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What did Harry Truman think about the 25th Amendment to the US Constitution?

What did Harry Truman think about the 25th Amendment to the US Constitution?

The American Presidential succession process is interesting in that it starts off in the executive branch (with the VP), moves to the legislative branch (Speaker of the House, then President Pro Tem), then moves back to the executive to each cabinet officer from oldest to most recent creation of the department. In looking at this state of affairs, I learned that President Truman wanted it this way:

Insofar as possible, the office of the President should be filled by an elective officer. There is no officer in our system of government, besides the President and Vice President, who has been elected by all the voters of the country. The Speaker of the House of Representatives, who is elected in his own district, is also elected to be the presiding officer of the House by a vote of all the Representatives of all the people of the country. As a result, I believe that the Speaker is the official in the Federal Government, whose selection next to that of the President and Vice President, can be most accurately said to stem from the people themselves.

Feerick (1995)

And Truman's wishes were enshrined in the Presidential Succession Act of 1947. The 25th Amendment / Amendment XXV revisits some of these issues, like enshrining that the Vice President must be the first in order of succession, creating the process of filling a vacant office of Vice President, and mandating procedures for handing presidential incapacity other than death, and was ratified in 1967 while Truman was still alive.

What did he think about the 25th Amendment? What are sources that provide further details on Truman's thoughts on the 25 Amendment?

EXPLAINER: How Does the 25th Amendment Work?

This article on the 25th amendment is republished here with permission from The Conversation. This content is shared here because the topic may interest Snopes readers it does not, however, represent the work of Snopes fact-checkers or editors.

A day after President Donald Trump incited supporters to attack the U.S. Capitol, Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer called on Vice President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment and remove Trump from office, saying “This president should not hold office one day longer.”

The 25th Amendment, ratified by the states in 1967, declares that upon the removal, resignation or death of the president, the vice president assumes the presidency.

Commonly referred to as the Disability Clause, this constitutional provision also specifies that if the president is unable to perform the functions of his office, the vice president will serve as acting president.

If the president is unable to determine his own decision-making capacity, it is possible – though this is an untested area of law – that the vice president, independently or in consultation with the Cabinet, would determine if he himself assumes the role of acting president.

Voting Rights in America

The history of the amendments to the Constitution is, in one sense, a history of the expansion of certain political freedoms, including voting. At the Founding of the United States, many groups, including landless white men, slaves, free blacks, and women, could not vote. Much has changed since then. Almost a third of the amendments added to the Constitution after the Bill of Rights was ratified concern the ability to vote. The Fifteenth Amendment granted the right to vote to former slaves and people of color. The Nineteenth Amendment gave the vote to women, while the Twenty-third, Twenty-fourth, and Twenty-sixth amendments gave representation to the District of Columbia, forbid poll taxes, and lowered the voting age to 18, respectively. The passage of each of these Amendments reflected a shift towards making voting a right of all citizens, and indeed a fundamental part of citizenship. Today, controversies hinge on how best to balance voter access with safeguards to ensure that fraud doesn’t undermine the sanctity of every individual’s vote. In this lesson, students will focus on the Fifteenth, Nineteenth, Twenty-third, Twenty-fourth and Twenty-sixth Amendments. Students will evaluate how each amendment increased political freedoms.

The 25th Amendment: The Other Constitutional Way to Remove a President

Some constitutional facts you learned in high school U.S. history probably left a lasting impression. For example, the 13th Amendment abolished slavery, and the 19th Amendment afforded women the right to vote. But even the most dedicated scholars can have trouble keeping track of all 27 amendments to the Constitution. But what about the 25th Amendment?

It's a rarely used — somewhat controversial — process written into the Constitution as a way to remove the U.S. president from office in case of death or resignation. It allows the vice president to become president. But it's not as straightforward as it might sound.

What Is the 25th Amendment?

Proposed by Congress and ratified by the states following, the 25th Amendment provides the procedures for replacing the president or vice president in case of death, removal, resignation or incapacitation. The 25th Amendment was created during the Cold War following President Dwight D. Eisenhower's three serious illnesses and President John F. Kennedy's 1963 assassination.

Eisenhower originally entered into a letter agreement that stated if his health impeded his ability to run the country, power would be transferred to his vice president, Richard Nixon. This led to the official amendment that clarified the rules around transfer of power in the event of an incapacitated president. After numerous congressional hearings, the final version passed the House and Senate in 1965, and was ratified on Feb. 10, 1967.

There are four sections to the 25th Amendment:

  • Section 1 stipulates that the vice president will assume the role of president in case of death or resignation.
  • Section 2 covers the event of a vacancy in the office of the vice president in such a case, the president is responsible for nominating a candidate who must be confirmed by a majority vote of both Houses of Congress. The history of Section 2 ensures there is both a president and vice president at all times.
  • Section 3 states that the president has the discretion to declare his own inability to carry out the job, and allows him to temporarily cede power to the vice president. It makes it clear, however, that the vice president does not assume the office or title of president.
  • Section 4 has, to date, never been implemented, but it's the piece of the amendment currently receiving media attention. The language empowers the vice president and the cabinet to declare a president "incapacitated":

Section 4 addresses the problem of a president who is unable or unwilling to acknowledge his or her inability "to discharge the powers and duties" of the presidency. It would be used most likely if a president falls unexpectedly unconscious, though it also clearly applies when a president is "incapacitated" because of some other mental or physical inability.

How It's Implemented

History buffs may recall the invocation of the 25th Amendment because of the Watergate scandal in the 1970s. President Nixon invoked it to replace resigning vice president Spiro Agnew with Gerald Ford then when Ford replaced Nixon as president, Ford invoked it to appoint Nelson Rockefeller to succeed him as vice president.

It was also considered several times during the administration of Donald Trump — very early in his administration, and then again in October 2020 after Trump tested positive for coronavirus. At that time, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said she was concerned about Trump's erratic behavior, suggesting he was in an "altered state" and may have "some impairment of judgment." It was, however, never invoked.

That's likely because, in order for Section 4 to be implemented, the vice president and a majority of "the principal officers of the executive departments" must declare the president incapacitated in a written statement to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the president pro tempore of the Senate. Once that happens, presidential powers are automatically transferred to the vice president.

In order for Congress to successfully declare a president "disabled," two-thirds in each chamber must conclude that he "is unable" to handle the office.

Could the 25th Amendment Be Applied Today?

The disability clause of the 25th Amendment has been invoked multiple times since ratification. Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan invoked it during medical procedures, though it was never used when Reagan was shot in 1981.

However, Section 4 has never been invoked to remove a president from office. John Hudak, deputy director for Center for Effective Public Management and senior fellow for governance studies at the Brookings Institute writes that the process "is more difficult than impeachment and is reserved only for truly unique and dire circumstances."

Concerns for implementing the 25th Amendment were raised again after a violent pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 to protest a joint session of Congress to certify Joe Biden and Kamala Harris' electoral vote. The violence forced both chambers of Congress to go into recess. Four people died. This was the first time in American history that the U.S. Capitol was overrun by its own citizens. In 1814, the British attacked and burned the Capitol during the War of 1812.

More than 1,100 members of the D.C. National Guard had to be mobilized to support the local D.C. police. However, it was Vice President Pence, not Trump, who fully activated the D.C. National Guard, according to a press statement from acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller.

Trump's lack of response to the violence, and the taunting nature of some of Trump's tweets on Jan. 6 — both before and after the rioters stormed the Capitol — set off alarm bells once again about his mental stability. Twitter locked down Trump's account for 12 hours, saying they violated its Civic Integrity or Violent Threats policies.

Several Democratic leaders, including presumptive Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, have said publicly they think Trump should be removed before the Jan. 20, 2021 inauguration.

"The quickest and most effective way — it can be done today — to remove this president from office would be for the vice president to immediately invoke the 25th amendment," Schumer said. "If the vice president and the cabinet refuse to stand up, Congress should reconvene to impeach the president."

Republican leaders have called for it as well, including Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois who said "It's time to invoke the 25th Amendment and end this nightmare," in a video he published online. Kinzinger called on Vice President Pence and the Cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment to ensure "we have a sane captain of the ship" because Trump has become "unmoored not just from his duty or even his oath, but from reality itself."

But because the majority of Trump's Cabinet would need to support the president's removal, many speculate the invocation of the amendment this late in the Trump presidency isn't realistic at all.

Four vice presidents have inherited office due to the president dying of natural causes: John Tyler, for William Henry Harrison in 1841 Millard Fillmore, for Zachary Taylor in 1850 Calvin Coolidge, for Warren Harding in 1923 and Harry Truman, for Franklin Roosevelt in 1945. Four vice presidents took office after the president was assassinated: Andrew Johnson, for Abraham Lincoln in 1865 Chester Arthur, for James Garfield in 1881 Theodore Roosevelt, for William McKinley in 1901 and Lyndon Johnson, for John F. Kennedy in 1963.

The Tyler Precedent

The decision to acknowledge his presidency became known as the "Tyler Precedent." The following presidents assumed office while the ruling was in effect:

In 1967, the 25th amendment was added to the Constitution to insure there would be no question when the need arises to replace the president. The wording is intentionally very clear and concise. This is a prime example of the old saying: "Less is more."

The 25th Amendment to the Constitution Added in 1967

"In case of the removal of the President from office or of his death or resignation, the Vice President shall become President."

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2018 Thelma Raker Coffone

25th Amendment Example Involving President Donald Trump

With a presidency so unpredictable and controversial, there has been no shortage of rumors about removing Donald Trump from office. These rumors intensified after former FBI Deputy Director McCabe spoke about meetings in which officials discussed invoking the 25th Amendment.

At one point, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D – Massachusetts) urged senior administration officials to act. She stated that they had a constitutional responsibility to invoke the 25th Amendment if the President could not perform his duties responsibly. Many other political adversaries agree that this is the perfect example of the 25 th Amendment and why the framers created it.

From the firing (or forced resignation) of anyone who seemed to disagree with him, including Cabinet members, the FBI Director, and other members of the Justice Department, to uncounted erratic tweets, Trump had left many believing he was psychologically unsound. However, unless Trump were to undergo examination by a team of unbiased mental health professionals, this would not be easy to prove.

Another hurdle would involve getting the Cabinet majority to agree to strip the President of power. With 22 members of Trump’s cabinet, 12 of them would have to agree, and so would Vice President Pence. Once Trump learned of the situation, he would likely fire his disloyal cabinet members, causing more turmoil.

10 Most Important Vice Presidents of the US

This list is not ranking who was the &ldquobest&rdquo or &ldquoworst&rdquo or &ldquogreatest&rdquo vice-president. It is exclusively concentrated on which vice-presidents were most influential in regards to the evolution of the office. Subjects such as political ideology and personal achievement can be viewed with great variance from person to person, and that&rsquos why I avoided this as a factor in my list. It would be asking for a flame war which just isn&rsquot worth starting. Here, you see a compilation of individuals who made an important historical impact on what has developed into the modern vice-presidency.

This list is partially, but not exclusively, in chronological order, because many of the most important changes in the vice-presidential office have occurred more recently. It also shows the progression of the vice-presidency from a mostly powerless, ceremonial office to its current form today.

In 1789, the electoral college met for the first time ever to choose a President of the United States. One of the presidential hopefuls that year was John Adams, the ambitious lawyer and diplomat from Massachusetts. Unfortunately for Mr. Adams, all 69 members of the electoral college voted for George Washington as the first president. But in these days, there was a catch &ndash &ndash the electoral college had to cast a second ballot for a different individual from a different state&hellip so despite Washington&rsquos 69/69 blowout, the electors had an additional 69 votes to cast. 34 of these votes went to Mr. Adams. As the runner-up to Washington, he became the first Vice President (as the Constitution mandated prior to the 12th Amendment in 1804). Adams&rsquo tenure as Vice President was relatively unremarkable. Washington kept him out of his cabinet meetings and rarely consulted him as an advisor. Instead, he was stuck presiding over the senate, with no voice or vote except in the rare case of a tie. He absolutely hated the job. But despite his uneventful tenure, Adams is important simply because he was the first guy to hold the office. He set a precedent that, to some extent, all subsequent holders of the office have followed. Adams was also the first Vice President to be elected President later, a tradition that many others have followed (or at least attempted). Just think though &ndash &ndash if the runner-up to Washington had been John Jay or Robert Harrison instead of Adams, the vice-presidency might have evolved into something completely different today&hellip so it&rsquos important to recognize its roots with Mr. Adams over two centuries ago.

In 1804, then-president Thomas Jefferson breathed a sigh of relief as the 12th Amendment to the US Constitution was ratified. The amendment stated that the Vice President would be chosen on the same ballot as the president, replacing the old system of having the runner-up take the office. Jefferson was stuck with a loose-cannon Vice President that he didn&rsquot choose &ndash &ndash Aaron Burr. Matters only got worse when Burr shot and killed Alexander Hamilton. But with the 12th Amendment, Jefferson was given the ability to choose his vice-presidential candidate in his upcoming re-election campaign, and that man was George Clinton, the Governor of New York &ndash &ndash who became the first Vice President elected as a member of a presidential ticket. Like John Adams, Clinton was largely ignored by the president and his advice was rarely sought. His only consistent duties were as the presiding officer of the Senate, which were largely uneventful. But for Jefferson, this wasn&rsquot a problem. In Clinton, he had exactly what he wanted &ndash &ndash a Vice President who didn&rsquot cause problems for the president. This has become a major concern of presidential hopefuls in picking a running mate to this day. Clinton did such a swell job as Jefferson&rsquos do-nothing Vice President, that James Madison decided to choose him as his own running-mate in 1808. This made George Clinton the first Vice President to serve under two presidents (the other was John C. Calhoun). In 1812, Clinton also became the first Vice President to die in office. Since Madison was running for re-election that year, he chose Elbridge Gerry as his new running mate, who in 1814 became the second Vice President to die in office.

John Tyler became Vice President on March 4, 1841. He held this office for a whopping thirty-two days. Nevertheless, Tyler&rsquos vice-presidency created one of the most important precedents of the office. On April 4, President William Henry Harrison died of pneumonia after a largely uneventful month-long tenure as Commander-in-Chief. This caused a bit of a succession crisis. Article II, Section I of the US Constitution states that in the case of the president&rsquos death or removal from office, that his duties will be &ldquodevolved&rdquo onto the Vice President. The vagueness of the clause left was much disagreement as to what degree Tyler was actually president. Some considered him to be simply &ldquoActing President&rdquo and could only hold the office as a caretaker until Congress called for a special election, or appointed a different individual to be president. Others considered him to be the legitimate president, and would serve the remainder of Harrison&rsquos term. This was exactly the position that Tyler held, and said that he was the 10th president of the United States and nothing less. He served as president until 1845, setting a precedent that in the case of a president&rsquos death or removal, that his Vice President would take the office and serve the remainder of the term. Since then, there have been eight other Vice Presidents to become president under similar circumstances.

For most of the 19th Century, the vice-presidency was largely powerless and ceremonial. A big exception to this was William McKinley&rsquos Vice President, Garret Hobart. Even though he still regularly carried out the main task of presiding over the Senate, Hobart was regularly consulted by McKinley for assistance and advice. In 1898, it was Hobart who ultimately convinced McKinley to urge Congress to declare war on Spain. He also cast the tie-breaking vote in the Senate which decided to take the Philippines as an American territory once the war ended. As Vice President, Hobart&rsquos active role proved to be popular with fellow politicians. However, he died unexpectedly in 1899 and left the seat vacant until McKinley&rsquos re-election a year later, when Teddy Roosevelt took the office.

As the 20th century progressed, the vice-presidency was still a largely unimportant component to the executive branch. In 1940, Franklin Roosevelt ran for a third term as president, and dropped his Vice President, John Nance Garner, from the presidential ticket that year and replaced him Secretary of Agriculture Henry Wallace. After winning the election that year, Roosevelt opted to give Wallace a more active role in his administration by naming him to various other posts such as the Board of Economic Welfare. Wallace quickly became an important figure as the United States entered World War II, as he strongly supported the war effort and sought to defeat the Nazis. He also was an outspoken and vocal supporter of Civil Rights at this time. Of course, since Roosevelt&rsquos coalition depended heavily on Southern Democrats who favored segregation, Wallace&rsquos open opposition to it became problematic. Additionally, Wallace became increasingly friendly with the Soviet Union and advocated a stronger alliance with Stalin. This was the last straw for Roosevelt, and he dropped Wallace from the presidential ticket in the 1944 election.

Since Franklin Roosevelt viewed his experiment with Henry Wallace as a more active Vice President as a failure, when he was re-elected to a fourth term in 1944, he decided to give his new Vice President, Harry Truman of Missouri, a more traditional &ldquodo-nothing&rdquo role as presiding officer of the Senate. Truman, a former senator, found himself in a position that he didn&rsquot like, and complained that the job of the Vice President was to &ldquogo to weddings and funerals.&rdquo Of course, after only three months in office, Roosevelt died and Truman became president. Upon taking office, Truman was informed of the development of the Atomic Bomb, something that Roosevelt&rsquos administration never bothered to tell him about. This realization made Harry Truman re-think the importance of the vice-presidential office&hellip which in the post-war world could no longer be dismissed as insignificant and ceremonial. In 1947, Truman created the National Security Council, in which the most important matters of national security would be discussed. After he was elected to a second term in 1948, which filled the vice-presidential vacancy left by Truman, he made sure that new Vice President Alben Barkley was included as a member of the National Security Council and had him attend cabinet meetings as well. Even though Truman&rsquos vice-presidency was short and uneventful, Roosevelt&rsquos sudden death allowed him to realize of how essential it was to keep the Vice President informed of the nation&rsquos most important issues. For this reason, Truman must be included one of the most important Vice Presidents of all-time.

The 25th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified in 1967, which gives the president the power to nominate a new Vice President if the office has become vacant, if it is approved by Congress. In October of 1973, President Richard Nixon&rsquos Vice President, Sprio Agnew, abruptly resigned after allegations of bribery and tax evasion. This gave Nixon the first-ever opportunity to exercise the powers of the 25th amendment, which he subsequently did by nominating Representative Gerald Ford of Michigan. Ford was a moderate Republican whose nomination was met with little opposition in Congress, which quickly approved of Nixon&rsquos choice, allowing him to be sworn-in on December 6, 1973. As the following year progressed, revelations in the growing Watergate scandal made it seem increasingly likely that Ford might end up as president in the case of Nixon being impeached or resigning. As a result, Ford was given a very keen sense of presidential duties in preparation for such an event, and is perhaps the only Vice President to be given advanced warning of a coming presidential vacancy. Nixon finally did resign on August 9, 1974, and Ford succeeded him as the only individual to hold the office without being elected president or Vice President.

An extremely controversial figure, Dick Cheney served for eight years as George W. Bush&rsquos Vice President. During the 2000 election, it was sometimes joked that Bush was in fact Cheney&rsquos running-mate, and this continued with allegations that Cheney was the real &ldquopower behind the throne&rdquo (which are a bit farfetched, as Cheney often voiced impatience and frustration with many of Bush&rsquos decisions, especially Bush&rsquos refusal to grant Cheney&rsquos friend Scooter Libby a presidential pardon). Even still, Cheney was an especially powerful vice-president, who as a former Secretary of Defense, advised Bush on defense and national security issues, and is heavily credited as one of the main architects of the Iraq War. He was also known for having been especially shrewd as a politician. He was quick to make pointed attacks on his opponents, and in 2005 several members of his staff (in particular, Scooter Libby) were investigated for leaking the identity of a CIA agent that had angered Cheney (see the Plame Affair for more on this). At the end of his term, Dick Cheney was widely recognized as one of the most unpopular Vice Presidents in American history among Republicans and Democrats alike. Despite this, it is without a doubt that he was one of the most powerful individuals to hold the office, and it remains to be seen how his tenure will influence the office in the years to come.

Following Harry Truman&rsquos post-war reinvention of the vice-presidency, President Dwight Eisenhower decided to take things to an even higher level for his Vice President, Richard Nixon. Even before Eisenhower was elected, Nixon was a visible campaigner and in response to a small scandal regarding political gifts, became the first vice-presidential candidate to release his tax returns to the public. As Vice President, Nixon was given the task of actually running cabinet meetings in the absence of Eisenhower, and Nixon acted on his behalf during two occasions when Eisenhower suffered a heart attack, and then a stroke. This was a full decade prior to the ratification of the 25th amendment, which covers times of presidential disability or incapacity &ndash &ndash but Eisenhower firmly outlined directions in which Nixon would assume temporary presidential powers during such events. Even though Nixon was given new powers and responsibilities, like many of his predecessors, he was still largely confined to the business of presiding over the Senate. But his vice-presidency was certainly an important step forward in the development of what the office is today.

Right now, it seems that Walter Mondale might be destined to be one of those in the long line of forgotten Vice Presidents. A one-term Vice President and the badly-defeated 1984 Democratic candidate for the presidency, he just doesn&rsquot have the same interesting narrative of Harry Truman, Richard Nixon, or Al Gore. But what is often overlooked is that Walter Mondale was, without a doubt, the first truly modern Vice President of the United States. As a Senator from Minnesota, he was chosen by Jimmy Carter to be his running-mate in 1976. After winning that election, Carter gave Mondale a very different role in his administration. Vice President Mondale was not expected to preside over the Senate (except in rare cases such as counting electoral college ballots, or breaking tie votes). He was the first Vice President with an office in the West Wing of the White House, where he was commonly consulted by the President on all issues, whether it was domestic, foreign or defense. Carter encouraged Mondale to voice his own opinions and disagreements in meetings, as to offer a different point of view. Also, with the national security concerns of the Cold War, as Vice President he received intelligence briefings on a daily basis &ndash &ndash a tradition that carries on to this day. Jimmy Carter was badly defeated by Ronald Reagan in 1980, but the Mondale legacy survived. Reagan kept Carter&rsquos reforms of the Vice Presidential office, and so have the subsequent presidents since then. The final result is that after Walter Mondale, the Vice President was no longer a ceremonial sidekick, but the actual partner, confidant and teammate of the President.

The Curse of the Vice Presidency

Until the election of George Bush the elder in 1988, no incumbent vice president had been elected president since Martin Van Buren in 1836. (Bush opened his first post-election news conference by saying, "It's been a long time, Marty.") Yet it also is true that, starting with Harry S. Truman in 1945, five of the last 10 presidents have been former vice presidents: Truman, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Bush. Death or resignation accounts for the ascensions of Truman, Johnson, and Ford, but each of them except Ford subsequently won at least one presidential election on his own.

Does being vice president make Al Gore a stronger contender for president or a weaker one? Until Gore agreed to be Bill Clinton's running mate in 1992, he was pursuing a different route to an eventual run at the White House. After youthful dalliances with journalism and the ministry, Gore had ascended rapidly, winning his father's old House seat in central Tennessee in 1976, then moving up to the Senate in 1984 and winning re-election by a landslide in 1990, when he carried every county in the state. In 1988 he'd made a presentable if premature run at the Democratic nomination. Gore was the youngest serious contender for a major-party nomination in this century, finishing third in a field of eight.

The nature of Gore's springboard changed dramatically in May 1992. Clinton placed Gore on his list of 40 potential running mates, had him checked out by Democratic Party eminence Warren Christopher, then kept Gore on the list when he pared it down to five. On June 30, Clinton and Gore had the sort of two-souls-become-one meeting (incredibly, they had scarcely known each before then) that is scheduled for one hour and lasts for three. The call to Gore's Carthage, Tennessee, home came shortly before midnight on July 8.

The roots of the vice presidency's uncertain political status are embedded deeply in the Constitution and in two centuries of history. The Constitutional Convention of 1787 created the vice presidency as a weak office, but also a prestigious one. The Constitution empowered the vice president only to be "president of the Senate, but shall have no Vote, unless they be equally divided." It was the election system that brought the prestige. Every four years, presidential electors were charged to cast two votes for president: The first-place finisher in the electoral college won the office, and the person who finished second became vice president. In awarding the vice presidency to the runner-up in the presidential election, the Constitution thus made the vice president the presumptive heir to the presidency. Not surprisingly, the nation's first two vice presidents, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, were elected to be its second and third presidents.

The arrival of political parties nominating not just a candidate for president, but a vice presidential candidate as well, rendered this system unworkable. The breakdown came in 1800 when, as a result of all of the Democratic-Republican electors faithfully discharging their duty to vote for both Jefferson and his vice presidential running mate, Aaron Burr, a tie vote for president occurred between the two nominees, and it took the House of Representatives weeks to resolve in Jefferson's favor.

The 12th Amendment, which was passed in time for the 1804 election, solved this problem neatly by instructing electors to cast one vote for president and a separate vote for vice president. But the amendment had a disastrous unintended side effect on the vice presidency: It left the office weak and, by stripping the vice president of his claim to be the second-most qualified person in the country to be president, took away its prestige as well. From 1804 on, talented and ambitious politicians shied away from vice presidential nominations. "I do not propose to be buried until I am dead," sniffed Daniel Webster when he was offered the Whig Party nomination in 1848. Ancient has-beens (six vice presidents died in office, all of natural causes, between 1812 and 1899) and middle-aged never-wases (George M. Dallas? Daniel D. Tompkins?) took their place.

Resurrecting a Dead Office

Although the vice presidency is still constitutionally weak, the contrast between the political prestige of the nineteenthcentury version of the office and the twentieth-century version is stark. Except for Van Buren, no nineteenth-century vice president was even renominated by his party's convention for a second term as vice president, much less nominated to run for president. Starting with William Howard Taft's vice president, James S. Sherman, however, every twentieth-century vice president who sought a second term has been renominated, and nine of them (nearly half) have gone on to receive a presidential nomination. Four nineteenth-century vice presidents succeeded to the presidency when the elected president died, but none of them was nominated to run for a full presidential term. The best of the four--Chester A. Arthur--was mediocre. The other three--John Tyler, Millard Fillmore, and Andrew Johnson--ran the gamut from bad to awful. In the twentieth century, not only were all five successor presidents--Theodore Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, Truman, Johnson, and Ford--renominated for president by their party, but all except Ford (who came very close) were elected. As a group, historians actually rank them higher than the century's elected presidents.

The record of vice presidential prestige has been even more compelling since the end of World War II. Starting in 1948, the vice presidential candidate as often as not has been the more experienced member of the ticket in high government office, including recent nominees such as Walter F. Mondale in 1976, Bush in 1980, Lloyd Bentsen in 1988, and Gore in 1992. Vice presidents have become the presumptive front-runners for their party's presidential nomination. Starting with Nixon in 1960, every elected vice president except Dan Quayle has led in a majority of the Gallup polls that measure the party rank and file's pre-convention preferences for president. Again excepting Quayle, all eight of the postwar vice presidents who have sought their party's presidential nomination have won it.

The roles and resources of the vice presidency also have grown in recent years. The office is larger and more prominent than in the past--in the terminology of political science, it has been "institutionalized." As recently as the mid-1970s, vice presidents hung their hats in the Capitol and the Old Executive Office Building, arranged their own housing, and were forced to crib speechwriters from the White House. Today they enjoy a large and professional staff, a West Wing office, a separate line item in the executive budget, and a grand official residence--the Admiral's House at the Naval Observatory. The office also has been institutionalized in the broader sense that more--and more substantial--vice presidential activities are now taken for granted. These include regular private meetings with the president, a wide-ranging role as senior presidential adviser, membership on the National Security Council, full intelligence briefings, access to the Oval Office paper flow, public advocacy of the administration's programs and leadership, a leadership role in the party second only to the president, sensitive diplomatic missions, attendance at cabinet meetings, and serving as a presidential liaison to congressional leaders and interest groups.

The reasons for the enhanced status of the vice presidency in government and politics are several. At the turn of the twentieth century, the rise of national news media (mass circulation magazines and newspaper wire services) and a new style of active political campaigning elevated the visibility and prestige of the vice president, which made the office more appealing to a better class of political leaders. In the 1900 election, the Republican nominee, Theodore Roosevelt, won widespread publicity and accumulated political IOUs from local politicians in nearly every state by becoming the first vice presidential candidate in history to campaign vigorously across the country. During the 1920s and 1930s, the roster of vice presidents included a speaker of the House, a Senate majority leader, and a Nobel Prize-winning cabinet member.

In 1940 Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had run (and lost) for vice president himself in 1920, successfully claimed for presidential candidates the right to name their running mates. In the past, party leaders had made that decision. They typically used it to pair the nominee for president with a vice presidential candidate from the opposite wing of the party, thereby discouraging the president from ever trusting the vice president personally or entrusting him with useful responsibilities in office. Voters want vice presidents to be loyal to the president as much as presidents do. This allows the president to choose his running mate virtually assured that such loyalty would be forthcoming.

Finally, after 1945, the combination of Truman's woefully unprepared succession to the presidency when Roosevelt died (Truman was at best dimly aware of the existence of the atom bomb and the Allies' plans for the postwar world) and the proliferation of nuclear weapons heightened public concern that the vice president be a leader who is ready and able to step into the presidency at a moment's notice.

A Vice Presidential Constitution

As voters increasingly have come to judge vice presidential nominees by their fitness to succeed to the presidency, most candidates for president have learned that, in filling the second slot on the ticket, they can do well politically by doing good for the country. As Hamilton Jordan put it in a 1976 memo to his candidate, Jimmy Carter, "The best politics is to select a person who is accurately perceived by the American people as being qualified and able to serve as president if that should become necessary."

The Constitution has been altered during the last halfcentury in ways that have redounded to the benefit of vice presidents. The 25th Amendment, which was enacted in 1967, focused almost entirely on the vice presidency. The amendment declared, at last, that when the president dies, resigns, or is removed from office, "the Vice President shall become President" for the remainder of the four-year term. Vice presidents--nine in all (how's that for a stepping-stone to the presidency?)--had been doing exactly that since John Tyler, upon William Henry Harrison's untimely death (after one month in office) in 1841, declared himself president rather than acting president, ignoring the considerable congressional grumbling that ensued. At the time, this move had almost the character of a coup, since many thought the vice president had the right to serve only as interim chief executive until a special election could be called.

Indeed, until the 25th Amendment was enacted, the language of the Constitution remained vague enough to admit just that interpretation. James Madison's extensive notes of the debates at the Constitutional Convention indicate that a special presidential election was the framers' true intention. The key phrase that ended up in Article II of the original Constitution said that if the president dies, resigns, is removed by impeachment, or is unable "to discharge the Powers and Duties of the said Office, the Same shall devolve on the Vice President." The Same what? The president's "Powers and Duties" or "the said Office"--that is, the presidency itself? The framers meant only the powers and duties and only in a custodial capacity, but through careless drafting they did not say so clearly in the final text. Because Madison had embargoed his papers, his notes of the convention were not yet in circulation when Harrison died, and all the delegates were dead. Tyler's stubbornness constituted a successful fait accompli that set the precedent for all of his successors to follow. But it took the 25th Amendment to settle the succession question once and for all.

The amendment did more than tidy up a constitutional infelicity. It also made the vice president the crucial actor in determining whether a president is disabled: Unless the vice president agrees that the president is physically or mentally unable to serve, nothing can be done. Finally, the amendment provided that whenever the vice presidency becomes vacant (by 1967, this had happened 16 times during the nation's first 36 presidencies), the president will nominate a new vice president with congressional confirmation. So prestigious had the vice presidency become that in 1976, Americans barely noticed that their national bicentennial celebration was presided over by two men, President Ford and Vice President Nelson A. Rockefeller, who had attained their offices not through election but by being appointed vice president.

Equally significant in constitutional terms was the 22nd Amendment, which imposed a two-term limit on the president in 1951. Just as nobody had meant to damage the vice presidency politically with the enactment of the 12th Amendment in 1804, nobody was trying to enhance the vice president's political status when the 22nd Amendment limited presidential tenure. But the two-term limit made it possible for the vice president to step forward as a presidential candidate early in the president's second term, rather than wait in the wings until the president decided what he wanted to do. All three vice presidents who have served second-term presidents since the 22nd Amendment was enacted have made good use of this opportunity: Nixon in 1960, Bush in 1988, and now Gore.

In all, Gore inherited an impressive office when he became vice president in 1993. He has contributed to the power and prestige of the office as well: heading the administration's reinventing government initiative, serving as an important diplomatic channel to Russia and other former Soviet republics, filling the bureaucracy with political allies, deflating strong opposition to the North American Free Trade Agreement when he shredded Ross Perot in a televised debate, developing the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and persuading Congress to pass it, and stiffening the president's spine at crucial moments. "You can get with the goddamn program!" Gore famously told Clinton when the president was vacillating on his 1993 economic plan--and Clinton did. The conventional wisdom about the Gore vice presidency is absolutely true. No vice president in history has been more influential.

Still, the question remains: Is being vice president a blessing or a curse for a talented political leader like Gore who is trying to win the presidency? The answer comes in two parts, with the easy part first. Service as vice president is clearly the most direct route to winning a party's presidential nomination. There is a downside to the vice presidency, of course, especially the certain prospect of being a steady source of merriment for late-night television comedians. But consider what vice presidents seeking to be nominated for president have going for them.

In addition to the opportunity for early fundraising and organization-building that the 22nd Amendment affords and the likelihood that the vice president is already a leader of some stature, vice presidents derive two other benefits from the office in their pursuit of a presidential nomination. The first is that their ongoing activities as party leader--campaigning across the country during elections, raising funds at other times--and as public advocate of the administration and its policies uniquely situate them to win friends among the political activists who typically dominate the nominating process. (Such campaigning also is good experience for a presidential candidacy.) Second, the recent growth in the governmental responsibilities and resources of the vice presidency has made it a more prestigious position and thus a more plausible stepping-stone to the presidency. Substantive matters like international diplomacy and symbolic ones like the trappings of the office--not just the mansion and Air Force Two, but even the new vice presidential seal that displays an eagle, wings spread, with a claw full of arrows and a starburst at its head (the eagle in the old seal seemed rather sedentary)--attest to the prestige of the office.

Altogether, the modern vice president typically is an experienced and talented political leader who is loyal to the president and admired by the party--an ideal formula for securing a presidential nomination and one that Gore executed skillfully this spring. Exit surveys during the Democratic primaries and caucuses showed Gore winning overwhelming support from voters who approved of Clinton's performance as president. Needless to say, such voters made up the vast majority of those who turned out at the polls. Gore's worst moment in the nomination campaign was, in a sense, the exception that demonstrated the rule. The vice president's zeal as a fundraiser for Clinton and the Democratic National Committee in 1995 and 1996 ("Is it possible to do a reallocation for me to take more of the events and the calls?" he asked in a memo) gave former Senator Bill Bradley an opening among independent voters last fall. But it also strengthened Gore's bond with Democratic activists, which turned out to be much more important.

Loyal to a Fault

Winning the party's nomination for president is no small thing, but it is not the main thing. For all their advantages in getting nominated, vice presidents have had an unusually hard time closing the deal in November. To be sure, the so-called Van Buren syndrome can be overstated: Of the 34 vice presidents who served between Van Buren and Bush, only seven even tried to run for president, and two of them--Nixon in 1960 and Humphrey in 1968--came very close to winning. But vice presidents carry burdens into the fall campaign that are as firmly grounded in their office as the advantages they bring to a nominating contest.

Indeed, some of the activities of the modern vice presidency that are most appealing to party activists may repel other voters. Days and nights spent fertilizing the party's grass roots with fervent, sometimes slashing rhetoric can alienate those who look to the presidency for leadership that unifies rather than divides. Gore's blurt to a postimpeachment rally of Democratic congressmen that Clinton "will be regarded in the history books as one of our greatest presidents" doubtless warmed the cockles of yellow dog Democratic hearts, but it seemed wildly excessive to almost everyone else. The woodenness that many people attribute to Gore is partly an artifact of the hundreds of vice presidential moments he has spent standing motionless and silent in the background while Clinton has spoken animatedly to the cameras.

Certain institutional qualities of the modern vice presidency also handicap the vice president turned presidential candidate. Vice presidents seldom get to take credit for the successes of the administration: That is a presidential prerogative. But they can count on being attacked for all of the administration's shortcomings. Such attacks allow no effective response. A vice president who tries to stand apart from the White House will alienate the president and cause voters to wonder why the criticisms were not voiced earlier. Gore did himself no good, for example, when he spent the evening of his official announcement for president telling the 20/20 audience that Clinton's behavior in the Monica Lewinsky affair was "inexcusable" or when he later dissented from administration policy on Elián Gonzalez. A vice president's difficulties are only compounded when it comes to matters of substantive public policy. Let Gore offer a new proposal, and Bush demands to know why he has hidden it under his hat until now.

Vice presidents can always say that loyalty to the president forecloses public disagreement, but that course is no less perilous politically. The public that values loyalty in a vice president disdains that quality as soon as he bids to become president. Strength, vision, and independence are what people look for then--the very qualities that vice presidents almost never get to display. Polls that show Gore trailing Bush by around 20 percentage points in the category of leadership are less about Bush and Gore than about the vice presidency. Bush's father trailed Michael S. Dukakis by a similar margin in the summer of 1988.

The political handicaps that vice presidents carry into the general election are considerable. They need not be insurmountable. As with all things vice presidential, much depends on the presidents they serve.

One of the main reasons that Nixon and Humphrey lost, for example, is that their presidents were so unhelpful. Every Poli Sci 100 student knows what Dwight D. Eisenhower said when a reporter asked him to name a single "major idea of [Nixon's] you had adopted" as president: "If you give me a week, I might think of one." (Less well-known is that a week later, Eisenhower still had nothing to say.) Johnson treated Humphrey with all the spitefulness of which he was capable as soon as it became clear that the Democratic convention was not going to draft him for another term despite his earlier withdrawal from the race. In true vice presidential style, Humphrey carried Johnson's water on Vietnam for four years, only to have the president threaten repeatedly that if he broke even slightly with the administration line, there would be political hell to pay. When Humphrey, ignoring yet another Johnson warning, finally did speak out in favor of a bombing pause just five weeks before the election, his poll numbers began a steep ascent. As Humphrey later said, he didn't lose the election to Nixon he just ran out of time.

In contrast, Van Buren benefited enormously from his association with President Andrew Jackson, who regarded his vice president's election to the presidency as validation of the transformation he had wrought in American politics. Ronald Reagan was equally committed to Bush's success, putting ego aside to praise (even inflate) the vice president's contributions to what the president began calling the "Reagan-Bush administration." Reagan's popularity was of even greater benefit to his vice president. Bush won the votes of 80 percent of those who approved of Reagan's performance as president he lost nine-to-one among those who disapproved. Eighty percent of many is more than 90 percent of few: Bush was elected.

Clinton combines Jackson's belief that his legacy is closely tied to his vice president's political success with Reaganesque approval ratings. If there is such a thing as "Clinton fatigue," it must be the exhaustion felt by those who have always hated him but have never been able to persuade the rest of the country that they are right. Clinton's job approval rating has been in the 60 percent-plus range for nearly four years--the highest and most enduring numbers for a second-term president in the history of polling. He has made it clear that all of his vast political talents are at Gore's disposal from now until November--including his ability, not often seen, to shine the spotlight on someone other than himself. Much to Clinton's credit, he remained steadfast last fall when Gore, in full panic mode, sometimes went out of his way to distance himself from the president.

As much as they will help, though, Clinton's efforts and popularity will not be enough to elect Gore. At the end of the day, candidates for president win or lose their own elections. "You're number two," says Gore, "and whether it's in politics or business or the professions, you have to make a transition from being number two to number one." But the president's assistance, joined with full use of the advantages the vice president derives from his own office, suggests that Gore's decision to seek the vice presidency instead of staying in the Senate eight years ago was his best available avenue to the White House.

Presidents get sick and die. What happens next hasn’t always been clear

On July 18, 1947, President Harry Truman signed the Presidential Succession Act, a law designed to clarify the order of succession upon the death of a sitting president and/or vice president. At the time, the critical process of presidential succession was an issue left somewhat unsettled by the Founding Fathers when they wrote and ratified the Constitution in the late 18th century.

To be sure, in Article II, Section 1, Clause 6, the Constitution describes the legal transfer of presidential power to the vice president if the former resigns or dies while in office. But this guiding document does little to describe what happens if the president becomes seriously ill, or who has the legal authority to determine if a particular illness or condition is severe enough to prevent the president from fulfilling his or her job. One reason this issue might have been left unresolved was the state of medicine in the late 18th century unlike today, people tended to die rather quickly of the most serious illness.

In 1791, the first U.S. Congress pondered what would happen if both the offices of president and vice president were left unfilled at the same time and several congressmen urged that the secretary of state be next in line. There was a festering political sore beneath this prescription: The secretary of state at the time was Thomas Jefferson, an ardent anti-Federalist who had many Federalist opponents in the Congress.

The following year, in 1792, the Second U.S. Congress passed a law stating that in the event both the president and the vice-president were dead or disabled, first the Senate president pro tempore and then the speaker of the House would become the acting president until either the disability that prevented the sitting president or vice president from serving was resolved or, in the event of their deaths, a new election could be held.

Nevertheless, presidential succession remained a thorny issue throughout the 19th century and beyond.

In April of 1841, for example, William Henry Harrison died one month after beginning his presidency. His vice president, John Tyler, unilaterally insisted on taking the oath of president — as opposed to “acting president” as many of his colleagues suggested. Matters became complicated again when Abraham Lincoln was murdered in 1865. One of the issues debated in the aftermath of this tragedy was who should be third in line, either the president pro tempore of the Senate (the most senior, and often the oldest, senator in the chamber) or the secretary of state (an appointed rather than an elected official, but the most senior member of the presidential administration).

In 1866, it was agreed that the secretary of state, followed by cabinet officers in order of the tenure of their departments, would succeed the vacancies. But a special election was not yet required by law. The acting president would serve until the next presidential election was judged to be completed by the Electoral College. That said, there was still congressional hand-wringing when Andrew Johnson was impeached, but not removed, in 1868 when James Garfield was shot and left dying for months in 1881 and again, in 1886, when Grover Cleveland and members of Congress urged changes in the succession process after Cleveland’s vice president Thomas Hendricks died in office. When William McKinley was assassinated in 1901, Teddy Roosevelt rose from vice president to president, but served the rest of that term without the benefit of a vice president.

Nearly half a century later, Harry Truman became president in 1945 after Franklin Roosevelt’s death on April 12, one month into his historic fourth term. Once sworn in, Truman lobbied for a return to the succession delineated in the 1792 act, with one key distinction. The speaker of the House would be third in line as acting president, followed by the president pro tempore of the Senate, and then cabinet officers based on the date their department was created (today, the secretary of state remains the most senior and the secretary of homeland security, a position which was created in 2002, is the most junior).

Some have argued that Truman wanted these changes because of his close relationship with then speaker of the House, Sam Rayburn. Truman instead claimed that because the speaker was the leader of “the elected representatives of the people,” he or she should be next to ascend to the vacancy of vice president or president, if the situation arose. Just as important, Truman was acutely aware of the fragility of presidential health and learned first hand the importance of having an unambiguous plan for presidential succession in place.

In 1967, the 25th Amendment of the Constitution was ratified and its four sections further address some (but not all) of the succession issues President Truman raised. The first two sections of the 25th Amendment deal with how presidential power is assumed in the event of a president’s death or resignation and allows the president to nominate a vice president when that office becomes vacant. The third section delineates a president’s voluntary resignation of power. The fourth section discusses the involuntary removal of a president, when he or she is deemed unable to perform the job, by members of the cabinet and of Congress — but this has never been acted upon in American history.

Ethicists and presidential historians insist there remain serious problems in terms of presidential succession, both in the 25th Amendment and in the 1947 Succession Act, particularly in terms of defining the disabilities, physical, or mental illnesses that might prevent the president or vice-president from fulfilling his or her duties. (Several years ago, I wrote about the problems surrounding the 25th Amendment in the Journal of the American Medical Association, June 4, 2008).

To make matters worse, throughout the 20th century, candidates and elected officials have not always been fully forthcoming about their medical histories because of concerns that such disclosures might cost them votes or political support. Woodrow Wilson’s concealment of his debilitating stroke and the role his wife, Edith Galt Wilson, played in both the “cover-up” and by secretly acting as president FDR’s poliomyelitis and lower body paralysis and, later, his congestive heart failure, malignant hypertension, and related disabilities Dwight D. Eisenhower’s secrecy over his 1955 heart attack, 1956 intestinal obstruction, and 1957 stroke John F. Kennedy’s multiple health problems including Addison’s disease and the many medications he took while negotiating sensitive geopolitical matters Richard Nixon’s mental health during the final months of his presidency and Ronald Reagan’s gunshot wounds, cancer surgeries, and the extent of his Alzheimer’s disease are just a few examples of serious disabilities that can affect our chief executives. How have these disabilities affected world events? We will never quite know the answer to that query.

Today, poll after poll demonstrates that the American people want to know about the health of their elected officials, and especially their president. And while private citizens are certainly entitled to privacy with respect to their health, matters become decidedly different when running for or holding the highest office in the land. Some medical experts have suggested that the president undergo an annual physical and mental health examination (including evaluations for depression and Alzheimer’s disease), which are made public upon completion in real time.

The obvious reality is that we are all too human, we all get sick, and we are all going to die. No president — no matter how powerful, beloved, or despised — is immune to the slings and arrows of human disease. Fortunately, we live in an era when so many medical and mental health conditions can be successfully treated and individuals live healthy, normal lives despite having this or that illness. That said, this physician insists that the American voter deserves to know the medical and mental health histories of our nation’s chief magistrate, from the moment they announce their candidacy to their last day in office.

And just as all voters need access to this critical health information as they execute the profound civic duty of electing the next president of the United States, every president should be able to rest easier with the knowledge that there exists a clear path of succession in place, in the event of illness, disability or death. As President Harry Truman once opined about presidential health and disability, “We ought not go on trusting to luck to see us through.”

The Twenty-Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

Section 1. In case of the removal of the president from office or of his death or resignation, the vice president shall become president.

Section 2. Whenever there is a vacancy in the office of the vice president, the president shall nominate a vice president who shall take office on confirmation by a majority vote of both houses of Congress.

Section 3. Whenever the president transmits to the president pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that he is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, and until he transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary, such powers and duties shall be discharged by the vice president as acting president.

Section 4. Whenever the vice president and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide transmit to the president pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the president is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the vice president shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as acting president.

Thereafter, when the president transmits to the president pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that no inability exists, he shall resume the powers and duties of his office unless the vice president and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive department or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit within 4 days to the president pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the president is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office. Thereupon, Congress shall decide the issue, assembling within 48 hours for that purpose if not in session. If the Congress within 21 days after receipt of the latter written declaration, or, if Congress is not in session within 21 days after Congress is required to assemble, determines by two-thirds vote of both houses that the president is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the vice president shall continue to discharge the same as acting president otherwise, the president shall resume the powers and duties of his office.

Left: Harry Truman became president in 1945 after Franklin Roosevelt’s death on April 12, one month into his historic fourth term. Photo by Getty Images/Bettmann/Contributor


If cabinet members must be appointed as acting president, the order is: Secretary of State, Secretary of the Treasury, Secretary of Defense, Attorney General, Secretary of the Interior, Secretary of Agriculture, Secretary of Commerce, Secretary of Labor, Secretary of Health and Human Services, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Secretary of Transportation, Secretary of Energy, Secretary of Education, Secretary of Veterans Affairs and Secretary of Homeland Security.