How Many Presidents Have Been Impeached? And How Does It Work?

Impeachment is one of those scenarios that gets talked about a lot but rarely plays out in reality. In fact, impeachment has only rarely happened in the history of the United States. After all, it’s a serious matter to try to remove a president chosen by the American people. How many presidents have been impeached? Just two. Discover what happened. And learn how the process would work in the future.

Article 2 of the Constitution lays out the impeachment process

The Oval Office of the White House with redecorations of its carpet, couches and wallpaper.

How many presidents have been impeached? Just two. | Jewel Samad/ AFP/ Getty Images

History reports that George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin, and other attendees at the 1787 Constitutional Convention approved the concept of impeaching government officials. The framers of the Constitution laid out the process in Article 2, Section 4 of the Constitution.

That section states that 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.” In other words: It takes a pretty serious crime to put impeachment on the table.

Impeachment involves both houses of Congress

The process of impeaching the president requires both houses of Congress, History reports. Impeachment itself doesn’t remove the president from office. Instead, it serves as the first step toward removing him. The U.S. House of Representatives can initiate impeachment by filing formal charges. The House would introduce articles of impeachment like any other bill or resolution.

Then, if a committee and then the full House approves the articles of impeachment, the U.S. Senate conducts the resulting trial. The chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court acts as the judge in the trial. To convict the president, the Senate would need a two-thirds majority, Mic reports. And the penalty? Usually (or at least theoretically) removal from office.

8 presidents have faced impeachment

A total of eight presidents have faced impeachment. But the House only successfully impeached two. (That means that the House of Representatives charged only those two presidents with committing “high crimes and misdemeanors,” as Thought Co. points out.) However, the Senate didn’t convict either of those two presidents. So it didn’t remove either of them from office.

Several presidents faced threats of impeachment that never amounted to a trial. That list includes Grover Cleveland, Herbert Hoover, Harry S. Truman, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush, according to History. Each of them had articles of impeachment filed against them in the House of Representatives. However, the House didn’t actually impeach any of these presidents. That means that the articles of impeachment failed to get the necessary votes to move to the Senate for a trial.

The House impeached Andrew Johnson

Andrew Johnson, 17th president of the United States

Andrew Johnson | National Archive/ Newsmakers/ Getty Images

Andrew Johnson became the target of impeachment proceedings in 1868 over his choice to dismiss Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton. Congress argued that Stanton’s dismissal violated the Tenure of Office Act. The 1867 law required the president to get the Senate’s approval before removing any member of the cabinet whom the Senate had confirmed. The House successfully voted to impeach Johnson.  So the Senate conducted a trial. However, that trial ended with Johnson’s opponents failing to get enough votes to remove him from office.

The House also impeached Bill Clinton

US President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore

Bill Clinton and Al Gore | Joyce Naltchayan/ AFP/ Getty Images

Many people, when asked how many presidents have been impeached, can probably think of just one: Bill Clinton. The House of Representatives filed impeachment articles against Clinton in 1998. Representatives alleged that the president misled a grand jury about his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. The House charged Clinton with perjury and obstruction of justice. However, the Senate trial ended with Clinton acquitted of both charges. Clinton apologized for the affair. And despite the scandal, he went on to complete his term in office.

Two other presidents came close to impeachment

Thought Co. reports that two other presidents came close to impeachment. The first president to come very close to impeachment? John Tyler, the 10th president of the United States. Representative John M. Botts of Virginia proposed a resolution in 1843 to investigate Tyler for possible impeachment. However, the House of Representatives voted down the resolution. That saved Tyler and his presidency.

The second president who came close? Richard Nixon. Nixon faced near-certain impeachment — and conviction — in 1974 over the Watergate scandal. However, he resigned before facing prosecution over the 1972 break-in at the Democratic Party’s headquarters. If he hadn’t resigned, though, the Senate would likely have convicted him.

Impeachment has never removed a president from office

Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton are the only two presidents who have been impeached. Again, that means that just two were charged with crimes by the House of Representatives. However, the Senate didn’t convict either of them. That means that no president has ever been removed from office by the impeachment process.

There’s one other way to remove a president: invoking the 25th amendment to remove a president who is physically unable to serve. But like impeachment, that method has never been used to remove a president from office. Fortunately, the situations in which either option would come into play remain rare — despite a highly partisan environment that might make you think otherwise.

Read more: Brutally Honest Reasons Why Trump Will Probably Never Be Impeached

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