Presidential Succession

Questions for Reflection

1) South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond switched political parties in 1964 from Democrat to Republican, a relatively rare action among politicians. Why do you think it is rare for politicians to switch political parties? Do you think congress people should be more loyal to their convictions or to their party platform? A handful of congress people have decided to run as independent candidates, rather than a candidate from either the Democrat of Republican parties. If you were in congress and did not fully agree with either political party, would you choose to run as an independent or choose to run with a party and vote out of line with the party when you disagreed? Why?

2) Birch Bayh, the author of the 25th Amendment detailing presidential succession, also authored the the twenty sixth amendment, lowering the voting age from 21 to 18. At what age do you believe US citizens should be allowed to vote? Do you think the voting age and the minimum legal drinking age (currently 21) should be the same?

3) Section 4 of the 25th Amendment allows executive officials to declare the President unable to service. Do you think section 4 of the 25th Amendment could plausibly be abused by a Vice President and a cabinet to illegitimately usurp the power of the presidency? Why or why not?

4) Transfer of Power Theme Question: The United States has an impressive history of peaceful transfer of power that is rare in history and among the nations of the world. How has the incapacitation clauses of the twenty-fifth amendment contributed to America's tradition of peaceful transfer of power?  

The U.S. Constitution is unclear on the issue of Presidential succession in the event of the vacancy of the Presidency. Did the office of President transfer to the Vice President, or did only the President’s “powers and duties” transfer?

In 1841, President William Henry Harrison died of pneumonia only four weeks after taking the oath of office, becoming the first President to die in office. When Vice President John Tyler took the Presidential oath of office the following month, was he actually the President or had he merely assumed the President’s “powers and duties”?

A member of the House of Representatives proposed an amendment to the resolution informing the President that the Congress was in session that would strike out the word “President” and replace it was “Vice President now exercising the office of President.”


Lyndon Baines Johnson taking the Presidential Oath of Office aboard Air Force One, November 22, 1963.

At 12:30 pm Central Standard Time, President John F. Kennedy was shot in while riding in a presidential motorcade with his wife Jacqueline, in Dallas, Texas. At 2:38 p.m. CST Vice President LBJ took the Presidential Oath of Office. Twenty-seven people squeezed into the sixteen-foot Air Force One cabin for the inauguration, the eighth non-scheduled inauguration since the presidency was established in 1789. The cabin was particularly hot since the air conditioning and power supply had been turned off to ensure a prompt takeoff.

25th Amendment

Joint Resolution Proposing the Twenty-Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, July 6, 1965.