Every U.S. President We’ve Ever Impeached And Why

The word impeachment comes up in the press lately, especially with some of the strong sentiments about our newest president. President Obama suffered plenty of impeachment talk too. Several groups pushed for him, but none of it came to a head. There’s a good reason.

Impeachment is messy. If a country gets comfortable impeaching presidents, they could erode the peaceful transfer of power. There is a fear we could get trigger happy.

We don’t want to avoid impeaching a president on the logic that the practice is messy, but we don’t want to live in a system where the people impeach presidents on a whim.

In case you’re itching to know how many we’ve impeached, it’s two. One of them you may remember; we’ll get to him in a second. Others have come close, though. We’ll get to them too, but first, some background…

Impeachment

The key thing to understand about an impeachment is the word is not synonymous with termination. Because we impeach a president, that doesn’t mean the resignation of said president. It’s a legislative process whereby a government body files charges against a government official.

Think of it like a criminal charge filed against anyone. We always consider the accused as innocent until proven guilty. Anyone can say you murdered a person, but they have to prove it in court to find you guilty.

With impeachment, we’re talking about charges filed against the national leadership. The severity of the charges is such that the accused if found guilty, could face criminal charges.

Forget about holding office, a conviction may follow. It’s tough to rule from behind bars.

In the United States, at the federal level, we have an Article of Impeachment, whereby the House of Representatives must vote for the impeachment. What follows is a Senate hearing, not much different than normal court proceedings, but there’s a panel of senators instead of judges.

Like going to court, the defendant has the right to legal counsel.

So what’s an impeachable offense? If we’re talking about the President, Vice-president or one of our civil officers (like a judge) the reasons are treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.

That leaves the door open for interpretation.

Bill Clinton

If you guessed Richard Nixon as the president you knew about, you were wrong twice. The most recent impeached president was the 42nd president of the United States.

The House of Representatives impeached Clinton on December 19th, 1998. His offense was misleading the grand jury questioning him about his affair with Monica Lewinsky.

They also accused him of coercing others to lie for him about the matter. The charges included perjury and obstruction of justice.

Clinton stayed in office, as the Senate acquitted him of the charges. He later copped to the affair, but for many Americans, he’d betrayed their trust too much for forgiveness.

Andrew Johnson

Senate impeachment trial for Johnson | law.jrank.org

Prior to Clinton’s impeachment, the only other one was Andrew Johnson, the 17th president of the United States.

In 1867, the Tenure of Office Act stipulated that a president would need senate approval before removing any confirmed member of the presidential cabinet.

In 1868, Johnson fired his secretary of war, a man named Edwin M. Stanton. Three days later the House impeached Johnson.

Like Clinton, they ultimately acquitted Johnson, but by a much narrower vote. It was a single vote that kept him from a conviction.

Richard Nixon

In June of 1972, a security guard found door latches inside the offices of the DNC taped. He thought nothing of it, removed the tape, then found them taped again later.

Police found five men in the building, whom they charged with burglary and attempted the interception of communications. Despite their initial attempts to cover up their association with the criminals, in time the FBI connected them with Nixon’s administration.

The 37th president resigned before anyone could bring down the ax. He never faced prosecution over the Watergate scandal, swearing his innocence until the day he died.

John Tyler

John Tyler | morningsun.net

As the 10th president of the United States, Tyler took office under strange circumstances. He’d been the Vice President under William Henry Harrison, who died one month into his presidency.

It was Tyler’s veto of a bill upset lawmakers, but the resolution to impeach him failed. He did not attempt re-election.

Depending on who you ask, our balanced approach to impeachment is either judicious or lenient.

Removal of a president means to remove the person chosen by the people, but not in a choice made by those people. The results of that decision could resonate in the streets of the United States for years to follow the decision.

It has to be for the right reasons. There must be concrete evidence of “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”