Presidential Succession

By | Feb 21, 2008

The United States Constitution in Article II, Section 1, Clause 6 gave Congress the right to determine who would become President in the case that both the President and Vice-President was unable to complete the term.

On February 21, 1792 Congress passed the first Presidential Succession Act. This Act determined that the next officials in line would be the president pro tempore of the Senate followed by the Speaker of the House.

As with almost every law that has been passed through the years by Congress, this Act has been revised and replaced by other act. In the late 1800’s there was an emergence of a belief that business executives would be better fit for President. The Presidential Succession Act of 1886, dropped the two political position from the line of succession and in their place installed the cabinet secretaries in the order in which their departments were created. These offices were generally filled by people who could manage.

After World War II, and with Roosevelt winning four Presidential terms, there was a general view that changes were needed. Along with what would become the 22nd Amendment, defining Presidential terms, the Presidential Succession Act of 1947 was passed.

This act, which is still in effect, determined that the line of succession after the Vice-President would be the Speaker of the House followed by president pro tempore of the Senate. After these would be the cabinet heads in the order that their departments were created. The exception to this is that the renewal of the Patriot Act in 2006 placed the Secretary of Homeland Security, the last cabinet position created, after the Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

Fortunately there has not been a time that anyone beyond the Vice-President has been required to take the office of President. The 25th Amendment allowed the President to fill the office of Vice-President. It turned out to be a good move since only a few years later, Vice-President Agnew was forced to resign. President Nixon named Gerald Ford Vice-President and he in turn took office when Nixon was forced to resign.


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