. Rives → online text (page 30 of 183)
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have had some opportunity deliberately to ex-
amine the subject, before they were required to
make a decision. But as the resolution was
moved without giving any previous notice, and
has been pressed upon us immediately after it
was moved, I do not feel myself prepared, as I
could have wished to be on such a question, be-
fore attempting to deliver my sentiments in this
House. Unprepared, however, as I am, I re-
quest your indulgence while I offer a few re-

I will first attend to some precedents men-
tioned by the gentleman from Maryland, (Mr.
Nicholson.) He has stated that it has been
usual in the English House of Commons to ap-
point a committee for courts of justice, with
power to inquire into the proceedings of courts,
and for this purpose to call persons before them
for examination. But, sir, is not such a com-
mittee appointed for general purposes, not direct-
ed against any individual, and therefore not af-
fecting the character of any magistrate ? Their
powers relate to the judicial system generally,
and do not implicate any one of the judicial offi-
cers. Does the resolution on the table propose
a committee of this kind ? On the contrary, it
is explicitly directed against two of the judges.
If gentlemen would justify their proceedings by
the practice of the British House of Commons,
let the resolution be made to have a general
reference to all the courts, instead of being
pointed, as it now is, against particular persons.
In its present form it departs essentiaUy from
the principle of the case mentioned by the gen-
tleman from Maryland, and therefore cannot be
warranted by that precedent.

The gentleman has also stated that a commit-
tee was appointed by the last Congress to inves-
tigate the accounts of the officers of Government,
merely upon common report. But it should be
remembered that those officers were officers of
the Executive Departments. It is the acknow-
ledged duty of such officers — ^it is made their
duty by law to give information to Congress,
whenever required, upon any of their public



Jakhary, 1804.]

Official Conduct of Judge Chase.

[H. OF R.

transactions. And it is the peculiar riglit of the
House of Representatives, as guardians of the
Treasury, at any time, to inquire into the ex-
penditures of public money. But are the judges
of the United States placed in the same situation
with the Executive oflScers? Are they to be
under the same control, and equally dependent?
You may indeed impeach the ju(%es, if guilty
of inipeachable offence. But what other power
over them is given you by the constitution? It
should further be remembered, that the I'esolu-
tion for appointing the investigating committee
did not criminate any particular officer. At first
it was proposed to examine only the accounts of
the former Secretary of State. But upon its
being suggested by a gentleman from Massachu-
setts, (Mr. EnsTis,) who has been so strenuous an
advocate for the present resolution, that it would
be iiliproper in that manner to attack the char-
acter of a particular officer, the resolution was
made general, and extended to the accounts of
all the Executive Departments.

Upon the like principle, the resolution now on
the table is improper. My objection to it is, that
it points out two particular officers as objects of
suspicion, and proposes a committee for inquir-
ing into their conduct without assigning any
cause, and without specifying any subject of in-
quiry. Gentlemen have expressed a dissatisfac-
tion that such a committee should be compared
to the Star Chamber or the Inquisition. If they
do not perfectly resemble the Star Chamber, for-
merly known in England, or the Inquisition of
Spain, the proposed powers of the committee
are certainly indefinite and inquisitorial. Per-
haps, if a comparison was necessary, they might
more properly be compared to the State inquis-
itors of Venice, who are well known to have
formed one of the most detestable tyrannies ever
tolerated in a country pretending to freedom.

If charges were specified in the resolution, a
member of this House on moving it might then
have a right to demand an inquiry. But are
the House bound to investigate the conduct of a
particular officer, without any charge against
him? Gentlemen have said much about the
general right of this House to inquire into the
conduct of public officers, as if this were the
point in dispute. But who has denied the right
of inquiry as incident to the power of impeach-
ment ? When any officer is charged with an
impeachable offence, it is admitted to be, and
from the nature of the thing it might be, the
right of the House to inquire into the truth of
such charge. I trust no gentleman in opposition
to the present resolution can be found so ignor-
ant of the true principle on which it is opposed,
as to deny the responsibility of the public offi-
cers, or the right of the House to inquire into
their conduct. But, the right being admitted,
the question is made as to the exercise of that
right in the manner now proposed. When this
House is called upon to direct the whole force
of its influence against a particular judge, is it
not reasonable, is it not just, that some charge
should first be stated against him ? This is but

a decent respect to judicial character. It is but
a decent respect to the chai-aoter which becomes
the assembled Representatives of a nation. The
person implicated might then be enabled to
meet the inquiry and obviate unfounded suspi-
cion. Our power with respect to the judges is
the power of impeachment; but we are not,
therefore, justified in wantonly assailing their
characters and sporting with their sensibility to
reputation. The right of inquii-y relates to im-
peachable offences. Shall we, then, inquire
where no offence is#tated ? So far is the res-
olution from stating what would warrant an
impeachment, that it does not mention any of-
fence, or refer to any transaction.

The gentleman from Virginia, who moved the
resolution, (Mr. J. Randolph,) has, indeed, de-
clared his own conviction, that the judicial offi-
cer in question had done wrong. Might not
other gentlemen also have their opinions and
exercise their own judgments in forming them?
They ask for the reasons of his conviction be-
fore they vote for his resolution. His informa-
tion, he says, was received in such a manner
that he does not choose to disclose it. If any
person has communicated any thing to him
confidentially, he is not desired to name his in-
formant. The gentleman shall not be desired
by me to make any disclosure which would of-
fend against the most delicate sense of honor.
But can it be improper for him to state the
general nature of the offence which he believes
to have been committed ? Will this violate any
honorary confidence ? He is desired to make
such a statement that other members of the
House may have an opportunity of judging
whether the believed offence will warrant a
vote of impeachment. ' In cases of this kind, is
any member to be deemed infallible ? When a
gentleman, in his place, states a fact as of his
own knowledge, his veracity is regarded as un-
questionable ; but his infallibihty is not sup-
posed to extend to matters of mere opinion.
Upon the principle of its being possible for the
gentleman from Virginia to err in opinion, and
its being equally the right of the other members
to judge what conduct amounts to an impeach-
able offence, it might have been reasonably
thought that he would at least state to the
House the nature of the facts on which he re-
lies as the basis of his resolution. If he, or any
other member, declaring his conviction that a
judge has misdemeaned himself in office, will
exhibit to the House a statement of any fact, or
series of facts, which would warrant an im-
peachment, I wiU be ready instantly to vote for
an inquiry. But nothing of this kind is exhib-
ited, and therefore the resolution on the table
is now opposed. Before you agree to oppress a
judge with all that weight of suspicion which
may be imposed by a vote of this House, let
him be permitted to know what part of his con-
duct is supposed to be exceptionable, that op-
portunity may be had in the progress of any in-
quiry to vindicate himself against unmerited
reproaches ! Instead of a course of proceeding



H. 01' R.]

Official Conduct of Judge Chase.

[January, 1804.

so fair and obviously just, the resolution on the
table marks two of the judges for public suspi-
cion, witliout specifying any supposed miscon-
duct. It marks them as public objects of sus-
picion throughout the whole of their judicial
life, and, without naming any thing, invites pri-
vate enemies to accuse them of every thing.

To snjjport such a resolution, common fame
has been mentioned in the course of debate, as
a sufficient ground of proceeding ; and thi.s idea
is supposed to be authorized by English prece-
dent. Whatever may have been done formerly,
and in a period of rudeness or violence, the more
improved system of modern jurisprudence
should discard such a doctrine if it ever pre-
vailed. But even that doctrine, if admitted,
would not justify you in adopting the present
resolution. You cannot thence infer the pro-
priety of proceeding against a person who is
not accused of any thing punishable. Will it
be pretended that the common fame, which is
to be a ground of proceeding, does not refer to
any offence oi- to any transaction ? Common
fame, if admitted for proof, must be supposed
to apply to some subject of complaint. On the
principle even of this very questionable doctrine,
a statement of some charge is requisite. What,
then, in tlie present case, is the accusation
which could be supported by common fame?
If there be any such, let it be stated.

The gentlemen who advocate the resolution
in its present form fail in their efforts to sup-
port it, notwithstanding all the aid which they
have sought from "the leading-strings and
crutches of precedents," (to use the language of
the gentleman from Virginia.) On general
principles, on the broad basis of universal right,
the resolution is condemned ; and no precedent
is adduced which can justify it. I do not wish
to shield any public officers, whether judges or
others, who may merit impeachment, but I wish
the House, when acting as public accusers, to
proceed in such a manner as not to do injury to
any individual. Justice is due to the individual
as well as to the public: No puMic duty can
i-equire this House to adopt a resolution of gen-
eral reproach, yet stating no public offence.
And it but illy accords with the principles of
justice to subject the judicial oifcers of the
Union to all the inconvenience, vexation, and
expense, of being obliged to vindicate them-
selves against secret accusations, which it may
be more difficult to discover than to over-

You will observe, sir, that I do not enter into
any particular examination of the case referred
to by the gentleman from Pennsylvania, (Mr.
Smilie,) whether there was a controversy as to
prerogative and privilege between the court
and the bar, in which the pride of professional
rank appeared in opposition to judicial authori-
ty. Wliether the judge very properly refused
to yield to the counsel, or whether the court
committed an error in pronouncing the law,
these are topics which I think it needless to ex-
amine in considering the resolution now on the

table ; for the resolution itself states noth-
ing, and there is no case before us for exam-

On so grave a subject as the present, when
we are called upon to aid in the administration
of justice, it was to be desired that the advo-
cates of the resolution should so far regard their
own exhortations as to refrain from attempting
to enkindle the animosity of party. The gen-
tleman from Pennsylvania (Mr. Smilie) seems
to have thought himself at liberty to pursue a
different course. But, considering the nature
of the question on which our votes are to be
given, I hope to' be excused if I deem it not
proper in this debate to reply to him on the va-
rious topics of party discussion which he has
chosen to mention, although the task might be
easy indeed to repel his charges against the
former Administration. A single observation,
howevei', may be proper on a law to which he
has alluded in tlie language of censure. There
was at least one prominent feature which might
recommend it to the friends of truth. It ex-
pressly declared that the truth might be given
in evidence.

Mr. Dennis observed that in the course of
the remarks which he had the honor of making
yesterday, he had declared himself in favor of
the proposed investigation, provided it were
made on proper principles ; and, in order the
more clearly to illustrate his ideas and evince
his sincerity, he had read in his place a resolu-
tion embracing all the facts which had been
suggested to the House as the foundation of this
proceeding. He had then said he would not
pledge himself to offer a resolution such as he
then read, but would vote for it if offered by
others. As the gentleman from Virginia (Mr.
Randolph) had not accepted his overtures, and
in the course of his observations had done him
the honor of noticing some of his ideas express-
ed in yesterday's debate, he rose principally for
the purpose of offering an amendment, and
partly for the purpose of replying to one or two
of the gentleman's remarks. He was not a little
surprised at the animated strain in which that
gentleman had addressed the House in the
course of this morning, nor did any thing appear
to have fallen from any gentleman, in the course
of the discussion, which appeai-ed to him calcu-
lated to produce so much excitement as he had
manifested. But as he did not claim to set up
his own feelings or his own conduct as the
standard by which the feelings or actions of
others ought to be guided, and as the gentleman
had applied his observations without implicat-
ing motives, he had not at all interrupted the
equanimity of his disposition. He had exercised
a right which he should always be disposed to
accord to that gentleman, and every other
member — the right of placing the observations
of his opponents in the most ludicrous point of
view of which they were susceptible. In this
right he would also indulge himself whenever
the "subject required it.

The gentleman from Virginia, in replying to



January, 1804.]

Official Conduct of Judge Chase.

[H. OF R.

some of his observations, had said that he had
conceived the charge exhibited was of a very
serious nature, but did not appear to compre-
hend in what respect he considered it so, and
therefore he wished to explain in what man-
ner he considered it as such. He considered it
as serious, inasmuch as it was calculated to
excite suspicion and asperse the official conduct
of the gentlemen in question ; but did not mean
to insinuate, but on the contrary repelled the idea
of its being serious as regarded its sufficiency,
if true, as a foundation of impeachment. In
order to show that the conduct of the judges
had not been so highly censurable even as the
statement of the gentleman from Pennsylvania,
(Mr. Smilie,) or his colleague and the gentle-
man from Virginia, seemed to suppose, he beg-
ged leave to state his ideas as to the rectitude
of their conduct. Here he might use the obser-
vation of the gentleman from Virginia, applied
to one of his own remarks, and say that gentle-
man had with no great dexterity confounded
two principles as distant from each other as
the northern and the southern pole. He seem-
ed to assimilate the case in which the court
have arbitrarily withdrawn the question of law
entirely from the jury, to the conduct of the
court in this case, which only went to restrict
the counsel from arguing before the jury a case
already settled in the minds of the court, by a
train of judicial determinations in similar cases,
and in which they left both law and fact to the
determination of the jury ; directing them as to
the law upon the subject. He was warranted
in his opinion, because the gentleman from Vir-
ginia, in illustrating some of his positions, had
cited the case of libel as decided by Lord Mans-
field, and Mr. Fox's celebrated declaratory bill,
which grew out of that decision. What anal-
ogy has that case to the case in question ? Lord
Mansfield decided that in the case of a libel, all
the jury had to do was to find the fact of publi-
cation or not, and that whether when published
it were criminal or not, they had no right to
determine, and thus withdrew the question of
law altogether from their decision. This was
justly regarded as a gross violation of that
principle of the criminal law of that country,
which invests the jury with the right to decide
as well on the law as on the fact. This principle I
fully acknowledge, and if the court in the case
of Fries had deprived the jury of that right, and
withdrawn the question of law from them,
there might be some foundation for this resolu-
tion. But, according to the statement of the
gentleman from Pennsylvania, the question of
law and fact were both submitted to the jury,
with the instructions of the com-t on the legal
question. He had always been taught to be-
lieve that the court were the proper organ
through which the law was to be communicated
to the jury, though he did not deny but the
jury had the right which they should cautiously
exercise, but which they would always exercise,
when they discover an inclination in the court
to oppress the citizen or exculpate the guilty,

to reject the direction of the court and decide
for themselves.

But the complaint is, that the court denied to
the counsel the privilege of arguing the law
before the jury. Mr. Dennis said he believed
the court possessed a power of this nature, to
be regulated by a sound discretion. If the
court should beheve that a question had been
put at rest by a long train of judicial deci-
sions, such as was the case in this instance, they
not only have the right, but it becomes their
duty to prevent a useless consumption of time,
and to prohibit the counsel from agitating the
question. Indeed it is indelicate in the counsel to
impress on the jury an opinion of law contrary
to the known opinion of the court ; nor is there
any court who will not take on themselves
the right of checking counsel, in an attempt to
mislead the jury on a question of lav\-. Such
was the practice of the courts in Maryland, and
in that country from which we derive all our no-
tions of jurisprudence.

But though he did not conceive that there
was any ground for impeachment in the state-
ment of the gentleman from Pennsylvania, yet
he knew that this discussion would produce a
vague and undefined censure, which he believed
the judges in question ought to have an oppor-
tunity of repelling. He therefore moved the
following amendment, by way of preamble to
the resolution:

"Whereas information has been given to the Honse
by one of its members, that, in a certain prosecution
for treason on the part of the United States against
a certain John Fries, pending in the circuit court of
the United States in the State of Pennsylvania, Sam-
uel Chase, one of the Associate Justices of the Su-
preme Court of the United States, and Richard Pe-
ters, district judge for the district of Pennsylvania,
by whom the said circuit court was then holden, did
inform the counsel for the prisoner, that as the court
had formed their opinion upon the point of law, and
would direct the jury thereupon, the counsel for the
prisoner must confine their argument before the jury
to the question of the fact only ; and whereas it is
represented, that, in consequence of such determina-
tion of the court, the counsel did refuse to address
the jury on the question of fact, and the said John
Fries was found guilty of treason, and sentenced hj
the court to the punishment in such case by the laws
of the United States provided, and was pardoned by
the President of the United States :

Resolved^ That a committee be appointed to investi-
gate the truth of the said allegations, and to report
a statement of facts in the case aforesaid, with their
opinion thereupon, whether the said Samuel Chase
and Richard Peters, or either of them, have so con-
ducted themselves on the trial aforesaid as to render
necessary the interposition of the constitutional pow-
ers of this House.

This amendment embraces all the facts stated
by the gentleman from Pennsylvania, points
out a specific charge as the foundation of the
proceeding, and yet, when attached to the reso-
lution, gives to the committee the power of
general inquiry.

"We axe told that the facts have been stated



H. OF R.]

Official Conduct of Jtidge Chase.

[Jakdart, 1804.

by a member on the floor, and there is no rea-
son for stating them in the resolution. Will
the statement of the gentleman from Pennsyl-
vania appear on your journals, and how will
it hereafter be known that any fact was stated
as the foundation on which to erect a commit-
tee with general inquisitorial powers ? Posteri-
ty will only see the resolution, and to them it
will be a precedent which will justify the crea-
tion of a committee of inquiry into the official
conduct of any officer, without the allegation
of a single fact, whenever a member may choose
to be of opinion that a vexatious and expensive
proceeding shall be instituted. It was therefore
that he wished to resist the principle, and for
that purpose moved the amendment.

Mr. HuGEE said he had before stated, and he
now repeated, that he was not averse to an in-
vestigation ; but he did not consider himself
bound to vote for a resolution so general and
vague. If the amendment of the gentleman
from Maryland were adopted, he should vote
for the resolution.

Mr. Nicholson moved to amend the amend-
ment, by striking out the whole of it after the
word " Whereas," and by inserting —

" Members of this House have stated in their pla-
ces that they have heard certain acts of official
misconduct alleged against Samuel Chase, one of the
Associate Justices of the Supreme Com-t of the United
States, and Richard Peters, judge of the district court
of the district of Pennsylvania."

Mr. HuGEB had no objection to the insertion
of the last amendment, but he had to striking
out the first. He therefore called for the yeas
and nays upon striking out.

The question was then taken by yeas and nays
upon stviking out, and carried — yeas 79, nays
41, as follows :

Yeas. — Willis Alston, jun., Nathaniel Alexander,
David Bard, Geo. Michael Bedinger, Phanuel Bish-
op, William Blackledge, Adam Boyd, John Boyle,
Robert Brown, Joseph Bryan, WiJHam Butler,
George W. Campbell, Levi Casey, Joseph Clay, John
Clopton, Jacob Crowninshield, William Dickson,
John B. Earle, Peter Early, Ebenezer Elmer, John
W. Eppes, Wm. Eustis, William Findlay, John Fow-
ler, James Gillespie, Edwin Gray, Andrew Gregg,
John A. Hanna, Josiah Hasbrouck, William Hoge,
James Holland, David Holmes, Walter Jones, Wil-
liam Kennedy, Nehemiah Knight, Michael Leib, John
B. C. Lucas, Matthew Lyon, Andrew McCord, David
Meriwether, Samuel L. Mitchill, Nicholas R. Moore,
Thomas Moore, Jeremiah Morrow, Anthony New,
Thomas Newton, jun., Joseph H. Nicholson, Gideon
Olin, Beriah Palmer, John Patterson, Oliver Phelps,
John Randolph, jun., Thomas M. Randolph, John
Rea of Pennsylvania, John Rhea of Tennessee, Ja-
cob Richards, Erastus Root, Thomas Sammons,
Thomas Sanford, Ebenezer Seaver, Tompson J. Skin-
ner, James Sloan, John Smilie, John Smith of Vir-
ginia, Richard Stanford, Joseph Stanton, John Stew-
art, David Thomas, Philip R. Thompson, Abram
Trigg, John Trigg, Philip Van Cortlandt, Isaac Van
Home, Joseph B. Vamum, Matthew Walton, John
WhitehUl, Richard Wynn, Joseph Winston, and Thom-
as Wynns.

Nays. — Simeon Baldwin, Silas Betton, John Camp-
bell, William Chamberliu, Martin Chittenden, Clif-
ton Claggett, Manassch Cutler, Samuel W. Dana,
John Davenport, John Dennis, Thomas Dwight,
James Elliot, Thomas Griffin, Gaylord Griswold,
Roger Griswold, Seth Hastings, David Hough, Ben-
jamin Huger, Samuel Hunt, Joseph Lewis, jun.,
Thomas Lewis, Henry W. Livingston, Thomas
Lowndes, Nahum Mitchell, James Mott, Thomas
Plater, Samuel D. Purviance, Joshua Sands, John
Cotton Smith, John Smith of New York, William
Stedman, James Stephenson, Samuel Taggart, Sam-
uel Taney, Samuel Thatcher, George Tibbits, Killian

Online LibraryUnited States. CongressAbridgment of the Debates of Congress, from 1789 to 1856. From Gales and Seatons' Annals of Congress; from their Register of debates; and from the official reported debates, by John C. Rives → online text (page 30 of 183)