High Crimes and Misdemeanors
The Founders were dedicated to creating, as John Adams put it, a government of laws and not of men. Unlike a monarchy where a king served for life by claimed divine right, the office of President of the United States was limited and subject to the law. The Constitution provides for the removal of the President from office “on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” The process of impeachment requires an accusation from the House of Representatives. An impeached President is then tried in the Senate, with the Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court presiding. Two Presidents in US history have been impeached by the House of Representatives: Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton. Johnson and Clinton were acquitted by the Senate. The House drew up Articles of Impeachment against Richard Nixon for his involvement in the Watergate scandal but he resigned before the entire House could vote on the Articles.
Andrew Johnson (1808-1875) - Find it on ConstitutionBee.org
Andrew Johnson was born in North Carolina where he grew up in poverty. He worked as a tailor in Tennessee before entering politics. He was elected to the House of Representatives as well as the Senate in the 1840s and 1850s where he saw himself as a champion of the people while proposing laws giving land the poor. He also favored the Fugitive Slave Act, and supported Stephen Douglas, the opponent of then-Senate candidate Abraham Lincoln. However, he supported the Union and condemned session as a threat to the Constitution.
He remained in the Senate when Tennessee seceded, and President Abraham Lincoln appointed him military governor of the state. He was elected Vice President in 1864, and assumed the presidency after Lincoln's assassination. He began to make enemies of Republican leaders in Congress. Johnson granted pardons to southerners who would swear oaths of allegiance. Though the Thirteenth Amendment outlawed slavery, "black codes" in many states restricted the liberty of former slaves. Johnson vetoed Congress's Reconstruction civil rights legislation, but Congress overrode the president's veto to pass a law declaring former slaves to be citizens.
Johnson's struggle with Congress over Reconstruction continued, until he was accused of improperly dismissing his Secretary of War in violation of the Tenure of Office Act. He became the first president to be impeached. In his 1868 Senate trial, he was acquitted of three charges by one vote.
Richard Nixon (1913 - 1994) and Watergate - Find it on ConstitutionBee.org
A few months after his decisive reelection victory in 1972, the "Watergate Scandal" began to plague Nixon's administration. Burglars were caught trying to place listening devices at the National Democratic Party headquarters. Their arrests lead to discoveries that administration officials had been involved in unethical activities designed to sabotage Democratic candidates, and then conspired to cover it up. Nixon denied personal knowledge or involvement, but White House tape recordings revealed he had known about and approved the cover up. The Supreme Court held that the President did not have the power to withhold the tapes from investigators upon claim of "executive privilege" in the case United States v. Nixon (1974) Facing probable impeachment, Nixon resigned the presidency in August 1974.
Bill Clinton (born 1946) - Find it on ConstitutionBee.org
President Clinton led the country through a period of peace and prosperity. With inflation and unemployment low, he proposed a balanced budget to Congress. His domestic agenda included seeking laws protecting the jobs of people who had to care for ill family members, legislation restricting certain gun sales, and strengthening environmental protection policies. Clinton was also concerned with national interest and foreign policy. He advocated international free trade, and as Commander in Chief of the Military, he sent forces to Bosnia and Iraq.
Clinton was reelected in 1996 with very high approval ratings. But his indiscretions with a young White House intern led Clinton to become the second president in US history to be impeached by the House of Representatives. He was tried in the Senate and found not guilty of the charges against him. He continued to enjoy record high approval ratings during his second term.
Want to learn more?
The resources contained on the ArticleII.org website are just the beginning! The Bill of Rights Institute curriculum, Presidents and the Constitution, explores how various presidents understood and exercised their constitutional powers. By exploring constitutional crises in American history, these interactive, hands-on lessons encourage students to analyze the actions of Presidents in light of the Constitution.
Students will engage with:
▪ 15 ready-to-use, interactive lesson plans
▪ Strong focus on primary source activities
▪ Solid content including historical narrative in each lesson
▪ Scholarly thematic essays that introduce each unit
▪ Contemporary application highlighted with an “Issues Endure” portal in each unit
Grover Cleveland was the sixth cousin once removed of President Ulysses S. Grant.