POLITICAL CONFLICT: In this cartoon drawn by PHS student Oliva Brennan, Nancy Pelosi announces the impeachment inquiry into Donald Trump.

On Tuesday, September 24, 2019, Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House of Representatives, announced that the House would launch an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. 


This announcement follows recent revelations that President Trump asked the Ukrainian president to provide him information on Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, in what critics are calling an attempt to endanger national security for the President’s own advantage.


But what is impeachment? It’s a word that has defined key moments in American history, both fairly recent and in the distant past. Yet, many Americans don’t know what impeachment means, both as a procedure and for the sitting president who is being impeached. 


Impeachment Defined


Impeachment is defined by Merriam-Webster as “to charge with a crime or misdemeanor.” In the United States, impeachment is the process of removing a public official from office. 


A common misconception about impeachment is that to be impeached means to be automatically removed from office; that is not true. Impeachment simply means that a group of people will determine whether or not a public official should be removed from office. 


The Impeachment Process


In the United States, the impeachment process begins with the announcement of an impeachment inquiry. An impeachment inquiry determines whether or not there has been a serious wrongdoing on the part of the official that would require they be impeached.


If the inquiry decides in favor of impeachment, the House of Representatives must vote whether or not to impeach the official. If more than half of the members vote for impeachment, the trial stage begins.


The trial is overseen and held by the Senate. Technically, the Senate Majority Leader does not have to order a trial, but in all cases of impeachment so far a trial has been held. For an official to be kicked out of office, the Senate must have a two-thirds majority in favor of impeachment.


Impeachment and American Presidents


Impeachment has seemed to come at the most contentious times in United States history.


The first president to be impeached was Andrew Johnson in 1868. Following the end of the Civil War, disagreements over reconstruction led to a fracture between Johnson and lawmakers in Congress, which led for the House to vote to impeach the president after he fired the Secretary of War.


Members of Congress impeached him on the grounds that he had violated the Tenure of Office Act. Impeachment proceedings went ahead, ending in a close vote, with the Senate deciding that Johnson would remain in office by one vote.


Most historians agree that Johnson was impeached for purely political reasons and that his enemies in Congress wanted to remove him to get their way on reconstruction policy. 


One of the most common misconceptions about impeachment and the presidency is that Richard Nixon was impeached, which he wasn’t. He resigned the presidency before the impeachment inquiry could come to a decision. Therefore, he is not one of the few presidents who has been impeached.


The second president to be impeached was Bill Clinton in “the highly charged partisan politics of the 1990s,” according to 


After he lied about having sex with Monica Lewinsky in the White House, he was impeached on the grounds of perjury. 


Clinton was ultimately acquitted and completed his second term. 


Impeachment Today


The 2019 impeachment of Donald Trump comes at an equally contentious time as prior experiences the United States has had with impeachment. 


For Johnson, it was in the midst of debates about reconstruction in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War.


For Nixon, it was directly following the turbulent 1960s, a decade defined by civil rights movements and the Vietnam War.


For Clinton, it marked the end of a decade defined by party politics and shaped by the rise of partisanship.


For Trump, impeachment comes after nearly three years of intense divide in the country over every issue under the sun.


Whether or not Trump will be removed from office is yet to be decided, but whatever happens it will leave a permanent mark on history and drastically impact American political life.