Whereas: Stories from the People’s House

Edition for Educators—Impeachment

Impeachment Poster/tiles/non-collection/1/1-11-Impeachment_Pres_Andrew_Johnson_House_vote_poster-2017-001_ac_small.xml Image courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration This poster reproduced the yeas and nays for the February 24, 1868, vote in the House to impeach President Johnson.

In response to the many reference inquiries the Office of the Historian has received about the history of impeachment, this Edition for Educators highlights some of the impeachment resources available on the History, Art & Archives website. Since 1789, the House has initiated its sole power to pursue impeachment proceedings more than 60 times—but only 20 cases have resulted in impeachment. While each case is unique, most impeachments have involved federal judges. The resources below offer information about the constitutional origins, precedent, and process for impeachment; list the individuals impeached; provide details on salient impeachment episodes; and feature objects, artifacts, records, and oral histories that document the history of one of the House’s most consequential constitutional powers.

Featured Institutional Information

Origins & Development: Impeachment
The Constitution gives the House of Representatives the sole power to impeach an official, and it makes the Senate the sole court for impeachment trials. The power of impeachment is limited to removal from office but also provides a means by which a removed officer may be disqualified from holding future office. The history and process of impeachment is explored in our series on the constitutional powers of the U.S. House of Representatives.

List of Individuals Impeached by the House of Representatives
This chart lists the 20 individuals have been impeached by the House of Representatives. The most recent was Donald J. Trump on February 5, 2020.

Featured Exhibits

The Impeachment of President Andrew Johnson
On February 21, 1868, when the United States House of Representatives met as it usually did at noon, there was no sense that the long-simmering struggle between Congress and President Andrew Johnson was about to tip into a full-blown constitutional crisis.

Barbara Jordan's Remarks Recommending Impeachment of President Richard Nixon/tiles/non-collection/1/1-11-Barbara_Jordon_statement_on_Nixon_impeachment_7-25-1974_p6_print-NARA.xml Image courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration
About this record
This partial transcript contains Congresswoman Barbara Jordan’s edited remarks from the Judiciary Committee’s July 25, 1974, debate to determine whether to recommend that the House adopt articles of impeachment against President Richard Nixon.

Featured Objects from the House Collection

Formal Notice of the Impeachment of Andrew Johnson, by the House Committee, Thaddeus Stevens and John A. Bingham, at the Bar of the Senate on 25th Feb.
The full page image on one side of this sheet from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper showed Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania and John Bingham of Ohio delivering the formal notice of the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson to the Senate. The reverse included five more images, which built the narrative of the proceedings, including a crowd rushing to enter the House Chamber to hear the message being delivered, people at the Willard Hotel discussing impeachment, and a crowd in Baltimore reacting to the “impeachment telegram” being posted on the bulletin. 

Listening to Tapes
The Judiciary Committee recommended three articles of impeachment against President Richard Nixon in July 1974. Although Nixon had resisted the committee’s May 15 subpoena for materials, he complied with a Supreme Court decision and released audio tapes of recordings made in the Oval Office, known as the Watergate tapes, which implicated him in a cover-up of a break-in of the Democratic National Committee. In this photograph, taken August 5, 1974, Wisconsin Representatives David Obey and William Steiger, joined by Jack Edwards of Alabama, and Edward Boland of Massachusetts listen to the Watergate tapes through headphones. Days later, Nixon resigned before the full House could vote on impeachment.

Thaddeus Stevens Gives the Last Speech During Debate on Impeachment/tiles/non-collection/1/1-11_stevens_speech_minutae_2009_129_001crop.xml Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
Representative Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania, a Radical Republican, gave the last speech during House debate on articles of impeachment against President Andrew Johnson on March 2, 1868. Johnson became the first president impeached by the House, but he was later acquitted by the Senate by one vote.

Featured Historical Highlights

The Impeachment of Andrew Johnson
Witnessing what it believed were “high crimes and misdemeanors” on the part of the President, the House adopted 11 articles of impeachment, eight of which dealt with Johnson’s alleged violation of the Tenure of Office Act. “All of the circumstances attendent [sic] upon this case show that the President’s action was deliberate and willful,” intoned Judiciary Committee Chairman James Wilson of Iowa. “Perversely he has rushed upon his own destruction.”

Vice President Spiro Agnew’s Impeachment Request
Speaker Carl Albert of Oklahoma denied Vice President Spiro Agnew’s request to commence an impeachment investigation into charges that he had received bribes from construction companies while serving as governor of Maryland and as Vice President.

See other Historical Highlights related to Impeachment in the House.

Featured Oral Histories

Representative Elizabeth Holtzman of New York
Elizabeth Holtzman drew national attention for her service on the House Judiciary Committee during the impeachment inquiry into Richard Nixon’s conduct during Watergate. In the first clip, Representative Holtzman discusses the steps taken by the House Judiciary Committee to move towards impeachment before President Nixon resigned in August 1974.

The Honorable Elizabeth Holtzman, U.S. Representative of New York Interview recorded March 10, 2016 Transcript (PDF)

In the second clip, she recounts her decision to broach the subject of President Nixon’s pardon with his successor, President Gerald Ford.

The Honorable Elizabeth Holtzman, U.S. Representative of New York Interview recorded March 10, 2016 Transcript (PDF)

Linda Melconian
Linda Melconian, longtime legislative aide to House Speaker Tip O’Neill of Massachusetts, discusses being present on the House Floor for a pivotal moment in the Watergate investigation.

Linda Melconian, Assistant Counsel and Legislative Assistant, Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill, Jr., of Massachusetts Interview recorded June 7, 2018 Transcript (PDF)

See other Oral History clips related to Impeachment in the House.

Featured Records

Barbara Jordan/tiles/non-collection/1/1-12-Jordan-TSU.xml Courtesy of Texas Christian University, Barbara Jordan Collection Television coverage of Judiciary Committee proceedings, which included her statements about the constitutional gravity of the Watergate Crisis, instantly made Representative Jordan a national figure.

Impeachment of Andrew Johnson
With this small piece of paper, Representative John Covode of Pennsylvania moved to impeach President Andrew Johnson on February 21, 1868. Following Johnson's second attempt to remove the Secretary of War without congressional authorization, Republicans in Congress, long frustrated with the President’s opposition to Black suffrage, leniency toward former Confederate states, and unrelenting obstruction of congressional Reconstruction, opened proceedings to remove Johnson from office.

Barbara Jordan on Nixon’s Articles of Impeachment
This partial transcript contains the edited remarks of Texas Congresswoman Barbara Jordan during debate in the House Judiciary Committee on July 25, 1974, over whether to adopt articles of impeachment against President Richard Nixon. Stenographers generated the transcript during the televised hearing, and each Member later corrected the transcript for accuracy and clarity before it was printed as an official document—a practice committees still follow.

This is part of a series of blog posts for educators highlighting the resources available on History, Art & Archives of the U.S. House of Representatives. For lesson plans, fact sheets, glossaries, and other materials for the classroom, see the website's Education section.