Was Richard Nixon impeached? Yes, by a 412 to 3 vote

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Harold Pease Ph.D.
Harold Pease, Ph.D.

Most people hold that since former President Richard M. Nixon resigned from office as president before the full House of Representatives could vote on the articles of impeachment, he therefore was not impeached. But they omit the House vote 12 days after he resigned.

There were two votes on impeachment by the full House of Representatives. The first, Feb. 6, 1974, was a vote 410 for and 4 against, authorizing impeachment proceedings against Nixon which allowed the House Judiciary Committee to begin the formal inquiry. Talk of such had preceded this vote for several months. Thereafter, following six months of House inquiry that did not go well for Nixon, he resigned Aug. 8, 1974, before the full House voted to actually impeach him based on the findings of their Judiciary Committee. So technically Nixon was not impeached. Although accused, which is what impeachment is, in the public mind, there was no reason to proceed as removal from office was accomplished by Nixon’s resignation.

But wait, that was not the view of the House of Representatives as a second vote was cast to give finality to the long inquiry process. It followed 12 days later complete with a 528-page report. According to Wikipedia, “On Aug. 20, the House voted to accept the final Judiciary Committee report by a vote of 412 to 3, with Republican Earl Landgrebe, plus Democrats Otto Passman and Sonny Montgomery casting the only no votes. The 528‐page report, published on Aug. 22, laid out in detail what it called the ‘clear and convincing evidence’ against Nixon. It also contained a statement from the committee’s Republican members who had originally opposed impeachment, stating for the record that Nixon had not been ‘hounded from office’ but rather had destroyed his own presidency through his patterns of deceit.”

The second vote occurred after the monthslong House inquiry and was the final vote of the House of Representatives – no different from any other House vote on impeachment except that Nixon had already resigned. So Richard Nixon was impeached, meaning charged, just as Andrew Johnson before him and those after.

President Donald Trump was not impeached by the House for a month after their vote as they refused to give finality to their work by passing their demand for a trial to the Senate. They had, in effect, dropped the charges. This, of course, subsequently changed when House managers took their charges to the Senate and Trump, now impeached by the House, was acquitted by the Senate.

With Nixon, they had not finished their work because the full House had not voted, that happened Aug. 20, 1974, after his resignation. In this case, there was no need to try Nixon on the accusations in the Senate as he had already accomplished what a Senate conviction would, his removal from office.

So why are so many people still ignorant of the Nixon impeachment vote – even college professors? Primarily because with Nixon removing himself, the issue went away and the nation, so hurt by the Watergate Scandal, wanted to forget. Consequently, The New York Times covered and buried this previously front-page story by placing it on Page 22.

“Without a trace of fanfare or drama and without a word of debate, the impeachment inquiry by the House of Representatives formally ended today,” The New York Times said. “It ended as it had begun 10 months ago. First, there was a private agreement among leaders of both parties about how to proceed. Then, the action was taken in the tried and true parliamentary language that the House uses day after day to conduct routine business.

“At 1:50 p.m., Rep. Peter W. Rodino Jr., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, rose on the House floor and announced, ‘Mr. Speaker, I submit a privileged report pursuant to House Resolution 803.’ That resolution had given the committee the right to act as an agent of the House, with all of the House’s constitutional authority, in investigating whether former President Richard M. Nixon should be impeached. The Speaker of the House, Rep. Carl Albert, responded in the same words and the same barely audible voice that he has used hundreds of other times when committee chairmen filed routine reports…

“But this report is not routine. Running about 200,000 words, it sets out the evidence that the Judiciary Committee found warranted Mr. Nixon’s impeachment, and removal from office. Had Mr. Nixon not resigned, this document would have formed the basis for the first House impeachment debate in more than a century…

“’It is important,’ Rep. Robert W. Kastenmeier of Wisconsin, a ranking Democrat on the committee, said afterward, and this is a major point, that ‘the impeachment matter not seem unresolved.’ Rep. Thomas P. O’Neill Jr. of Massachusetts, the Democratic leader, offered a resolution commending the judiciary committee for its work and accepting its report.

“Rep. John J. Rhodes of Arizona, the, Republican leader, took the necessary parliamentary step of demanding a second and, without debate, the resolution was approved by a vote of 412 to 3,” according to David E. Rosenbaum’s article “House Formally Concludes Inquiry Into Impeachment,” in The New York Times, Aug. 21, 1974.

So Nixon was impeached by a vote of 412 to 3. The populous can be excused for their ignorance but college professors, facts-checking services, news reporters, journalists and historians cannot.

Dr. Harold Pease is a syndicated columnist and an expert on the United States Constitution. He has dedicated his career to studying the writings of the Founding Fathers and to applying that knowledge to current events. He taught history and political science from this perspective for over 30 years at Taft College. To read more of his weekly articles, visit www.LibertyUnderFire.org.