Impeachment Proceedings Against U.S. Presidents
No U.S. President has ever been removed from office via impeachment proceedings. However, three have come very close. Presidents Andrew Johnson and Bill Clintonwere both impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives. Meanwhile, President Richard Nixon resigned before the House voted on his articles of impeachment.
President Andrew Johnson assumed the presidency following the death of Abraham Lincoln. As the country sought to recover from the Civil War, Johnson and the Republican-controlled Congress vehemently disagreed about how to proceed with Reconstruction. Congress was particularly outraged when Johnson vetoed theFreedmen’s Bureau bill, which provided access to food, shelter, medical aid and land to displaced southerners, including former slaves.
The tipping point was Johnson’s attempt to replace Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, who had been appointed by President Lincoln and was loyal to the Republicans in Congress. The House approved 11 articles of impeachment, which centered on violations of theTenure of Office Act, which aimed to limit presidential power to remove federal appointees from office by prohibiting suspension while Congress was not in session. The Supreme Court later held that the Tenure Act as unconstitutional in Myers v. United States, 272 U.S. 52 (1926).
The Senate voted 35–19 in favor of impeachment, which was one vote less than needed to achieve the necessarytwo-thirds majority. Many of the Senators who ultimately opposed impeachment were worried that Johnson was being prosecuted for his political positions rather than any constitutional violation. According to HistorianHans L. Trefousse, “[The] weakness of the case… convinced many that the charges were largely political, and that the violation of the Tenure of Office Act constituted neither a crime nor a violation of the Constitution but merely a pretext for Johnson’s opponents.”
President Nixon was not impeached. Instead, he became the only president to resign from office.
In 1974, the House launched impeachment proceedings against President Nixon. The investigation sprung from the Watergate scandal, which involved the 1972 break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters and Nixon’s attempts to cover-up his involvement. In April 1974, the Judiciary Committee obtained edited transcripts of many Watergate-related conversations that Nixon had secretly recorded in the Oval Office. However, Nixon refused to provide the full tapes. On July 24,the U.S. Supreme Court ordered Nixon to turn over the tapes.In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court rejected Nixon’s argument that the president was entitled to absolute executive privilege. “Neither the doctrine of separation of powers, nor the need for confidentiality of high level communications, without more, can sustain an absolute, unqualified presidential privilege of immunity from judicial process under all circumstances,” the Court wrote. “The President’s need for complete candor and objectivity from advisers calls for great deference from the courts. However, when the privilege depends solely on the broad, undifferentiated claim of public interest in the confidentiality of such conversations, a confrontation with other values arises.”
The House Judiciary Committee subsequently approved three articles of impeachment, which accused Nixon of perjury, obstruction of justice, and failure to comply with Congressional subpoenas. According to the articles, Nixon had “repeatedly engaged in conduct violating the constitutional rights of citizens, impairing the due and proper administration of justice and the conduct of lawful inquiries, or contravening the laws governing agencies of the executive branch and the purposed of these agencies.”
While the full House was likely to approve the articles of impeachment, it never held a vote. Nixon resigned on August 9, 1974.
President Bill Clinton was the second U.S. president to be impeached. However, he was acquitted by the Senate and finished his term in office.
President Clinton’s impeachment was prompted by the Monica Lewinsky scandal. While Clinton first denied having sexual relations with the White House intern, he later admitted that his relationship was “not appropriate.” Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr uncovered the affair while investigating investments Clinton had made while serving as governor of Arkansas.
Based on Clinton’s conflicting testimony regarding Lewinsky, Starr concluded that Clinton had committed perjury. He outlined other potential wrongdoing in a report, which became known as the Starr Report. The Republican-controlled House used the report as its basis for impeachment. Clinton was impeached on December 19, 1998. The two articles of impeachment accused Clinton of perjury to a grand jury (Article One) and obstruction of justice (Article Two).
Following a five-week trial in the Senate, Clinton was acquitted, with 45 senators voting to convict on Article One and 50 senators voting to convict on Article Two. Once the impeachment proceedings ended, President Clinton went on to serve the remainder of his second term in office.
Interested in learning more about political figures and judges who have been impeached in the past? Here is a list of related articles
- The Who’s Who of Impeachment
- Congressional Guide to Impeachment: How to Impeach
- Judge Samuel B Kent Avoided Impeachment by Resigning
- Impeachment of Judge Halsted L Ritter
- Federal Judge Harold Louderback Beat Impeachment Charges
- Impeachment of Judge George W English Dismissed After Resignation
- Impeachment of Judge Robert W Archbald
- District Court Judge Charles Swayne Beats Impeachment
- Federal Judge John Pickering Remembered For His Impeachment
- Judge G Thomas Porteous Is the Last Judge to Be Impeached
- Judge Walter L. Nixon Impeached After Perjury Conviction
- Judge Alcee Hastings Impeached for Bribery
- Judge Harry Claiborne Impeached for Tax Evasion
- Lincoln Ally US District Judge Mark W Delahay Impeached for Intoxication
- District Court Judge West Humphreys Impeached After Joining Confederacy
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Congress of the United States begun and held at the City of New-York, on Wednesday the fourth of March, one thousand seven hundred and eighty nine.
THE Conventions of a number of the States, having at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added: And as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government, will best ensure the beneficent ends of its institution.