THE ESTABLISHMENT AND FIRST USES OF THE 25TH AMENDMENT
Prior to ratification of the 25th Amendment, the rules of succession to the Presidency were Constitutionally vague. The Constitution did not specify whether the Vice President would become President or Acting President if the President were to die, resign, be removed from office or become disabled.
Do to the lack of clarity, some Presidents and their Vice Presidents took it upon themselves to draft agreements for handling Presidential succession and inability. These agreements specified the terms for declaring a President unable to perform the duties of office, and the terms for re-instatement once able to return to duty.
On January 6th, 1965, Senator Birch Bayh of Indiana and Representative Emanuel Celler of New York introduced joint resolutions in the Senate and House of Representatives aimed at clarifying and defining the rules on Presidential succession and inability in the Constitution. The Bayh-Celler proposals, which formed the foundation of the 25th Amendment, refined the processes of declaring a President incapable of fulfilling the duties of office and filling a Vice Presidential vacancy.
Congress approved the 25th Amendment on July 6, 1965, the States completed ratification by February 10, 1967, and President Lyndon Johnson certified the amendment on February 23, 1967.
The first use of the 25th Amendment occurred in 1973 when President Richard Nixon nominated Congressman Gerald R. Ford of Michigan to fill the vacancy left by Vice President Spiro Agnew’s resignation.
In less than a year, the 25th Amendment would be used again. This time, Vice President Ford became President after Richard Nixon resigned, and he nominated Nelson Rockefeller to fill the Vice Presidential vacancy left by him.
We invite you to learn more about this important period in history by exploring the interactive timelines about the creation and early uses of the 25th Amendment by clicking on the tabs below. The timelines include links to Ford Presidential Library documents, photographs, and video, as well as external resources, used to illustrate and tell this interesting story.
History of the 25th Amendment
Ford Nomination and Confirmation as VP
Rockefeller Nomination and Confirmation as VP
Senator Birch Bayh and Representative Emanuel Celler introduce joint resolutions proposing a constitutional amendment on Presidential succession and inability in the House and Senate.
The House votes to pass H.J. Res. 1, a proposed constitutional amendment on Presidential succession and inability.
Representative Gerald R. Ford speaks on the House floor in favor of the proposed amendment in H.J. Res. 1, never anticipating that he would one day be the first person to fill a Vice Presidential vacancy under such an amendment.
The House votes to adopt the conference report on S. J. Res. 1, a proposed Constitutional amendment regarding Presidential succession and inability. After Congress passes the Joint Resolution to amend the Constitution, the amendment is forwarded to the States for ratification.
On October 10th, 1973, Vice President Spiro Agnew, resigned after being indicted on charges of accepting bribes and evading income taxes while Governor of Maryland. Two days after Agnew's resignation, Nixon nominates Representative Gerald R. Ford of Michigan, who at the time is House Minority Leader, as Vice President. This would be the first time a Vice Presidential vacancy is filled using the 25th Amendment. Confirmation hearings by the Senate and House begin, soon leading to votes by both chambers to approve the nomination. Ford is sworn in as the 40th Vice President on December 6, 1973.
House Minority Leader Ford gives his views on the charges against Vice President Agnew. He believes that a House investigation should be conducted in order to give Agnew a fair hearing, and that the House should act as soon as possible.
The FBI begins background investigation of Ford, the largest and most intensive investigation ever of a candidate for public office. During its investigation, the FBI uses 350 special agents, interviews more than 1,000 witnesses, and compiles 1,700 pages of reports.
Ford submits documents and information to the House and Senate Judiciary Committees for use in considering his nomination.
Ford seeks advice from Hubert Humphrey, Vice President under President Lyndon B. Johnson. Humphrey writes Ford a letter explaining the responsibilities of the Vice President, the power they hold, and suggestions on what the Vice President should do while in office.
After President Nixon resigns under threat of impeachment due to the Watergate scandal, Vice President Ford, is sworn in as the 38th President of the United States on August 9, 1974, leaving the Vice Presidency vacant once again. After some deliberation and conferring with leaders of Congress and the Cabinet, on August 20th, Ford nominates Nelson Rockefeller, the former Governor of New York, as his Vice President. After four months of extended hearings, Rockefeller, is confirmed as the 41st Vice President of the United States, the second person to fill the office under the 25th Amendment.
As the Watergate scandal unfolds, Al Haig, Nixon’s Chief of Staff, advises Ford that he should prepare for a transition to the Presidency.
Ford is sworn in as the 38th President of the United States. In his swearing-in remarks, Ford announces “Our long, national nightmare is over.” Following the ceremony, President Ford goes immediately to work, meeting with Congressional leaders, senior White House staff, transition advisers, senior economic advisers, and foreign emissaries.
The Associated Press report on the impending confirmation hearings of Rockefeller. The A.P. predicts Rockefeller will be confirmed, but that they don't believe it will be a quick confirmation.
The Rockefeller confirmation process takes much longer than that of Gerald Ford, who is well liked by both conservatives and liberals. Rockefeller, on the other hand, is not deemed conservative enough by conservatives, while some liberals think his personal fortune will create a conflict of interest.
President Ford writes to Congress to encourage them to speed up the confirmation process for the sake of "carrying out the clear intention of the 25th Amendment to the Constitution." Ford goes public and gives speeches about the intentions of the 25th Amendment, and how the nation needs a "Vice President at all times."
Senator Hugh Scott, in his opening statement to the Senate, comments on President Ford's letter to Congress urging them to fill the vacancy as quickly as possible, and on the implications of the 25th Amendment. He also comments on the importance of having open proceedings.
From the time that Rockefeller is nominated, to the time he is confirmed, approximately four months pass.
Ford's draft of his letter to Congress imploring Congress to speed up confirmation proceedings, because a prolonged vacancy in the Vice Presidency goes against public policy and the essence of the 25th Amendment.