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Historical Highlights

The 25th Amendment

January 04, 1965
The 25th Amendment Image courtesy of the Library of Congress One of the longest-serving House Members in history, Congressman Emanuel Celler of New York dedicated nearly 50 years of service to his Brooklyn-area constituents.
On this date, Emanuel Celler of New York, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, introduced House Joint Resolution 1, a constitutional amendment which established the succession of power in the executive branch and outlined the procedures for transferring the responsibilities of the President to the Vice President should that individual no longer be able to perform the duties of the office. The amendment addressed a longstanding problem. For 176 years, the Constitution had provided little guidance on what happens should the President or Vice President be incapable of serving. By the mid-1960s, eight U.S. Presidents had died in office, and one had suffered a debilitating stroke. While the sitting Vice President had always then been sworn in following the death of a President, it was often the case that they then served without a Vice President. “The experience of the United States has been like owning a barn without a fire-insurance policy,” one journalist observed in the spring of 1965. Celler’s proposed amendment, which he paired with a similar bill in the Senate sponsored by Birch Bayh of Indiana, created processes for maintaining America’s continuity of government, including: what happens when a President is temporarily unable to serve and control is voluntarily given to the Vice President; how a President reassumes the office after having transferred authority to the Vice President; how the Vice President takes over federal leadership when a President is either permanently incapacitated or deemed unable to serve; and the steps required to replace the Vice President should the office become vacant. As the House Judiciary Committee made clear in its report, “the resolution of these issues is imperative if continuity of Executive power is to be preserved with a minimum of turbulence.” Celler’s committee reported the amendment on March 24, and the House debated and approved it on April 13. The measure passed the House with overwhelming bipartisan support 368 to 29, netting the two-thirds majority it needed as a constitutional amendment. “This is certain: we have trifled with fate long enough on this question of Presidential inability,” Celler said in his opening remarks. “We in the United States have been lucky, but luck does not last forever.” The House version differed slightly from the Senate resolution, but following long negotiations in the conference committee, Congress cleared the amendment and sent it to the states for ratification in early July. The Twenty-fifth Amendment was formally adopted on February 10, 1967.

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