Essay № 2: The Emoluments Clause
Why is it important and why did the framers include it?
To become President of the United States, the constitution envisions a figure independent of the influence of foreign nationals. At the time of the ratification of the Constitution, our framers sought a republic government that could function without the prevailing eye of an alternate state. The Emoluments Clause of the constitution, Article I, Section 9, Clause 8 reads:
No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign state.
President Donald J. Trump, as of January 20th, 2017 is in violation of this clause in the Constitution — validating the approval for articles of impeachment to proceed. This clause is intended to protect the republican character of our political institutions, assuring that the rule of law is not threatened by exterior forces. Alexander Hamilton in Federalist №22 wrote, “One of the weak sides of republics, among their numerous advantages, is that they afford too easy an inlet to foreign corruption.”
It is not the 2016 election that is of concern, but it is Donald Trump’s extensive business operations that are the matter of debate in this particular essay. This clause in the Constitution was created out of fear of corruption within our own system. It was Charles Pickney on August 23rd, 1787 that advocated for the establishment of a clause that, “urged the necessity of preserving foreign Ministers and other officers of the U.S. independent of external influence.” The clause came about to prevent, diplomats specifically, from being bribed by foreign lucre and being influenced by a foreign actor. That the loyalty of the diplomat remained exclusively with the United States, its government, its people and its Constitution.
However, the clause specifically outlines, “Offices of Profit or Trust under the United States,” which is at the epicenter of much debate. Does an office of “profit” or “trust” extend to all officials holding or appointed in the government/ those who take an oath of office? Additionally, what constitutes as a “gift” under this clause?
Not only did the framers intend for this clause to exist in the Constitution, but they also included it in the Articles of Confederation: “[N]or shall any person holding any office of profit or trust under the United States, or any of them, accept any present, emolument, office, or title of any kind whatever from any King, Prince or foreign State.”
In breaking with his predecessors, starting with President John Adams, Donald J. Trump has chosen not to place his businesses assets into a blind trust. The ultimate concern resounding through the ink in which this clause sits, expunges Trump’s hotel assets in multiple countries. If the framers were alive today, they would be concerned that foreign governments may use his his extensive businesses to gain leverage in order to influence trade, monetary policy or military policy.
It is not expected that foreign actors are to respect the merits of the clause, but it is expected of public officials in the United States, such as the president, to divest their conflict of interests into a blind trust in order to avoid any unwarranted foreign invasion into our government.
The linguistic style and peculiar nature of the clause falls in favor of suggesting the broadest possible construction to the payments it refers to. Due to the construction and style of the phrase, the framers meant for us to understand that this clause unambiguously reaches any situation in which a federal official in the United States government receives any type of item of value, gift, and most importantly services from a foreign actor.
Yet the question above still stands: What qualifies as an emolument or gift?
The clause textually reads, “any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever” (AI, Sec 9, Clause 8) qualifies as a an emolument. Acting as the militant from foreign corruption, the Emoluments Clause forges a bulwark between a foreign state and the sovereignty of the United States. An emolument in any given instance should come to fruition as any money-to-service arrangement that could ever in the slightest, influence the direction of rational decision making from an official in a position of trust.
The framers in their construction of the Constitution bore witness to corruption within the parliamentary system as the King propositioned financial-incentives regarding the members within the system to further his own agenda. In order to refrain from this form of financial co-opting, the framers removed any scenario in which the President or any official of trust’s loyalties lied anywhere but with the United States; not with personal business, foreign governments or figures.
A president who exercises their powers with their business assets in mind, are by nature, placing the importance of the country below personal endeavors. The framers looked to avoid and disqualify any individual from a position of trust in which the United States of America was not the priority interest in rational decision making — to avoid a situation in which decisions were being made that were best for a foreign government rather than our nation.
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