The Impeachment of Senator William Blount

The Impeachment of Senator William Blount

Background of the Case

William Blount was one of the founding fathers of the American nation and also appears in history as the first public official to face impeachment proceedings. He was appointed governor of Tenessee in 1790 by George Washington and later became one of the two senators of Tennessee when it entered the Union in 1796 (Romney, 2017). His role in the American nation was profound, having served in the revolutionary army, the continental congress, the North Carolina legislature and as a signer of the constitution. Yet, it was his land speculation that would lead him into betraying public trust and subsequently facing senate trial. He ended up in financial turmoil through land dealings and wanted to get around it in unlawful means. The Senator came up with an audacious plan to enlist Cherokee Indians and frontiersmen to attack the Spanish territory of Florida and Louisiana and transfer them to the British (Henry, 2015). This would have prevented Spain from ceding the territories to France which would have depreciated the value of his Southwestern land holdings. His letter in which the plan was articulated fell in the wrong hands of John Adams, the federalist President who immediately turned it over to the house and the senate for the commencement of hearings against Blount (Maskell, 2008). It was further alleged that he had sought the help of a US interpreter to seize the lands with the help of the Indians and frontiersmen and hand them over to the British.

Legal and Statutory means of Senate Accountability

Senate accountability is provided for in the constitution where it is stated that impeachment is the proper way of removing elected officials from office. Impeachment can only be on grounds of bribery, treason and felonies or major misdemeanors (Maskell, 2008). The powers to remove senators from office are exclusively on the hands of the senate with no other grounds provided in statute or common law. However, if a senator is convicted of a statutory criminal offense encompassing abuse of office, this can also trigger impeachment proceedings in the house and the senate. Both common law and statutory provisions are therefore weak in providing for senate accountability given that they can only act as triggers to the constitutional process of removing a senator through impeachment proceedings (Maskell, 2008). The latter has proved quite unreliable as well, given that removal from office requires a senate trial and a vote that must be passed by a two thirds majority in the house. 

There are also quite a number of legal, managerial and political challenges in holding the senate into account. Legally, the definition of major misdemeanors that can lead to impeachment has been left to interpretation and is an area that can provide a myriad of legal challenges. Politicians may use the open nature of that provision to bring unjustified articles of impeachment against their rivals while culpable persons can challenge their indictment on the standards of the same provision (Maskell, 2008). As evident in the Blount case, there is also a legal challenge in determining senate authority. While the law provides that the senate can expel a member by a two thirds majority vote but confers no jurisdiction to commit them into trial. On such grounds, Blount’s charges were dismissed and he went ahead to be elected senator in the state of Tennessee. In terms of management, arresting a Senator and compelling him to stand trial remains a major problem. In the case of Blount for instance, the Sergeant-at-Arms was prevented by the senator’s supporters from arresting him and his trial had to proceed without him. Politically, an impeachment is hard to achieve due to the majority vote needed in the Senate and the House of Representatives (Maskell, 2008). No wonder, no politician has ever been successfully removed from office through the mechanism.

Resolution of the Blount Case

Though the senate voted to expel Blount, a vote to determine its authority to try him was defeated. He never even attended the trial and instead went back to Tennessee where he was elected to the state’s senate and appointed speaker, a position he served till his death in 1800 (Romney, 2017). The conclusion of the case of definitely undesirable as it painted the senate as hapless in dealing with errant legislators. The determination that the house had no jurisdiction to try a senator created a bad precedent that has sufficed a legal conundrum to date. 

Personal and Office Ethics

Public administrators are held by both personal and office ethics. At a personal level, an officer must have a sense of right and wrong. This is based on their core values, which are gained from parental and societal interactions. Office ethics on the other hand are provided for at the professional level, and vary depending on the office one holds. In public administration, one is required to observe integrity, serve in the interest of the people, uphold the constitution and other laws while also maintain the values of the public systems they serve (Henry, 2015). Some of these ethical duties converge with personal ethics, for instance integrity and observing the constitution and other laws. They however diverge in terms of upholding the values of the regime that one serves and having a moral obligation to the people. The consequence of the divergence is the need for individuals to understand the implications of becoming public officers (Romney, 2017). Their ethical obligations become extended in the process and the expectations of the public on them equally grow. Thereby, all public administrators must understand that they lose some of the individual privileges by assuming office and subject themselves to a higher level of scrutiny.  

Implications of Blount Case

The seemingly failed removal from office of Senator Blount has had significant implications on subsequent impeachments and cases of politicians violating public trust. To date, no senator or president has ever been successfully removed from office through impeachment and the issue of senate’s authority to try its members remains a legal problem (Henry, 2015). While it is clear that the senate has powers to expel a member on the various grounds of impeachment laid down in the constitution, they lack the authority to conduct a trial for the same members and bar them from holding public office. Most impeachment proceedings against politicians have proven to be complicated no matter the weight of the charges they face. A good example is the case of Bill Clinton and Andrew Johnson who were both successfully impeached in the House of Representatives only for the senate to run short of the two thirds majority vote required for their removal from office (Romney, 2017). Only politically unaligned public officers have since been impeached with eight federal judges the only victims of the law. As such impeachment proceedings have been rendered inconsequential when putting political authority into account. 


Henry, N. (2015). Public administration and public affairs. Routledge.

Maskell, J. (2008). Status of a Senator Who Has Been Indicted for or Convicted of a Felony. Congressional Research Service.

Romney, M. R. (2017). The Origins and Scope of Presidential Impeachment. Hinckley Journal of Politics2.

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