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President Biographies
President Biographies - POTUS
Find the biographies of all (POTUS) presidents of the United States of America, from 1789 to present (George Washington to George W Bush)

The American President is widely considered to be the most powerful person on the earth, and is usually one of the world's best-known public figures.

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Presidential Succession Act of 1947

(Amended)

Cabinet officers have been in the line for presidential succession since 1886. So, whenever the structure of the Cabinet changes, the Presidential Succession Act must be amended to reflect the changes. Since the law was first enacted in 1947, for example, the Secretary of War has been replaced by the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of the Navy and the Postmaster General have been removed from the Cabinet, and six new Cabinet departments have been added. The current law preserves the tradition of ranking the Cabinet departments by the year they were founded.

The line of succession is currently:

  1. Vice President
  2. Speaker of the House
  3. President Pro Tempore of the Senate
  4. Secretary of State
  5. Secretary of the Treasury
  6. Secretary of Defense
  7. Attorney General
  8. Secretary of the Interior
  9. Secretary of Agriculture
  10. Secretary of Commerce
  11. Secretary of Labor
  12. Secretary of Health and Human Services
  13. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
  14. Secretary of Transportation
  15. Secretary of Energy
  16. Secretary of Education
  17. Secretary of Veterans Affairs
  18. Secretary of Homeland Security

The 25th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, passed in 1967, provides for procedures to fill vacancies in the Vice Presidency; and further clarifies presidential succession rules.

Presidential Succession Act of 1947 (As Amended)

US Code as of: 01/23/00

Sec. 19. Vacancy in offices of both President and Vice President; officers eligible to act

(a)
  • (1) If, by reason of death, resignation, removal from office, inability, or failure to qualify, there is neither a President nor Vice President to discharge the powers and duties of the office of President, then the Speaker of the House of Representatives shall, upon his resignation as Speaker and as Representative in Congress, act as President.
  • (2) The same rule shall apply in the case of the death, resignation, removal from office, or inability of an individual acting as President under this subsection.

(b) If, at the time when under subsection (a) of this section a Speaker is to begin the discharge of the powers and duties of the office of President, there is no Speaker, or the Speaker fails to qualify as Acting President, then the President pro tempore of the Senate shall, upon his resignation as President pro tempore and as Senator, act as President.

(c) An individual acting as President under subsection (a) or subsection (b) of this section shall continue to act until the expiration of the then current Presidential term, except that -

  • (1) if his discharge of the powers and duties of the office is founded in whole or in part on the failure of both the President-elect and the Vice-President-elect to qualify, then he shall act only until a President or Vice President qualifies; and
  • (2) if his discharge of the powers and duties of the office is founded in whole or in part on the inability of the President or Vice President, then he shall act only until the removal of the disability of one of such individuals.
(d)
  • (1) If, by reason of death, resignation, removal from office, inability, or failure to qualify, there is no President pro tempore to act as President under subsection (b) of this section, then the officer of the United States who is highest on the following list, and who is not under disability to discharge the powers and duties of the office of President shall act as President: Secretary of State, Secretary of the Treasury, Secretary of Defense, Attorney General, Secretary of the Interior, Secretary of Agriculture, Secretary of Commerce, Secretary of Labor, Secretary of Health and Human Services, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Secretary of Transportation, Secretary of Energy, Secretary of Education, Secretary of Veterans Affairs.
  • (2) An individual acting as President under this subsection shall continue so to do until the expiration of the then current Presidential term, but not after a qualified and prior-entitled individual is able to act, except that the removal of the disability of an individual higher on the list contained in paragraph (1) of this subsection or the ability to qualify on the part of an individual higher on such list shall not terminate his service.
  • (3) The taking of the oath of office by an individual specified in the list in paragraph (1) of this subsection shall be held to constitute his resignation from the office by virtue of the holding of which he qualifies to act as President.

(e) Subsections (a), (b), and (d) of this section shall apply only to such officers as are eligible to the office of President under the Constitution. Subsection (d) of this section shall apply only to officers appointed, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, prior to the time of the death, resignation, removal from office, inability, or failure to qualify, of the President pro tempore, and only to officers not under impeachment by the House of Representatives at the time the powers and duties of the office of President devolve upon them.

(f) During the period that any individual acts as President under this section, his compensation shall be at the rate then provided by law in the case of the President.

The legal reference to the Presidential Succession Act of 1947 is 61 Stat. 380; 3 U.S.C. 19.

1947 - The Presidential Succession Act of 1947

When the 1945 death of Franklin Roosevelt made Vice President Harry Truman president, Truman urged placing the Speaker of the House next in line to the vice president. His reasoning: the Speaker is as an elected representative of his district, as well as the chosen leader of the "elected representatives of the people."

Of course, one could make the same argument for the president pro tempore of the Senate. Truman's decision may have reflected his strained relations with 78-year-old President Pro Tempore Kenneth McKellar and his warm friendship with 65-year-old House Speaker Sam Rayburn. After all, it was in Rayburn's hideaway office, where he had gone for a late afternoon glass of bourbon, that Truman first learned of his own elevation to the presidency.

  1. President
  2. Vice President
  3. Speaker of the House
  4. President Pro Tempore of the Senate
  5. Sec. of State
  6. Sec. of the Treasury
  7. Sec. of War
  8. Other cabinet secretaries...

1886 - The First Presidential Succession Act

In 1886 Congress replaced the two congressional officials in the line of succession with cabinet officers, in the order of their agencies' creation. Proponents of this change argued that the Senate elected its presidents pro tempore based on parliamentary rather than executive skills. No president pro tempore had ever served as president, while six former secretaries of state had been elected to that office.

  1. President
  2. Vice President
  3. Sec. of State
  4. Sec. the Treasury
  5. Sec. of War
  6. Other cabinet secretaries...

1792 - The Second Congress

Early in that new Congress, on February 20, 1792, the Senate passed the Presidential Succession Act, placing in line of succession its president pro tempore, followed by the House Speaker.

  1. President
  2. Vice President
  3. President Pro Tempore of the Senate
  4. Speaker of the House

1791 - The First Congress

Near the end of the First Congress, in January 1791, a House committee recommended that succession after the Vice President fall to the cabinet's senior member, the Secretary of State. At an impasse, the First Congress adjourned, deferring the matter nine months until the Second Congress, and thereby risking governmental paralysis in the event of presidential and vice-presidential vacancies.

  1. President
  2. Vice President

1787 - Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution

Provides only that the Vice President succeeds the President. This section of the Constitution was superseded by the 25th Amendment in 1967.

  1. President
  2. Vice President
US Presidents ("POTUS")
US Presidents ("POTUS")
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