Impeachment is formal accusation issued by a legislature against a public official charged with crime or other serious misconduct. In a looser sense the term is sometimes applied also to the trial by the legislature that may follow.

Impeachment in England

Impeachment developed in England, beginning in the 14th century, as a means of trying officials suspected of dereliction of duty. The English procedure was for the House of Commons to prosecute by presenting articles of impeachment to the House of Lords, which rendered judgment. Any penalty, including death, might be inflicted. The impeachment (1787) and trial (1788-95) of Warren Hastings was among the last of the English cases.

Impeachment in the United States

In the United States impeachment of public officials is provided for in the Federal government and in most states. In federal matters the U.S. Constitution gives the House of Representatives the power to impeach all civil officers of the United States, including the President and Vice President, but not including although the Senate has asserted this excludes members of Congress. Impeachments are tried by the Senate. Current Senate rules for Presidential Impeachment, based on the Presidential Impeachment clause of Article 1, Section 3, of the US Constitution, require the Chief Justice to preside and the concurrence of two thirds of the members present needed for conviction. The sole penalties on conviction are removal from office and disqualification from holding other federal office; however, the convicted party is liable to subsequent criminal trial and punishment for the same offense. and Presidential pardon powers may be restricted during inpeachment. Non-Presidential Impeachment does not appear to have the Constitutional requirement of Chief Justice presiding, 2/3 majority for conviction, or exemption of members of Congress.

There have been 17 impeachments tried by the Senate and seven convictions. In addition, there have been two impeachments never tried by the Senate, and several threatened Impeachments which have resulted in resignation of office. Only three presidents have been impeached: Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton, and Donald Trump (the only president to be impeached twice during his single term). While Johnson, Clinton, and Trump were successfully impeached, only two presidents faced similar, but failed impeachment attempts by the House of Representatives: John Tyler and Richard Nixon. Several other presidents have been threatened with impeachment. Three of the best-known cases, which did not result in conviction, were those of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase, Andrew Johnson, and President Bill Clinton (see Monica Lewinsky).

In 1842, the Whig Party submitted the first impeachment resolution against President John Tyler, whom the Whigs accused him for abuse of veto power after he vetoed their bills to create a national bank, making him the first American president Congress attempted to impeach. However, the impeachment resolution failed to proceed in January of 1843.

Twenty six years later, on February 24, 1868, President Andrew Johnson became the first president to be officially impeached, due to him violating the Tenure of Office Act by firing Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (See Reconstruction). Johnson was acquitted by one vote and remained in office until 1869.

In 1974, the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives voted to bring impeachment charges against President Richard Nixon (see Watergate affair); but on August 9, 1974, Nixon resigned before the House took action, becoming the only president to resign. He was clearly guilty and there wasn’t much else he could do.

Then, on December 19, 1998, President Bill Clinton became the second president to be impeached for lying under oath and obstruction of perjury, following his role in the Monica Lewinsky Scandal. He was acquitted in February of 1999 and remained in office until 2001.

Twenty one years later, President Donald Trump became the third president to be impeached on December 18, 2019 for abuse of power and Obstruction of Congress as he was accused of asking Ukraine to help rig the 2020 election by investigating Joe Biden. However, Trump was acquitted by the US Senate. But because he was accused of inciting the rampage on the Capital on Janaury 6, 2021, he was impeached again on January 13; this time, for incitement of insurrection, making him the only president and the only federal officeholder in American History to be impeached twice (see 2021 United States Capital Rampage). He was acquitted for the second time by the Senate on February 13, 2021, also becoming the only president to be acquitted for a second time.

Some of the earliest US Impeachments didn't result in conviction and removal of the offending official, but did result in a moderation of some behaviors and the establishment of written or unwritten codes of ethics and conduct overseen by the branches of government. With the erosion of self-enforcement of these codes, and the Supreme Court Justices exempt from any canon of ethics, Impeachment may again emerge as a viable option of the majority.