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What Was the Original Reason for the 25th Amendment?

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The 25th Amendment has been in the news a lot recently. As this year marks the 50th anniversary of its ratification, let’s explore each section of this oft-discussed amendment and what led us there.

SECTION 1: “IN CASE OF THE REMOVAL OF THE PRESIDENT FROM OFFICE OR OF HIS DEATH OR RESIGNATION, THE VICE PRESIDENT SHALL BECOME PRESIDENT”

First, a question: How many presidents have there been? Some say 45, others will remember Grover Cleveland’s nonconsecutive terms and say 44. Less well known is that there was a very serious question following William Henry Harrison’s death in 1841: Was John Tyler now president?

The Constitution specifies that the duties of the presidency shall “devolve on the Vice President” but does not specify that the actual title (or, among other things, the salary increase) goes to the VP. As the Senate was debating the issue after Harrison’s death, Senator Benjamin Tappan of Ohio made the analogy that “If a colonel was shot in battle, the next officer in rank took command of the regiment, but he did not thereby become a colonel.”

John Tyler

Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Another senator, referring to Tyler, attempted to strike out the word “president” in a procedural document and replace it with “the Vice President, on whom, by the death of the late President, the powers and duties of the office of President have devolved.” The measure was struck down 38-8. Tyler would ultimately fully assert that he was the president in duties as well as title, which created a precedent that lasted for more than 120 years. But it was just precedent, and some later presidents in similar situations—especially Millard Fillmore—were still labeled “Acting President” until the 25th Amendment finally specified, “In case of the removal of the President from office or of his death or resignation, the Vice President shall become President.”

SECTION 2: “WHENEVER THERE IS A VACANCY IN THE OFFICE OF THE VICE PRESIDENT, THE PRESIDENT SHALL NOMINATE A VICE PRESIDENT WHO SHALL TAKE OFFICE UPON CONFIRMATION”

America has gone through a few different succession crises, but it was the assassination of John F. Kennedy amidst the backdrop of the Cold War that demonstrated the need for a permanent vice president.

After Kennedy’s assassination, there were concerns about each member of the line of succession. New president Lyndon Johnson had had a heart attack in 1955; if something were to happen to him, the speaker of the house was in his 70s and the president pro tempore was in his 80s. Alongside lingering concerns about Dwight Eisenhower’s health issues, congress decided that the line of succession needed to be more robust than it was.

Lyndon B. Johnson

By Arnold Newman, White House Press Office (WHPO), Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

As Indiana Senator Birch Bayh, one of the key forces behind the amendment, said, “The accelerated pace of international affairs, plus the overwhelming problems of modern military security, make it almost imperative that we change our system to provide for not only a President but a Vice President at all times … [the Vice President] must, in fact, be something of an ‘assistant President’” who can keep track of the national and international scene and understand what’s going on with the executive branch.

So as part of the 25th Amendment, the president was given the power to fill a vacant office of the vice president, subject to votes in both houses of congress.

SECTIONS 3 AND 4: “WHENEVER THE PRESIDENT TRANSMITS … HIS WRITTEN DECLARATION THAT HE IS UNABLE TO DISCHARGE THE POWERS AND DUTIES OF OFFICE … SUCH POWERS AND DUTIES SHALL BE DISCHARGED BY THE VICE PRESIDENT AS ACTING PRESIDENT” AND “WHENEVER THE VICE PRESIDENT AND A MAJORITY OF EITHER THE PRINCIPAL OFFICERS OF THE EXECUTIVE DEPARTMENTS TRANSMIT … THAT THE PRESIDENT IS UNABLE TO DISCHARGE THE POWERS AND DUTIES OF HIS OFFICE, THE VICE PRESIDENT SHALL IMMEDIATELY ASSUME THE POWERS AND DUTIES OF THE OFFICE AS ACTING PRESIDENT"

Dwight D. Eisenhower suffered multiple health scares during his presidency. During one of them, he realized that the circumstances for replacing a president with the vice president permanently was clear, but what if the president was only temporarily incapacitated?

The first time America was faced with this issue was James Garfield. For the 80 days that he was president but unable to serve as such, there was confusion about what Vice President Chester Arthur should do. If Arthur became acting president, would the Tyler Precedent mean that if Garfield recovered he’d be unable to reclaim the presidency? Arthur was concerned this was the case, and he would be viewed as having effectively staged a coup (not helped by Garfield's assassin having said “Arthur is President now”). Anyway, who would make the decision that Garfield was incapacitated and—more importantly—fully recovered?

By Otis Historical Archives Nat'l Museum of Health & Medicine - NCP 001861, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Arthur chose not to assume presidential responsibilities [PDF] and Garfield did die, so severe Constitutional questions were avoided, but later leaders would recognize that hope was not a valid plan.

After his 1955 heart attack, Eisenhower instructed Attorney General Herbert Brownell Jr. to explore a Constitutional amendment that would allow the vice president to be acting president until the president was able to say that he could resume the task. In the case of a president deciding that they were able to reclaim the presidency despite not really being able to, Brownell initially proposed impeachment. Eventually, the 25th Amendment specified that if the vice president and cabinet disagreed with the president, the issue would go to congress.

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Big Questions
Should You Keep Your Pets Indoors During the Solar Eclipse?
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By now, you probably know what you’ll be doing on August 21, when a total solar eclipse makes its way across the continental United States. You’ve had your safety glasses ready since January (and have confirmed that they’ll actually protect your retinas), you’ve picked out the perfect vantage point in your area for the best view, and you’ve memorized Nikon’s tips for how to take pictures of this rare celestial phenomenon. Still, it feels like you’re forgetting something … and it’s probably the thing that's been right under your nose, and sitting on your lap, the whole time: your pets.

Even if you’ve never witnessed a solar eclipse, you undoubtedly know that you’re never supposed to look directly at the sun during one. But what about your four-legged family members? Shouldn’t Fido be fitted with a pair of eclipse glasses before he heads out for his daily walk? Could Princess Kitty be in danger of having her peepers singed if she’s lounging on her favorite windowsill? While, like humans, looking directly at the sun during a solar eclipse does pose the potential of doing harm to a pet’s eyes, it’s unlikely that the thought would even occur to the little ball of fluff.

“It’s no different than any other day,” Angela Speck, co-chair of the AAS National Solar Eclipse Task Force, explained during a NASA briefing in June. “On a normal day, your pets don’t try to look at the sun and therefore don’t damage their eyes, so on this day they’re not going to do it either. It is not a concern, letting them outside. All that’s happened is we’ve blocked out the sun, it’s not more dangerous. So I think that people who have pets want to think about that. I’m not going to worry about my cat.”

Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, a veterinarian, author, and founder of pawcurious, echoed Speck’s statement, but allowed that there’s no such thing as being too cautious. “It’s hard for me to criticize such a well-meaning warning, because there’s really no harm in following the advice to keep pets inside during the eclipse,” Vogelsang told Snopes. “It’s better to be too cautious than not cautious enough. But in the interest of offering a realistic risk assessment, the likelihood of a pet ruining their eyes the same way a human would during an eclipse is much lower—not because the damage would be any less were they to stare at the sun, but because, from a behavior standpoint, dogs and cats just don’t have any interest in doing so. We tend to extrapolate a lot of things from people to pets that just doesn’t bear out, and this is one of them.

“I’ve seen lots of warnings from the astronomy community and the human medical community about the theoretical dangers of pets and eclipses, but I’m not sure if any of them really know animal behavior all that well," Vogelsang continued. "It’s not like there’s a big outcry from the wildlife community to go chase down coyotes and hawks and bears and give them goggles either. While we in the veterinary community absolutely appreciate people being concerned about their pets’ wellbeing, this is a non-issue for us.”

The bigger issue, according to several experts, would be with pets who are already sensitive to Mother Nature. "If you have the sort of pet that's normally sensitive to shifts in the weather, they might be disturbed by just the whole vibe because the temperature will drop and the sky will get dark,” Melanie Monteiro, a pet safety expert and author of The Safe-Dog Handbook: A Complete Guide to Protecting Your Pooch, Indoors and Out, told TODAY.

“If [your pets] have learned some association with it getting darker, they will show that behavior or at a minimum they get confused because the timeframe does not correspond,” Dr. Carlo Siracusa of Penn Vet Hospital told CBS Philly. “You might put the blinds down, but not exactly when the dark is coming but when it is still light.” 

While Monteiro again reasserts that, "Dogs and cats don't normally look up into the sun, so you don't need to get any special eye protection for your pets,” she says that it’s never a bad idea to take some extra precautions. So if you’re headed out to an eclipse viewing party, why not do your pets a favor and leave them at home. They won’t even know what they’re missing.

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Big Questions
Why Can't Dogs Eat Chocolate?
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Even if you don’t have a dog, you probably know that they can’t eat chocolate; it’s one of the most well-known toxic substances for canines (and felines, for that matter). But just what is it about chocolate that is so toxic to dogs? Why can't dogs eat chocolate when we eat it all the time without incident?

It comes down to theobromine, a chemical in chocolate that humans can metabolize easily, but dogs cannot. “They just can’t break it down as fast as humans and so therefore, when they consume it, it can cause illness,” Mike Topper, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association, tells Mental Floss.

The toxic effects of this slow metabolization can range from a mild upset stomach to seizures, heart failure, and even death. If your dog does eat chocolate, they may get thirsty, have diarrhea, and become hyperactive and shaky. If things get really bad, that hyperactivity could turn into seizures, and they could develop an arrhythmia and have a heart attack.

While cats are even more sensitive to theobromine, they’re less likely to eat chocolate in the first place. They’re much more picky eaters, and some research has found that they can’t taste sweetness. Dogs, on the other hand, are much more likely to sit at your feet with those big, mournful eyes begging for a taste of whatever you're eating, including chocolate. (They've also been known to just swipe it off the counter when you’re not looking.)

If your dog gets a hold of your favorite candy bar, it’s best to get them to the vet within two hours. The theobromine is metabolized slowly, “therefore, if we can get it out of the stomach there will be less there to metabolize,” Topper says. Your vet might be able to induce vomiting and give your dog activated charcoal to block the absorption of the theobromine. Intravenous fluids can also help flush it out of your dog’s system before it becomes lethal.

The toxicity varies based on what kind of chocolate it is (milk chocolate has a lower dose of theobromine than dark chocolate, and baking chocolate has an especially concentrated dose), the size of your dog, and whether or not the dog has preexisting health problems, like kidney or heart issues. While any dog is going to get sick, a small, old, or unhealthy dog won't be able to handle the toxic effects as well as a large, young, healthy dog could. “A Great Dane who eats two Hershey’s kisses may not have the same [reaction] that a miniature Chihuahua that eats four Hershey’s kisses has,” Topper explains. The former might only get diarrhea, while the latter probably needs veterinary attention.

Even if you have a big dog, you shouldn’t just play it by ear, though. PetMD has a handy calculator to see just what risk levels your dog faces if he or she eats chocolate, based on the dog’s size and the amount eaten. But if your dog has already ingested chocolate, petMD shouldn’t be your go-to source. Call your vet's office, where they are already familiar with your dog’s size, age, and condition. They can give you the best advice on how toxic the dose might be and how urgent the situation is.

So if your dog eats chocolate, you’re better off paying a few hundred dollars at the vet to make your dog puke than waiting until it’s too late.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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