Lesson Plan: Senate Impeachment Trials of the President

The History of Senate Impeachment Trials

From C-SPAN's original production, The Senate: Conflict and Compromise, Senate historians and Senators explain the Senate's power to remove officials from office during the impeachment trial.


In the Constitution, the Senate has the "sole Power to try all Impeachments." While sharing some similarities with criminal trials, impeachment trials of Presidents have unique rules and procedures. This lesson has students learn about the process by viewing videos of historians, former members of the Senate and legal experts. Students will use this information to compare the process used in Senate impeachment trials to the process used in criminal trials.


  • WARM-UP:

    Begin class by having the students answer the following questions.

    • What are the different parts of a criminal trial?

    • What is the purpose of the impeachment process?

    Review the students' responses and address any misconceptions. Ensure that the students have a general understanding of the following vocabulary words that will be used in the lesson.

    • Acquit
    • Burden of proof
    • Chief Justice of the Supreme Court
    • Convict
    • Impartial Jury
    • Legal Counsel
    • Oath
    • Objection
    • Overrule
    • Senate
    • Verdict

    After reviewing the warm-up questions and vocabulary terms, introduce the concept of impeachment and Senate impeachment trials using the following video clip. Have the students answer the questions listed with the video.

    Throughout the lesson, students can use the handout to answer questions and take notes.

    Handout: Senate Impeachment Trials (Google Doc)

  • Video Clip 1: The History of Senate Impeachment Trials (7:07)

    • Describe the partisanship and early impeachment proceedings in the 1800s.

    • What is the role that the Senate plays in the impeachment and removal process?

    • What were the reasons for impeaching President Andrew Johnson? What was the result in the Senate?

    • How is the standard for impeachment in the House different from the standard for the removal of a president?

    • Who presents the evidence during the impeachment trial in the Senate?

    • What are the procedures for the impeachment trial in the Senate?

    • What was the result of the Senate trial for President Bill Clinton?

    Review the answers with the students to provide a basic foundation of the history of Senate impeachment trials and the process that is used.

    Students will use the following video clips to further explore the process. Should can either answer questions associated with each video clip or complete the chart on the handout.

    Handout: Senate Impeachment Trials (Google Doc)

    As students view the video clips, they should keep in mind how this process differs from a criminal trial.

  • Video Clip 2: Presidential Impeachment Trials in the Senate (4:11)

    • Describe the process in which the trial takes place.

    • How is the Senate trial a political process?

    • Describe the debate over the burden of proof needed to remove the president.
  • Video Clip 3: The Role of Senators during Impeachment Trials (1:24)

    • What fears did the founders have about impeachment?

    • What is significant about the oath that senators have to take during the impeachment trial?
  • Video Clip 4: The Senate as a Jury in Impeachment Trials (1:49)

    • How is the role that Senators play during impeachment trials different than juries in criminal trials?

    • According to Mr. Rosen, how is impeachment a "unique mix of law and politics?"

    • How are the rules for Senate impeachment trials determined?
  • Video Clip 5: The Role of the Chief Justice in Senate Impeachment Trials (2:46)

    • What role does the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court play in the Senate trial? What is the justification for this?

    • What actions can the Chief Justice take during the impeachment trial? What actions can he not take?

    After taking notes on the steps in a Senate impeachment trial, the students should read the Department of Justice's summary of the procedures used in federal criminal trials. With this information, students brainstorm answers to the prompt below:

    • What are the similarities and differences between impeachment trials in the Senate and criminal trials?

    To conclude this lesson, have the students either discuss their answers to the prompt as a class or provide a written response.

    • What are the similarities and differences between impeachment trials in the Senate and criminal trials?

    Mock Impeachment Trial- Assign students to different roles (Chief Justice, President's Counsel, House Impeachment Managers, Senators, etc…). Using historical examples of the impeachment trials of Presidents Johnson or Clinton, hold a mock impeachment. Students should research the articles of impeachment and the historical context surrounding the cases. In their assigned roles, the class will decide on rules, hold a trial, present evidence and vote on a verdict.

    Historical Impeachment Trial Timeline- Using the Senate.gov website, have the students create a timeline of 10 major events relating to impeachment trials. For each event, have them provide a description of the event and why it was important.


    • Is the Senate impeachment trial more of a legal or political process?

    • Are the Senators during a Senate impeachment impartial jurors?

    • Is it important for the Chief Justice to preside over impeachment trials of the president? Explain your answer.

    • How does the impeachment trial provide for due process?

    • How is the impeachment process an example of checks and balances?

Additional Resources


  • Acquit
  • Beyond A Reasonable Doubt
  • Burden Of Proof
  • Chief Justice Of The Supreme Court
  • Conflict Of Interest
  • Convict
  • Impartial Jury
  • Impeachment
  • Impeachment Trial Manager
  • Legal Counsel
  • Oath
  • Objection
  • Overrule
  • Preponderance Of Evidence
  • Recuse
  • Senate
  • Verdict


Criminal Law & JusticeExecutive BranchLegislative Branch


Middle SchoolHigh SchoolUniversity