Impeachment is in the news these days, and it might be wise to understand what it is and why the impeachment clause is included as Article II, Section 4, of the Constitution of the United States.
“The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”
“Impeachment” is defined as the process by which a legislative body levels charges against a government official. It does not in itself remove the official from office – it is the equivalent to an indictment in criminal law, and thus is only the statement of charges against the official.
Impeachment of the President of the United States has occurred twice in our history – each time resulting in an acquittal by the United States Senate.
- President Andrew Johnson was impeached because of political conflict and the rupture of ideologies in the aftermath of the American Civil War. It arose from uncompromised beliefs and a contest for power in a nation struggling with reunification.
- President Clinton was impeached for lying under oath and obstruction of justice, charges that stemmed from a sexual harassment lawsuit filed against Clinton by Paula Jones.
In Essay #65 of the Federalist Papers, The Powers of the Senate, Alexander Hamilton defends the use of the Senate as a court of impeachment for public officials impeached by the House of Representatives. Of all the options available under the Constitution, Hamilton argues, the Senate is the most appropriate to serve in such a serious capacity.