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Impeachment. … Is it correct to say that Presidents Andrew Johnson, Richard M. Nixon, and William J. Clinton were impeached?

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Dear WP,

Technically, only two presidents were ever actually impeached, though it was the one who wasn’t who ended up more in disgrace than the other two. After President Andrew Johnson dismissed Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton and replaced him with Lorenzo Thomas, without Senate approval, Radical Republican senators called for his impeachment on charges centering around violating the Tenure of Office Act. Impeachment proceedings began on March 5, 1868, but three Senate votes in a row fell one short of the 2/3 majority necessary for a conviction. On December 19, 1998, President Bill Clinton faced impeachment charges of perjury and obstruction of justice in connection with his sexual dalliances (abuse of power having been dropped), but was acquitted on February 12, 1999, the Senate having fallen 17 votes short of conviction.

Richard M. Nixon also seemed likely to weather out the accusations surrounding the Watergate break-in until August 5, 1974, when one of the tape recordings he had grudgingly surrendered revealed that he had known about the attempted burglary all along—the so-called “smoking gun.” Advised of the likelihood of both impeachment and conviction, Nixon avoided both by resigning on August 9. On September 8 the new president, Gerald R. Ford, issued him a “full, free and absolute pardon.” Ironically, though he was never actually impeached, the fact that Nixon was “pardoned,” as opposed to “acquitted,” implied guilt for crimes for which he was neither tried nor convicted—thus arguably leaving his reputation in worse shape than those of the two presidents who were impeached.



Jon Guttman
Research Director
World History Group
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