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Publication Date

January 1993


At the beginning of the Civil War many individuals who held positions under the United States government submitted resignations which, in their minds, allowed them to assume positions with the so-called government of the Confederate States of America. One of the few individuals who did not do so, but nevertheless assumed a position under the Confederate States of America was U.S. District Judge West H. Humphreys. After the Confederacy was formed, he continued to hold court in the same courtroom but under the guise of a Confederate States Judge.

This presented two problems for President Lincoln and the Unionists. First, without even the thin reed of resignation to attempt to protect him, this made Humphreys a visible and active traitor. Second, though one could argue that Humphreys had functionally vacated the U.S. District Court judgeship, others could make arguments that as long as Humphreys had not resigned there was no vacancy for President Lincoln to fill.

Apparently with pressure from the Unionists of Tennessee, a decision was made to pursue impeachment proceedings against Judge Humphreys. The House voted for impeachment and elected as one of the managers future 14th Amendment author John A. Bingham. (R-OH.) He was the principle lawyer examining witnesses in the trial before the U.S. Senate. While it was a relatively short trial, it gave Bingham experience that no doubt proved useful later in the impeachment proceeding against Andrew Johnson.

Judge Humphreys was ultimately convicted and removed from office, thus creating an opening for Unionist Connolly F. Trigg to be appointed judge in his place. Moreover, Judge Humphreys unintentionally earned a footnote in history as the first official who was not only convicted, but also permanently barred from holding any office under the United States government. This article tells the story of Congressman Bingham's prosecution of the trial to a successful conclusion.

Publication Title

The Georgia Journal of Southern Legal History

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