Historical Highlights

A Petition for a Presidential Impeachment

July 22, 1842
A Petition for a Presidential Impeachment Image courtesy of Library of Congress A former Representative and Senator, John Tyler was elected Vice President in 1840. He became President following the death of President William Henry Harrison.
On this date the first formal action by the House of Representatives toward impeaching a president took place. Virginia Representative John Minor Botts presented a petition from Wetumpka, Alabama—a metropolis that Harper’s Weekly had highlight six years before as rivaling Chicago as one of “the most promising two cities of the West.” The petitioners asked that a resolution be passed “requesting ‘John Tyler, the acting President of the United States,’ to resign his office; and in case he do not comply with such request, they pray that he may be impeached, ‘on the grounds of his ignorance of the interest and true policy of this Government, and want of qualification for the discharge of the important duties of President of the United States.” The petition, which the House tabled upon receipt, came at a crucial period in presidential history. William Henry Harrison had died in April 1841, just one month into his presidency, the first such vacancy in the Chief Executive office, and Vice President John Tyler insisted that he was the now President. Tyler successfully overrode all objections among Harrison’s cabinet officers that he was the chief executive, not the Vice President serving as acting President. To everyone’s dismay Tyler vetoed legislation fulfilling Harrison’s campaign promises and those of the new Whig majorities in Congress to establish a central national bank. After Tyler went on to veto a second bill creating a Fiscal Corporation, meant to meet his original objections to the bank bill, Whig Members of Congress, feeling betrayed, expelled Tyler from the Whig party. At home Whig voters howled for Tyler’s resignation or removal. This turmoil became a characteristic of presidential-congressional relations during Tyler’s term in office.

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