The Age Of Impeachment

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In this magisterial new work, Bancroft Prize-winning historian David Kyvig chronicles the rise of a culture of impeachment since 1960—one that extends far beyond the infamous scandals surrounding Presidents Richard Nixon (Watergate) and Bill Clinton (Monica Lewinsky) and has dramatically altered the face of American politics.

A buzz word in today's public life, "impeachment" was anything but that before 1960. Since then it has been transformed from a historically little-known and little-used tool of last resort into a political weapon of choice. By examining the details and consequences of impeachment episodes involving three Supreme Court justices, a vice president, five federal judges, and four presidents, Kyvig explores this seismic shift in our constitutional culture and gauges its ongoing implications for American political life.

Beginning with the John Birch Society's campaign against Chief Justice Earl Warren, impeachment efforts became far more frequent after 1960, with eight actually ending in resignation or removal. In describing these efforts, Kyvig recounts stories and subplots about key political actors and the controversies they inspired. He argues that judicial cases are as important as the better-known presidential ones and shows why those cases that did not proceed—against not only Warren, but also Abe Fortas, William O. Douglas, Spiro Agnew, Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush—are as illuminating as those that did.

Kyvig demonstrates that impeachment has been the bellwether of a changing—and increasingly toxic—political climate. Perhaps most important and ominous, the increasing threat of impeachment has encouraged presidents to hide potentially impeachable actions behind a thick veil of executive secrecy, while dramatically expanding executive power beyond the reach of either Congress or the courts

Combining political and legal history at their best, Kyvig also explores the cultural impact of journalist David Frost, editorial cartoonist Herblock, and filmmakers Alan Pakula, Robert Altman, and Oliver Stone. A gifted storyteller, he presents a cautionary tale that should be read by all who care about our national government and its ability to survive and thrive in perilous times.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal

Only seven U.S. public officials have been impeached (defined as an indictment returned by the House, which may then lead to a trial before the Senate) and convicted under the Constitution. Bancroft Prize winner Kyvig (history, Northern Illinois Univ.; Explicit and Authentic Acts: Amending the U.S. Constitution, 1776-1995) discusses the revival of this procedure in recent decades. After briefly covering earlier efforts, Kyvig examines the John Birch Society's crusade against Chief Justice Earl Warren. Most impeachments are judicial-every successful one has removed a judge-but what qualifies as impeachable? "Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors," says the Constitution. "Whatever a majority of the House" says, according to Gerald Ford when he pursued William O. Douglas. Sometimes it's not mysterious, as with three judges impeached in the 1980s, two of whom were in federal prison when removed. But what of cases like President Bill Clinton? Did his acts rise to "high Crimes and Misdemeanors"? While the Clinton case is well documented elsewhere, most of Kyvig's stories are not; some are almost unknown. Kyvig is that rarity, an academic who can write well and accessibly. Scholarly, thorough, immensely readable, and highly recommended for all libraries.
—Michael O. Eshleman

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780700615810
  • Publisher: University Press of Kansas
  • Publication date: 4/28/2008
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 500
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.25 (d)

Meet the Author

David E. Kyvig is Distinguished Research Professor in the Department of History at Northern Illinois University and author or editor of ten other books, including Explicit and Authentic Acts: Amending the U.S. Constitution, 1776-1995, winner of the 1997 Bancroft Prize.

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Table of Contents




1. Impeachment Evolves

2. Impeachment as Exceptional: The Case of Earl Warren

3. Impeachment as Political: The Case of Abe Fortas

4. Impeachment as Partisan: The Case of William O. Douglas

5. Impeachment as Discretionary: The Case of Spiro Agnew

6. Impeachment as Essential: The Case of Richard Nixon

7. Impeachment as Routine: Pardons, Powers, Prosecutors, and Judicial Self-Policing

8. Impeachment as Cultural: Shaping Public Conclusions

9. Impeachment as Distasteful: The Case of Ronald Reagan

10. Impeachment as Inexorable: The Cases of Harry Claiborne and Walter Nixon

11. Impeachment as Irreversible but Not Fatal: The Case of Alcee Hastings

12. Impeachment as Consensual: The Case of Bill Clinton

13. Impeachment as Conventional: Expressions of Public Scorn

14. The Age of Impeachment: Ended or Extended?




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