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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How Does Alberta, Canada, Stay Rat-Free?

Francisco Martins/iStock via Getty Images
Francisco Martins/iStock via Getty Images

David Moe:

Alberta is the only province in Canada that does not have any rats and is, in fact, the largest inhabited area on the planet that is rat-free. Rats had to come from Eastern Canada, and it’s a long walk, so it was not until the 1950s that they finally reached Alberta. When they did, the Alberta government was ready for them: They instituted a very aggressive rat control program that killed every single rat that crossed the Alberta/Saskatchewan border.

The Agricultural Pests Act of Alberta, 1942 authorized the Minister of Agriculture to designate as a pest any animal that was likely to destroy crops or livestock; every person and municipality had to destroy the designated pests. Where their pest control was not adequate, the provincial government could carry it out and charge the costs to the landowner or municipality.

Rats were designated as pests in 1950. An amendment to the act in 1950 further required that every municipality appoint a pest control inspector. In 1951, conferences on rat control were held in eastern Alberta, and 2000 posters and 1500 pamphlets titled "Rat Control in Alberta" were distributed to grain elevators, railway stations, schools, post offices, and private citizens.

Between June 1952 and July 1953, [more than 140,000 pounds] of arsenic trioxide powder were used to treat 8000 buildings on 2700 farms in an area 12 to 31 miles wide and 186 miles long on the eastern border. Some residents were not informed that arsenic was being used and some, allegedly, were told that the tracking powder was only harmful to rodents. Consequently, some poisoning of livestock, poultry, and pets occurred. Fortunately, Warfarin—the first anticoagulant rodent poison—became available in 1953; Warfarin is much safer than arsenic, and in fact is prescribed to some heart patients as a blood thinner.

The number of rat infestations in the border area increased rapidly from one in 1950 to 573 in 1955. However, after 1959, the numbers of infestations dropped dramatically.

The provincial share of rat control expenses increased to 100 percent in 1975. All premises within the control zone from Montana to Cold Lake are now inspected at least annually. Rat infestations are eliminated by bait, gas, or traps. Buildings are occasionally moved or torn down, and in some cases, rats are dug out with a backhoe or bulldozer. In the early days they also used shotguns, incendiaries, and high explosives to control rats. It was something of a war zone.

Hundreds of suspected infestations are reported each year, but most sightings turn out to be muskrats, pocket gophers, ground squirrels, bushy-tailed wood rats, or mice. However, all suspected infestations are investigated.

A few white rats have been brought in by pet stores, biology teachers, and well-meaning individuals who did not know it was unlawful to have rats in Alberta, even white lab rats or pet rats. White rats can only be kept by zoos, universities, colleges, and recognized research institutions in Alberta. Private citizens may not keep white rats, hooded rats, or any of the strains of domesticated Norway rats. Possession of a pet rat can lead to a fine of up to $5000.

In 2004 someone released 38 rats in Calgary. By the time the rat control officers arrived, most of them were dead. The local residents had formed a posse and killed them with brooms, 2x4s, and shovels. If the authorities had caught the culprit, he could have faced a $190,000 fine (38 x $5000)—assuming his neighbors didn’t get to him with brooms, 2x4s, and shovels first. Albertans don’t want rats.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

Why Do Students Get Summers Off?

Iam Anupong/iStock via Getty Images
Iam Anupong/iStock via Getty Images

It’s commonly believed that school kids started taking summers off in the 19th century so that they’d have time to work on the farm. Nice as that story is, it isn’t true. Summer vacation has little to do with tilling fields and more to do with sweaty, rich city kids playing hooky—and their sweaty, rich parents.

Before the Civil War, farm kids never had summers off. They went to school during the hottest and coldest months and stayed home during the spring and fall, when crops needed to be planted and harvested. Meanwhile, city kids hit the books all year long—summers included. In 1842, Detroit’s academic year lasted 260 days.

But as cities got denser, they got hotter. Endless lanes of brick and concrete transformed urban blocks into kilns, thanks to what was known as the “urban heat island effect.” That’s when America’s swelling middle and upper class families started hightailing it to the cooler countryside. And that caused a problem. School attendance wasn’t mandatory back then, and classrooms were being left half-empty each summer. Something had to give.

Legislators, in one of those if-you-can’t-beat-‘em-join-‘em moments, started arguing that kids should get summers off anyway. It helped that, culturally, leisure time was becoming more important. With the dawn of labor unions and the eight-hour workday, working adults were getting more time to themselves than ever before. Advocates for vacation time also argued (incorrectly) that the brain was a muscle, and like any muscle, it could suffer injuries if overused. From there, they argued that students shouldn’t go to school year-round because it could strain their brains. To top it off, air conditioning was decades away, and city schools during summertime were miserable, half-empty ovens.

So by the turn of the century, urban districts had managed to cut about 60 schooldays from the most sweltering part of the year. Rural schools soon adopted the same pattern so they wouldn’t fall behind. Business folks obviously saw an opportunity here. The summer vacation biz soon ballooned into what is now one of the country’s largest billion-dollar industries.

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