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Modern Library (2018-10-16)
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Politics & government


An American History

by Baker, PeterEngel, Jeffrey A.Meacham, JonNaftali, Timothy

Authors Jon Meacham, Timothy Naftali, Peter Baker and Jeffrey A. Engel review the only three impeachment cases from history - against Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Bill Clinton - and explore its power and meaning for today.

Impeachment is rare, and for good reason. Designed to check tyrants, the process of impeachment outlined in the US Constitution is what Thomas Jefferson called "the most formidable weapon for the purpose of a dominant faction that was ever contrived." On the one hand, it nullifies the will of voters, the basic foundation of all representative democracies. On the other, its absence from the Constitution would leave the country vulnerable to despotic leadership. Only three times has a president's conduct led to such political disarray as to warrant his potential removal from office, transforming a political crisis into a constitutional one. None has yet succeeded. Andrew Johnson was impeached in 1868 for failing to kowtow to congressional leaders - and in a large sense, for failing to be Abraham Lincoln - yet survived his Senate trial. Richard Nixon resigned in July of 1974 after the House Judiciary Committee approved three articles of impeachment for lying, obstructing justice, and employing his executive power for personal and political gain. Bill Clinton had an affair with a White House intern, but in 1999 faced trial in the Senate less for that prurient act than for lying under oath about it.

In the first book to consider these three presidents alone, and the one thing they have in common, the authors explain that impeachment is a political process more than it is a legal verdict. These three cases highlight factors beyond the president's behavior that impact the likelihood and outcome of an impeachment: the president's relationship with Congress, the power and resilience of the office itself, and the polarization of the moment. This is a realist, rather than hypothetical, view of impeachment that looks to history for clues about its future.

All four authors are expert scholars and journalists of the American presidency, making regular TV news appearances on major networks; and they write regularly for popular audiences in newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Time, Slate, and Foreign Affairs. This history is a crucial opportunity to reflect on our troubling times.

Jeffrey A. Engel is an award-winning American history scholar and director of the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University. Jon Meacham is a Pulitzer Prize-winning and New York Times bestselling presidential historian.
Timothy Naftali is a clinical associate professor of public service and a clinical associate professor of history at NYU Wagner.
Peter Baker is the chief White House correspondent for The New York Times and author of four books.

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An important book: impeccably researched and well-presented.

Review: Kirkus, starred review

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