Times Update (& More About the Belknap Case)

Well, the NYT has silently corrected the online version of the Stolberg story I complained about this morning in my posting “Times Reporter Forgets That Gonzales is Impeachable”. When I correct stuff here (more than five minutes after posting it), I indicate the changes with strikeout or “update”. The online NYT seems to operate by different rules. Something to keep in mind when citing it.

The old version can (for the moment at least) be viewed at the International Herald Tribune.

Meanwhile, I've found an interesting article by John Dean which discusses the (hitherto unknown to me) details of the impeachment of Secretary of War William Belknap,

Impeachment of Secretary of War William Belknap, in the aftermath of the Civil War, is the only precedent for using these proceedings against subordinate executive officers. Belknap was said to be involved in a kickback scheme involving military contracts. Just hours before the House was to vote to impeach him, Belknap resigned. Nonetheless, on March 2, 1876, the House impeached the former cabinet officer, and the five articles of impeachment were presented to the Senate.

The Senate trial lasted five months. (Today, such a trial would likely be handled by a trial committee of twelve senators, with a final debate and vote by the full Senate.) A central issue in the Belknap case was whether his resignation had terminated the jurisdiction of the Congress, and whether impeachment was still appropriate when his removal was no longer at issue. The Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Representative J. Proctor Knott, who was trying the case before the Senate, explained the controversy as follows:

“Was the only purpose of this disqualification simply to preserve the Government from the danger to be apprehended from the single convicted criminal?” Knott rhetorically asked. “Very far from it, sir. That in reality constituted but a very small part of the design. The great object, after all, was that his infamy might be rendered conspicuous, historic, eternal, in order to prevent the occurrence of like offenses in the future. The purpose was not simply to harass, to persecute, to wantonly degrade, or take vengeance upon a single individual; but it was that other officials through all time might profit by his punishment, might be warned by his political ostracism, by the ever-lasting stigma fixed upon his name by the most august tribunal on earth, to avoid the dangers upon which he wrecked, and withstand the temptations under which he fell; to teach them that if they should fall under like temptations they will fall, like Lucifer, never to rise again.”

By two votes, Belknap escaped conviction in the Senate. Had he not resigned, however, there is little question he would have been found guilty, removed and disqualified. Belknap's proceedings are a clear precedent for impeaching and disqualifying “civil officers,” but the case has not resolved the issue of merely disqualifying an official who has resigned from holding future office.

There's lots of other interesting stuff about the politics of impeachment in Dean's Findlaw article too.

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One Response to Times Update (& More About the Belknap Case)

  1. hipparchia says:

    back in the bad old days of journalism-on-paper, running correction notices at a later date, in another section of the paper [or magazine], was the only way to notify the reading public of any errors. these days, there’s no excuse for not using strike-through or updates, in the corrected article itself. unfortunately, many of the old dinosaurs of paper journalism, though they’re catching on to this cyberspace stuff, still run only those “back page” correction notices far removed from the articles in need of correcting.

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