Open main menu
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

of that control which the Commons had obtained under Richard II. and the Lancastrian kings, and partly from the preference the Tudor princes had given to bills of attainder or pains and penalties when they wished to turn the arm of parliament against an obnoxious subject.” Revived in the reign of James I., it became an instrument of parliamentary resistance to the crown, and it was not unfrequently resorted to in the first three reigns after the Revolution.

In the United States the procedure of impeachment both in the national and in almost all of the state governments is very similar to that described above. The national constitution prescribes that the House of Representatives “shall have the sole power of impeachment” and that “the Senate shall have the sole power to try all impeachments.” The House appoints managers to conduct the prosecution at the bar of the Senate, and the vote of the Senate is taken by putting the question separately to each member, who, during the trial, must be on oath or affirmation. In ordinary cases the president or president pro tempore of the Senate presides, but when the president of the United States is on trial the presiding officer must be the chief justice of the United States Supreme Court. A two-thirds vote is necessary for conviction. The president, vice-president or any civil officer of the United States may be impeached for “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanours,” and if convicted, is removed from office and may be disqualified for holding any office under the government in future. The officer after removal is also “liable and subject to indictment, trial, judgment and punishment, according to law.” The term “civil officers of the United States” has been construed as being inapplicable to members of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The president’s pardoning power does not extend to officers convicted, on impeachment, of offences against the United States. Since the organization of the Federal government there have been only eight impeachment trials before the United States Senate, and of these only two—the trials of Judge John Pickering, a Federal District judge for the District of New Hampshire, in 1803, on a charge of making decisions contrary to law and of drunkenness and profanity on the bench, and of Judge W. H. Humphreys, Judge of the Federal District Court of Tennessee, in 1863, on a charge of making a secession speech and of accepting a judicial position under the Confederate Government—resulted in convictions. The two most famous cases are those of Justice Samuel Chase of the United States Supreme Court in 1805, and of President Andrew Johnson, the only chief of the executive who has been impeached, in 1868. There is a conflict of opinion with regard to the power of the House to impeach a Federal officer who has resigned his office, and also with regard to the kind of offences for which an officer can be impeached, some authorities maintaining that only indictable offences warrant impeachment, and others that impeachment is warranted by any act highly prejudicial to the public welfare or subversive of any essential principle of government. The latter view was adopted by the House of Representatives when it impeached President Johnson.

IMPERIAL CHAMBER (Reichskammergericht), the supreme judicial court of the Holy Roman Empire, during the period between 1495 and the dissolution of the Empire in 1806. From the early middle ages there had been a supreme court of justice for the Empire—the Hofgericht (or curia imperatoris, as it were), in which the emperor himself presided. By his side sat a body of assessors (Urtheilsfinder), who must be at least seven in number, and who might, in solemn cases, be far more numerous,[1] the assessors who acted varying from time to time and from case to case. The Hofgericht was connected with the person of the emperor; it ceased to act when he was abroad; it died with his death. Upon him it depended for its efficiency; and when, in the 15th century, the emperor ceased to command respect, his court lost the confidence of his subjects. The dreary reign of Frederick III. administered its deathblow and after 1450 it ceased to sit. Its place was taken by the Kammergericht, which appeared side by side with the Hofgericht from 1415, and after 1450 replaced it altogether. The king (or his deputy) still presided in the Kammergericht and it was still his personal court; but the members of the court were now officials—the consiliarii of the imperial aula (or Kammer, whence the name of the court). It was generally the legal members of the council who sat in the Kammergericht (see under Aulic Council); and as they were generally doctors of civil law, the court which they composed tended to act according to that law, and thus contributed to the “Reception” of Roman law into Germany towards the end of the 15th century. The old Hofgericht had been filled, as it were, by amateurs (provided they knew some law, and were peers of the person under trial), and it had acted by old customary law; the Kammergericht, on the contrary, was composed of lawyers, and it acted by the written law of Rome. Even the Kammergericht, however, fell into disuse in the later years of the reign of Frederick III.; and the creation of a new and efficient court became a matter of pressing necessity, and was one of the most urgent of the reforms which were mooted in the reign of Maximilian I.

This new court was eventually created in 1495; and it bore the name of Reichskammergericht, or Imperial Chamber. It was distinguished from the old Kammergericht by the essential fact that it was not the personal court of the emperor, but the official court of the Empire (or Reich—whence its name). This change was a natural result of the peculiar character of the movement of reform which was at this time attempted by the electors, under the guidance of Bertold, elector of Mainz. Their aim was to substitute for the old and personal council and court appointed and controlled by the emperor a new and official council, and a new and official court, appointed and controlled by the diet (or rather, in the ultimate resort, by the electors). The members of the Imperial Chamber, which was created by the diet in 1495 in order to serve as such a court,[2] were therefore the agents of the Empire, and not of the emperor. The emperor appointed the president; the Empire nominated the assessors, or judges.[3] There were originally sixteen assessors (afterwards, as a rule, eighteen): half of these were to be doctors of Roman law, while half were to be knights; but after 1555 it became necessary that the latter should be learned in Roman law, even if they had not actually taken their doctorate.

Thus the Empire at last was possessed of a court, a court resting on the enactment of the diet, and not on the emperor’s will; a court paid by the Empire, and not by the emperor; a court resident in a fixed place (until 1693, Spires, and afterwards, from 1693 to 1806, Wetzlar), and not attached to the emperor’s person. The original intention of the court was that it should repress private war (Fehde), and maintain the public peace (Landfriede). The great result which in the issue it served to achieve was the final “Reception” of Roman law as the common law of Germany. That the Imperial Chamber should itself administer Roman law was an inevitable result of its composition; and it was equally inevitable that the composition and procedure of the supreme imperial court should be imitated in the various states which composed the Empire, and that Roman law should thus become the local, as it was already the central, law of the land.

The province of the Imperial Chamber, as it came to be gradually defined by statute and use, extended to breaches of the public peace, cases of arbitrary distraint or imprisonment, pleas which concerned the treasury, violations of the emperor’s decrees or the laws passed by the diet, disputes about property between immediate tenants of the Empire or the subjects of different rulers, and finally suits against immediate tenants of the Empire (with the exception of criminal charges and matters relating to imperial fiefs, which went to the Aulic Council). It

  1. For instance, all the members of the diet might serve as Urtheilsfinder in a case like the condemnation of Henry the Lion, duke of Saxony, in the 12th century.
  2. The attempt to create a new and official council ultimately failed.
  3. More exactly, the emperor nominates, according to the regular usage of later times, a certain number of members, partly as emperor, and partly as the sovereign of his hereditary estates; while the rest, who form the majority, are nominated partly by the electors and partly by the six ancient circles.