Review the impeachment process established in the Constitution:
- Formal accusation of “high crimes and misdemeanors” by the House of Representatives
- Trial before the Senate with the Chief Justice presiding
- Conviction and removal from office only if at least two-thirds of Senators find the President guilty
- If convicted, the President’s punishment could be only removal from office and ineligibility to serve in any future position in the federal government.
- Once removed from office, the former President could still be brought to trial in the ordinary courts for any offenses he may have committed.
Distribute Handout A: Impeachment and the Constitution. Have students complete the Handout in pairs or trios, and then reconvene the class to share responses as a large group.
Debrief the class on the discussion. Was there general agreement on each scenario? If not, why? What sources should be used to determine if a presidential action warrants impeachment?
The Impeachment of Andrew Johnson
When Andrew Johnson became President upon Lincoln’s assassination, he hoped to restore the Union according to a plan that would be lenient toward the South. Lacking congressional support and political skills, Johnson found himself in a show-down with Republicans in Congress who wanted to remake the South in the image of the North, raise up blacks and poor whites, and guarantee full civil and political rights for the freedmen. This clash of goals and strategies led to the first presidential impeachment trial in our history—a test of the constitutional principles of separation of powers and checks and balances. In the end, the Founders’ mechanism of three co-equal branches of government proved strong enough to resolve the crisis.
Comparing Impeachments across U.S. History
Use this Lesson alongside The Impeachment of Andrew Johnson Decision Point to introduce students to the concept of impeachment and how it has been used throughout U.S. history.
The Impeachment of Bill Clinton
In the highly charged partisan politics of the 1990s, President Bill Clinton’s personal indiscretions led to the second impeachment trial in our history. Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr was investigating Clinton’s pre-presidential financial dealings. In a separate case, Clinton was being sued by Paula Jones for sexual harassment. Jones called a young White House intern named Monica Lewinsky who had been having an relationship with the President to give testimony. Clinton denied the Lewinsky affair under oath in his deposition in the Jones case. This denial caught Starr’s attention, who suspected the President had committed perjury and obstructed justice. Starr assembled a grand jury and issued dozen of subpoenas, and eventually offered Lewinsky immunity in return for her testimony. When Clinton testified for Starr’s grand jury, he gave evasive answers. He ultimately admitted the Lewinsky affair to the American people that night. The House of Representatives impeached Clinton in 1998 on strict party lines, but in the Senate trial, Republicans fell far short of the two-thirds majority needed to convict.