Was Bill Clinton guilty of committing “high Crimes and Misdemeanors” as a result of his perjury in a civil lawsuit?
- Understand the events that led to the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton.
- Understand arguments made in Clinton’s defense and those made by his accusers.
- Assess whether Clinton was guilty of “high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”
- Handout A: The Impeachment of Bill Clinton
- Handout B: Glossary Cards
- Handout C: Glossary
- Handout D: Lickert Scale Signs
To create a context for this lesson, have students complete Constitutional Connection: Impeachment and the Constitution.
Have students read Handout A: The Impeachment of Bill Clinton and answer the questions.
Make several sets of the Glossary Cards. Give each student one term. Next class, have students explain the relevance of the term to Clinton’s impeachment.
Allow students who studied each term to discuss their definitions in pairs or trios.
Then have each pair/trio present their information to the class. Pairs/trios should share 1) the definition and 2) the significance of the term to understanding the essay.
Have students fill in both columns of Handout C: Glossary as you work.
Follow-up by discussing the critical thinking questions at the end of Handout A.
Ask students to write on their own paper a one sentence answer to the following question: Why was President Bill Clinton impeached?
Post the two signs on Handout D: Lickert Scale Signs at opposite sides of the room. Direct students to stand up and take a position relative to the two signs.
Once students are in position, call them one by one to form new groups of three. Each group should contain one person who was closer to “constitutional reasons,” one who was closer to “political reasons,” and one who was closer to the middle.
Have students work in groups with the undecided student listening to the other two present their best arguments.
After ten or fifteen minutes, ask for a group to volunteer to present their arguments in a “fishbowl” at the front of the room.
After one or two groups have presented, reconvene the class and ask:
- Did any “undecided” students come to a decision?
- Would anyone have changed their position on the scale? Why?
Have students write a paragraph explaining whether they believe Clinton was impeached for constitutional or political reasons.
Some people say that Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr exerted far more energy in his pursuit of Clinton’s shortcomings than was justified. Have students conduct additional research and take a position on this claim, for example at www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/special/clinton/players/starr.htm
The process of impeachment was outlined in the Constitution when it was drafted in 1787. To date, 19 officials, including judges, cabinet members, senators, and presidents, have been impeached and stood trial.
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.