One more item omitted from history classes.
Of the three U.S. presidents who were impeached—Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton and Donald Trump—none were ever convicted or removed from office. But when it comes to governors, the history of impeachment is quite different.
There have been 15 governors in U.S. history who were impeached—i.e., brought before a legislative trial—including two governors who were impeached twice. Of those 15, eight governors were convicted and left office either through removal or their own resignation.
1. 1871: William Holden, North Carolina
The first two U.S. governors to be impeached were Kansas’ Charles Robinson in 1862 and Florida’s Harrison Reed in 1868. However, the first to be impeached, convicted and removed from office was William Holden, who served as governor of North Carolina in 1865 and again from 1868 to 1871.
Holden was a Republican governor during Reconstruction, a period in which Black Americans and Republican governments often came under attack. During Holden’s second term, white supremacists in North Carolina murdered a sheriff, a justice of the peace and a state senator, and a large mob lynched a local Black official named Wyatt Outlaw.
Holden responded to this violence by invoking martial law. Under his orders, state troops arrested more than 100 members of the Ku Klux Klan to be tried in court. This outraged the Democratic-led General Assembly, which brought impeachment articles against him in 1870. In 1871, the state’s legislature convicted him of illegally using military force and violating the rights of the arrested Klansmen, and removed him from office.
2. 1871: David Butler, Nebraska
The same year that North Carolina removed Holden from office, two other governors were impeached: Arkansas Governor Powell Clayton, whose charges were dropped; and Nebraska Governor David Butler, who was convicted and removed from office.
Butler was Nebraska’s first governor, having been elected in 1867, the year Nebraska joined the Union. In 1871, the state legislature impeached and removed the Republican governor for stealing thousands of government funds for himself. However, the impeachment was expunged several years later, and Butler went on to became a state senate in 1882 and even attempted to run for governor again in 1888 (he did not succeed).
3. 1913: William ‘Plain Bill’ Sulzer, New York
There were at least four more gubernatorial impeachments during Reconstruction, including Louisiana’s Henry Warmoth and William Pitt Kellogg, Florida’s Harrison Reed (again) and Mississippi’s Adelbert Ames. None of these attempts resulted in convictions, and after Reconstruction ended, there wasn’t another impeachment of a governor until William “Plain Bill” Sulzer in 1913.
Sulzer was a Democratic governor of New York. The state legislature impeached and convicted him after less than a year in office for reporting false information about his campaign expenses. Sulzer resigned on September 24, 1913, but the trial continued, and he was convicted on October 16.
4. 1917: James ‘Pa’ Ferguson Jr., Texas
Democrat James “Pa” Ferguson Jr. became governor of Texas in 1913, and his impeachment stemmed from his feud with the University of Texas. There were certain members of the faculty whom Ferguson wanted the board of regents to fire, and when the board didn’t do this, he vetoed almost all of the state’s appropriation to the university.
The Texas legislature impeached, convicted and removed Ferguson in 1917, barring him from holding elected office in Texas ever again. Despite this, Ferguson tried (and failed) to run for governor again the next year, and ran two more failed bids for the presidency and the U.S. Senate over the next several years. However, he did become Texas’ “first gentleman” in 1925 when his wife, Democrat Miriam “Ma” Ferguson, became the first female governor of Texas. She served her first term until 1927, and was governor a second time from 1933 to 1935.
5. 1923: John Walton, Oklahoma
In 1921, white residents in Tulsa massacred Black residents and destroyed the part of the city known as “Black Wall Street.” Two years later, when Democrat John Walton became governor of Oklahoma, he imposed martial law in Tulsa in order to crack down on the Ku Klux Klan.
In response, the state legislature brought 22 articles of impeachment against Walton, including charges of illegally using the military and suspending habeas corpus. The legislature convicted him on several counts, removing him from office after less than a year in office.
6. 1929: Henry S. Johnston, Oklahoma
Several years later, Oklahoma impeached another governor twice for general incompetence. One of the reasons for the first impeachment of Democrat Henry S. Johnston were allegations that his personal secretary, Mrs. O.O. Hammonds, had too much sway over his decisions. After the 1928 elections, fellow Democrats also blamed Johnston for their party’s losses in the state.
Johnston, who took office in 1927, survived the first impeachment but was convicted and removed during the second impeachment, leaving office in 1929. In addition to Florida Governor Harrison Reed, who was impeached in 1868 and 1872 (and acquitted both times), Johnston is the only other U.S. governor to be impeached twice.
7. 1988: Evan Mecham, Arizona
The same year that Oklahoma removed Henry Johnston, Louisiana also impeached Governor Huey Long, “The Kingfish,” who was acquitted and remained in office. After that, there wasn’t another gubernatorial impeachment for nearly 60 years.
The man who broke the streak was Republican Evan Mecham, the governor of Arizona from 1987 to 1988. He was impeached for financial crimes, as well as for attempting to cover up a threat one of his appointees made to a grand jury member in a case about his financial crimes. In 1988, the state legislature convicted and removed him from office.
8. 2009: Rod Blagojevich, Illinois
The most recent governor to be impeached was Democrat Rod Blagojevich, Illinois’ governor from 2003 to 2009. Blagojevich was impeached over corruption charges, including his attempt to sell Barack Obama’s U.S. Senate seat after Obama was elected president in 2008.
The Illinois legislature removed Blagojevich from office in 2009, and he served nearly eight years of a 14-year prison sentence. He was released from prison in 2020 after Donald Trump commuted his sentence.