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Each week at In The Past Lane, the American history podcast, host and Historian-at-Large, Edward T. O’Donnell, brings you news, stories, interviews, and special features on all things U.S. history. His aim is to be both engaging and thought-provoking, inspired by the notion that history explains the world we live in and provides insights into how to achieve a more prosperous, peaceful, and just future. So come along with us as we journey In The Past Lane.  

Jul 31, 2019

This week at In The Past Lane, the American History podcast, I speak with historian Jeffrey A. Engel, co-author of “Impeachment: An American History.” With all the talk about impeachment over the past two years, this seems like a superb moment to do an episode on the history of this rarely-used constitutional mechanism.

In the course of our discussion, Jeffrey Engel explains:

Why the Founders’ fear of potential abuse of power by a president or high government official led them to include an impeachment provision in the US Constitution. 

Why the Founders made a key distinction between maladministration – essentially doing a bad job as president – and actions taken by the president that harm the nation. Only the latter required impeachment.

How the Founders meant by “high crimes and misdemeanors” actions that might not be illegal, but are judged to be harmful to the nation.

Why Republicans decided to impeach President Andrew Johnson in 1868 and how Johnson’s own actions and personality played a key role in his near removal from office.

What Richard Nixon did to merit the commencement of impeachment proceedings against him – a process he avoided by resigning.

How in the aftermath of Watergate, Congress changed the rules to allow future special prosecutors investigating alleged presidential wrongdoing greater freedom and independence.

And how that reform led to the wide-ranging investigation of President Bill Clinton that started with a sketchy land deal in Arkansas and ended up focused on an affair between the president and a 22-year old intern named Monica Lewinsky.

And in turn, how that experience led to new rules that restricted the independence of special prosecutors, leading to the current day complaints by some that SC Robert Mueller was not allowed to fully investigate the many charges against President Trump.

And, finally, what it means that we might soon witness the third impeachment effort in the last 50 years, after having only one impeachment in the first 185 years of the nation’s history.

Recommended reading

Jeffrey Engel, et al, Impeachment: An American History (Modern Library Press)

Howard Fields, High Crimes and Misdemeanors: The Nixon Impeachment— Roadmap for the Next One

Richard A. Posner, An Affair of State: The Investigation, Impeachment, and Trial of President Clinton

David O. Stewart, Impeached: The Trial of President Andrew Johnson and the Fight for Lincoln's Legacy

Cass R. Sunstein, Impeachment: A Citizen’s Guide

Jeffrey Toobin, A Vast Conspiracy: The Real Story of the Sex Scandal That Nearly Brought Down a President

Laurence Tribe and Joshua Matz, To End a Presidency: The Power of Impeachment

Brenda Wineapple, The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation

More info about Jeffrey Engel - website 

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Music for This Episode

Jay Graham, ITPL Intro (

Kevin McCleod, “Impact Moderato” (Free Music Archive)

Andy Cohen, “Trophy Endorphins” (Free Music Archive)

Blue Dot Sessions, “Sage the Hunter” (Free Music Archive)

Jon Luc Hefferman, “Winter Trek” (Free Music Archive)

The Bell, “I Am History” (Free Music Archive)

Production Credits

Executive Producer: Lulu Spencer

Technical Advisors: Holly Hunt and Jesse Anderson

Podcasting Consultant: Dave Jackson of the School of Podcasting

Podcast Editing: Wildstyle Media

Photographer: John Buckingham

Graphic Designer: Maggie Cellucci

Website by: ERI Design

Legal services: Tippecanoe and Tyler Too

Social Media management: The Pony Express

Risk Assessment: Little Big Horn Associates

Growth strategies: 54 40 or Fight

© In The Past Lane, 2019

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