Presidential Succession

We've all seen those movies and shows where some sort of apocalyptic or chaotic event takes out the white house, and the Vice President takes over the presidency. But have you ever wondered how it works? Who's next in line if the Vice President can't take office? Are there safeguards in place? 

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Which Succession Act added the cabinet secretaries to the line of presidential succession? 

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T/F. Succession bumping occurs when a cabinet secretary is named president when there is no speaker of the house or president pro-tempore of the senate, but once these vacancies are filled the cabinet member is "bumped" out of the way. 

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Who is second in the presidential succession line? 

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Who is third in the presidential succession order? 

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T/F. The president and vice president cannot ride in the same car together?. 

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T/F. At the time of the President's State of the Union speech, all those in the presidential succession line attend except three. 

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What presidential succession act removed the need for special elections? 

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Who advocated for the speaker of the House of Representatives to be next in line after the vice president in the case of presidential succession. 

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Who is the next in line if the president is unable to fulfill his duties? 

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The Presidential Succession Clause is in what article of the Constitution? 

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What was the main thing the Presidential Succession Clause stated? 

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  • Immunology
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  • Mo

Which Succession Act added the cabinet secretaries to the line of presidential succession? 

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  • Immunology
  • Cell Biology
  • Mo

T/F. Succession bumping occurs when a cabinet secretary is named president when there is no speaker of the house or president pro-tempore of the senate, but once these vacancies are filled the cabinet member is "bumped" out of the way. 

Show Answer
  • + Add tag
  • Immunology
  • Cell Biology
  • Mo

Who is second in the presidential succession line? 

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  • + Add tag
  • Immunology
  • Cell Biology
  • Mo

Who is third in the presidential succession order? 

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  • + Add tag
  • Immunology
  • Cell Biology
  • Mo

T/F. The president and vice president cannot ride in the same car together?. 

Show Answer
  • + Add tag
  • Immunology
  • Cell Biology
  • Mo

T/F. At the time of the President's State of the Union speech, all those in the presidential succession line attend except three. 

Show Answer
  • + Add tag
  • Immunology
  • Cell Biology
  • Mo

What presidential succession act removed the need for special elections? 

Show Answer
  • + Add tag
  • Immunology
  • Cell Biology
  • Mo

Who advocated for the speaker of the House of Representatives to be next in line after the vice president in the case of presidential succession. 

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  • + Add tag
  • Immunology
  • Cell Biology
  • Mo

Who is the next in line if the president is unable to fulfill his duties? 

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  • Immunology
  • Cell Biology
  • Mo

The Presidential Succession Clause is in what article of the Constitution? 

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  • Immunology
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What was the main thing the Presidential Succession Clause stated? 

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Table of contents

    This article aims to give you a better understanding of what presidential succession is and the legislation that backs it.

    Figure 1 Presidential Succession The United States President Seal StudySmarterFigure 1. The United States President Seal. Wikimedia Commons.

    Presidential Succession Meaning

    The meaning of presidential succession is the plan of action that comes into play if the role of a president ever becomes vacant due to death, impeachment and removal, or if the President is unable to fulfill his duties.

    Presidential Succession in the United States

    Presidential succession in the United States has been scrutinized since its inception. This is due to the importance of having a leader at all times to ensure continuity and portray a legitimate and stable government to its citizens. The Constitution first addressed the issue, followed by multiple Presidential Succession acts.

    Presidential Succession & the Constitution

    The founding fathers knew of the importance of presidential succession and wrote a clause within the Constitution that laid out the framework upon which our current succession laws rely on.

    The Constitution & the Presidential Succession Clause

    The Presidential Succession Clause is within Article 2, section 1 of the US Constitution. It states that in the case of the President dying, being impeached, resigning, or being unable to fulfill his duties, the Vice President would be given presidential powers. The clause also allowed Congress to name an "officer" who would act as President if the President and Vice President died, were removed from power, resigned, or could not fulfill their duties. This "officer" would then be in place until a presidential election took place or a disability was removed.

    Figure 2 Presidential Succession Henry Kissinger, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Alexander Haig talking about Gerald Ford's nomination to Vice President StudySmarterFigure 2. Henry Kissinger, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Alexander Haig talking about Gerald Ford's nomination to Vice President. Wikimedia Commons.

    25th Amendment of the Constitution

    Article 2 was unclear on whether the Vice President would be the acting President or would assume the role of President. When President William Henry Harrison died within a short time of becoming president, Vice President Tyler became " acting president." However, he demanded that he get the full title, powers, and rights of the President. Eventually, he got his way and was the full-pledged president. This helped settle the debate of whether the vice president would become president or "acting president" in the case of presidential succession.

    However, this was not made law until the 25th Amendment to the Consitution was ratified in 1965. The amendment's 1st section states that the vice president will become the president (not the acting president) if they have to ascend to the presidency. The amendment also grants the ascended President the right to appoint a vice president to replace them, with the approval of the House of Representatives and the Senate. It also dictates the steps that need to be taken in the case the President has to be voluntarily and temporarily replaced and the steps on how the president could regain his power. It also states the measures that the vice president and cabinet need to take if they would like to remove the president involuntarily for a disability and how the president could oppose such an attempt.

    Gerald Ford & The Unelected Presidency

    In 1973, Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned from office due to a political scandal. President Richard Nixon then had to fill the vice presidency; however, at this time, he was going through the Watergate scandal. Therefore, Congress was aware that the person Nixon chose could eventually become president. He chose Gerald Ford, whom he firmly believed would be approved by the Democrats. Gerald Ford was appointed the first vice president under the 25th Amendment. When Nixon resigned due to an impending impeachment, Gerald Ford became the president, making him the first unelected president.

    Since there was a vice presidency vacancy, President Gerald Ford appointed Nelson Rockefeller to fill the vacancy. This created the first presidency and vice presidency where the officeholders did not seek re-election to those posts.

    Fun Fact! The US has been without a Vice President 18 times.

    Presidential Succession Act

    In order to address the issues that the Constitution failed to do regarding presidential succession, Congress passed multiple presidential succession acts. These succession acts aimed to fill in the gaps that the constitution and previous laws hadn't filled in.

    Presidential Succession Act of 1792

    One of the issues that the Presidential Act of 1972 solved was what would occur if there was a double vacancy.

    Double Vacancy: when the presidency and vice presidency are vacant at the same time.

    If a double vacancy were to occur, the president pro-tempore of the Senate would be next in line for the presidency and then followed by the speaker of the house. However, it would not be for the remainder of the term. Special elections would be held to name a new President the following November, when a new four-year term would begin. However, it stipulated this rule would not take effect if the double vacancy occurred in the last 6 months of the term.

    Presidential Succession Act of 1886

    President James Garfield's assassination spurred the Presidential Succession Act of 1886. When his Vice president Chester Arthur took over as president, the positions of Vice President, president pro-tempore of the Senate, and speaker of the house were vacant. Therefore, this Succession Act revolved around the issue of what would happen if both the president pro-tempore and speaker of the house positions were vacant. This act made it so that the next in succession would be the cabinet secretaries in the order the offices were created. Creating this line of succession would also minimize the chance that the person who took over the presidency would come from a different party, creating less chaos and division within the government.

    Figure 3 Presidential Succession President Franklin Roosevelt, Vice President Truman, and Henry Wallace together StudySmarterFigure 3. President Franklin Roosevelt, Vice President Truman, and Henry Wallace together. Wikimedia Commons

    Presidential Succession Act of 1947

    The Presidential Succession Act of 1947 was championed by President Harry Truman, who became president after President Franklin Roosevelt's death. Truman was adamantly against the president pro-tempore of the Senate being next in line, after the vice president, in the succession order. Thanks to his advocacy, the new act changed the succession line to the speaker of the house being third in line and the president pro-tempore being fourth in line.

    One of the main things that the Presidential Succession Act of 1947 solved was removing the need for special elections for a new president (which was first introduced in the Presidential Succession Act of 1792), and it ensured that whoever took over the presidency in the line of succession would serve for the remainder of that current term.

    Fun Fact! At the time of the President's State of the Union speech, all those in the presidential succession line attend except one to ensure government continuity if something catastrophic occurred.

    Presidential Succession Bumping

    The Presidential Succession Act of 1947 created something called presidential succession bumping. If the line of succession reaches the cabinet, the member that gets appointed as President could then be bumped from office once a speaker of the house or president pro-tempore of the Senate is named. To many critics, this is one of the most significant flaws in the presidential succession laws and regulations. They believe that allowing bumping will create an unstable government, which could damage the nation. Only time will tell if this issue will be resolved in the future for the many critics.

    Fun Fact! The president and the vice president cannot ride in the same car together as a measure to prevent a double vacancy.

    Presidential Succession Order

    The presidential succession order is as follows:

    1. Vice President
    2. Speaker of the House of Representatives
    3. President Pro-Tempore of the Senate
    4. Secretary of State
    5. Secretary of the Treasury
    6. Secretary of Defense
    7. Attorney General
    8. Secretary of the Interior
    9. Secretary of Agriculture
    10. Secretary of Commerce
    11. Secretary of Labor
    12. Secretary of Health and Human Services
    13. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
    14. Secretary of Transportation
    15. Secretary of Energy
    16. Secretary of Education
    17. Secretary of Veteran Affairs
    18. Secretary of Homeland Security

    Presidential Succession - Key takeaways

    • Presidential succession is the plan of action that comes into play if the role of a president ever becomes vacant due to death, or impeachment and removal, or if the President ever becomes unable to fulfill his duties.
    • The order of presidential succession starts with the vice president, then the speaker of the house, then the president pro-tempore of the Senate, followed by the cabinet secretaries, in the order of the department's creation.
    • Article 2 and Amendment 25 of the Constitution deal with presidential succession and set up the framework for what should occur in the event of presidential succession.
    • Whoever becomes president in the line of succession has the ability to appoint his own vice president, with the approval of Congress.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Presidential Succession

    What is presidential succession? 

    The meaning of presidential succession is the plan of action that comes into play if the role of a president ever becomes vacant due to death, impeachment, or if the President ever becomes unable to fulfill his duties. 

    Who is the 4th in line for US president? 

    The fourth in line for the US president is the Secretary of State. 

    What is the order of the presidential succession? 

    The order of presidential succession starts with the vice president, then the speaker of the house, then the president pro-tempore of the Senate, followed by the cabinet secretaries, in the order of the department's creation. 

    What is the purpose of the presidential succession act? 

    The purpose of the presidential succesion act is to clarify any ambiguities left by the constitution. 

    What are the rules of presidential succession? 

    The rules of presidential succession are that the line of succession starts with the vice president, then the speaker of the house, then the president pro-tempore of the Senate, followed by the cabinet secretaries, in the order of the department's creation. 

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    T/F. Succession bumping occurs when a cabinet secretary is named president when there is no speaker of the house or president pro-tempore of the senate, but once these vacancies are filled the cabinet member is "bumped" out of the way. 

    Who is second in the presidential succession line? 

    Who is third in the presidential succession order? 

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