Bill Clinton Was No Andrew Johnson: Comparing Two Impeachments
University of Pennsylvania Journal of Constitutional Law, Vol. 2, March 2000
Posted: 7 Jun 2000
The recent impeachment of President Bill Clinton has called attention to the only other presidential impeachment in American history, that of Andrew Johnson in 1868. Parallels between the two cases have been drawn to suggest that both were unjustified attacks on the presidency by a partisan Congress. Such comparisons have also suggested that the Clinton impeachment will result in a weakened presidency, just as the Johnson impeachment ushered in an era of congressional government in the nineteenth century. This paper argues that such comparisons are misguided. Although both impeachments were organized along partisan lines, the Johnson impeachment, unlike the Clinton impeachment, was constitutionally substantive, constructive rather than mechanical in its constitutional application, and focused squarely on the presidency as an institution. Both the substantive content and the political context of the Johnson impeachment contributed to a weakening of the presidency. The Clinton impeachment, by contrast, is unlikely to have any significant, long-term institutional implications. A comparison of the two impeachments also counsels against formalistic efforts to further define "high crimes and misdemeanors."
JEL Classification: K3, N4
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation