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Impeachment and the Convention

The Convention debates whether officials should be removable by impeachment, and if so how.

Cite as: Kat Howarth, Impeachment and the Convention, Quill Project at Pembroke College (Oxford, accessed 2023)


The Impeachment Clause (Article II, §4 of the US Constitution) provides that ‘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.’ However, it did not start life in that form in the Constitutional Convention of 1787, and had some had their way wouldn’t have ended up in the Constitution at all.

The main questions that the Framers tackled in relation to impeachment were which offences would result in impeachment, who could impeach the executive and who would try the impeachment, and (a point of debate that may be surprising to some) whether impeachment of the executive was appropriate at all. Although some may consider it obvious now that there should be some mechanism to ensure the removal of those in high office if they committed certain offences, during the 1787 Convention the topic was nowhere near as cut and dry as that, and lengthy debate took place not only to decide who could try impeachments but whether or not they should happen at all for the executive.

This Commentary Collection is designed to plot the notable propositions and debates centred on impeachment, including an initial suggestion of ‘removal’ and late stage back and forth over who should be responsible for trying an impeachment. The legal and political background to the clause has also been explored in the context of the Framers resources and possible inspirations at the time.


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Commentaries (8)