The History of Impeachment 

Chloe Simmons

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With the news of Trump’s impeachment, it should be made clear what the history of impeachment really is. To fully understand the issues revolving around impeachment in the world today, one must understand the history of it. 

Impeachment is the process instituted by a legislative body to address serious misconduct by a public office. This process first started up in Great Britain. It was used as a way for Parliament to hold the king’s ministers accountable for their public actions. 

In the United States, impeachment varies from civil or criminal in that it strictly involves the “misconduct of public men, or in other words from the abuse or violation of some public trust” as Alexander Hamilton explained in Federalist 65. 

The framers of the Constitution intentionally make it extremely difficult for Congress to formally remove a sitting president. The process starts in the House of Representatives with a formal inquiry. If the House Judiciary Committee finds the inquiry sufficient, then the case will be taken to the full House for a vote. 

A majority is needed to formally impeach a president. However, this doesn’t mean the president is taken out of office. The final stage of this progress is the Senate impeachment trial. If two-thirds of the Senate find the president guilty of the crimes laid out in the articles of impeachment, then the president is removed from office. 

Although the Congress has impeached and removed eight federal judges, no president has ever been found guilty during a Senate impeachment trial. The only president that came close to being guilty has been Andrew Johnson who escaped a guilty verdict by one vote. 

In the history of the United States, there have only been two presidents formally impeached by Congress: Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton. However, no president has ever been removed from office through the process of impeachment. 

Andrew Johnson was elected as Abraham Lincoln’s vice president in 1864. When Lincoln was assassinated only 42 days into his second term, Andrew Johnson took his place. 

After becoming the president, Johnson fired his Secretary of War which caused a chain of political enemies his way with 11 articles of impeachment. In 1868, Johnson was impeached in the House of Representatives by 126 votes to 47. 

After his acquittal, he served out the rest of his term and became the first (and only) former U.S. president to be elected to the Senate. 

Bill Clinton was impeached in 1998. When Clinton became president and stepped foot into the White House, he was already in legal trouble being subject of a Justice Department investigation into the Whitewater controversy, a botched business deal from their days in Arkansas. 

There was only one other president that was close to impeachment and that president was named Richard Nixon. Richard Nixon resigned before the House of Representatives had a chance to impeach him. 

If he had not resigned, Nixon would have been the only president to have been impeached and removed from office, given the crimes he committed to cover his involvement in the Watergate break-ins. Although Nixon was pardoned from his involvement in the Watergate criminal charges, most of his White House counsel was sent to jail. 

For more information on the recent impeachment news of Donald Trump, check out Sarah Jannings articles on the impeachment in process. 

House Approves Trump Impeachment Procedures

 

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