What Brought About the 25th Amendment?
The Founding Fathers of the United States were pretty smart guys. When drafting the Constitution for their newly independent country, they had the foresight to realize that as society grew and developed, there may also come times when the Constitution would need to be changed in order to stay relevant. So they included Article V, which provides a mechanism for amending the Constitution.
In total, there have been 27 Amendments to the United States Constitution, with each serving a distinct and important purpose. Some Amendments are well-known, and can be recited by American citizens almost verbatim. Others are more obscure, or don’t get talked about all that often, unless certain circumstances cause them to become relevant. Falling into this latter category is the 25th Amendment.
The 25th Amendment to the United States Constitution deals with Presidential succession. It gets talked about anytime there are questions about whether a President will be able to serve out the remainder of their term. What brought about the 25th Amendment? Let’s take a look at the history of this necessary change.
The Story Behind the 25th Amendment
The 25th Amendment is the byproduct of some ambiguous wording in Article II, Section 1, Clause 6 of the Constitution, which does not expressly state whether the Vice President becomes the President or “Acting President” if the President dies, resigns, is removed from office, or is otherwise unable to discharge the powers of the Presidency. The Constitution did also not provide a mechanism for filling a Vice Presidential vacancy.
The vagueness of this clause caused difficulties many times before the 25th Amendment’s adoption. A few examples include:
- In 1841, President William Henry Harrison died while in office. Vice President John Tyler asserted that he should ascend to the role of President, but others acknowledged him as “Acting President.” He took the Presidential Oath in an effort to clear up any doubts about his right to the office.
- There was no Vice President for nearly four years after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.
- In October 1919, President Woodrow Wilson suffered a massive stroke, and no one ever officially assumed Presidential powers and duties while he was in the hospital.
There had long been a desire to address the issue of succession in Congress, and it was actually a national tragedy that accelerated the process.
When John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, America was in the midst of the Cold War. Lyndon B. Johnson would assume the role of President, and there would be no Vice President until the next Presidential term began in 1965. Johnson had once suffered a heart attack, and the next two people in line to succeed him were the 71-year-old Speaker of the House John McCormack and the 86-year-old Senate President pro tempore Carl Hayden. Not only did it become clear that Presidential succession needed to be sorted out, but that there also needed to be a means of dealing with Presidential disability.
On January 6, 1965, a bipartisan proposal was brought forth in the House and Senate, outlining a process by which a President could be declared unable to fulfill the powers and duties of the office. It also described methods to assign a new Vice President. After a few revisions, the Amendment was passed by both Houses of Congress. On February 10, 1967, Minnesota and Nevada were the 37th and 38th states to ratify, respectively, and the 25th Amendment was officially adopted.
The first time the Amendment was used was in 1973, following the resignation of Vice President Spiro Agnew. Richard Nixon used the Amendment to nominate Gerald Ford for congressional approval. Ford himself would have to use it nine months later to nominate Nelson Rockefeller as Vice President when Nixon resigned.
What is the 25th Amendment?
The 25th Amendment is divided up into 4 sections. The full text of the Amendment can be found below:
In case of the removal of the President from office or of his death or resignation, the Vice President shall become President.
Whenever there is a vacancy in the office of the Vice President, the President shall nominate a Vice President who shall take office upon confirmation by a majority vote of both Houses of Congress.
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.
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 four 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 forty-eight hours for that purpose if not in session. If the Congress, within twenty-one days after receipt of the latter written declaration, or, if Congress is not in session, within twenty-one 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.
Now that you know the history behind what brought about the 25th Amendment, how about seeing how much you know about the other Constitutional Amendments. Test yourself in the quiz below!
Mark Heald is an Associate Product Manager and Sporcle Admin. He enjoys spending time with his family, traveling, and bemoaning the fact the Sonics left Seattle.