The Constitution has a failsafe. When the framers decided to create a powerful chief executive with a fixed term of office, it was immediately evident that a remedy was needed in case something went terribly wrong. As Virginia delegate George Mason observed early in the deliberations in Philadelphia, “some mode of displacing an unfit magistrate is rendered indispensable by the fallibility of those who choose, as well as by the corruptibility of the man chosen.” The framers all agreed that the power to remove the executive would have to be lodged somewhere. They had more difficulty agreeing on who should control the removal power and on what basis it should be exercised.
There were essentially two options on the table. The president might be removable by either the state governments or by Congress. There was little interest among the nationalists who were working to rewrite the federal constitution in giving the states that kind of power over a branch of the national government, and so they quickly settled on giving the power to Congress. If Congress would have the authority to remove the president, it could either be done by impeachment or by what is sometimes known as “removal by address.” Impeachment was understood to require that a specific cause for removal be specified and a trial be held to determine whether the officer was guilty of those charges. Removal by address was a simpler process that merely required a vote with no necessity that specific charges be made or proven or that a fair hearing be provided. Because the framers valued the independence of the three branches of government and did not want the president to be at the mercy of a hostile legislature, they preferred the route of impeachment.