Lesson Plan: How should the Congress interpret the standard for impeachment?

Treason, Bribery and High Crimes and Misdemeanors

Professor Frank Bowman discussed the constitutional foundations of impeachment and the definitions of treason, bribery and high crimes and misdemeanors.


The Constitution provides Congress the sole power of impeachment and conviction of "Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors." While treason and bribery are well defined, the concept of "high crimes and misdemeanors" has been interpreted in various ways. This lesson includes perspectives from elected officials and legal scholars about the appropriate way to interpret this standard. Students will explore the question: How should the Congress interpret the standard for impeachment?


  • WARM-UP: Before beginning class, have the students answer the following questions:

    • What is impeachment?
    • What actions by a president should be impeachable?

    Review the students' answers to the warm-up questions. Address any misconceptions about impeachment.

    To introduce the concept and process for impeachment, have the students view the video clips listed below. Have them answer the questions associated with each video clip using the handout.

    Handout: Interpreting the Standard for Impeachment (Google Doc)

  • Video Clip 1: Treason, Bribery and High Crimes and Misdemeanors (3:52)

    • How is impeachment a check on the executive branch?

    • What is meant by treason? What is meant by bribery?

    • Describe the origins of the phrase "high crimes and misdemeanors."

    • According to Mr. Bowman, why did the framers of the Constitution not provide a precise set of offenses that would warrant impeachment?

    • What are the different interpretations of the phrase "high crimes and misdemeanors?"
  • Video Clip 2: The Process and Standard for Impeachment (3:05)

    • According to Mr. McCarthy, what was Alexander Hamilton's view on impeachable offenses?

    • What was Gerald Ford's view of the definition of impeachable offenses?

    • Describe the process for impeaching and removing a president.

    • How does the process of impeachment make it difficult to remove a president?

    Based on the two introductory clips, have the students discuss the following question:

    • How is the phrase "high crimes and misdemeanors" open for interpretation?

    After discussing the interpretation of "high crimes and misdemeanors," have the students explore the different interpretations of this standard. Either through a jigsaw format or individually, students should use the chart on the handout to take notes on how each of the speakers interpret the phrase "high crimes and misdemeanors."

    Handout: Interpreting the Standard for Impeachment (Google Doc)

    Using this information students should develop their own philosophy on what "high crimes and misdemeanors" means.


    Have the students apply their philosophy about "high crimes and misdemeanors" to a historical impeachment. Using the links below from Senate.gov and House.gov, student should choose or be assigned one historical example of impeachment. For this example, students should provide the following:

    • Summary of the actions of the civil officer.

    • What was the result of this impeachment?

    • Using your interpretation of impeachable offenses, was this an appropriate impeachment?

    As an exit slip have the students address the following question:

    • Is the constitutional definition of impeachable offenses clear enough to be used by Congress?

    The Federalist Papers- Read Alexander Hamilton's Federalist 65 and/or Federalist 66. Using Hamilton's essay, how do you think he would interpret the standard of impeachment? Provide examples from the text to support your answer.


    Using the House.gov website and the websites, students will identify and research a current or another historical example of an impeachment. Using your own interpretation of impeachable offenses, determine if the decision to impeach was appropriate.


    • In your opinion, has the power of impeachment been used appropriately throughout history?

    • Is the standard for impeachment a political or legal standard?

    • What role should political factors play during the impeachment process?

Additional Resources


  • Abuse Of Authority
  • Alexander Hamilton
  • Bribery
  • Criminal Law
  • Dereliction Of Duty
  • Federalist Papers
  • High Crimes And Misdemeanors
  • Impeachment
  • Obstruction Of Justice
  • Pardon
  • Partisan
  • Supermajority
  • Treason


Constitutional FoundationExecutive BranchLegislative Branch


High SchoolUniversity