With the House of Representatives poised to vote on the impeachment of President Donald Trump it seems a good time to dust off our handy dandy constitutional manual on everything you ever wanted to know about impeachment, but were afraid to ask. The Constitution states that the President and other high civil officials may be impeached for “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” Basically, the House is like the district attorney for “the people” bringing the charges (impeaching) against the defendant (the President). The members of the Senate serve as jury with a two thirds super majority required to convict because the founding fathers wanted the process used sparingly and not as a political weapon to remove an unpopular president. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court presides over the impeachment of a president in the Senate but for no other official. The House has only impeached three presidents in over two hundred years and no president in American history has ever been impeached and convicted by the Senate.
In 1868 President Andrew Johnson was in the final year of his single term as president, following the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. He was a Democrat and unpopular with the Radical Republicans running the Congress in the aftermath of the Civil War. He was impeached by the House for violating the Tenure of Office Act, a law passed by Congress over his veto, which basically prevented him from removing Cabinet officials without a vote of the Senate. It would later be declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, but not in time to help Johnson. The House voted overwhelmingly to impeach Johnson and the Congress enthusiastically advertised the upcoming trial in the Senate by selling tickets to an enthralled public. With the future of the presidency on the line and an ascendant Congress chomping at the bit to elevate itself forever above any elected president, the trial took place and the vote to remove Johnson needed one final Republican to reach the two thirds number. Senator Edmund G. Ross of Kansas put honor above party and cast the pivotal vote NOT to convict President Andrew Johnson. Ross was voted out of office and never heard from again until a young college student named John F. Kennedy wrote a book about him (and others) a half century later called Profiles in Courage, winning a Pulitzer Prize.