Ticket to Andrew Johnson's impeachment

The ultimate limit on presidential power is removal from office by Congress through "Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors." As a political rather than judicial process, impeachment may involve partisan motivations. 

Congress has taken its constitutional responsibility cautiously, recognizing that its abuse would end the delicate balance of power between branches of government. Four presidents have seriously faced removal. The House of Representatives impeached Andrew Johnson in 1868, William J. Clinton in 1998, and Donald Trump in 2019 and again in 2021. In all four cases the Senate voted to acquit. On the verge of being impeached in 1972, Richard M. Nixon resigned.

George T. Brown, sergeant at arms of the Senate, serving the summons on President Andrew Johnson, from Harper's Weekly, March 28, 1868. In 1868 the House of Representatives impeached Andrew Johnson on the grounds that he violated the 1867 Tenure of Office Act prohibiting the president from removing cabinet members without Senate approval. The law was designed to protect Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, who oversaw the military occupation of the South and implemented Republican Party Reconstruction reforms that Johnson opposed. Johnson disregarded the law and dismissed Stanton. In retaliation, congressional Republicans, fearing the return of Southern white supremacy, impeached Johnson. The Senate acquitted him by one vote.

Most of the Tenure of Office Act was repealed in 1887; the rest was declared unconstitutional in 1926.

Courtesy of Library of Congress
House Impeachment Managers
This 1868 Mathew Brady photograph shows the House of Representatives managers of Andrew Johnson's impeachment case. In the Senate, where such a case is tried, House representatives serve as the prosecuting attorneys.
Courtesy of Library of Congress

Richard M. Nixon's Senate hearing and resignation
On July 30, 1974, the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives approved three articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon. The committee charged the president with obstruction of justice and misuse of presidential power.

The testimony of high-level White House officials and tape recordings made in the Oval Office revealed a history of break-ins, unauthorized wiretappings, political "dirty tricks," hush-money payments, and wrongful use of the Internal Revenue Service. With little or no support in either political party, on August 8, Nixon announced he would resign, the first president to do so.

These photographs by Fred J. Maroon show the Senate hearings on September 24, 1973 and President Nixon addressing cabinet members and White House staff during his farewell in the White House East Room on August 9, 1974. His daughter Julie and her husband David Eisenhower are standing behind him.

Ellsberg file cabinet
The Nixon administration established a secret-operations unit known as the Plumbers. On September 3, 1971, they broke into the office of Dr. Lewis Fielding, Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist. They were looking for damaging information against Ellsberg, who had leaked Pentagon papers concerning the Vietnam War to the press. This file cabinet was damaged in the search. It was the first in a series of Plumbers' break-ins that included the famous escapade at the Watergate Hotel that eventually brought down Richard Nixon's presidency.
John Dean's testimony
The testimony of John Dean, former counsel to the president, before the Senate Watergate hearings in June 1973 proved extremely damaging to President Nixon. In one of the turning points of the hearings, Dean was asked "What did the president know and when did he know it?" Dean answered by outlining Nixon's extensive involvement in a cover-up of the Watergate burglary from the beginning, including his authorization of hush money to silence witnesses.
John and Maureen Dean, waiting for him to testify, by Fred J. Maroon.
Courtesy of Fred J. Maroon

On December 18, 1998, the House of Representatives voted to impeach William J. Clinton. The charges were perjury and obstruction of justice stemming from the president's testimony in a civil suit and whether he misrepresented his relationship with a White House intern. The debate largely focused on whether his crimes, if real, rose to the level of an impeachable offense. Clinton was acquitted in the Senate of the charges.

Tickets to William Clinton's impeachment.
Senate question card from William Clinton’s impeachment
During the impeachment trial of William Clinton, senators submitted written questions for the prosecution and defense. The questions were read aloud by Chief Justice William Rehnquist who presided over the trial.