From the director: The staggering power of impeachment

From the director: The staggering power of impeachment

The Miller Center is committed to bringing light, not heat, to a painful time in our nation's history

The Constitution gives Congress two powers that reinforce its primacy over the executive: declaring war and removing a president. The first power is literally life-and-death—sending American soldiers into combat. The second is figuratively grave: determining that the duly elected leader of the nation is unfit to serve.

Congress has declared war only five times in American history: the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War (1846), the brief war with Spain over Cuba (1898), World War I (1917), World War II (1941, 1942). 

The decision to investigate and impeach a president is rarer still. Congress has twice passed articles of impeachment—Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton—leading to a trial in the Senate. A third president, Richard Nixon, resigned when it was clear that he was destined for a similar fate. All three were deeply disturbing and divisive moments. All three impeachment efforts were led by the party that was not holding the presidency.

We are now entering, again, this dramatic moment in our political system. We at the Miller Center are committed to addressing impeachment with all the solemnity and humility demanded by this extraordinary event. We pride ourselves on chronicling and analyzing the American presidency and are committed to helping inform the current debate—to bring light, not heat, to a painful time in our national history. 

At a point when many in the country—across the political spectrum—are worried about the resilience of our democratic institutions, we are committed to bringing insights, from both scholars and practitioners, about how and where our system works best.

In the coming months, we will provide a comprehensive approach to the history and process of impeachment that takes advantage of our extraordinary depth and range of scholarship:

  • New impeachment microsite on In a single place you will find all of our historical and current materials on the topic, drawing from our website, our Presidential Oral Histories, our transcription of Presidential Recordings, our Forum Room events, and our scholars' appearances in the media. 
  • Interviews with scholars and practitioners. We are recording a series of brief three-minute, social-media-friendly observations from our experts, both video and audio.
  • Special eventsOur first special event was an Impeachment Pop-up Roundtable, featuring scholars who study presidential history, who have worked at the White House, the Supreme Court, and in the Congress, and who represent a range of disciplines and philosophical perspectives.
  • Scholar and practitioner op-eds. Already our experts have published a half dozen op-eds on impeachment. We will regularly repost these for our Miller Center audience here.
  • Scholar and practitioner media interviews. In the last month, our experts have been quoted 20 times on impeachment topics, and we will continue to make them available to the press.
  • Flash seminars for students. We are working to develop a set of programmatic activities tailored directly to UVA students.

These efforts flow naturally from who we are as an organization. We will remain true to our core values—especially rigorous scholarship, diversity of disciplines and perspectives, responsible engagement with thought leaders and the public, and respectful discourse. Our scholars and staff are committed to providing an alternative to the ad hominem opinion-making that too often dominates the media in today’s polarized environment. The Miller Center’s faculty bring historical depth, a range of disciplines, sobriety, and analysis grounded in evidence-based research. That means we must understand the scope of views on the matter and maintain our nonpartisanship, but also recognize that false-equivalence is a risk to be avoided.