The Clinton scandalfocuses attention on
Buckner Melton -s obscure specialty.
The considerable aspirations of Sen. William Blount of Tennessee took a dramatic downturn in the
spring of 1797 with the revelation ofa
letter in which Blount discussed his plans
to conspire with the British government to
establish a new territory in the American
Southwest on land still claimed by Spain.
The letter described a plan to wrest
control of the lands by creating a new
territory of which Blount, originally from
Bertie County, N.C., and a signer of the
Constitution, would be governor. By early
summer the letter was in federal hands in
Philadelphia. Congress voted to impeach
the senator on July 7, and the Senate
voted to expel him the very next day.
Blount is more than a footnote in his-
tory to Buckner Melton ' 96 OD). Melton
has had a fascination with the concept of
impeachn"lent since he was 10 years old.
The Watergate hearings were being held,
and he didn't understand what they
meant until his father took him aside.
"He was a lawyer and something of a
teacher, and in very grave and dramatic
tern1S he explained what was going on,
and the whole drama of impeachment
stuck with me," said Melton, director of
instructional technology in the UNC law
school. Later, when he was looking for a
dissertation topic, the Iran-Contra scandal
hit. There was talk in the air ofimpeach-
ing Ronald Reagan, and Melton's idea to
base his thesis on impeachment began to
take shape. When he started looking for
an interesting impeachment in our past,
he found William Blount.
Melton's recent book, The First Impeach-
"I've been trying to introduce them to
ment: The Constitution's Framers and the
Case if Senator William Blount, is only part
of the reason Melton was besieged with
calls from the press and politicians alike as
the start of the impeachment process loomed
over President Clinton. Melton is consid-
ered one ofthe top experts on the process,
especially its historical precedents. In
mid-September National Public Radio,
U.S. News and World Report, MSNBC-
and several members of Congress- kept
Buck Melton's line buzzing.
"If you can make history work for you, t hat's an
important thing to be doing at this point," Melton says.
both the legal and the political aspects of
the process," he said. "There's very little
in the way ofprecedent for this sort of
thing, so you have to wring every drop
ofinformation you can out of earlier
impeachment proceedings. I don't think
that they intend to be slaves to history,
and I don't think they should be. But if
you can make history work for you,
that's an important thing to be doing at
Melton umher noted that there is no
legal mandate spelled out in the Consti-
tution for such a congressional investiga-
tion. "You can't find anything in the
written document that says Congress will
have the power to investigate things like
this. And yet that power developed based
on the Blount impeachment and on a
couple of earlier investigations as well."