Impeachment History

March 31, 2021
Impeachment History

Historical Context
For Historic Times

As Congress gets ready to vote on whether to impeach President Trump (for the second time), a look at how past is precedent.

“The President, Vice President and all civil officers of the United States, shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”

Article II, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution. The founders purposely left "high crimes" open-ended for Congress to decide. Consequently, the power of removing the U.S. president falls to the people's representatives.

How It Works:

  • The House of Representatives can vote for impeachment, but only the Senate can convict.
  • House Judiciary Cmte. drafts “articles of impeachment” (charges); simple majority is needed to impeach in the House.
  • The Senate holds impeachment proceedings (trial). Conviction (removal from office) requires a 2/3 supermajority (67 of 100).

Big Picture

  • 11 U.S. presidents faced at least one impeachment resolution in the House of Representatives.
  • Resolutions differed depending on the president, and some never became serious movements by the House to *actually* impeach the president.
  • In 2019, Pres. Trump became the third president to be impeached by the House.

Pres. Andrew Johnson

  • Impeached by House in 1868, but avoided removal from office by a single Senate vote.
  • Aftermath: Johnson served out the remainder of his term as president and was later re-elected to the Senate.
  • Context: Pres. Johnson was the first president impeached by the House. 25 years earlier, Pres. Tyler was the first president to face an impeachment attempt by Congress; it quickly failed.

Pres. Bill Clinton

  • Impeached by House in 1998 for obstruction of justice & perjury in connection with his affair with Monica Lewinsky, and was acquitted in Senate.
  • Aftermath: Served two+ years after impeachment. Republicans lost public support – and House seats – during the impeachment process.
  • Context: Neither the House nor the Senate vote fell on entirely partisan lines.

Pres. Richard Nixon

  • In 1974, the House Judiciary Cmte. approved impeachment articles for abuse of power, obstruction of justice, and contempt of Congress – all connected to the Watergate scandal.
  • Aftermath: Days later, the president resigned ahead of a full House vote.
  • Context: Pres. Nixon is the *only* U.S. president in history to resign.

After the House votes, what happens next? After the House voted in 2019 to impeach Pres. Trump for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, the Senate began its trial about one month later. The President was acquitted by the Senate.

Johnson Impeached, February to March 1868

BONUS: INTERVIEW FROM FEBRUARY 2019: How Historic Is The Senate Impeachment Trial of President Trump?

A fascinating conversation about the history of impeachment trials in the U.S. Senate with Daniel Holt, assistant historian at the U.S. Senate Historical office.

How Historic Is The Senate Impeachment Trial of President Trump?

by Jenna Lee,