On the morning of April 5, 1841, Vice President John Tyler is informed that President William Henry Harrison had died of pneumonia the previous day. Some members of Harrison’s cabinet view Tyler as “Vice President, acting as President,” but Tyler is determined to be President in his own right. He rejects calls for a Presidential election, and serves for the remainder of Harrison’s term. Although Tyler asserts the full powers of the Presidency, there are many who continue to call him “His Accidency.”
When John Wilkes Booth shoots President Abraham Lincoln on April 14, 1865, other conspirators working with him are sent to kill the Vice President and Secretary of State, who are next in line to succeed to the Presidency. The conspirators believe that this will destabilize the Union government. Although President Lincoln died, conspirator George Atzerodt lost his nerve and fled without assailing Vice President Andrew Johnson, and Lewis Powell is able only to wound Secretary of State William Seward. Johnson takes the oath of office as President and the federal government continues to function despite the tragedy.
President Ronald Reagan undergoes an operation to remove cancerous tissue from his colon. Before undergoing the procedure, Reagan sends a letter to the House and Senate, indicating that Vice President Bush will serve as acting President during the eight hours that Reagan is under anesthesia. However, the President does not expressly invoke the Twenty-fifth Amendment.
Charged with tax fraud and bribery, Vice President Spiro Agnew resigns from office. Two months later, President Richard Nixon nominates the House Republican minority leader, Gerald R. Ford, to become Vice President, the first time that the Twenty-fifth Amendment is invoked. Ford is confirmed by the Senate and House.
In 1972, five burglars are arrested while breaking into the offices of the National Democratic Committee located at the Watergate building in Washington, D.C. Newspaper accounts soon link President Richard Nixon to the incident. The Senate holds a lengthy investigation that uncovers evidence that links Nixon to the burglary and subsequent cover-up. As the House Judiciary Committee moves toward recommending Nixon’s impeachment, he resigns the Presidency. Vice President Gerald Ford is then sworn in as President.
President Ford nominates former New York governor Nelson A. Rockefeller to become Vice President, filling the vacancy his own elevation to the Presidency has created. Congress conducts lengthy hearings on Rockefeller but eventually confirms him several months later. For the first time, the voters have elected neither the President nor the Vice President in a national election.
A deranged man shoots President Ronald Reagan outside a hotel in Washington, D.C. While the President is undergoing surgery, his advisers discuss invoking the Twenty-fifth Amendment, but reject the idea. Secretary of State Alexander Haig claims, contrary to the constitutional line of succession, that he was “in charge” until Vice President George H.W. Bush returns to Washington.
Upon learning that he has an irregular heartbeat, President George H.W. Bush announces that Vice President Dan Quayle will be acting President if the President requires electric shock therapy. As the treatment is never required, power is never transferred. Like President Bush, President Bill Clinton plans for the possibility of a disabling illness, including how and when power will be turned over to the Vice President. These plans are never needed.
When President George W. Bush undergoes a medical treatment that requires anesthesia, he transfers power to Vice President Dick Cheney for the hour that he will be sedated. This is the first formal use of the disability clause.