We have come to see the Congress of today as a slow moving monolith, set in its ways, and unyielding to change. Yet in the early years of the Republic, there was a great shock from within the Senate house that moved it to expel and soon began impeachment trials for one of its own members for the first time in American history. What’s more is that the man they did this to, was a native of North Carolina, and a signer of the Federal Constitution in 1787, and his name has even been graced on one of the major streets in the North Carolina capital city, Raleigh. His name is William Blount, and his rise and fall is one that provides quite an interesting read.
Born in 1749 in Bertie County, William rose to prominence during the American Revolution, being a paymaster for the Continental Army, serving as a member of the Continental Congress, and later a delegate to the Constitutional Convention. Blount was very much a part of the founding of the American nation, so much so that Washington himself made Blount the first territorial governor of what would become Tennessee. As the territory became a part of the Union, Blount was made a representative of the U.S. Senate for the state, which set the stage for his downfall in the Senate.
Due to financial troubles, Blount began communicating with British officers to coordinate Indian and other militant groups to aid the British military in acquiring the territory of Florida from the Spanish. When the plot was uncovered and President John Adams was informed of the senator’s intentions, the House of Representatives was allowed to officially expel Blount from his seat and soon impeachment proceedings were initiated, but the charges were later dismissed, since the act of expulsion was seen as sufficient punishment for his actions, setting a precedent for future proceedings.
In an odd twist of fate, Blount was elected to Tennessee’s State Senate during the time of his impeachment, and soon became its president. He died in 1800, and has since remembered with dedications in North Carolina, Tennessee, few know of the story of the man behind these landmarks, and the dark legacy he has left with the American story.
“Blount, William, (1749 – 1800)”, Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=B000570, accessed 8/29/2012
“Jul 7, 1797:The impeachment of Senator Blount”, History.com, http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/the-impeachment-of-senator-blount, accessed 8/29/2012