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Nicholas More Impeachment: 1685

Defendant: Nicholas More
Crimes Charged: High crimes and misdemeanors
Chief Defense Lawyer: None
Chief Prosecutor: None
Place: Philadelphia, Colony of Pennsylvania
Date of Indictment: May 15, 1685
Verdict: None, although More was relieved of his judicial duties

SIGNIFICANCE: Like other early America impeachments, Pennsylvania's methods for impeaching a sitting judge were drawn from English precedents and from procedures improvised at the time due to immediate need. The Nicholas More case illustrated a potential area for conflict both between various branches of government and between the colonies and the distant mother country.

Most American colonies had no specific provision for impeachment in their charters. As needed, colonial legislatures appropriated to themselves the same right to impeach an official that England's House of Commons exercised. By the early 1700s, as American impeachments came to the attention of the Privy Council, crown lawyers repeatedly stated that colonial assemblies had no such right. Provincial legislators fashioned legal justifications for colonial impeachments during the decades-long quarrel between Mother England and her daughter colonies concerning parliamentary authority vs. colonial autonomy in local affairs.

William Penn, proprietor of the colony of Pennsylvania, appointed Nicholas More as chief justice in 1684. Like many of Penn's political appointments, More was a man of wealth. He had purchased 10,000 acres of land from Penn. Penn believed that men with a stake in the colony's future would serve Pennsylvania best, and he had faith in the abilities of men of business. Unfortunately, More, a physician with no legal training, was arrogant and contentious and thus temperamentally unsuited to the job.

Using a brief clause in Pennsylvania's Charter of Liberties, the Assembly impeached More. On May 15, 1685, an Assembly member introduced a formal complaint. More, a delegate that day, was asked to withdraw. After some discussion, the individual articles of impeachment were approved one by one. To name a few, the Assembly charged that More had: bullied a jury into rendering an unjust verdict; mistreated judges; harassed a witness; summoned juries unlawfully; altered a charge; and missed serving in several circuit courts. The articles were then presented to the colony's Council, which decided to hear evidence on the following day and ordered More to appear to answer the charges.

Furious, More refused to appear even when threatened with being "ejected as an unprofitable refusedmembertoappear of the House." Nor could the Assembly obtain records from the Provincial Court. The court's clerk, Patrick Robinson, made excuses for not turning over the records and continued to do so after his arrest on the Assembly's warrant.

After days of squabbling, the Assembly expelled More from the legislature and resolved that Robinson ought to be dismissed from his office. Even without court records, the Assembly presented enough evidence to the Council to substantiate several charges. John White, the Assembly's speaker, asked that both More and Robinson be removed from their offices.

The Council was inclined to do nothing. Although it finally deprived More of his bench, the Council avoided taking the impeachment matter further. Robinson remained in office one more year until impertinence to judges lost him his position.

After several months, the Assembly sent a petition to Penn. Penn's reaction was simply to appoint More to the five-member board that made up the Executive of the Province. More never served and he died in 1689.

Teddi DiCanio

Suggestions for Further Reading:

Hoffer, Peter Charles, and N.E.H. Hull. Impeachment in America, 1635-18)5. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1984.

Lewis, Jr., Lawrence. "The Courts of Pennsylvania in the Seventeenth Century." Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. V. Philadelphia: Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 1881.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1637 to 1832