How Many U.S. Presidents Have Actually Been Impeached?

It's happening, folks. After years of speculation, corruption scandals, legal proceedings, and accusations, finally leading to 2019's whole Ukraine incident, President Donald Trump is getting impeached. On December 10th, 2019, Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced two articles of impeachment, according to Vox, alleging abuse of power and obstruction of congress. Once those articles are approved by the House of Representatives, Trump's trial before the Senate is only a stone's throw away. 

Now, to be clear, this doesn't necessarily mean Trump will be removed from office. Yes, he certainly could be removed — in fact, that's the whole point of impeaching a president in the first place — but in practice, impeachment proceedings have (so far) never actually kicked any president to the curb. That said, Trump's impeachment tacks his name to a small, lonely list of U.S. presidents who faced impeachment in the past. 

Nixon was impeached, right?

If you asked Americans to name every impeached president in history, the first name on many lips would be Richard Nixon. However, Nixon wasn't impeached. Yes, the Watergate scandal, Pentagon Papers, Saturday Night massacre, and so on did rub "Tricky Dick's" reputation into the dirt, and in 1974, as the Washington Post explains, the House Judiciary Committee did approve three articles of impeachment ... but Nixon resigned, in haste, before these articles could be voted on. Once he'd flown the coop, and before any post-presidency legal proceedings could get underway, he was pardoned by his successor, Gerald Ford, in one of the most unpopular political moves of the century. 

So, Nixon aside, Time Magazine points out that only two sitting presidents have ever been impeached (pre-Trump): Andrew Johnson, and Bill Clinton. 

Before Trump, these guys went on trial

Andrew Johnson, as your history buff friends will remind you, took over when Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. Johnson's tenure happened in the hideous aftermath of the U.S. Civil War, which was stressful enough, but his case wasn't helped by him being a racist bigot, or that his primary mission seemed to be making amends with the former Confederacy, at the cost of new civil rights for the freed slaves. This made him deeply unpopular with Lincoln's friends in Congress, and it eventually came to a head when he fired Edwin Stanton, the Secretary of War, leading Congress to draft 11 articles of impeachment. The Johnson impeachment was a massive spectacle, according to the U.S. Senate, and Johnson came within a hair's breadth of being removed from office ... but, finally, he clung onto his presidency by one vote. 

The next full impeachment didn't happen until 1998, when Bill Clinton cheated on his wife with a 22-year-old intern, as described by Vox. The problem here wasn't the affair — while morally problematic, such things aren't illegal — but rather, the fact that he lied about it, which led to accusations of perjury. This led to another long, drawn out media spectacle, but in the end, most concluded that while Clinton's actions weren't ethical, they weren't solid ground for his removal.