- Library of Congress
With lawmakers discussing impeachment more freely lately, it’s worth pointing out that only a small handful of federal officials have ever been impeached by the House.
In US history, just 16 federal officials – one senator, one cabinet secretary, two presidents, and 12 judges – were impeached.
Of those impeachments, just five have occurred in the past 80 years.
President Richard Nixon, the only president to resign from office, was actually never impeached. He stepped down before proceedings had begun. The two presidents who were impeached by the House, Bill Clinton and Andrew Johnson, were both acquitted by the Senate. No president has ever been both impeached by the House and convicted by the Senate.
Many of those 16 impeachments occurred for interesting reasons.
Here are some of those:
- Tennessee Portrait Project/Wikipedia
The first federal official to be subject to impeachment was Blount, a Tennessee senator, in 1797.
Blount was accused of conspiring to allow Britain to gain control of Florida and Louisiana in exchange for American access to the Mississippi River and New Orleans. A letter outlining the plan was turned over President John Adams, who came to the conclusion that what Blount was trying to pull off amounted to a crime.
The House shortly after voted to hold impeachment hearings, but the Senate, taking responsibility for one of their own, took control of the matter and voted to essentially expel him from the governing body.
Pickering, a district judge in New Hampshire, was impeached in 1803 and convicted by the Senate in 1804 for, among other things, being drunk.
President Thomas Jefferson accused Pickering of having bad morals because he was drunk while on the bench. Jefferson also accused the district judge of making unlawful rulings, but Pickering’s drunkenness is what he’s more remembered for.
“I shall be sober tomorrow,” Pickering said at the start of a November 1802 hearing, according to Politico. “I am now damned drunk.”
West Hughes Humphreys
West Hughes Humphreys was impeached for something that no federal official could find themselves subjected to in modern times: serving simultaneously as a US district court judge in Tennessee and as a Confederate judge in the same state at the beginning of the Civil War.
Impeached in 1862, Humphreys was subsequently convicted charges including calling for secession from the union, aiding an armed rebellion, and serving as a Confederate judge, among others.
One charge he was not convicted on? Confiscating property belonging to President Abraham Lincoln-appointed Tennessee Military Governor Andrew Johnson, the future president.
Speaking of Johnson…
- Library of Congress
President Johnson, one of only two US presidents to be impeached, was famously loathed by many in Congress. So much so that Congress passed the Tenure of Office Act, which curtailed the president’s ability to fire members of his Cabinet.
Johnson went ahead and tried to fire his secretary of war anyway, and was subsequently impeached by the House in 1868. He avoided conviction in the Senate by one vote.
The Tenure of Office Act was subsequently repealed in its entirety in 1887.