Impeachment is a timely book written in four sections by four different authors: Jon Meacham, Timothy Naftali, Peter Baker and Jeffrey Engel, each of whom contributed a section covering one of the four impeachments that have occurred since the signing of the Constitution. The Trump impeachment was just beginning when this book came out, so most of Engel’s writing is about why the founding fathers included an impeachment clause in the Constitution.
The U.S. was in chaos 10 years after winning the Revolutionary War. It wasn’t a country; it was a collection of entities. Its economy was in shambles. It was half the size it had been at the end of the war. Each state had its own set of laws and operated independently of the others. The federal currency had differing values in each state and was not accepted as a medium of trade.
The obvious cure was to centralize the country with an executive branch headed by a strong leader. This option was also the most feared. A war had just been fought to escape from an absolute monarch, so there was great reluctance to create a structure that could give rise to another. An impeachment clause was put forth by one group as a remedy to prevent a president from accumulating so much power he/she could become a tyrant. Another group feared that the legislature’s power to impeach the president would enfeeble the office to the point of uselessness. The final version addressed both issues – lower barrier (majority vote) for impeachment in the House to allow issues to be aired and a very high standard (two-thirds vote) for conviction in the Senate. Should President Trump have been convicted? Read this book before you make any judgments.
Presidents of War, written by renowned presidential historian Michael Beschloss, informs us of another e ort the Founding Fathers made to limit the powers of the president. They lived in a time of monarchs who had the absolute power to make war. They had just fought a bloody war to throw o the reins of King George III. So they stripped the power to make war from the chief executive and located it in Congress.
Beschloss shows how the acquiescence of Congress has allowed their war-making power to gradually flow to the executive branch over the last 200 years. It began when James Madison influenced Congress to declare war on England in 1812. The principal reason for going to war had been redressed by England after the vote but before any fighting began. Madison should have called off hostilities, but chose not to because he wanted to oust England from the Mississippi region of the U.S. and Canada, which had never been Congress’ intention. Thus began the step-by-step usurpation of power.
James Polk falsely engineered a war to take the entire Southwest from Texas to California to Mexico. Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson disregarded the requirement for congressional approval with impunity. Congress passed the War Powers Act in 1973 in response, which requires congressional approval for war with the exception of a national emergency. It is this act that President Trump has been accused of violating with the killing of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani. Is this an act of war or the killing of a terrorist? Will it lead to war? The world has changed since the inception of this country. Our founders would be flabbergasted that the ultimate delegation of authority to push a button that kills hundreds of millions of people has already been made.
RALPH STAYER, an avid reader and former CEO of Johnsonville Sausage, leads a book club in Naples with about a dozen other high-power friends. The group only reads non-fiction as a way to keep learning and sharpening the mind. Every month, Stayer shares the latest page-turner earning a permanent spot on his ever-expanding bookshelves.