We asked him in the lightly edited conversation below what something meant to curb the power of kings of England has to do with the current President of the United States.
CNN: I found it really interesting the way you tied the idea of impeachment back to the Magna Carta and how lords used it almost as a form of protection against the king. Is there anything left from that original meaning in the way it is applied today?
BOWMAN: For centuries, the kings and queens of England were the dictators of their age, with the added advantage that they could claim a divine right to rule. They sought close-to-absolute power when they could. The other power centers in the society — hereditary aristocrats (lords), landowners, clergy, merchants, lawyers, judges and others — clustered in Parliament and fought for the idea that the king ruled under the law with an obligation to serve the whole kingdom, not merely his personal interests.
Parliament couldn’t use impeachment to depose the king himself, but they did use it to bring down ministers of the king who promoted absolute royal power and denied the authority of Parliament and the laws. They charged such ministers with subverting the “ancient and well established form of government” of the kingdom and introducing tyranny.
Under our Constitution, impeachment extends all the way to the person who heads the executive branch, the president. And the basic theory of the most important old English impeachments is built into our Constitution. We…