The House has initiated impeachment proceedings more than 60 times but less than a third have led to full impeachments. Just eight—all federal judges—have been convicted and removed from office by the Senate. Outside of the 15 federal judges impeached by the House, two Presidents (Andrew Johnson in 1868 and William Jefferson (Bill) Clinton in 1998), a cabinet secretary (William Belknap in 1876), and a U.S. Senator (William Blount of North Carolina in 1797) have also been impeached.
Blount’s impeachment trial—the first ever conducted—established the principle that Members of Congress and Senators were not “Civil Officers” under the Constitution, and accordingly, they could only be removed from office by a two-thirds vote for expulsion by their respective chambers. Blount, who had been accused of instigating an insurrection of American Indians to further British interests in Florida, was not convicted, but the Senate did expel him. Other impeachments have featured judges taking the bench when drunk or profiting from their position. The trial of President Johnson, however, focused on whether the President could remove cabinet officers without obtaining Congress’s approval. Johnson’s acquittal firmly set the precedent—debated from the beginning of the nation—that the President may remove appointees even if they required Senate confirmation to hold office.
For Further ReadingFarrand, Max, ed. The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787. Rev. ed. 4 vols. (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1937).
Kyvig, David E. The Age of Impeachment: American Constitutional Culture Since 1960. (Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 2008).
Les Benedict, Michael. The Impeachment and Trial of Andrew Johnson. (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1999).
Madison, James, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay. The Federalist Papers. (New York: Penguin Books, 1987).
Melton, Buckner F., Jr. The First Impeachment: The Constitution’s Framers and the Case of Senator William Blount. (Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, 1998).
Rehnquist, William H. Grand Inquests: The Historic Impeachments of Justice Samuel Chase and President Andrew Johnson. (New York: Harper Perennial, 1999).
“Report by the Staff of the Impeachment Inquiry on the Constitutional Grounds for Presidential Impeachment,” Committee Print, Committee on the Judiciary, U.S. House of Representatives, 93rd Cong., 2nd sess., February 1974.
Storing, Herbert J., ed. The Complete Anti-Federalist. 7 vols. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981).
Sullivan, John. “Chapter 27—Impeachment,” in House Practice: A Guide to the Rules, Precedents, and Procedures of the House. (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 2011).
Thomas, David Y. “The Law of Impeachment in the United States,” The American Political Science Review 2 (May 1908): 378–395