President Trump is currently the subject of a controversial impeachment inquiry launched by the House of Representatives over charges that he asked a foreign government to target one of his political rivals. In reading about the case, we are often reminded that two previous American presidents — Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton — have been impeached but that neither was convicted by the Senate and both retained their positions A third American leader, Richard Nixon, was threatened with impeachment, but resigned before any action could be taken.
In America, impeachment is a three-part process: investigation (usually but not necessarily by the House Judiciary Committee); passage of a formal complaint by the house, itself constituting impeachment; and finally conviction by the Senate, by a two-thirds majority. Obviously, the success of these stages will depend in part on how the target of the proceedings is viewed by both the House and Senate. These are the presidents with the best and worst relationship with Congress.
It is worth remembering, though, that impeachment is not exclusively an American process. A number of other world leaders — including a dozen non-American presidents — have been impeached in recent years.
The concept of impeachment dates back to England in the 14th century. The British Parliament seated in 1376 was known as the Good Parliament, because it prosecuted — and impeached — corrupt ministers of the king. The so-called Wonderful Parliament of 1386 impeached the Lord Chancellor who served under Richard II, and the 1388 Merciless Parliament condemned the Lord Chancellor and other royal officials to death.
The worst that most presidents have to fear from impeachment today is dismissal from office. That’s by no means always a given, even for those chief executives, like Andrew Johnson, who are not well considered in retrospect. See where various former leaders of our nation fall when historians rank every president.
Though impeachment can obviously be a political weapon by which the party in power unseats its opponents, it is also a valuable tool allowing elected legislative bodies to combat abuses on the part of the leaders of their countries.