• Eva Strnadová

Presidential Misconduct: From George Washington to Today

From George Washington to Barack Obama, James M. Banner, Jr. and his colleagues update a report on misconducts of American presidents.

About the Author

James Morrill Banner, Jr. is an American historian specialised in the history of the United States. He has equally written:

  • Becoming Historians, ed. with John R. Gillis (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009)

  • A Century of American Historiography, ed. James M. Banner, Jr. (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2010)

  • Being a Historian: An Introduction to the Professional World of History (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012)

Origins Of the Report

Impeachment is a first major step in a process conducted in the House of Representatives necessary to remove a government official from the office. It was first created and used in the United Kingdom. The use of this measure is infrequent and rare. Since its introduction, three Presidents of the United States, Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton and Donald Trump, have been impeached by the House of Representatives.

However, these three presidents are not the only ones who have been both successfully and unsuccessfully accused of misconduct. In 1974 during the impeachment of Richard Nixon following the Watergate scandal, The House Judiciary Committee commissioned an account of the misconducts done by former presidents.

The account served as a benchmark against which Nixon’s misconduct could be measured. According to the report, every president with the exception of William Henry Harrison, who served less than a month, has been accused of misconduct.

“The manner in which presidents have responded to charges of misconduct against themselves or their senior subordinates discloses both changing standards of executive expectations and conduct and similarities in charges of presidential misconduct since the launching of constitutional government in 1789.”

The publication of Banner’s book comes in a reaction to the unsuccessful impeachment of Donal Trump. Banner led a group of presidential historians to update the original report from 1974. The report includes not only the well-mediatised impeachment of Nixon and Clinton. It reveals forgotten misconducts such as Carter’s relation with his advisor Bert Lance or Obama’s Solyndra loan controversy.

This updated version of the original reports clarifies the ways of misconduct and analyses the response of chief executives and members of their families to the allegations. As was true for the original report, the new version provides a historical context and tools for comparison of the current administration.

Book reviewed: James M. Banner, Jr (ed. by), Presidential Misconduct: From George Washington to Today (The New Press, 2019).