story behind the book | kate tuttle

How impeachment came to be

david wilson for the boston globe

The framers of the Constitution debated myriad difficult topics in creating our system of government. Among the most contentious focused on how to remove leaders guilty of serious abuses of their offices. “Benjamin Franklin was pretty clear that without impeachment, the only way of getting rid of a tyrannical ruler would be assassination,” said Harvard Law Professor Laurence Tribe, whose latest book, co-authored with Joshua Matz, is titled “To End a Presidency: The Power of Impeachment.”

Tribe, who said he’s been studying impeachment since the late 1970s, admitted that the topic has fresh relevance amid today’s political turbulence. It was impossible, he said, not to think about current events while working on the book (“Like standing in a corner and deliberately not thinking about a pink elephant — maybe an orange elephant!” he said).

Still, Tribe added, he and Matz strove to avoid writing history with an eye on the present president. After all, he said, “the ultimate test of an approach to impeachment is whether you would apply it even if the shoe were on the other foot, even if the president were somebody you liked, or for whom you had voted.”


When asked, Tribe refused to speculate on the likelihood of impeachment charges being lodged against President Trump. The bar to doing so is quite high, he said, but added, “if the things that are revealed are as ugly and dirty and almost treason-like as some people think might occur, then I think all bets are off.’’

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No matter what the future holds, Tribe cautioned, “an impeachment that led to the first successful removal of an American president would be profound. It would have reverberations through the next 200 years. But living with somebody who might turn out to be a corrupt tyrant who achieved his power illegitimately would also have reverberations through the next 200 years.”

Tribe and Matz will read at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Cambridge Public Library, 449 Broadway, Cambridge.

Kate Tuttle, president of the National Book Critics Circle, can be reached at