Impeached Presidents of the United States

The Troubled Presidencies of Bill Clinton and Andrew Johnson

Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton

There are only two impeached presidents in United States history, meaning only two presidents have been charged by the House of Representatives with committing "high crimes and misdemeanors." Neither of the two impeached presidents, Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, were convicted by the Senate. In fact, there has never been a president removed from office using the impeachment process. 

There is only one other mechanism set forth in the U.S. Constitution, aside from conviction on impeachment charges, that allows for the removal of a failing president. It is the 25th Amendment, which contains provisions for the forceful removal of a president who has become physically unable to serve. Like the impeachment process, the 25th Amendment has never been used to remove a president from office.

Impeachment Is Serious Business and Rarely Invoked

The forceful removal of a president is not a topic that is taken lightly among voters and members of Congress, though the highly partisan atmosphere has made it more common for staunch opponents of a president to circulate rumors about impeachment.

In fact, the three most recent presidents each endured suggestions from certain members of Congress they should be impeached: George W. Bush for his handling of the Iraq War; Barack Obama for his administration's handling of Benghazi and other scandals; and Donald Trump, whose erratic behavior grew into a major concern among some members of Congress during his first term.

Still, serious discussions of impeaching a president have occurred rarely in our nation's history because of the damage they can cause to the republic. And most Americans alive today can name only one of our two impeached presidents, William Jefferson Clinton, because of the salacious nature of the Monica Lewinsky affair and because of how quickly and thoroughly the details spread across the World Wide Web as it became commercially accessible for the first time. 

But the first impeachment came more than a century earlier, as our political leaders were trying to pull the nation together after the Civil War, long before Clinton faced charges of perjury and obstruction of justice in 1998. 

List of Impeached Presidents

Here's a look at the presidents who were impeached and a couple who came very close to being impeached.

Andrew Johnson

Andrew Johnson
President Andrew Johnson, the 17th president of the United States, was accused of violating the Tenure of Office Act. National Archives / Newsmakers

Johnson, the 17th president of the United States, was accused of violating the Tenure of Office Act, among other crimes. The 1867 law required Senate approval before a president could remove any member of his cabinet who had been confirmed by the upper chamber of Congress.

The House voted to impeach Johnson on February 24, 1868, three days after he dumped his secretary of war, a radical Republican named Edwin M. Stanton. Johnson's move followed repeated clashes with the Republican Congress over how to treat the South during the reconstruction process. The radical Republicans viewed Johnson as being too sympathetic to former slaveholders; they were outraged that he voted their legislation protecting the rights freed slaves.

The Senate, however, failed to convict Johnson, even though Republicans held more than two-thirds of the seats in the upper chamber. The acquittal did not suggest the senators were in support of the president's policies; instead, "a sufficient minority wished to protect the office of president and preserve the constitutional balance of powers." 

Johnson was spared conviction and ouster from office by a single vote.

Bill Clinton

Bill Clinton
Cynthia Johnson / Liaison

Clinton, the nation's 42nd president, was impeached by the House of Representatives on December 19, 1998, for allegedly misleading a grand jury about his extramarital affair with Lewinsky in the White House, and then persuading others to lie about it, too.

The charges against Clinton were perjury and obstruction of justice.

After a trial, the Senate acquitted Clinton of both charges on February 12. He went on to apologize for the affair and complete his second term in office, telling a captivated and polarized American public, "Indeed, I did have a relationship with Miss Lewinsky that was not appropriate. In fact, it was wrong. It constituted a critical lapse in judgment and a personal failure on my part for which I am solely and completely responsible."

Presidents Who Were Almost Impeached

Richard Nixon
Bachrach / Getty Images

Although Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton are the only two presidents to have been impeached, two others came very close to being charged with crimes.

One of them, Richard M. Nixon, was certain to be impeached and convicted in 1974, but the 37th president of the United States resigned before he was to face prosecution over the 1972 break-in at the Democratic Party's headquarters in what became known as the Watergate scandal.

The first president to come perilously close to impeachment was John Tyler, the nation's 10th president. An impeachment resolution was introduced in the House of Representatives again after his veto of a bill angered lawmakers.

The impeachment initiative failed.

Why Impeachment Isn't More Common

Impeachment is a very somber process in American politics, one that has been used sparingly and with the knowledge that lawmakers enter it with an extraordinary burden of proof. The result, the removal of an American president chosen by the citizenry, is unprecedented. Only the most serious of offenses should ever be pursued under mechanisms for impeaching a president, and they are spelled out in the Constitution of the United States: "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors."