The 1963 murder of President John F. Kennedy led to a reconsideration of the 1947 Presidential Succession Act, which mandated that the Speaker of the US House of Representatives was next in line to the vice president and the Senate president pro tempore was next in line to the Speaker. The new president, Lyndon B. Johnson, was only fifty-five when he took the oath of office on November 22, 1963, but he had a well-known heart condition that would end his life nine years later. Seated behind Johnson when he met with Congress was the soon-to-be seventy-two-year old House Speaker John W. McCormack (D-MA) and the eighty-six-year-old Senate president pro tempore Carl Hayden (D-AZ). The prospect of either elderly man succeeding to the presidency led Congress to pass the Twenty-Fifth Amendment, enabling it to fill vice presidential vacancies by congressional confirmation of presidential appointments. The amendment also provided for the presidency to be temporarily filled should the president announce his own temporary incapacity or lose the powers of the office if the Cabinet and Congress determined that the president was incapable of carrying out the duties of the office. The president may retain the office but those powers will go to the vice president as “Acting President.” The president may petition Congress to regain the powers and if Congress agrees that “no inability exists,” the powers will be restored. This article explores the backstage drama surrounding the circumstances leading to the passage of the Twenty-Fifth Amendment.



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