The topic of discussion for this Constitution Monday comes from Article II, Section 1, Clause 6: "[In Case of the Removal of the President from Office, or of his Death, Resignation, or Inability to discharge the Powers and Duties of the said office, the Same shall devolve on the Vice President….]" This provision guarantees that Americans will have a Chief Executive at all times.
There have been times in the history of our nation when a President was not able to fully function in the office of Chief Executive, but the question remains as to just when the Vice President should take over. The Twenty-fifth Amendment was passed to solve this problem, but it mostly created other problems.
Some examples of Presidents being unable to function in office were given by W. Cleon Skousen in his book entitled The Making of America - the Substance and Meaning of the Constitution, pp. 529-30. The first example he listed was President Garfield who was shot on July 2, 1881: he "was unable to perform the duties of his office for nearly three months after being shot … but Vice President Arthur did not assume the duties of the President."
Skousen considers the example of Woodrow Wilson as even more serious. "He became both mentally and physically ill for several months so that not even cabinet officers or the representatives of foreign nations could see him. During this time Mrs. Wilson, for all practical purposes, served as acting President and made whatever decisions were necessary."
President Dwight D. Eisenhower was also "incapacitated by serious illness" or unable to fully function as President on "three separate occasions during his administration."
I remember when President Ronald Reagan was shot and had surgery to remove the bullet near his heart. Our nation and the world fully understood that Vice President George H. W. Bush was acting as President.
Skousen believes that we would be "much more practical" if we adopted a provision from "the constitution of
which states clearly and simply that the Vice President shall take the place of
the President `in case of temporary disability and succeed him in case of
John Feerick wrote in the Heritage Guide to the Constitution (pp. 191-92): "This provision constitutes the anchor for presidential succession in the
. It provides for the Vice President to take
over in the event of the removal, death, resignation, or inability of the
President…. Left unclear by the clause
was whether the Vice President became President or simply acted as President in
a case of succession…. United States
"In 1841, when President William Henry Harrison died in office, Vice President John Tyler assumed the presidency for the rest of the term. His claim of being President, not simply Vice President acting as President, drew criticism. The precedent he set, however, took and became the operating principle when other Presidents died in office. On the other hand,
's example became a major obstacle for
situations involving the temporary inability of a President because, under the
wording of this clause, the status of a Vice President in a case of death would
appear to be the same as in a case of inability or resignation or removal. As a consequence, on a number of occasions
Vice Presidents declined to consider relieving a disabled President because of
precedent…. [He listed the examples of
Garfield and Wilson.] In 1967, the
adoption of the Twenty-fifth Amendment eliminated much of the remaining
uncertainties regarding presidential succession." Tyler