After President Nixon resigned, was any serious consideration (e.g. by members of Congress or important opinion leaders) given to proceeding with his impeachment and trial? The motive, of course, would have been to seek the maximum penalty of "disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States." (Quoted from Article I, Section 3, Clause 7 of the U.S. Constitution.)

Edit. In the answer by sds it is asserted that the U.S. Constitution does not permit the impeachment of an official who has resigned. That assertion is probably wrong. (I am not a lawyer.) The precedent is the case of William Belknap, Secretary of War under President Grant. Quoting the Wikipedia article:

On March 1, Belknap and his counsel went before Clymer's committee, but Belknap declined to testify. On the morning of March 2, Treasury Secretary Benjamin Bristow told President Grant of Belknap's impending impeachment. In a White House meeting soon afterwards, Grant asked for Belknap's resignation. This move was clearly an effort to forestall the pending impeachment proceedings; by resigning first, Belknap could argue that Congress had no authority, since he was no longer in office. Grant accepted Belknap's resignation at 10:20 A.M. Clymer's committee was informed at 11:00 A.M. Although Belknap's resignation caused great commotion among House members, it did not prevent action by the Clymer committee. The committee unanimously passed resolutions to impeach Belknap and drew up five articles of impeachment to be sent to the Senate. Belknap, by then a private citizen, was impeached by a unanimous vote of the House of Representatives. Speaker of the House Michael C. Kerr wrote to the Senate that Belknap resigned "with intent to evade the proceedings of impeachment against him." Belknap's case was constitutionally unprecedented and would serve as reference for nine other civilian officials' resignations before trial, including President Richard Nixon.

[. . . .]

Starting on April 5, 1876, Belknap was tried by the Senate, which was presided over by Supreme Court Chief Justice Morrison Waite. For several weeks Senators argued over whether the Senate had jurisdiction to put Belknap on trial since he had already resigned office in March. Belknap's defense managers argued that the Senate had no jurisdiction; the Senate ruled by a vote of 37-29 that it did. With 40 votes needed for conviction, the Senate voted 35 to 25 to convict Belknap, with one Senator not voting, thus acquitting Belknap by failing to reach the required two-thirds majority.

Edit. In any case, my question about sentiment for proceeding with President Nixon's impeachment after his resignation is not answered by simply pointing out that such a procedure would be pointless and unconstitutional. Consider that Democratic leaders in Congress are currently planning to hold an impeachment trial for President Trump after he leaves office.

  • 4
    @MarkC.Wallace You're asking me to source a quotation from the constitution of the United States? Seriously?
    – bof
    Commented Mar 9, 2017 at 3:24
  • 10
    With respect, @bof, not everybody is from North America, not every North American is familiar with the US constitution, and not everybody familiar with it will necessarily recognise a quote taken out of context so, yes, you do still need to source it.
    – Shimon bM
    Commented Mar 9, 2017 at 3:48
  • @MarkC.Wallace Pointing out the proceeding with impeachment after the resignation would have been unnecessary and pointless, "a complete waste of time", does not answer the question, did it have any support? The uproar over the pardon indicates that some of Nixon's enemies didn't think he had been punished enough.
    – bof
    Commented Mar 9, 2017 at 5:16
  • 3
    Mark's point is that all that an impeachment trial could have done would have been to ban Nixon from future office, something that most though was extremely unlikely anyway. Note that this had nothing to do with punishment outside the impeachment process, which was what the pardon was all about.
    – user15620
    Commented Mar 9, 2017 at 6:45
  • In fact, he was already barred from running for POTUS again, since he's already won and served twice. It could have prevented him from coming back as a Senator or something, but no ex president has ever done that anyway.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jan 18, 2021 at 13:49

4 Answers 4



When a person commits a crime, they become a subject to a judicial prosecution, with a notable exception of executives and other high government officials, who have to be Impeached first. In the unforgettable words of Benjamin Franklin

historically, the removal of "obnoxious" chief executives had been accomplished by assassination

And impeachment (combined with the separation of powers, making Legislature independent from the Executive) is the nice alternative.

Think of impeachment (by the lower chamber of the Legislature - Representatives) as the analogue of indictment, and the trial is then conducted by the upper chamber of the Legislature (the Senate), as opposed to a court for common criminals.


When it became clear and certain that Nixon would be impeached, he resigned. This made impeachment unnecessary to prosecute him - an ordinary prosecutor could open a case and he could be tried in an ordinary court.

However, after Nixon resigned, his successor Ford pardoned him:

...granted former president Richard Nixon a full and unconditional pardon for any crimes he might have committed against the United States while president...

making it impossible to prosecute Nixon in an ordinary court.

This left a "possibility" for impeaching (in the Chamber of Representatives) and trying (in the Senate) Nixon the resigned private citizen. This required overcoming two hurdles in both chambers: A Representative voting to impeach / a Senator voting to convict had to believe two things:

  1. Nixon was guilty
  2. A private citizen is a subject to impeachment

The Belknap episode (a Secretary of War resigned and was nevertheless impeached by Representatives but acquitted by Senate) created a precedent of 8 (eight)

civil officials facing impeachment have resigned from office and avoided a trial

Thus by the time of Watergate it was a well established law that a private citizen cannot be impeached, so it was extraordinary unlikely that a 2/3 majority of Senate would vote "yes" on the second hurdle above.

"American leaders" have better things to do than entertain impossibilities.

PS. The pardon was controversial: while putting an end to a multi-year chain of scandals, it shielded a crook from jail. Nevertheless, it was a legally unimpeachable move, so nothing could have been done about it.

PPS. To answer comments: there can be no "post-resignation impeachment" - like you cannot kill an already dead person. When Nixon resigned, he became a subject to common prosecution like any other criminal - there was no need to impeach him anymore. However, Ford's pardon removed any possibility to prosecute him - that's the meaning of the word pardon.

  • "American leaders" have better things to do than entertain impossibilities. So the question would be: at the time Ford pardoned Nixon, was there an effort by other politicians to pursue a post-resignation impeachment, or other form of punishment? If so, was that one of the causes of Ford's amnesty? Commented Mar 10, 2017 at 2:10
  • @LuísHenrique: please see PPS
    – sds
    Commented Mar 10, 2017 at 2:31
  • 3
    So, @sds, your PPS effectively answers the question: there was no pursuit of post-resignation impeachment, because this, under the American Constitution, was not a possibility. But then you would have to source that, because it is not a god-given fact as the impossibility of killing someone who is already dead; as I commented above, under the Brazilian Constitution it is possible to impeach a president who has already resigned. Commented Mar 10, 2017 at 13:20
  • 1
    @LuísHenrique: In the US, former executives enjoy no legal privileges (they have a security detail and a pension, but no immunity from prosecution), so we do not need to impeach then to try them in court.
    – sds
    Commented Mar 10, 2017 at 13:45
  • 1
    IANAL. I answered the history question. If you need a legal opinion, you should consult law.stackexchange.com
    – sds
    Commented Mar 12, 2017 at 4:11


The impeachment motion had made it through a House committee, although the actual impeachment had yet to be voted on by the full House of Representatives. The latter process, as well as Nixon's trial (and almost certain removal) in the Senate, was short-circuited by Nixon's resignation.

The purpose of impeachment and trial of an elected official is the removal from office of that official. Once Nixon resigned, the purpose had been accomplished, and there was no need to proceed further in Congress.

Of course, Nixon could have been tried in "judicial" courts until the Ford pardon made that moot.

  • It seems to me that my question, about calls for proceeding with President Nixon's impeachment after his resignation, is not answered by simply pointing out that such a procedure would be pointless and unconstitutional; especially in view of the fact that Democratic leaders in Congress are currently planning to hold an impeachment trial for President Trump after he leaves office.
    – bof
    Commented Jan 18, 2021 at 5:23
  • This is a political !answer. Expressions of contemporary politics are violations of this stack exchange at the ontic level. Commented Jan 18, 2021 at 10:41
  • This does not appear to answer the question. Did American leaders consider proceeding?
    – MCW
    Commented Jan 18, 2021 at 11:36
  • @SamuelRussell except that history is used in today's debate to point to precedent. An historian can then either : debunk the claim because of ..... or explain the circumstances (ie someone can be impeached because of something and that impeachment is in this case a prerequisite for normal criminal law to apply.) Commented Jan 18, 2021 at 14:03
  • @bof: Trump's case is a different situation. Trump was impeached while he was still President, but his trial will take place after his term ends. Whether that is legal/constitutional is a question for the Legal site.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Jan 18, 2021 at 17:53

Did American leaders give any serious consideration to proceeding with Nixon's impeachment and trial after he resigned?

The resignation made the impeachment superfluous. As outlined in the U.S. Constitution an impeachment in the house of representatives results in a trial in the US Senate with the end result to remove a President from office. The Constitution states beyond removing a public official (judge, president etc ) from office, no criminal penalty such as fine or imprisonment can be levied. So once Nixon left office tying up the legislature to formally do what has already been done didn't make any sense.

On the other hand work did continue on the impeachment in the Senate subcommittees. They were taken by the senate to review the rules of impeachment so while Nixon resigned August 8th 1974, the Senate Committee on Rules, continued to work until Sept when they formally delivered their report to the senate on how to modernize the rules last modified in 1868.

**Senate Impeachment Role **
During the summer of 1974, in the wake of the Watergate scandal, the Senate prepared for the possibility of a second presidential impeachment trial, as the House of Representatives moved ever closer to impeaching President Richard Nixon. In July the Senate adopted a resolution directing the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration to review the existing impeachment rules and precedents and recommend revisions. The committee, aided by Senate parliamentarian Floyd Riddick , devoted long hours to the Senate’s constitutional role in impeachment proceedings. The committee was meeting on August 8, 1974, when President Nixon announced that he would resign. Despite this unprecedented event, the panel continued with its work under a mandate from the Senate to file a report by September 1. The report contained recommendations that were primarily technical changes in the rules that had been adopted in 1868 for the impeachment trial of Andrew Johnson. With the resignation of President Nixon, no further action was taken.


It does not appear there was any recorded appetite for that in the US House. The House Resolution ending the the impeachment committee (and commending it for its work) passed with only 3 votes against it, and all 3 were strong supporters of Nixon who couldn't stomach commending the committee.

There's a good reason for this. There are two concrete ends that can be accomplished by impeachment: Removal from office, and disqualification from ever holding any other high office.

Article 1, section 3, clause 7:

Judgment in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States;

Resigning of course makes the first judgement a moot issue, but not the second.

However, in Nixon's case, he was already barred from ever running for President again, by virtue of the 22nd Ammendment, since he'd already been elected twice.

No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice, and no person who has held the office of President, or acted as President, for more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected President shall be elected to the office of President more than once.

Now its still possible that he could have held some office other than POTUS (or VP), but that is not something ex-Presidents have historically done. So effectively, this particular judgement was moot already.

Thus, once he resigned, there was no longer any effective judgement that the US Senate could render against Nixon.

Of course an impeachment against a one-term ex-president would be a very different animal, and would presumably concentrate on getting a judgement preventing the alleged miscreant from holding office again (particularly President). Historically it hasn't ever happened, but our historical sample size here (4) is very small.

  • President Taft was later Chief Justice, so in at least one case an ex-president has held an office of honor, trust, or profit
    – C Monsour
    Commented Jan 19, 2021 at 12:12
  • @CMonsour - True. SCOTUS judge is sort of the exception. The nature of the job makes it a good retirement gig for a politician. I'm kind of surprised it doesn't happen more often.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jan 19, 2021 at 13:39
  • Many people think it's likely to happen again soon.
    – C Monsour
    Commented Jan 19, 2021 at 15:07

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