verb (used with object)
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Origin of impeach
OTHER WORDS FROM impeachim·peach·er, nounun·im·peached, adjective
Words nearby impeach
What does impeach mean?
Impeach means to formally accuse a public official of misconduct committed while in office.
In the U.S., the word impeach is closely associated with the act of officially bringing charges of misconduct against a sitting president (though other federal officials can be impeached).
Impeaching an official is not the same as convicting them or removing them from office—to impeach is simply to formally present charges against them.
Under U.S. law (specifically Article I of the Constitution), the House of Representatives has the power to formally accuse federal officials of misconduct by impeaching them. According to the Constitution, an official can be impeached if they are alleged to have committed treason, bribery, or “other high crimes and misdemeanors” (this vague term covers a number of offenses but is the subject of debate).
If the House votes to impeach, the Senate then conducts an impeachment trial. In order for the person to be found guilty, two-thirds of the Senate must vote in favor of conviction. If found guilty, the official is removed from office (and may be forbidden from holding political office again, depending on the ruling of the Senate).
In a more general legal context, to impeach a witness is to question their credibility.
The word impeach can also be used in a more general way meaning to call into question, as in How can you impeach my motives if you don’t know me? It can also mean to challenge or call to account, as in We must impeach such behavior, not condone it.
Example: Representatives have said they will impeach the president if he refuses to resign.
Where does impeach come from?
The first records of the word impeach come from the 1300s. It comes from the Middle English empechen or enpeshen, from the Late Latin verb impedicāre, meaning “to trap” or “to entangle.” The Latin term pedic(a) at the root of the word means “a fetter” (a shackle for the foot) and comes from the Latin pēs, which means “foot” and is the root of many foot-related words, such as pedicure and pedestrian.
In U.S. history, impeachment is relatively rare, with only a handful of officials ever having been impeached, including just three presidents.
- President Andrew Johnson was impeached in 1868 for violating an act that set rules for appointing or firing federal officials. Johnson was just a single vote short of being found guilty.
- President Bill Clinton was impeached in 1999 on charges that he committed perjury when testifying to a federal grand jury. Clinton was acquitted by the Senate.
- President Donald J. Trump was impeached in 2020 on charges involving corruption and abuse of power after he allegedly attempted to influence the president of Ukraine to perform political favors by withholding military aid that had been approved by Congress. Trump was acquitted by the Senate.
- Trump was impeached a second time in 2021. The article of impeachment introduced by the House of Representatives accused the president of inciting insurrection by encouraging his supporters to storm the Capitol building, where Congress was certifying the results of the 2020 presidential election, in which Trump was defeated by Joseph Biden. Trump is the only president to face impeachment twice.
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How is impeach used in real life?
In the U.S., the word impeach is closely associated with its use in the context of government and politics, especially in cases involving the president. When used generally, impeach is fairly formal.
Democrats laid the groundwork Friday for impeaching President Trump a second time. Speaker Nancy Pelosi threatened to bring him up on formal charges if he did not resign “immediately” over his role in inciting a violent mob attack on the Capitol this week. https://t.co/vdNGMqWub9
— NYT Politics (@nytpolitics) January 9, 2021
This is a ticket to the 1868 impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson, the first U.S. president to be impeached. Our @amhistorymuseum discusses impeachment collections with a political history curator: https://t.co/swiZVsFbXK pic.twitter.com/DC6iHvemjR
— Smithsonian (@smithsonian) January 11, 2021
Alcee Hastings was impeached and convicted as a federal judge; then got elected to Congress. Wonder why the Senate did not DQ Hastings. https://t.co/TLVNyeAMGz
— Jeff Greenfield (@greenfield64) January 11, 2021
Try using impeach!
True or False?
When a government official is impeached, it always means they are guilty of a crime and will be removed from office.
How to use impeach in a sentence
Every call, all over the country, men and women, all said the same thing: Impeach him.The New Cruzians Are Ready to Make Life Hell for Mitch McConnell|Patricia Murphy|November 17, 2014|DAILY BEAST
In 2013, for example, Clovis said that it would be difficult to impeach the President “because he claims to be black.”The Far-Right Radio Host Who Could Deliver the Senate to the GOP|Ben Jacobs|October 6, 2014|DAILY BEAST
Within the House Judiciary Committee, six Republicans voted with 21 Democrats to impeach the president.
Liberal Democrats wanted to impeach President George W. Bush, but Pelosi took it off the table.Pelosi to Boehner: I Quashed Impeachment, and So Can You|Eleanor Clift|August 1, 2014|DAILY BEAST
But GOP candidates are making it clear to voters: We will move to impeach Obama.
He would impeach all his partners, acknowledge his errors, and promise once more to reform.
Let those who are greater, and wiser, and purer than Washington, impeach him.The Right of American Slavery|True Worthy Hoit
If any president refuse to lend the executive arm of the government to the enforcement of the law, it can impeach the president.
If, when it has passed a law, any Court shall refuse to obey its behests, it can impeach the judges.
Do not think, however, that in making this observation I intend to impeach the character of Philip van Artevelde himself.