The First American Governor Ever Impeached? He Was From Kansas | KCUR

The First American Governor Ever Impeached? He Was From Kansas

May 17, 2018

The Missouri General Assembly is scheduled to convene a special session Friday to consider impeaching Gov. Eric Greitens.  

Only 14 governors have ever faced impeachment.

So who was the first governor to be impeached in America?

That would be Charles Robinson, the  first governor of the State of Kansas. He took office in February 1861, just a few weeks before the Civil War started.

Kansas needed money to raise troops to fight for the Union and to manage the newly-formed state government. "They don't have any money, so the legislature approves a bond issue," says historian Virgil Dean. 

A bond issue. That can lead to shenanigans, can't it?

It certainly can, and that's what was alleged in Robinson's impeachment by the Kansas House. He was impeached along with Secretary of State J. W. Robinson (no relation) and State Auditor George S. Hillyer. "The problems come around the machinations of selling the bonds," says Dean.

The Kansas House charged Robinson and the other two officials with selling the bonds, pocketing some of the money and then claiming they couldn't raise as much as expected in the market place. All three were tried in the state Senate.

Was this really about bonds?

It turns out that plain old hard ball politics played a role in the Robinson's impeachment. He had a long standing rivalry with a man named James Lane, whose nickname was "the Grim Chieftain." Lane and Robinson would battle for years over who would lead Free-Staters, who opposed slavery in Kansas.

Lane had some pull in Topeka. He had been appointed as one of the first U.S. Senators by Kansas legislators. He used his political influence to punish his chief rival, Charles Robinson.

What about the trial?

Yes. Sorry. Gov. Robinson was acquitted of all charges in his state Senate trial. Secretary of State Robinson and Auditor Hillyer were both convicted and removed from office.

In the history of United States, only 14 governors have been impeached, and just eight governors have been convicted and removed from office. In 2009, Rod Blagojevich from Illinois was the last governor to be impeached and removed from office. He was convicted of bribery a year later and is now in the Englewood Federal Prison in Colorado.

What happened to Robinson and Lane?

Robinson would serve out his two year term as governor and then lose most of his political clout. However, many historians, including Dean, think Robinson is one of the most important figures in Kansas history because he was a committed abolitionist and determined to make Kansas a free state. He died in 1894 at age 76.

Lane served as a general in the Civil War and helped form the first regiment of black troops to see action in the war. He shot himself in the head in 1866 near Leavenworth.

Sam Zeff is KCUR's Metro Reporter. You can follow Sam on Twitter @samzeff