Twenty-fifth Amendment Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that provides clear procedures for fulfilling the duties of the presidency should the president be unable to discharge the duties of the office, or in the event of the death, removal from office, or resignation of the president. It also provides for the prompt filling of the office of vice president should a vacancy occur.

The Twenty-fifth Amendment was formally signed and proclaimed by President Lyndon B. Johnson in a White House ceremony on February 23, 1967. The four-section amendment specifically addresses issues related to presidential disability and succession. These concerns date back to the forming of the nation and would come to a head during the Watergate scandal that forced President Richard M. Nixon from office. The first succession law was signed by President George Washington in 1792, declaring that the vice president would succeed the president, followed by the president pro tempore of the Senate, and the Speaker of the House.

On June 19, 1886, the succession law was revised, in part because of concerns raised when Chester A. Arthur ascended to the office of president following the assassination of James Garfield. No president pro tempore or Speaker was in office at the time. This law put the Secretary of State in line behind the vice president, followed by cabinet heads.

Following the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt in office, President Harry S Truman questioned the fitness of unelected cabinet members to hold the office. A bill placing the Speaker and the president pro tempore in line after the vice president was challenged. The Supreme Court’s decision in Lamar v. United States[case]Lamar v. United States[Lamar v. United States] (1916) and the Constitution were used to declare the proposal’s legality. The legislation was passed into law on July 18, 1947. The assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963 rekindled the succession debate, as the Speaker of the House was quite elderly.

Six years after ratification, the amendment would be tested. Spiro Agnew resigned the vice presidency amid legal difficulties, and Gerald R. Ford assumed the office in 1973. Shortly thereafter, the Court ordered President Nixon to turn over tapes as possible evidence in the Watergate hearings. He announced his resignation on August 8, 1974, and Ford assumed the presidency the next day. Using the provisions of the Twenty-fifth Amendment, Nelson A. Rockefeller was later confirmed to the office of vice president, the first time two unelected officials held the highest offices in the nation.

The disability provisions were employed by Ronald Reagan and subsequent presidents. The amendment ensures that the duties of the presidency will continually be carried out in a timely manner.

Further Reading
  • Feerick, John D. The Twenty-Fifth Amendment. New York: Fordham University Press, 1976.
  • Vile, John R. Encyclopedia of Constitutional Amendments, Proposed Amendments and Amending Issues, 1789-1995. Oxford: ABC-CLIO, 1996.

Constitutional amendment process

Constitutional interpretation

Impeachment of presidents

Nixon, Richard M.

Presidential powers

Privileges and immunities

Categories: History