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Richard Nixon could read the writing on the wall. He remains the only President of the United States to resign from office. He did so before the House of Representatives could pass formal Articles of Impeachment against him, and when he resigned, the process became academic.

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Nixon's problems began with the June 17, 1972, break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate Office Building in Washington, D.C., and the Nixon administration's attempted cover-up of its involvement. In January 1973, as Nixon began his second term, the burglars each went on trial separately before U.S. District Judge John Sirica. All either pleaded or were found guilty. In February 1973, the House of Representatives provided its Judiciary Committee with additional investigation authority to probe into the matter and that same month, the Senate voted 77–0 to create a special investigative committee to look into the scandal. The resultant Senate Watergate hearings, led by Sam Ervin, began in May 1973. The hearings were broadcast nationwide, and garnered significant public interest. Senators heard testimony that the president had approved plans to cover up administration involvement with the Watergate break-in, and learned of the existence of a voice-activated taping system in the Oval Office.

On May 25, 1973, Attorney General Elliot Richardson appointed Archibald Cox as special prosecutor for the federal investigation into possible Nixon administration ties to the Watergate burglary. As part of his investigation, in July of that year, Cox and Senator Earvin both asked Judge Sirica to issue a subpoena for several White House tape recordings and documents. Nixon refused to comply with the subpoenas, citing executive privilege. In an address to the nation on Watergate the following month, Nixon justified his refusal saying: "This principle of confidentiality of presidential conversations is at stake in the question of these tapes. I must and I shall oppose any efforts to destroy this principle, which is so vital to the conduct of this great office."

On August 9, the Senate committee filed suit in Federal District Court to force President Nixon to make the subpoenaed tapes available. In October, after the U.S. Court of Appeals upheld Judge Sirica's subpoena, Nixon offered a compromise: the White House would prepare transcripts of the tapes. Senator John C. Stennis, a Democrat, and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, would be asked to listen to the tapes himself and make a make a comparison between the transcripts and the tapes. His authenticated version would be submitted to the court. The White House also wanted Stennis to paraphrase language that in its original form would, in his judgment, be embarrassing to the President. Nixon did not want the tapes entered into the public record verbatim, because they contained recordings of him and others using coarse language and racial slurs. Cox rejected Nixon's offer.

On October 20, Cox held a news conference to state that he would continue pressing in court for the tapes, even if it meant asking that Nixon be held in contempt if the White House refused to turn them over. Nixon then ordered that Cox be fired. Attorney General Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus refused to do so and were fired in what became known as the Saturday Night Massacre. Ultimately Solicitor General Robert Bork fired Cox, acting on Nixon's direction.

There had been multiple resolutions calling for a presidential impeachment inquiry introduced in the House. The first of these to directly call for President Nixon's impeachment was introduced on July 31, 1973, by Robert Drinan. The resolution was effectively ignored by leaders of both parties. House Majority Leader Tip O'Neill justified his refusal to call a vote on the resolution because he believed that it would have been overwhelmingly defeated, and with most of the members already on record as having voted once against impeachment, it would have been extremely difficult to get them to change their minds later on.

On September 30, 1973, the American Civil Liberties Union became first national organization to publicly call for Nixon's impeachment and removal from office. They cited six civil liberties violations as grounds: "specific proved violations of the rights of political dissent; usurpation of Congressional war‐making powers; establishment of a personal secret police which committed crimes; attempted interference in the trial of Daniel Ellsberg; distortion of the system of justice and perversion of other Federal agencies."

The Judiciary Committee prepared a 718-page book, published in October 1973, on the origin of the impeachment power and the instances in which that power had previously been used by Congress. It gave a detailed description of Andrew Johnson's 1868 Senate impeachment trial.

After the "Saturday Night Massacre", NBC News anchor John Chancellor interrupted the network's prime time programming with a dire message, "The country tonight is in the midst of what may be the most serious constitutional crisis in its history." The New York Times declared, "The nation is in the hands of a president overcome with dictatorial misconceptions of his constitutional authority." Outside the White House, marchers held signs saying "Honk for Impeachment"; car horns were heard non-stop, both day and night for two weeks. On October 23, House Democrats introduced 22 separate presidential impeachment related resolutions. Speaker of the House Carl Albert referred the multiple resolutions to the Judiciary Committee.

That same day, Nixon agreed to turn the subpoenaed tapes over to Judge Sirica. Nixon also reversed course on his decision to abolish the office of the special prosecutor, and a week later, Leon Jaworski was appointed to the post by the acting attorney general, Robert Bork.

Vice President Spiro Agnew had resigned on October 10, and Speaker Albert called on Congress to take swift action on the nomination of Gerald Ford to fill the vice presidential vacancy. The 37-member House Judiciary Committee voted on October 30, to began consideration of possible impeachment of President Nixon by a 21–17 party-line vote, with all the committee's Democrats voting yes and all Republicans voting no.

On November 4, 1973, Senator Edward Brooke became the first congressional Republican to publicly urge President Nixon to resign. That same week, several newspapers, including The Atlanta Journal, The Denver Post, The Detroit News and The New York Times, published editorials also urging him to resign. Time magazine did so as well. As momentum for impeachment built up in Congress, Nixon held a live one-hour televised press conference on November 17 to defend himself. Nixon famously stated, "People have got to know whether or not their President is a crook. Well, I'm not a crook."

But Nixon was not able to put Watergate behind him. Rumors began circulating that he was in poor mental and physical shape. In December 1973 Senator Barry Goldwater said in a private not, "I have reason to suspect that all might not be well mentally in the White House. This is the only copy that will ever be made of this; it will be locked in my safe."

The Judiciary Committee set up an impeachment inquiry staff. John Doar, formerly a civil rights attorney in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, was hired in December 1973 to be the lead special counsel for the inquiry staff. He supervised a team which grew to 100 persons, including 43 attorneys, including future Massachusetts Governor William Weld and future Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. James D. St. Clair, a Boston lawyer, was named special counsel to President Nixon.

At the end of his January 30, 1974 State of the Union address, Nixon asked for an speedy resolution to any impeachment proceedings against him, so that the government could function fully effectively again. He told Congress that "one year of Watergate is enough" and asserted that he had no "intention whatever" of resigning.

On February 6, 1974, the House Judiciary Committee was authorized to launch a formal impeachment inquiry against the president. The House approved the resolution 410–4. The first task assigned to the attorneys on the inquiry staff by John Doer was to ascertain what constituted "high crimes and misdemeanors" – one of the grounds stated in Article II, Section 4 Of the Constitution for impeachment of the president. The staff produced a guide for the Judiciary Committee, a 64-page report, entitled "Constitutional Grounds for Presidential Impeachment." This report concluded that there did not need to be a criminal act on the part of the president to justify impeachment. It stated, "The framers did not write a fixed standard. Instead they adopted from English history a standard sufficiently general and flexible to meet future circumstances and events, the nature and character of which they could not foresee." It also concluded that impeachable offenses could fall into three categories: "Exceeding the powers of the office in derogation of those of another branch of government;" "Behaving in a manner grossly incompatible with the proper functions and purpose of the office;" and "Employing the power of the office for an improper purpose or personal gain."

March 1, 1974, the federal district court grand jury that had been empaneled in July 1972 to investigate the Watergate break-in handed up indictments against seven Nixon advisors and aides, including H. R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman and John Mitchell. Watergate Special Prosecutor Leon Jaworski advised the grand jury that in his opinion the Constitution prohibited the indictment of an incumbent president, making the House Judiciary Committee the constitutionally appropriate body under the Constitution for examining evidence relating to the president's role in the Watergate conspiracy. Jurors recommended that that the material supporting the criminal case against him be turned over to the committee.

There had been allegations that, since taking office, Nixon had greatly underpaid what he owed the IRS in taxes. In December 1973 Nixon agreed to publicly release his returns covering the years 1969 through 1972. He also asked Congress' Joint Committee on Taxation to examine his personal finances. The committee's report was issued April 3, 1974. It found several problems with Nixon's returns, and stated that he owed $476,431 including interest for unpaid taxes over the four years.

On April 11, 1974, by a 33–3 vote, the Judiciary Committee subpoenaed 42 White House tapes of pertinent conversations. A week later, Jaworski obtained a subpoena from Judge Sirica ordering Nixon to release 64 additional recordings in connection with his case. Nixon initially wanted to refuse both requests completely, but on the advice of his counsel, James St. Clair, and others, it was decided that transcripts of the tapes—with certain passages edited or removed—would be turned over. Several profanity-laced discussions amongst his inner-circle had every use of profanity be replaced by "[EXPLETIVE DELETED]." Nixon then announced on national television that he was giving to the Judiciary Committee edited transcripts of the conversations they wanted, but he refused to hand over the tapes and other documents requested by Jaworski.

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The next day, April 30, some 1,250 pages of transcripts were made public. The Judiciary Committee, however, rejected Nixon's edited transcripts, saying that they did not comply with the terms of the subpoena. A few newspapers printed the transcripts in full, and two quickly produced paperback books contained the same, resulting in sales of over a million copies.

There were six special House elections in 1974 to fill vacant seats. Held between February and June, they provided the first broad test of public sentiment regarding the scandal-plagued Nixon administration. Democrats won five of these, each in a district previously represented by a Republican. One Democratic gain was Michigan's 5th district, which Gerald Ford had long held before becoming vice president.

The House Judiciary Committee opened its formal impeachment hearings against the President on May 9, 1974. The first twenty minutes were televised on the major U.S. networks, after which the committee switched to closed sessions for the next two months. On July 9, the Judiciary Committee released its own version of eight of the White House tapes that Nixon had previously issued his own transcript of. The Committee transcripts restored much of the potentially damaging statements that Nixon staffers had removed. On July 12 the Committee released its accumulated evidence on the case, which was 3,888 pages. Press Secretary Ziegler said that the president remained confident that the full House would not impeach. Statements from White House officials called the impeachment inquiry a "partisan witch-hunt" and the committee's proceedings were referred to as "a kangaroo court." Nixon also tried to draw attention away from the hearings by traveling to the Middle East and the Soviet Union in June. In Egypt he met with President Anwar Sadat, and later, he and General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev signed the Threshold Test Ban Treaty.

Televised coverage of committee hearings resumed on July 24. The commercial broadcast networks televised the evening sessions while PBS broadcast the morning and afternoon sessions as well. On the afternoon of Friday, July 26, television viewers watched live as the first Article of Impeachment was read into the record against the President. Representative Lawrence Hogan of Maryland, a Republican, said, "After reading the transcripts, it was sobering: the number of untruths, the deception and the immoral attitudes. By any standard of proof demanded, we had to bind him over for trial and removal by the Senate."

A Harris Poll showed that 53 percent of Americans supported Nixon's impeachment by the House. The same poll showed that 47 percent thought he should be convicted in a Senate trial and removed from office, 34 percent thought he should be acquitted and 19 percent were undecided. A Gallup Poll taken around the same time revealed that Nixon's favorability rating had fallen to 24 percent of the population.

On July 27, 1974, the Committee voted on the first article of impeachment. Over the course of four days, July 27–30, the Judiciary Committee debated five articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon. Three articles were approved by the Committee. Two others were rejected. They represented the first presidential impeachment recommendation in more than a century. They had bipartisan support. The articles adopted were:

Article I: On June 17, 1972, and prior thereto, agents of the Committee for the Re-election of the President committed unlawful entry of the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee in Washington, District of Columbia, for the purpose of securing political intelligence. Subsequent thereto, Richard M. Nixon, using the powers of his high office, engaged personally and through his close subordinates and agents, in a course of conduct or plan designed to delay, impede, and obstruct the investigation of such illegal entry; to cover up, conceal and protect those responsible; and to conceal the existence and scope of other unlawful covert activities.

Article II: Using the powers of the office of President of the United States, Richard M. Nixon, in violation of his constitutional oath faithfully to execute the office of President of the United States and, to the best of his ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States, and in disregard of his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, has repeatedly engaged in conduct violating the constitutional rights of citizens, impairing the due and proper administration of justice and the conduct of lawful inquiries, or contravening the laws governing agencies of the executive branch and the purposes of these agencies.

Article III: In his conduct of the office of President of the United States, Richard M. Nixon, contrary to his oath faithfully to execute the office of President of the United States and, to the best of his ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States, and in violation of his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, has failed without lawful cause or excuse to produce papers and things as directed by duly authorized subpoenas issued by the Committee on the Judiciary of the House of Representatives on April 11, 1974, May 15, 1974, May 30, 1974, and June 24, 1974, and willfully disobeyed such subpoenas. The subpoenaed papers and things were deemed necessary by the Committee in order to resolve by direct evidence fundamental, factual questions relating to Presidential direction, knowledge or approval of actions demonstrated by other evidence to be substantial grounds for impeachment of the President. In refusing to produce these papers and things Richard M. Nixon, substituting his judgment as to what materials were necessary for the inquiry, interposed the powers of the Presidency against the lawful subpoenas of the House of Representatives, thereby assuming to himself functions and judgments necessary to the exercise of the sole power of impeachment vested by the Constitution in the House of Representatives.

The two articles rejected were

Article IV: In his conduct of the office of President of the United States, Richard M. Nixon, contrary to his oath faithfully to execute the office of President of the United States and to the best of his ability preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States and in disregard of his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, on and subsequent to March 17, 1969, authorized, ordered and ratified the concealment from Congress of the facts and the submission to Congress of false and misleading statements concerning the existence, scope, and nature of American bombing operations in Cambodia and derogation of the power of Congress to declare war.

Article V: In his conduct of the office of President of the United States, Richard M. Nixon, contrary to his oath faithfully to execute the office of President of the United States and to the best of his ability preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States and in disregard of his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, did receive emolument from the United States in excess of the compensation provided by law ... and did willfully attempt to evade the payment of a portion of Federal income taxes due and owing by him for the years 1969, 1970, 1971, and 1972.

Nixon hoped to fight the impeachment charges. He was described by Secretary of State Henry Kissinger as "a man awake in his own nightmare". During a July 29 private meeting between House Minority Leader John Rhodes and Senate Minority Leader Hugh Scott, Rhodes estimated that impeachment in the House would get as many as 300 votes, well more than the majority of 218 it needed, and Scott felt that there were 60 votes for conviction in the Senate.

On July 24, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously in United States v. Nixon that all Nixon White House tapes, not just selected transcripts, must be released to the special prosecutor. Nixon released the tapes on August 5, 1974. A previously unknown conversation between the Nixon and Chief of Staff H. R. Haldeman on June 23, 1972, only a few days after the break-in at the Democratic National Committee offices, proved that Nixon's assertion of having had no involvement in the coverup of the burglary was false. The tape, which became known as the ""smoking gun" tape, documented the initial stages of the coverup. It revealed Nixon and Haldeman meeting in the Oval Office and formulating a plan to block investigations by having the CIA falsely claim to the FBI that national security was involved. Nixon blamed this on a lapse of memory. Nixon said he would not step down, and said that that the process defined by the Constitution should play out.

During the late afternoon of August 7, 1974, Senators Goldwater and Scott and Representative Rhodes met with Nixon in the Oval Office and told him that his support in Congress had all but disappeared. Rhodes told the president that he would face certain impeachment when the articles came up for vote in the full House. Goldwater and Scott told the president that there were more than enough votes in the Senate to convict him. Goldwater later wrote that as a result of the meeting, Nixon "knew beyond any doubt that one way or another his presidency was finished".

Nixon met with Vice President Gerald Ford the following morning, August 8, to inform Ford of his intention to resign. He informed the nation of the decision that night. In that speech, Nixon said that by resigning, "I will have hastened the start of that process of healing which is so desperately needed in America." He added, "I deeply regret any injuries that may have been done in the course of the events that led to this decision." On the morning of August 9, 1974, Nixon signed a letter of resignation addressed to Secretary of State Kissinger. His presidency officially ended at 11:35 am, when Kissinger received the letter.A short while later, Gerald Ford was sworn into office, declaring "our long national nightmare is over."

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Following President Nixon's resignation, the impeachment process against him was closed. On August 20, the House voted to accept the final Judiciary Committee report by a vote of 412 to 3. The 528‐page report was published on August 22. On September 8, 1974 President Ford granted Nixon a "full, free and absolute pardon" for all crimes that Nixon had "committed or may have committed or taken part in" as president.

Nixon proclaimed his innocence until his death in 1994. In the 1974 mid-term elections, Democrats won 49 House seats previously held by Republicans and increased their majority above the two-thirds mark. There were 93 freshmen representatives in the 94th Congress when it convened on January 3, 1975 (76 of them Democrats). Those elected to office that year later came to be known as "Watergate Babies".
Things must have been tense between "running mates" Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr. When they two men ran as the Democratic-Republican candidates for President against John Adams in 1800, at a time when there was no designation for President and Vice-President, the two men tied for first in the electoral college, Jefferson assumed that he would get the top spot, and Burr the Vice-Presidency. "Not so fast", thought Burr, and Jefferson found out what happens when you assume. It was unclear who the third President of the United States would be at first, and it wasn't until Alexander Hamilton decided that while he hated Jefferson, he hated his New York rival Burr worse. Ultimately Jefferson was chosen the winner in the contest. This "crisis" brought about a change in the rules in which parties clearly designated who their candidate for President was and who their candidate for Vice-President was.

This wasn't the only time the third President and his running mate would come into conflict. In 1803 Vice-President Burr, in his role as president of the Senate, would preside over the impeachment trial of Federalist judge Samuel Chase. Whatever his faults may have been, Burr is generally considered to have exercised his function as "judge" in the case in a fair and principled manner, something that Jefferson wasn't very happy about.

In 1788, Samuel Chase of Maryland was appointed chief justice of the District Criminal Court in Baltimore and served until 1796. In 1791, he became Chief Justice of the Maryland General Court, until January 26, 1796, when President George Washington appointed him as an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. Chase served on the court until his death on June 19, 1811. When Jefferson became President, he wasn't very happy at how the Judicial Branch of government was impeding his ability to exercise his presidential power and especially how he was prevented from replacing Federalist judges with those more in tune with his ideology. He began an effort to remove the Federalists from the bench. Shortly after his inauguration, his supporters in Congress had repealed the Judiciary Act of 1801, abolishing the lower courts created by the legislation and terminating their Federalist judges despite their having been granted lifetime appointments.

One of the biggest critics of Jefferson's attack on the independence of the Judiciary was Samuel Chase. In May of 1803, two years after the repeal of the Judiciary Act, Chase commented publicly in his charge to a Baltimore grand jury, about Jefferson's actions, saying that the repeal of the act would "take away all security for property and personal liberty, and our Republican constitution will sink into a mobocracy."

Chase had previously made public comments of a political rather than a judicial nature. In April 1800, while acting as a district judge, Chase had been strongly critical of Thomas Cooper, who had been indicted under the Alien and Sedition Acts. Many believed that Chase had gone too far in sounding more like a prosecutor rather than a judge, as he expressed support for the controversial legislation. Also in 1800, when a grand jury in New Castle, Delaware refused to indict a local printer, Chase refused to discharge the jury, attempting to coerce them into an indictment. In Jefferson's view, Chase had crossed the line. The Supreme Court's decision in Marbury v. Madison had made it impossible for Jefferson to fire Chase, so he thought that impeachment may be an avenue to get rid of the strong Federalist jurist and replace him with someone more politically palatable. Jefferson wrote to Congressman Joseph Hopper Nicholson of Maryland, asking: "Ought the seditious and official attack [by Chase] on the principles of our Constitution to go unpunished?"

Virginia Congressman John Randolph of Roanoke agreed with his President. He led the movement to impeach Chase. The House of Representatives served Chase with eight articles of impeachment in late 1803, one of which involved Chase's handling of the trial of John Fries. Two more focused on his conduct in the political libel trial of James Callender. One article covered Chase's conduct with the New Castle grand jury, charging that he "did descend from the dignity of a judge and stoop to the level of an informer by refusing to discharge the grand jury, although entreated by several of the said jury so to do." Three articles focused on errors alleged to be made by chase in his conduct as a judge and the eighth article was directed at his "intemperate and inflammatory, peculiarly indecent and unbecoming, highly unwarrantable, highly indecent" remarks while "charging" or authorizing a Baltimore grand jury.

On March 12, 1804, the House voted 73 to 32 to impeach Chase. The United States Senate—controlled by the Jeffersonian Democratic-Republicans—began the impeachment trial of Chase on February 9, 1805, with Vice President Aaron Burr presiding and John Randolph leading the prosecution. Burr's judicial temperament in presiding over the trial has been praised by historians and credited as helping to preserve the principle of judicial independence that was established by Marbury v. Madison in 1803. One contemporary newspaper wrote that Burr had conducted the proceedings with the "impartiality of an angel, but with the rigor of a devil"

All the counts involved Chase's work as a trial judge in lower circuit courts. In those days, Supreme Court justices had the added duty of serving as individual judges on circuit courts, a practice that was ended in the late 19th century. At the heart of the allegations was the idea that political bias had led Chase to treat defendants and their counsel in a blatantly unfair manner. Chase's defense lawyers called the prosecution a political effort by his Republican enemies. In answer to the articles of impeachment, Chase argued that all of his actions had been motivated by following judicial precedent, and by properly exercising his judicial duty to restrain advocates from improper statements of law, and considerations of judicial efficiency.

The Senate voted to acquit Chase of all charges on March 1, 1805. There were 34 Senators present (25 Republicans and 9 Federalists), and 23 votes were needed to reach the required two-thirds majority for conviction and removal from office. If the vote had gone strictly along party lines, Chase's goose would have been cooked. But of the eight votes cast (one on each article of impeachment), the closest vote was 18 for conviction/removal from office and 16 for acquittal. This was in regards to the Baltimore grand jury charge. The result was that Chase got to keep his job.

So far Chase is the only U.S. Supreme Court justice to have been impeached. The impeachment raised constitutional questions over the nature of the judiciary and about the appropriate extent of judicial independence under the Constitution. The case sought to reinforce the concept that the judiciary was prohibited from engaging in partisan politics. Chief Justice William Rehnquist later noted in his book Grand Inquests, some senators declined to convict Chase despite their partisan hostility to him, apparently because they doubted that disagreement with the quality of his judging was sufficient grounds for removal. All impeachments of federal judges since Chase have been based on allegations of legal or ethical misconduct, not on judicial performance.

Samuel Chase died of a heart attack in 1811. He was interred in what is now Baltimore's Old Saint Paul's Cemetery. As for Burr, he was not placed on the Democratic-Republican ticket in the election of 1804. That year he had not only disappointed his President. He also killed the man who denied him the Presidency. Burr shot his political rival Alexander Hamilton in a famous duel in 1804, but he was never tried for the illegal duel and all charges against him were eventually dropped. Still, Hamilton's death ended Burr's political career.


Burr left Washington, D.C., and traveled west seeking to make his fortune, financially and politically. His activities eventually led to his arrest on charges of treason in 1807. Once again he would frustrate Thomas Jefferson as he was tried and acquitted multiple times. Though not convicted, the events left Burr a broken man, with large debts and few friends. He left the United States for Europe. He remained overseas until 1812, when he returned to the United States to practice law in New York City. He spent the rest of his life there in relative obscurity. He suffered a stroke in 1834 and died in 1836.
The last President to be impeached was Bill Clinton. The subject of his impeachment is probably too detailed for a single entry, but here is an abbreviated explanation. In 1998 the media reported that between 1995 and 1996, President Bill Clinton and a 22-year-old White House intern, Monica Lewinsky were having an illicit sexual relationship. Clinton initially responded to the rumors by telling the media that he "did not have sexual relations" with Lewinsky, but further investigation led to charges of perjury and to the Clinton's impeachment in 1998 by the House of Representatives.

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In 1995, Lewinsky, a graduate of Lewis & Clark College, was hired to work as an intern at the White House during Clinton's first term. She later became an employee of the White House Office of Legislative Affairs. While Lewinsky worked at the White House, Clinton began a personal relationship with her, the details of which she later confided to her Defense Department co-worker Linda Tripp, who secretly recorded their telephone conversations. When Tripp discovered in January 1998 that Lewinsky had sworn an affidavit in the Paula Jones case denying a relationship with Clinton, she delivered the tapes to Kenneth Starr, the Independent Counsel who was investigating Clinton on other matters. The wide reporting of the scandal led to criticism of the media for how it covered the scandal. The incident received a number of nicknames such as "Monicagate," Lewinskygate," "Tailgate," "Sexgate," and "Zippergate.

Lewinsky told Starr's investigators that she had sexual encounters with Bill Clinton on nine occasions from November 1995 to March 1997. First Lady Hillary Clinton was at the White House for at least some portion of seven of those days. In April of 1996, Lewinsky's superiors relocated her job to the Pentagon, because they felt that she was spending too much time around Clinton and had suspicions about some inappropriate conduct occurring. United Nations Ambassador Bill Richardson was asked by the White House in 1997 to interview Lewinsky for a job on his staff. He did so and offered her a position, which she declined.

Lewinsky confided in her friend Linda Tripp about her relationship with Clinton. Tripp persuaded Lewinsky to save the gifts that Clinton had given her, and not to dry clean a blue dress she had that was stained with Clinton's semen. At the suggestion of Tripp's literary agent Lucianne Goldberg, Tripp began secretly recording her conversations with Lewinsky in September 1997. Goldberg also urged Tripp to take the tapes to Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr and also share them with the lawyers who were working on the Paula Jones case. In the fall of 1997, Goldberg began speaking to reporters, including Michael Isikoff of Newsweek, about the tapes.

In January 1998, Lewinsky had submitted an affidavit in the Paula Jones case in which she denied having any sort of physical relationship with Clinton. Lewinsky asked Tripp to lie under oath in the Jones case, but instead, Tripp gave the tapes to Ken Starr who was investigating Clinton over the Whitewater controversy and some other matters. With evidence of Lewinsky's admission of a physical relationship with Clinton, Starr decided to widen his investigation to include Lewinsky and her possible perjury in the Jones case.

News of the scandal first broke on January 17, 1998, on the political website the Drudge Report. Drudge reported that Newsweek editors were sitting on a story by investigative reporter Michael Isikoff exposing the affair between Clinton and Lewinsky. The story broke in the mainstream press on January 21 in The Washington Post. Clinton denied the allegations and on January 26, with the First Lady by his side, Clinton spoke at a White House press conference, and issued a forceful denial. He told the media:

"Now, I have to go back to work on my State of the Union speech. And I worked on it until pretty late last night. But I want to say one thing to the American people. I want you to listen to me. I'm going to say this again: I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky. I never told anybody to lie, not a single time; never. These allegations are false. And I need to go back to work for the American people. Thank you."

First Lady Hillary Clinton remained supportive of her husband throughout the scandal. On January 27, in an appearance on NBC's Today she said, "The great story here for anybody willing to find it and write about it and explain it is this vast right-wing conspiracy that has been conspiring against my husband since the day he announced for president."

For the next several months the media was unable to disprove Clinton's denial because Lewinsky was unwilling to discuss the affair or testify about it. But on July 28, 1998, Lewinsky received immunity in return for grand jury testimony concerning her relationship with Clinton. She also turned over her semen-stained blue dress to Starr's investigators, the blue dress that Linda Tripp had encouraged her to save without dry cleaning. Starr's investigators had clear DNA evidence that proved the relationship despite Clinton's official denials.

On August 17, 1998, Clinton admitted in taped grand jury testimony that he had what he called an "improper physical relationship" with Lewinsky. That evening he gave a nationally televised statement admitting his relationship with Lewinsky which was "not appropriate".

In his deposition for the Jones lawsuit, Clinton denied having "sexual relations" with Lewinsky. The blue dress with Clinton's semen gave Starr evidence that led him to believe that the president's sworn testimony was false and constituted perjury. During the deposition, Clinton was asked "Have you ever had sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky, as that term is defined in Deposition Exhibit 1?" The judge ordered that Clinton be given an opportunity to review the agreed definition. Afterwards, based on the definition created by the Independent Counsel's Office, Clinton answered, "I have never had sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky." Clinton later stated, "I thought the definition included any activity by me, where I was the actor and came in contact with those parts of the bodies". Clinton denied that he had ever contacted Lewinsky's "genitalia, anus, groin, breast, inner thigh, or buttocks", and effectively claimed that the agreed-upon definition of "sexual relations" included giving oral sex but excluded receiving oral sex.

In December 1998, a majority of the House of Representatives agreed that that Clinton's giving false testimony and allegedly influencing Lewinsky's testimony were crimes of obstruction of justice and perjury and thus impeachable offenses. The House of Representatives voted to issue Articles of Impeachment against him. This which was followed by a 21-day trial in the Senate. All of the Democrats in the Senate voted for acquittal on both the perjury and the obstruction of justice charges. Ten Republicans voted for acquittal for perjury and five Republicans voted for acquittal for obstruction of justice. Clinton was acquitted of all charges and remained in office. There were attempts to censure the president by the House of Representatives, but those attempts failed.

The scandal arguably affected the 2000 U.S. presidential election. Democratic Party candidate and sitting vice president Al Gore felt that Clinton's scandal had deflated the enthusiasm of their party's base, while Clinton felt that the scandal had made Gore's campaign too cautious, and that if Clinton had been allowed to campaign for Gore in Arkansas and New Hampshire, either state would have given Gore enough electoral votes for a victory in the election.

Two months after the Senate failed to convict him, Clinton was held in civil contempt of court by Judge Susan Webber Wright for giving misleading testimony regarding his sexual relationship with Lewinsky, and was also fined $90,000 by Wright. Clinton did not appeal the civil contempt of court ruling, claiming financial problems, but he maintained that his testimony complied with Wright's earlier definition of sexual relations. In 2001, his license to practice law was suspended in Arkansas for five years and later by the United States Supreme Court.


There was one other media aspect to the Lewinsky affair. During the scandal, some of Clinton's supporters argued that there was considerable hypocrisy by some of those who called for Clinton's removal from office. During the House investigation it was revealed that Henry Hyde, Republican chair of the House Judiciary Committee and lead House manager, had an affair while in office as a state legislator. Hyde, aged 70 during the Lewinsky hearings, dismissed it as a "youthful indiscretion" when he was 41. Larry Flynt, the publisher of Hustler magazine, offered a $1 million reward to anyone who could provide information that would embarrass any Republican members of Congress who was part of the impeachment campaign against President Clinton. Congressman Robert Livingston of Louisiana abruptly retired after learning that Flynt was about to reveal that he had also had an affair. Livingston had been expected to become Speaker of the House in the next Congressional session. After Flynt revealed Livingston's affair, Livingston resigned and challenged Clinton to do the same. Flynt also claimed that Congressman Bob Barr, another Republican House manager, had an affair while married. Barr had been the first lawmaker in either chamber to call for Clinton's resignation due to the Lewinsky affair.

Clinton later told historian Taylor Branch that he felt "beleaguered, unappreciated, and open to a liaison with Lewinsky" after the Democrats' loss of Congress in the November 1994 elections, the death of his mother the previous January, and the ongoing Whitewater investigation.
James Buchanan is considered by many to be the "worst President ever". Two biographies of Buchanan have even adopted that title, and in a recent grading of the presidents conducted in this community, Buchanan once again finished in the caboose position, as he has in practically every ranking of the Presidents conducted by historians and scholars. Buchanan was never impeached, but in 1860 near the end of his sole term in office, a Congressional Committee known as the Covode Committee which looked into Buchanan's possible impeachment.

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Its formal name was "The Select Committee to Investigate Alleged Corruptions in Government". It was as select committee of the United States House of Representatives which operated during the spring and summer of 1860 during the 36th Congress. The committee's mandate was broadly described as conducting an investigation of the administration of President James Buchanan, including his possible impeachment.The committee became known as the Covode Committee, named after its chairman, John Covode, a representative from Buchanan's home state of Pennsylvania. The committee was established March 5, 1860 when the House adopted a resolution offered by John Covode, to investigate the president. The motion passed by a vote of 115 to 45. It read as follows:

Resolved, That a committee of five members be appointed by the Speaker for the purpose of investigating whether the President of the United States, or any other officer of the government, has, by money, patronage, or other improper means, sought to influence the action of Congress, or any committees thereof, for or against the passage of any law appertaining to the rights of any State or Territory; and also to inquire into and investigate whether any officer or officers of the government have, by combination or otherwise, prevented and defeated, or attempted to prevent or defeat, the execution of any law or laws now on the statute-books; and whether the President has failed or refused to compel the execution of any law thereof; that said committee shall investigate and inquire into the abuse at the Chicago or other post offices, and at the Philadelphia and other navy yards, and into any abuses in connection with the public buildings, and other public works of the United States.

Resolved, further, That as the President, in his letter to the Pittsburgh centenary celebration of the 25th November, 1858, speaks of "the employment of money to carry elections," said committee shall inquire into and ascertain the amount so used in Pennsylvania, and any other State or States, in what districts it was expended, and by whom, and by whose authority it was done, and from what sources the money was derived, and report the names of the parties implicated; and for the purpose aforesaid, said committee shall have power to send for persons and papers, and to report at any time.

Covode was a Pennsylvania Congressman who was born in Fairfield Township, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. After serving an apprenticeship to a blacksmith, he became involved in the Westmoreland Coal Company, serving as the first president of the company in 1854. In 1854, he was elected to Congress as a candidate for the "Opposition Party". He soon joined the newly formed Republican Party and was re-elected to the 35th Congress in 1856. He was an abolitionist who would go on to become a strong supporter of the Freedmen's Bureau, the Civil Rights Act of 1866, and the Reconstruction Acts. He would also go on to introduce a resolution in the House of Representatives to impeach President Andrew Johnson. But let's not get ahead of ourselves.

Covode served as chairman of the United States House Committee on Public Expenditures from 1857 until 1859 and the United States House Committee on Public Buildings and Grounds from 1867 until 1869. He also served on the United States Congress Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War. In March 1860, the House created the Covode Committee to investigate the Buchanan administration for evidence of offenses. Some of these were impeachable offences, such as bribery and extortion of representatives in exchange for their votes. The committee was made up of three Republicans and two Democrats.

Buchanan's supporters accused the committee of being blatantly partisan. It was said that Covode was acting on a personal grudge. Buchanan had recently vetoed a bill that was fashioned as a land grant for new agricultural colleges, but was said to be designed to benefit Covode's railroad company. Whether or not this is true, by this time Buchanan had made quite a few enemies. Even the Democratic committee members wanted to see Buchanan out as President. Many of the witnesses before the committee were Democrats and it seemed as if they hated Buchanan as much as the Republicans.

Still, The committee was unable to establish grounds for impeaching Buchanan. The majority of the committee issued its report on June 17 that alleged corruption and abuse of power among members of Buchanan's cabinet. The Republican members of the Committee went so far as to accuse Buchanan of attempting to bribe members of Congress in connection with the Lecompton constitution (referring to Buchanan's support of the pro-slavery faction in Kansas, ignoring the wishes of the majority there).

The Democratic members issued a minority report, issued separately the same day. In that report, they pointed out that evidence was scarce, but did not refute the allegations. One of the Democratic members, Representative James Robinson of Illinois, stated publicly that he agreed with the Republican report even though he did not sign it. Robinson was a supporter of Illinois Senator Stephen Douglas, an opponent of Buchanan's within the Democratic Party and a candidate for the party's presidential nomination in 1860.

Buchanan later wrote that he had "passed triumphantly through this ordeal" with complete vindication. But in reality, the accusations in the report stuck in his craw. Republicans distributed thousands of copies of the Covode Committee report throughout the nation as campaign material in that year's presidential election. Buchanan sent two formal messages to Congress with a lawyerly response complaining that the Covode Committee report was making vague accusations which were too broad and far-reaching to allow him to exercise his Constitutional right to prepare a defense or cross-examine witnesses. He called the committee's report a secret inquisition and one-sided smear campaign, produced from the minds of a large group of unsuccessful applicants for coveted government jobs. Buchanan wrote that that this type of committee set a dangerous precedent that threatened to undermine the independence of the office of the president. He said that a small committee of Congress was usurping the power of the people who elected him, and it was to the voters that he was answerable and not to Congress.

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In the end, the committee found that Buchanan had not done anything to warrant impeachment, but it did state that his was "the most corrupt administration since the adoption of the US Constitution in 1789." Buchanan took his resentment against the committee to his grave. In 1868 Buchanan published a book defending himself against the myriad of criticisms against him, including blame for the Civil War. The book is entitled Mr. Buchanan's Administration on the Eve of Rebellion and in it he once again argues that the Covode Committee was purely a political smear tactic and had no legitimate congressional purpose.

The committee report can be found online here.
Presidents aren't the only ones who can be impeached. Charges of treason, bribery and "high crimes and misdemeanors" can be levied against any civil officer of the federal government at the discretion of the House of Representatives. In approximately 16 cases, the official who was the subject or potential subject of impeachment was a federal court judge. One of the most famous of these was the attempts to impeach Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, led by House Majority Leader (and future President) Gerald Ford in 1970.

The controversial Douglas was one of the leading liberals on the court, who earned the nickname "Wild Bill", in part for his fierce independent streak, and in part because of his controversial personal life. He was nominated as an Associate Justice of the Court by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and was confirmed at the age of 40, one of the youngest justices appointed to the court. His term lasted for 36 years and 211 days from 1939 to 1975, the longest in the history of the Supreme Court. According to some historians, Roosevelt had wanted Douglas to be his running mate in 1944, but he his party bosses nixed this and chose Harry Truman instead. In 1975 Time magazine called Douglas "the most doctrinaire and committed civil libertarian ever to sit on the court".

Douglas's personal life was controversial. In an article in the Washington Post reviewing a biography of Douglas, law professor Jeffrey Rosen writes:

"[Biographer Bruce Allen] Murphy omits no details of Douglas's private life, where he appears to have been something of a monster. His neglected children found him "scary" and noted that he spoke to them only when "press photographers wanted a picture." They also resented his treatment of their mother, his first wife, whom he threw over after 28 years of marriage for a series of younger women. He left his third wife for a high school student who had asked him to sponsor her senior thesis, and then divorced her after 24 months for a college student whom he had met while she was a waitress in a cocktail lounge. He kept a room at the University Club, to which his messenger would drive Supreme Court secretaries who caught his fancy. In his sixties, he routinely invited flight attendants to visit him at the Court, where he would lunge at them in his chambers. He would not have survived the era of Anita Hill."

In July of 1953 Douglas divorced his first wife of 30 years, Mildred Riddle, as the result of an affair with a younger woman. While still married to Riddle, Douglas began an open affair with Mercedes Hester Davidson in 1951. He was criticized by his fellow justices for his lack of discretion about the affair. According to Douglas's staffer Harry Datcher, Douglas "did what he did in the open. He didn't give a damn what people thought of him." He divorced Riddle in 1953 and married Davidson on December 14, 1954. Seven years later, in 1961, Douglas had another affair, this time with Joan Martin, an Allegheny College student writing her thesis on him. They married in August of 1963, when Douglas was 64 and Martin was 23. That marriage only lasted three years with another affair leading to another divorce and another marriage. On July 15, 1966, Douglas married Cathleen Heffernan, a 22-year-old student at Marylhurst College. They had met when he was vacationing at Mount St. Helens Lodge, a mountain wilderness lodge in Washington state at Spirit Lake, where she was working for the summer as a waitress.

Douglas was twice the subject of impeachment attempts. On June 17, 1953, Representative William M. Wheeler of Georgia introduced a motion to impeach Douglas because of Douglas's granting of a brief stay of execution in the case of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg case. The resolution was referred the next day to the Judiciary Committee to investigate the charges. On July 7, 1953 the committee voted to end the investigation.

Douglas's many divorces set in motion the circumstances that led to the second set of impeachment proceedings. In order to meet the financial challenges of being divorced on three occasions, Douglas was forced to maintain a very busy speaking and publishing schedule to supplement his income. His divorces and settlements left him financially burdened.

Douglas became president of the Parvin Foundation, an organization financed from the sale of the infamous Flamingo Hotel by casino financier Albert Parvin. This was met with the moral indignation of then-House Minority Leader Gerald R. Ford, who was also disgusted by Douglas's lifestyle. Ford was disappointed with the Senate over the failed nominations of Clement Haynsworth and G. Harrold Carswell to the court. In April 1970, Ford moved to impeach Douglas, for reasons attributed in part to his disagreement with the Senate's rejection of the two conservative nominees.

House Judiciary Chairman Emanuel Celler led an investigation into Douglas's conduct that concluded that there was no evidence of any criminal conduct by Douglas. Attorney General John N. Mitchell and the Nixon administration wanted to bring about the removal of the liberal justice Douglas from the court and they attempted unsuccessfully to gather evidence against him. Ford decided to proceed with the first major attempt to impeach a Supreme Court Justice in the modern era.

Hearings began in late April 1970. Ford was the main witness, and he attacked Douglas for his "liberal opinions", his "defense of the filthy film" (the controversial Swedish film I Am Curious (Yellow)) and his ties to Parvin. Douglas was also criticized for accepting $350 for an article he wrote on folk music in the magazine Avant Garde. The magazine's publisher had served a prison sentence for the distribution of another magazine in 1966 that had been deemed pornographic. Ford conceded that Douglas's article was not pornographic, but he went on to add, "although it praises the lusty, lurid, and risqué along with the social protest of left-wing folk singers." Ford also attacked Douglas for publishing an article in Evergreen Review, which he claimed was known to publish photographs of naked women. When Ford refused to give the Democrats copies of the magazines, Congressman Wayne Hays quipped, "Has anybody read the article – or is everybody over there who has a magazine just looking at the pictures?"

It soon became clear that the impeachment proceedings were not going anywhere and they were brought to a close. No public vote on the matter was taken. Professor Joshua Kastenberg claims that Attorney General John Mitchell and his deputy, William Wilson had promised Ford that the Central Intelligence Agency, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Internal Revenue Service, and the Federal Bureau of Investigations had evidence of Douglas’ criminal conduct. However, none of these agencies presented any evidence of wrongdoing by Douglas.

Douglas himself believed that strangers snooping around his Washington home were FBI agents, attempting to plant marijuana to entrap him. In a private letter to his neighbors, he said: "I wrote you last fall or winter that federal agents were in Yakima and Goose Prairie looking me over at Goose Prairie. I thought they were merely counting fence posts. But I learned in New York City yesterday that they were planting marijuana with the prospect of a nice big TV-covered raid in July or August. I forgot to tell you that this gang in power is not in search of truth. They are 'search and destroy' people."

On December 31, 1974, while on vacation, the 76 year old Douglas suffered a debilitating stroke in the right hemisphere of his brain. It paralyzed his left leg and forced him to use a wheelchair and left him severely disabled. He insisted on continuing to participate in Supreme Court affairs despite his incapacity. At the urging of his friend Abe Fortas, Douglas finally retired on November 12, 1975, after 36 years of service. He was the last serving Supreme Court Justice to have been appointed by President Roosevelt. His formal resignation was submitted to then-President Gerald Ford. In his response, Ford paid tribute to the retiring justice, writing: "May I express on behalf of all our countrymen this nation's great gratitude for your more than thirty-six years as a member of the Supreme Court. Your distinguished years of service are unequaled in all the history of the Court." Ford also hosted Douglas and his wife Cathleen as honored guests at a White House state dinner later that same month. According to Ford, "We had had differences in the past, but I wanted to stress that bygones were bygones."

Presidents and Impeachment: How it Works

On three occasions in US history, Congress has attempted to impeach a President: in 1868 (the President was Andrew Johnson), in 1973 (the President was Richard Nixon) and in 1998 (the President was Bill Clinton). There has never been a President removed from office as the direct result of impeachment, and only two Presidents have been impeached (which is the equivalent of being charged): Johnson and Clinton. As evidence of wrongdoing mounted against President Richard Nixon, the House Judiciary Committee commenced an impeachment proceeding against him. Although the House Judiciary Committee approved three Articles of Impeachment against President Nixon, he resigned from his position to avoid being impeached.


Impeachment is essentially a three stage process. Each stage takes place before a different body of Congress. The first stage (the inquiry into impeachment) takes place before the House Judiciary Committee. This is a standing committee of the United States House of Representatives. It is charged with overseeing the administration of justice within the federal courts, administrative agencies and Federal law enforcement entities. The Judiciary Committee is also the committee responsible for impeachments of federal officials. Because of the legal nature of its oversight, committee members usually have a legal background, but this is not required. Presently, the committee is made of 24 Representatives from the majority party (the Democratic Party) and 17 from the minority (the Republican Party). This committee carries out a formal inquiry on the issue of impeachment. In advance of the formal resolution by the full House to authorize proceedings, committee chairmen have the power for impeachment as for any other issue within the jurisdiction of the committee: to investigate, subpoena witnesses, and prepare a preliminary report of findings.If the judiciary committee is of the opinion that a President has committed treason, bribery or high crimes and misdemeanors, it drafts articles of impeachment. These are then sent to the floor of the House of Representatives to determine if impeachment is warranted.

The second stage takes place before the entire House of Representatives. The House debates each of the articles of impeachment and votes on each of them. The House of Representatives must pass, by a simple majority of those present and voting, articles of impeachment, which constitute the formal allegation or allegations. A proposition to impeach is a question of high privilege in the House and at once supersedes business otherwise in order under the rules governing the order of business. The procedures for impeachment are set out in the House Practice: A Guide to the Rules, Precedents and Procedures of the House, a reference source for information on the rules and selected precedents governing the House procedure, prepared by the House Parliamentarian. This manual has a chapter on the House's rules, procedures, and precedent for impeachment. If a majority passes a resolution approving one or more of the articles of impeachment, the President has been "impeached".

On October 31, 2019, the House voted 232–196 to establish procedures for public hearings in the case of the possible impeachment of President Donald Trump.

The third state of the impeachment process involves a trial, which is held in the United States Senate. The Senate receives the articles of impeachment which have been passed by the House of Representatives and determines the procedure for the trial that will be held in the Senate Chambers. The Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court presides over the trial. After the trial has concluded the senate must vote on whether to convict or acquit the President on any of the charges set out in the articles of impeachment. Conviction in the Senate requires a two-thirds supermajority vote of those present. If the President is convicted, he is removed from office.

In 1974, as part of the preliminary investigation in the Nixon impeachment inquiry, the staff of the Impeachment Inquiry of the House Judiciary Committee prepared a report, entitled Constitutional Grounds for Presidential Impeachment. The primary focus of the Report was to consider the definition of the term "high Crimes and Misdemeanors" and the relationship to criminality. The Report traced this history from English roots, through the debates at the 1787 Constitutional Convention, and the history of the impeachments before 1974. This report has been updated and revised on several occasions by the Congressional Research Service, and the current version Impeachment and Removal is dated October 2015. While this document is academic only and not a binding precedent, but it is probably the single most influential document on the definition of "high Crimes and Misdemeanors." The Senate also has formal Rules and Procedures of Practice in the Senate When Sitting on Impeachment Trials.

At an impeachment trial in the senate, each side has the right to call witnesses and perform cross-examinations. House members, who are given the collective title of managers. act as prosecutors and present the prosecution case. The President has the right to mount a defense with his own attorneys as well. Senators must also take an oath or affirmation that they will perform their duties honestly and with due diligence.

After hearing the charges, the Senate usually deliberates in private. The Constitution requires a two-thirds super majority to convict a person being impeached. The Senate enters judgment on its decision, whether that be to convict or acquit, and a copy of the judgment is filed with the Secretary of State. If the President is convicted in the Senate, he is automatically removed from office and may also be barred from holding future office. The trial is not an actual criminal proceeding however. The removed official may still be liable to criminal prosecution under a subsequent criminal proceeding. The President may not grant a pardon in the impeachment case.


If there is no single charge commanding a "guilty" vote of two-thirds majority of the senators present, the defendant is acquitted and no punishment is imposed.

Behind the cut below is a graphic below was made by Creately Diagramming containing an embeddable flowchart.
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In the television show The West Wing, attempts to impeach the fictional President Josiah Bartlet result in a compromise in which the President is the subject of a motion of censure. This was modeled after something that actually happened in 1834 when a motion of censure was passed, critical of President Andrew Jackson.

It was the nation's first Treasury Secretary, Alexander Hamilton, who chartered the first national bank in the United States. Hamilton saw the importance of a strong bank as an important element of a strong central government. But after Hamilton left office, the first national bank would not last long. In 1795, the new Secretary of the Treasury Oliver Wolcott, Jr. informed Congress that, due to the state of government finances, more money was needed. This could be achieved either by selling the government's shares of stock in the bank, or by raising taxes. Wolcott preferred the former choice and a (Jeffersonian) Republican Congress agreed, above Hamilton's objections. Hamilton tried to organize opposition to the measure, but was unsuccessful. Sixteen years later, in 1811, the Senate tied on a vote to renew the bank's charter. James Madison's Vice President George Clinton broke the tie and voted against renewal. The bank's charter thus expired in 1811.

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But five years later, after near defeat in the War of 1812, Madison came to better appreciate the need for a strong central bank and in 1816, the bank was succeeded by the Second Bank of the United States. The Second Bank of the United States was located in Philadelphia. Although it was technically a private corporation, the bank handled all fiscal transactions for the U.S. Government, and was accountable to Congress and the U.S. Treasury. Twenty percent of its capital was owned by the federal government, the bank's largest stockholder. Four thousand private investors held the remaining 80% of the bank's capital. The majority of the stocks were held by a few hundred wealthy Americans.

The biggest job of the bank was to regulate the public credit issued by private banking institutions. The bank did this by setting the interest rate at which it would lend money to the smaller state banks. The Second Bank was chartered by President James Madison in 1816. Thought its main branch was in Philadelphia, it had twenty-five branch offices nationwide by 1832.

The bank's charter was coming up for renewal, and this became a major issue during the general election campaign of 1832. The bank's president Nicholas Biddle and pro-bank National Republicans led by Henry Clay clashed with the administration of Andrew Jackson, who preferred to have banking power in the hands of state banks.

Under Biddle's leadership, the bank had become a powerful banking institution that produced a strong and sound system of national credit and currency. From 1823 to 1833, Biddle expanded credit steadily, but with wise restraint. By the time of Jackson's inauguration in 1829, the national bank appeared to be on solid footing. The U.S. Supreme Court had affirmed the constitutionality of the bank in 1819 the precedent-setting case of McCulloch v. Maryland. The bank had also helped American currency to remain healthy and stable and public perceptions of the central bank were generally positive.

But the bank came under attack by the Jackson administration in December 1829, on the grounds that it had failed to produce a stable national currency, and that it lacked constitutional legitimacy. Both houses of Congress launched committee investigations and their reports were supportive of the bank. Jackson rejected these findings, and called the bank as a corrupt institution, dangerous to American liberties.

Biddle tried to reach a compromise with Jackson and his cabinet to secure the bank's rechartering. Its term was due to expire in 1836. But Jackson persisted in his opposition to the bank. Biddle in turn reached out to pro-bank National Republicans led by Henry Clay. The led to what became known as the Bank War and led to a showdown in the 1832 election.

On July 10, 1832 Jackson used his veto to reject a bill calling for the recharter of the bank. Congress was unable to overturn the veto. Jackson won reelection in November of 1832 on his anti-bank platform, convincing the public of the evils of the bank. He removed all federal deposits from the bank and in 1833, federal revenue was diverted into selected private banks by executive order, ending the regulatory role of the Second Bank of the United States.

Jackson's victory in the 1832 election allowed him to veto an extension of the national bank's charter before that charter expired in 1832. Though a congressional override of his veto was unlikely, Jackson still wanted to be sure that the national bank would be abolished. His administration was unable to legally withdraw federal deposits from the national bank unless the Secretary of the Treasury issued an official finding that the national bank was a fiscally unsound institution. This was a problem because the national bank was clearly solvent.

In January 1833, at the height of the Nullification Crisis, Tennessee Congressman James K. Polk introduced a bill that would provide for the removal the federal government's deposits from the national bank. Polk's bill was quickly defeated. After the Nullification Crisis ended in March 1833, Jackson renewed his offensive against the national bank. He was met with some opposition from within his own cabinet. Still, Jackson made preparations to remove federal deposits from the national bank. He sent Amos Kendall to meet with the leaders of various banks to see whether they would accept federal deposits.

Jackson ordered Secretary of the Treasury William Duane to remove existing federal deposits from the national bank. Duane refused to issue the requisite finding that the federal government's deposits in the national bank were unsafe. Jackson fired Duane and replaced him with future Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney (infamous for writing the majority opinion in the Dredd Scott case). Rather than removing existing deposits from the national bank, Taney and Jackson instituted a new policy in which the government would deposit future revenue elsewhere, while paying all expenses from its deposits with the national bank. This policy ensured that the federal government would eventually no longer have deposits in the national bank. The Jackson administration deposited government money in a variety of state banks which were friendly to the administration. Jackson's critics called these banks "pet banks."

Nicholas Biddle responded to the withdrawals by stockpiling the national bank's reserves and offering less credit. This causing interest rates to rise. Biddle wanted to force Jackson into a compromise, but the move backfired and only served to increasing public opposition to the national bank. The transfer of large amounts of bank deposits, combined with rising interest rates, contributed to the onset of a financial panic in late 1833.

When Congress reconvened in December 1833, the National Bank was the main issue for everyone. Controversy ensued over the withdrawals from the national bank and the consequent financial panic. Neither party had complete control of either house of Congress, but the Democrats were stronger in the House of Representatives while the anti-Jacksonians were stronger in the Senate.

Senator Henry Clay introduced a measures to censure the Jackson for unconstitutionally removing federal deposits from the national bank. In March 1834, the Senate voted to censure Jackson in a 26–20 vote. The Senate also rejected Taney's nomination as Treasury Secretary, forcing Jackson to find a different treasury secretary. He eventually nominated Levi Woodbury, who was confirmed by the Senate.

In response, Democrats in the house, led by Ways and Means Committee chairman James K. Polk, passed a resolution on April 4, 1834 which declared that the national bank "out not to be rechartered" and that the depositions "ought not to be restored." The House voted to continue to allow pet banks to be places of deposit and also voted to investigate whether the national bank had deliberately instigated the panic.


By mid-1834, the relatively mild financial panic had ended, and Jackson's opponents had failed to recharter the national bank or reverse Jackson's removals. The national bank's federal charter expired in 1836. Nicholas Biddle's institution continued to operate under a Pennsylvania charter, but it never regained the influence it had had at the beginning of Jackson's administration.

In January 1837, following the election of 1836, Jackson's supporters had a majority in the Senate, and the Senate voted to expunge the censure of their president.
The first time that Congress tried to use its power to impeach a President happened in 1842. The President that Congress wanted to fire was poor John Tyler. John Tyler was elected to Congress in 1816 as a Democratic-Republican. In 1825 he served as the Governor of Virginia and from 1827 to 1836 as a US Senator from Virginia. He remained a Democrat for much of that time, but broke with the party after he found himself unable to agree with President Andrew Jackson's position on patronage (or the "spoils system") as well as with Jackson's practice of making recess appointments. He finally broke with the Democrats in 1833 over the nullification issue. Tyler supported South Carolina's position on the right of the federal government to use force against a state who tried to nullify a federal law. He switched to the Whig Party in 1834.

When Tyler became President in 1841 following the death of William Henry Harrison, he soon found himself a man without a party. Though elected as a Whig, he twice vetoed legislation championed by Henry Clay to establish a national bank. Most of the members of Tyler's cabinet resigned and Clay hoped that this would force Tyler to resign as well, but when he did not, the Whigs voted to expel Tyler from their party. Tyler was heavily criticized by Whig newspapers and received hundreds of letters threatening his assassination.

The Whigs supported high protectionist tariffs and national funding of state infrastructure. The Distribution Act of 1841 created a distribution program with a proviso requiring tariffs to remain below 20 percent. This plan left the federal government in dire fiscal straits. In a recommendation to Congress, Tyler decided that it would be necessary to override the Compromise Tariff of 1833 and raise rates beyond the 20 percent limit. The Whig Congress refused to raise tariffs if it would affect the distribution of funds to states. In June 1842 they passed two bills that would raise tariffs and unconditionally extend the distribution program. Believing it improper to continue distribution at a time when federal revenue shortage necessitated increasing the tariff, Tyler vetoed both bills, burning any remaining bridges between himself and the Whigs.

Shortly after the tariff veto, Whigs in the House of Representatives initiated the first impeachment proceedings against a President in American history. Until the presidency of Andrew Jackson, Presidents vetoed bills rarely, and then generally on constitutional rather than policy grounds. Tyler's actions also went against the Whigs' concept of the powers of the presidency. John Minor Botts of Virginia, who had been Tyler's greatest critic, introduced a resolution on July 10, 1842. It levied several charges against the President and called for a nine-member committee to investigate his behavior, with the expectation of a formal impeachment recommendation. Henry Clay found this measure premature. He favored a more moderate progression toward Tyler's "inevitable" impeachment. The Botts bill was tabled until the following January, when it was rejected, 127-83.

On July 22, 1842, Botts presented a petition from Wetumpka, Alabama, a community that Harper’s Weekly had once described as rivaling Chicago as one of “the most promising two cities of the West.” The petitioners asked that a resolution be passed “requesting ‘John Tyler, the acting President of the United States,’ to resign his office; and in case he do not comply with such request, they pray that he may be impeached, ‘on the grounds of his ignorance of the interest and true policy of this Government, and want of qualification for the discharge of the important duties of President of the United States.” The petition was tabled.

A House select committee was formed and headed by former President John Quincy Adams, who was now a member of Congress. The committee condemned Tyler's use of the veto and as well as his character. Adams, an ardent abolitionist, disliked Tyler for being a slaveholder. While the committee's report did not formally recommend impeachment, it clearly established that this was a possibility. In August 1842, by a vote of 98–90, the House endorsed the committee's report. Adams sponsored a constitutional amendment to change the two-thirds requirement to override a veto to a simple majority, but neither house passed such a measure. The Whigs were unable to pursue further impeachment proceedings in the subsequent 28th Congress, because in the elections of 1842 they lost control of the House (although they retained a majority in the Senate).

When the Botts bill was eventually voted on on January 10, 1843, it was worded as follows:

"I do impeach John Tyler, Vice-President, acting as President of the United States, of the following high crimes and misdemeanors:

First. I charge him with gross usurpation of power and violation of law, in attempting to exercise a controlling influence over the accounting officers of the Treasury Department, by ordering the payment of accounts of long standing that had been by them rejected for want of legal authority to pay, and threatening them with expulsion from office unless his orders were obeyed; by virtue of which threat thousands were drawn from the Public Treasury without the authority of law.

Second. I charge him with a wicked and corrupt abuse of the power of appointment to and removal from office: First, in displacing those who were competent and faithful in the discharge of their public duties, only because they were supposed to entertain a political preference for another; and, secondly, in bestowing them on creatures of his own will, alike regardless of the public welfare and his duty to the country.

Third. I charge him with the high crime and misdemeanor of aiding to excite a disorganizing and revolutionary spirit in the country, by placing on the records of the State Department his objections to a law as carrying no constitutional obligation with it; whereby the several States of this Union were invited to disregard and disobey a law of Congress which he himself had sanctioned and sworn to see faithfully executed, from which nothing but disorder, confusion, and anarchy can follow.

Fourth. I charge him with being guilty of a high misdemeanor, in retaining men in office for months after they have been rejected by the Senate as unworthy, incompetent, and unfaithful, with an utter defiance of the public will and total indifference to the public interests.

Fifth. I charge him with the high crime and misdemeanor of withholding his assent to laws indispensable to the just operations of government, which involved no constitutional difficulty on his part; of depriving the Government of all legal means of revenue, and of assuming to himself the whole power of taxation, and of collecting duties of the people without the authority or sanction of law.

Sixth. I charge him with an arbitrary, despotic, and corrupt abuse of the veto power, to gratify his personal and political resentments against the Senate of the United States for a constitutional exercise of their prerogative in the rejection of his nominees to office, with such evident mark of inconsistency and duplicity as leave no room to doubt his disregard of the interests of the people and his duty to the country.

Seventh. I charge him with gross official misconduct, in having been guilty of a shameless duplicity, equivocation, and falsehood with his late Cabinet and Congress, which led to idle legislation and useless public expense, and by which he has brought such dishonor on himself as to disqualify him from administering the Government with advantage, honor, or virtue, and for which alone he would deserve to be removed from office.

Eighth. I charge him with an illegal and unconstitutional exercise of power, in instituting a commission to investigate past transactions under a former Administration of the custom-house in New York, under the pretense of seeing the laws faithfully executed; with having arrested the investigation at a moment when the inquiry was to be made as to the manner in which those laws were executed under his own Administration; with having directed or sanctioned the appropriation of large slim of the public revenue to the compensation of officers of his own creation, without the authority of law, which, if sanctioned, would place the entire revenues of the country at his disposal.

Ninth. I charge him with the high misdemeanor of having withheld from the Representatives of the people information called for and declared to be necessary to the investigation of stupendous frauds and abuses alleged to have been committed by agents of the Government, both upon individuals and the Government itself, whereby he himself became accessory to these frauds.

Mr. Botts also submitted this resolution, for the action of the House:

Resolved, That a committee of nine members be appointed, with instructions diligently to inquire into the truth of the preceding charges preferred against John Tyler, and to report to this House the testimony taken to establish said charges, together with their opinion whether the said John Tyler hath so acted in his official capacity as to require the interposition of the constitutional power of this House; and that the committee have power to send for persons and papers.

Mr. Botts stated in his place as a Member that he was himself able to prove every charge made, and he not only asked but demanded the opportunity to do so.

The Speaker of the House decided that the charges involved a question of privilege, and the House proceeded to consideration of the resolution. Cave Johnson, of Tennessee, moved that the proposition be tabled. This motion was defeated, yeas 104, nays 119. When the motion itself was voted on, the votes were yeas 84, nays 127 and the resolution was defeated.

Amidst these troubles in his administration, Tyler had to deal with personal tragedies as well. His wife, Letitia, had been ill for some time, and in September of 1842, she died from a stroke.

Tyler was able to hang on to his Presidency, and he was also able to bring about his major goal as President: the annexation of Texas. But he was ultimately unable to garner enough support to run as the candidate of either major party in the 1844 election. He ultimately abandoned his plans to run as an independent candidate, and left office following the inauguration of his successor.
"High crimes and misdemeanors" is a phrase found in Section 4 of Article Two of the United States Constitution. That article reads:

"The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors."

What are high crimes and what are misdemeanors within the context of this phrase? For example, if a President participates in a consensual sexual act with a White House intern at the White House, is this a "high crime"? Is it a misdemeanor? Or is it neither?

At the time the Constitution was written, the adjective "High," in the legal and common parlance of the day referred to an activity by or against those who have special duties acquired by taking an oath of office that are not shared with common persons. A high crime is one that can be done only by someone in a unique position of authority, political in character. A "high crime" is generally considered to be one that takes place in order to circumvent justice. The phrase "high crimes and misdemeanors," used together in the U.S. Constitution is thought to cover a very broad range of crimes.

In 1974, when the Judiciary Committee was contemplating the impeachment of Richard Nixon, it wrote a report entitled "The Historical Origins of Impeachment". In the report, the writers stated:

"'High Crimes and Misdemeanors' has traditionally been considered a 'term of art', like such other constitutional phrases as 'levying war' and 'due process.' The Supreme Court has held that such phrases must be construed, not according to modern usage, but according to what the framers meant when they adopted them."

The English parliament had used the term “high crimes and misdemeanors” to describe one of the grounds to impeach officials of the crown. Officials accused of “high crimes and misdemeanors” were often accused of offenses as varied as misappropriating government funds, appointing unfit subordinates, not prosecuting cases, not spending money allocated by Parliament, promoting themselves ahead of more deserving candidates, threatening a grand jury, disobeying an order from Parliament, arresting a man to keep him from running for Parliament, losing a ship by neglecting to moor it, helping “suppress petitions to the King to call a Parliament,” granting warrants without cause, and bribery. In other words, it was a very broad term. Some of the things it included were crimes, some were not. The only common denominator was that the official had somehow abused the power of his office.

The great revolutionary thinker Benjamin Franklin once expressed his opinion about what the term meant. He argued that the power of impeachment and removal was necessary for those times when the Executive "rendered himself obnoxious". He said that the Constitution should provide for the "regular punishment of the Executive when his conduct should deserve it, and for his honorable acquittal when he should be unjustly accused."

Another great thinker, James Madison, described impeachment as indispensable to defend the nation against "the incapacity, negligence or perfidy of the chief Magistrate." Madison argued that this power was necessary where a nation was led by a single executive. Madison argued that while a legislature's collective nature provided security, in the case of a President, "loss of capacity or corruption was more within the compass of probable events, and either of them might be fatal to the Republic."

The process of impeaching someone in the House of Representatives and the Senate is difficult. This is said to be so in order that the power of impeachment is not used as a political weapon to overturn an election result. It should not be easy to remove people from office for minor reasons and for purely political motives. It is said that Virginian founding father George Mason came up with the term "high crimes and misdemeanors" as one of the criteria to remove public officials who abuse their office. Charles Cotesworth Pinckney said, the power of removal from office by impeachment should be reserved "for those who behave amiss, or betray their public trust."

There is no statutorily created definition for "high crimes and misdemeanors," and therefore the term allows people to remove an official from office for entirely-subjective reasons. In one sense this is a good thing, because it is impossible to create an exhaustive list of what constitutes the term. On the other hand it has the potential for abuse because of its subjective nature. It can be whatever Congress says it is, not necessarily a good thing if Congress is overrun by vindictive or populist officials.

In Federalist Paper No. 65, Alexander Hamilton said, "those offences which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust. They are of a nature which may with peculiar propriety be denominated political, as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself." In the first impeachment conviction by the United States Senate in 1804, John Pickering, a judge of the United States District Court for the District of New Hampshire, was removed from office due to his chronic intoxication. Federal judges have been impeached and removed from office for tax evasion, conspiracy to solicit a bribe, and making false statements to a grand jury.

When Andrew Johnson was impeached on February 24, 1868, in the United U.S. House of Representatives on eleven articles of impeachment detailing his "high crimes and misdemeanors", the House's primary charge against Johnson was with violation of the Tenure of Office Act, passed by Congress the previous year. Specifically, he had removed Edwin M. Stanton, the Secretary of War from office and replaced him with John Schofield. It was unclear if Johnson had violated the act as Stanton was nominated by President Abraham Lincoln and not by Johnson. Historians have argued that Johnson was not impeached for a valid reason, and the Tenure of Office Act was later found to be unconstitutional. Johnson may have been a poor President, and he was certainly an unpopular one. But it is questionable whether his actions rose to the level of "high crimes and misdemeanors."


In current times, Congress must wrestle with the issue of whether or not President Donald Trump should be impeached because he has committed "high crimes and misdemeanors." Many have already rushed to judgement and have concluded that his efforts to convince a foreign nation to investigate a political rival meets that standard. Others have similarly concluded that the current impeachment efforts constitute an abuse of process and a miscarriage of justice by misusing the impeachment process for a purely political and tactical motive.

Happy Birthday James K. Polk

November 2nd is the birthday of two of my favorite Presidents. One is James K. Polk, the 11th President of the United States, and probably the most effective one term president. Polk was born on November 2, 1795 (224 years ago today).

James Knox Polk was born in a farmhouse (possibly a log cabin) in what is now Pineville, North Carolina in Mecklenburg County, just outside of Charlotte. His father was Samuel Polk, a slaveholder, successful farmer and surveyor. His mother, Jane Polk (née Knox), was a descendant of a brother of the Scottish religious reformer John Knox. She named her firstborn after her father James Knox. Jane remained a devout Presbyterian her entire life, while Samuel rejected Presbyterianism. When the parents took James to church to be baptized, Samuel refused to declare his belief in Christianity, and the minister refused to baptize baby James.

In 1803, most of Polk's relatives moved to the Duck River area in what is now Maury County, Middle Tennessee. Polk's family followed in 1806. The family grew prosperous, and Samuel Polk did well in land speculation. He also became a county judge. In 1812 James was taken to see Dr. Ephraim McDowell of Danville, Kentucky, who operated on the 17 year old future president to remove urinary stones. James Polk was awake during the operation with nothing but brandy available for anesthetic. While the surgery was successful, speculation is that it may have left Polk sterile.

In January 1816, Polk was admitted into the University of North Carolina. He graduated with honors in May 1818. After graduation, James Polk traveled to Nashville to study law under the famous Nashville trial attorney Felix Grundy. On September 20, 1819, Polk was elected clerk for the Tennessee State Senate and was reelected in 1821. Polk was admitted to the bar in June 1820 and his first case was to defend his father against a public fighting charge. Polk's practice was a successful one.

In 1822 Polk joined the Tennessee militia as a captain in the cavalry regiment of the 5th Brigade. He was later appointed a colonel on the staff of Governor William Carroll, and was afterwards often referred to or addressed by his military title. Polk's oratory earned him the nickname "Napoleon of the Stump." In 1823 Polk was elected to the Tennessee state legislature in 1823. He added his support to those who also supported Andrew Jackson for President.

Polk courted Sarah Childress, and they married on January 1, 1824 in Murfreesboro. Polk was then 28, and Sarah was 20 years old. Some say that Andrew Jackson had a hand in the match-making. The Polks had no children. During Polk's political career, Sarah assisted her husband with his speeches, gave him advice on policy matters and played an active role in his campaigns.

In 1825, Polk ran for the United States House of Representatives for the Tennessee's 6th congressional district. He won the election and took his seat in Congress. Polk made his first major speech on March 13, 1826, in which he said that the Electoral College should be abolished and that the President should be elected by the popular vote. In 1827 Polk was reelected to Congress. In 1828, when Andrew Jackson ran for President and won, Polk was one of Jackson's biggest supporters. Polk continued to be reelected in the House. In June 1834, Polk ran against fellow Tennessean John Bell for Speaker, and, after ten ballots, Bell won. However, in 1835, Polk ran against Bell for Speaker again and won. The two major issues during Polk's time as speaker were slavery and the economy. As speaker, Polk issued the gag rule on petitions from abolitionists. Polk is the only president to have served as Speaker of the House.

Polk left Congress in 1839, Polk to run for Governor of Tennessee. He defeated the incumbent Whig in a close election. He lost his bid for reelection to James C. Jones, in 1841, by 3,243 votes. He challenged Jones in 1843, but was defeated again, this time by a slightly greater margin of 3,833 votes.

In 1844, Polk hoped to be nominated for vice president at the Democratic convention, which began on May 27, 1844. The leading contender for the presidential nomination was former President Martin Van Buren. Van Buren won a simple majority on the convention's first ballot but did not attain the two-thirds supermajority required for nomination. When it became clear after another six ballots that Van Buren would not win the required majority, Polk emerged as a "dark horse" candidate. After an indecisive eighth ballot, the convention unanimously nominated Polk. When advised of his nomination, Polk replied: "It has been well observed that the office of President of the United States should neither be sought nor declined. I have never sought it, nor should I feel at liberty to decline it, if conferred upon me by the voluntary suffrages of my fellow citizens." Polk promised to serve only one term if elected, hoping that his rival Democrats would unite behind him with the knowledge that another candidate would be chosen in four years.

Polk's Whig opponent in the 1844 presidential election was Henry Clay of Kentucky. The annexation of Texas, which was at the forefront during the Democratic Convention, again dominated the campaign. Polk was a strong proponent of immediate annexation, while Clay seemed more equivocal and vacillating. Another issue related to westward expansion into the Oregon Country, then under the joint occupation of the United States and the United Kingdom. The Democrats had championed the cause of expansion, while Clay hedged his position.

In the election, Polk and his running mate, George M. Dallas, won in the South and West, while Clay drew support in the Northeast. He won New York, where Clay lost votes to the antislavery Liberty Party candidate James G. Birney. Also contributing to Polk's victory was the support of new immigrant voters, who opposed the Whigs' policies. Polk won the popular vote by a margin of about 39,000 out of 2.6 million, and took the Electoral College with 170 votes to Clay's 105. Polk won 15 states, while Clay won 11.

When he took office on March 4, 1845, Polk, at 49, became the youngest man at the time to assume the presidency. According to historian James Bancroft (but disputed by others), Polk set four goals for his administration:

1. Reestablish the Independent Treasury System.
2. Reduce tariffs.
3. Acquire some or all of Oregon Country.
4. Acquire California and New Mexico from Mexico.

Pledged to serve only one term, he accomplished all these objectives in just four years. By linking acquisition of new lands in Oregon with no slavery and Texas with slavery, he hoped to satisfy both North and South. During his presidency James K. Polk was called "Young Hickory", an allusion to his mentor Andrew Jackson ("old Hickory").

In 1846, Congress approved the Walker Tariff which represented a substantial reduction of the high Whig-backed Tariff of 1842. Also in 1846, Polk approved a law restoring the Independent Treasury System, under which government funds were held in the Treasury and not in banks or other financial institutions. Congress passed the Rivers and Harbors Bill in 1846 to provide $500,000 to improve rivers and harbors, but Polk vetoed the bill. It would have provided for federally funded internal improvements on small harbors. Polk believed that this was unconstitutional because the bill unfairly favored particular areas, including ports which had no foreign trade. Polk believed that these problems were local and not national. Polk feared that passing the Rivers and Harbors Bill would encourage legislators to compete for favors for their home districts.

During his presidency, many abolitionists harshly criticized Polk as an instrument of the "Slave Power". Polk argued for extending the Missouri Compromise line to the Pacific Ocean, which would prohibit the expansion of slavery above 36° 30' west of Missouri, but allow it below that line if approved by eligible voters in the territory. Polk was a slaveholder for his entire life.

Polk strongly supported expansion. He supported the annexation of Texas and also wanted to acquire the Oregon Country (present-day Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and British Columbia) as well. Polk put heavy pressure on Britain to resolve the Oregon boundary dispute. Although the Democratic platform asserted a claim to the entire region, Polk was willing to compromise. When the British again refused to accept the 49th parallel boundary proposal, Polk broke off negotiations and returned to the Democratic platform "All Oregon" demand (which called for all of Oregon up to the 54-40 line that marked the southern boundary of Russian Alaska). Polk compromised with the British Foreign Secretary, Lord Aberdeen. The Oregon Treaty of 1846 divided the Oregon Country along the 49th parallel, the original American proposal. The treaty was approved by the Senate. By settling for the 49th parallel, Polk angered many midwestern Democrats. The portion of Oregon territory acquired by the United States later formed the states of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, and parts of the states of Montana and Wyoming.

After the Texas annexation, Polk turned his attention to California, hoping to acquire the territory from Mexico before any European nation did. In 1845, he sent diplomat John Slidell to Mexico to purchase California and New Mexico for $24–30 million. The Mexicans refused to receive Slidell. In January 1846, to increase pressure on Mexico to negotiate, Polk sent troops under General Zachary Taylor into the area between the Nueces River and the Rio Grande—territory that was claimed by both the U.S. and Mexico. Taylor crossed the Rio Grande and briefly occupied Matamoros. When Polk received word that Mexican forces had crossed the Rio Grande area and killed eleven American soldiers. Polk, in a message to Congress on May 11, 1846, stated that Mexico had "invaded our territory and shed American blood upon the American soil." Some Whigs, such as Abraham Lincoln, challenged Polk's version of events, but Congress overwhelmingly approved the declaration of war. In the House, antislavery Whigs led by John Quincy Adams voted against the war.

By the summer of 1846, American forces under General Stephen W. Kearny captured New Mexico. Captain John C. Frémont led settlers in northern California to overthrow the Mexican garrison in Sonoma. General Zachary Taylor, at the same time, was having success on the Rio Grande, although Polk did not reinforce his troops there. The United States also negotiated a secret arrangement with Antonio López de Santa Anna, the Mexican general and dictator who had been overthrown in 1844. Santa Anna agreed that, if given safe passage into Mexico, he would attempt to persuade those in power to sell California and New Mexico to the United States. Once he reached Mexico, however, he reneged on his agreement, declared himself President, and tried to drive the American invaders back. Santa Anna's efforts were in vain, as Generals Taylor and Winfield Scott destroyed all resistance. Scott captured Mexico City in September 1847, and Taylor won a series of victories in northern Mexico. Even after these battles, Mexico did not surrender until 1848, when it agreed to peace terms set out by Polk. Polk sent diplomat Nicholas Trist to negotiate with the Mexicans. Trist successfully negotiated the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, which Polk agreed to ratify. The treaty added 1.2 million square miles of territory to the United States. Mexico's size was cut in half, while that of the United States increased by a third. California, Nevada, Utah, most of Arizona, and parts of New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming were all included in the Mexican Cession. The treaty also recognized the annexation of Texas and acknowledged American control over the disputed territory between the Nueces River and the Rio Grande. Mexico, in turn, received $15 million. The war claimed 20,000 American lives and over 50,000 Mexican ones.

In the 1848 election, however, the Whigs nominated General Zachary Taylor, a war hero. The strain of managing the war effort caused a decline in Polk's health toward the end of his presidency. Polk left on March 4, 1849, appearing quite exhausted. He lost weight and had deep lines on his face and dark circles under his eyes. He is believed to have contracted cholera in New Orleans, Louisiana, on a goodwill tour of the South after leaving the White House. Polk died at his new home, Polk Place, in Nashville, Tennessee, at 3:15 pm on June 15, 1849, three months after leaving office. He was buried on the grounds of Polk Place. Polk's last words have been reported to be: "I love you, Sarah. For all eternity, I love you," referring to First Lady Sarah Polk. She lived at Polk Place for over forty years after his death. She died on August 14, 1891. Polk was also survived by his mother, Jane Knox Polk, who died on January 11, 1852.

Polk had the shortest retirement of all Presidents at 103 days. He was the youngest former president to die in retirement at the age of 53. He and his wife are buried in a tomb on the grounds of the Tennessee State Capitol in Nashville, Tennessee. In the fall of 2014, when I was in Nashville, I paid them a visit.


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