Impeachment is a criminal proceeding against a public officer(s), held before a quasi-political court. The proceeding is instituted by a written accusation, called articles of impeachment. In Vermont, as with the federal government, articles of impeachment are voted by the House of Representatives and the impeachment is conducted by the Senate. The impeachment process is laid out in the state Constitution.
The only grounds for impeachment specifically cited in the Constitution is mal-administration (Sec. 58) and many of the cases cited below involved the mishandling of public funds.
True impeachments have been rare in Vermont. During Vermont's early years expulsion from the General Assembly was occasionally referred to as impeachment, though expulsion is set out as a separate constitutional process.
According to a study by Paul Gillies there have been only four true impeachments, resulting in two convictions. Only one of the impeachments involved a state official: Matthew Lyon in his role as clerk of the Court of Confiscation. Two impeachments were of county sheriffs; the other involved a justice of the peace. It is interesting to note that Matthew Lyon was not barred from holding further office (indeed, he was eventually elected to Congress) and the justice of the peace was simply suspended from his duties for a set time period.
As noted, Vermonters have rarely resorted to impeachment. Of the cases we found, only one happened after 1800. At least some of the early impeachment activity can be attributed to growing party factionalism as Vermont's revolutionary republicanism was challenged by new arrivals seeking the more orderly rule of law. One sign of party factionalism is the number of impeachments (or expulsions) associated with Matthew Lyon, one of the revolutionary republicans. He was the subject of one "impeachment" effort (1779), wrote the articles for Abbot and Martin's "impeachment" (1781), was impeached (1785), and brought impeachment charges against the brother of one his political foes (1792). As a congressman, Lyon would again face expulsion charges for fighting with a fellow representative.
The history of impeachment needs additional study. The impeachments or expulsions listed in this section may not be comprehensive. We welcome information on any additional cases not included here.
This page was last updated on: 2012-03-26.