January 9, 1999
On January 8, 1999, Senator Byrd descended down the aisle of discord to sing a hymn for unity. And there, in that noble historic chamber where some time ago by eloquent dissensions weighty matters were resolutely wrought into fundamental national determinations, both left and right wings beat forcefully against thin air, defiant of the terrible gravity of the situation, and in freedom brought the august body of the United States Senate into unanimous accord with destiny.
Most fearsome is the ordeal the senatorial jurors now face, yet face it they must, just as the world humbly turns every morning to dutifully face the Sun.
Most awesome was the Oath before the Chief Justice to do Impartial Justice by the Constitution, the Oath written in the Oath Book and sworn to therein by means of personal signatures of Good Faith. No matter how much the disconsolate postmodern temper abhors the capitalization of a certain sort of words, and detests the sacrifices implied by the Ideals they stand for, the Conscience feels in the current ceremony a profound fealty to Truth, found eternally reclining on Reality's throne. It is meet therefore to take pause and speculate on the nature of the Oath that cements society in Truth.
The high oath is a formal announcement of the evolved self-conscious life whereby the real identity is rediscovered behind the personal facades of social intercourse. And it is a reaffirmation of the oft forgotten bond of matter to spirit in time and space. Once the necessity of obedience to Truth is realized as the only highway of liberation over the obstructions to its justice, the intentional violation of a voluntary oath in that highest sense is high perjury, a form of high treason. High treason is a breach of the royal peace within the royal court or on the royal highway. It differs from the petty treason inasmuch as petty treason results in forfeitures to lesser lords outside of the king's jurisdiction or by compromise with him.
Within the royal realm, the higher the office the greater the offense no matter how trivial the misdeed may seem, for the more familiar the high officer is with the ultimate authority, the greater the danger of mistakes to the entire realm. The realm itself was gradually extended by virtue of the sovereign power to bring all the land within the jurisdiction of the court; those guilty of high treason forfeited their land if not their lives under the naked sword, while others pledged allegiance and kept the peace.
Our own senators have a very high place in the vestiges of the royal scheme. Their political progenitors were the king's court or council, where law was not so much made as it was truth found out in the people's customs when suit was brought for those offenses committed within the king's peace. Likewise, our senators have an oath to find the truth in the trial of the impeached president.
Of course, we have always expected the parties to a suit and their witnesses to lie. In fact, there were times in history when no oath was expected of them. Indeed, such an oath was deemed contrary to common sense and to religious notions: people have a natural right and duty of self-defense by all possible means; the self-interested person as well as the religious person will obey the injunction to love and aid family and neighbors and not bring suit or testimony against them; the religious person has only one master, therefore an oath in court places him in double jeopardy or forces him to take the supreme being's name in vain, and so on. Hence an oath exacted by the public authority came to be considered not only against reason but as a grievous tyranny violating the sovereign's own peace, especially when used as an instrument of persecution for that authority's own self-aggrandizement; such persecution gave people ample cause to believe the king was not the sole representative of God on earth.
But order must still prevail albeit in another form, and in the evolving legal institution governing combat it was initially the juror from whom was expected a solemn oath to find the truth despite all the lies in court, and the perjurious violation of that oath was a high treason, a crime against the sovereign authority in the administration of justice under the law.
The lesser jury is by analogy a replication of the king's court; there is no court without a king, for without a king there is no execution of the law; the jurors owe absolute obedience to find the truth or suffer the consequences. Some of the old juries, a jury of twelve, for instance, suspected of bringing a false verdict, could be and were arrested and brought before another jury of twenty-four, and were convicted and imprisoned. So it was not the parties and the witnesses who were first charged with an oath but the jurors themselves who were in effect the king's sworn men.
The modern vestige of the supreme court of the king is, in Great Britain, the House of Lords as the High Court of Parliament, which is the final court of appeal. And in America, it is the United States Senate, which tries cases of impeachment; impeachment is considered obsolete in Great Britain.
Therefore, there are several good and sufficient reasons for our senators to approach the trial of an impeached president with trepidation and awe. Their duty to do impartial justice is, of course, a duty to the people of the republic who have sovereignty and not to the temporary sovereign they have elected to represent them in the singular; however, the duty must be performed in reverence for a much higher authority than the public clamor for one verdict over the other. We may recall, by way of illustration, how Friar Michael responded to the people as he was led to his fiery death on the stake. The people, wanting to save his life, pleaded with him to recant his heretical belief, that Jesus was poor and that neither He nor his disciples held property individually or in common:
"The people's voice is God's voice," the crowd entreated Friar Michael to repent.
"Nay, but it was the people's voice that crucified Christ, and slew St. Peter," he declared.
We, the people, also have much to fear and revere in this due process. What we should fear the most, for our own sakes, is that the verdict is, even before the trial is completed, a foregone conclusion in the minds of many of the senatorial jurors. It appears from the revelation of the possibility of this high perjury that we might have a mock trial, mocking by its breach the spirit of the solemn high oath. Such a mockery could only prove that by our neglect we have allowed the lion beneath the throne to sit upon it once again. If that is the case, the old gray bird will have sung in vain, much to the dishonor of those who would pretermit the truth even before it is found. We must hope otherwise for the future of the nation, and we must believe that once a great example is before us in the form of the truth, the opinions of the people will eventually follow.