One of the Founding Fathers of the United States, Alexander Hamilton explained that impeachment involves the misconduct of public officials who potentially misuse or abuse the public’s trust.
The framers of the Constitution were so fearful that a person with too much executive power may be tempted to abuse it, that they felt it was mandatory to include it in their writing. During the Federal Constitutional Convention they decided to describe the proper venue, process for such a trial, classify which crimes should be considered as impeachable offenses, and finally address the likelihood of gaining a conviction.
Reasons for Impeachment
At the top of the list were treason and bribery. After some discussion, they added an all-encompassing, kind of catch-all phrase: high crimes and misdemeanors. While it was broad, it wasn’t very specific.
The House of Representatives has begun impeachment proceedings nearly 60 times, but only 8 were convicted and removed from office by the Senate. These 8 were federal judges. In 1876, a cabinet secretary was impeached and in 1797, a North Carolina senator was impeached.
In any impeachment process the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court has the duty of presiding over the Senate’s trial.
Only two U.S. Presidents have been impeached: Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998. Vice President Johnson assumed the presidency upon the death of Abraham Lincoln. Johnson had been a major obstacle and non-supporter of the Radical Republicans’ reconstruction program. Finally the U.S. House of Representatives, which is the only body allowed to bring impeachment charges, tired of his defiance and brought charges against him. The trial lasted 11 weeks and Johnson escaped being removed from office by only one vote.
In 1998, the House of Representatives approved an article of impeachment again President Bill Clinton. He was accused of lying to a federal grand jury about the nature of his relationship with an intern. The Senate put the president on trial but the president was acquitted.