The 25th Amendment: Summary & Ratification

Instructor: Jason Nowaczyk
The following lesson will discuss the rules for presidential succession found in the Twenty-Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. A short quiz will follow to check your understanding.

The 25th Amendment

If you ask most people who the most important person in the United States is, the most common answer is probably the President of the United States. The position of President carries with it some major authority, like controlling the entire armed forces or being able to single-handedly veto laws purposed by Congress. Thus, if something were to happen to the President, there needs to be procedures in place to make sure that our government continues to operate smoothly. While Article II of the Constitution attempted to address this concern, extra explanation and clarity was needed because it didn't address some important issues regarding presidential succession. These issues were resolved with the ratification of the 25th Amendment on February 10, 1967.

Why the 25th Amendment?

So we mentioned that the rules for presidential succession, or who takes over for the president when he is incapable of doing so, appears in the disability clause in Article II, Section 1, Clause 6 of the Constitution. But the rules for presidential succession were kind of vague. While the disability clause indicates that the Vice President takes over for the President during times of death, resignation, or permanent disability, it did nothing to explain whether that position made the Vice President permanently President or just an acting President. And apart from that, if the Vice President is elevated to the position of President, who then becomes the new Vice President? You can see how this can become a problem.

These issues were not addressed by the Constitutional Convention, and there would be several instances throughout history when guidance could have been helpful. In fact, the first time that the disability clause was implemented was when our very first president George Washington fell seriously ill just a mere 13 months into his presidency. However, without a clear indication of whether the Vice President just assumes the duties of the President or actually becomes the President, and for how long, the Vice President at the time, John Adams was virtually incapacitated and couldn't do much of anything while Washington was ill. Thus, no action was taken.

While, Washington would ultimately recover from his illness, a dangerous precedent was set that would continue for almost 200 years: if an American President falls ill or is seriously injured, the Vice President is just as incapacitated. Congress attempted to address the issue of presidential succession over this 200-year period by periodically passing laws but none of them would be as comprehensive as the 25th Amendment.

25th Amendment Page 1
25th Amendment Page 1

25th Amendment Page 2
25th Amendment Page 2

Sections of the 25th Amendment

While the 25th Amendment would go on to have four total sections, it is the first two that are the most important.

Section 1 of the 25th Amendment clearly states that if the President is removed from office because of death or resignation, the Vice President becomes President. So in other words, there's no President-lite; the Vice President is the man in charge permanently. The assassination of President Kennedy jolted Congress into action to draft the 25th Amendment as Lyndon B. Johnson actually served 14 months in office before a Vice president served under him.

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