Neat Question Now Discussed
WHAT WOULD HAPPEN SHOULD M
The illness of President McKinley has served
to call attention to the complication that would have arisen should
the attack of grip from which the Chief Executive is suffering have
terminated fatally. The Presidential Succession Act, passed some years
ago, provides that in the event of a vacancy occurring in both the
presidential and vice presidential offices the Secretary of State
shall become president. From this point the succession descends through
the Cabinet officers in this order: Secretary of the Treasury, Secretary
of War, Attorney General, Postmaster General, Secretary of the Navy,
Secretary of the Interior; ending with the Secretary of Agriculture.
Laws Do Not Cover Possibility of President-Elect Dying Before He
Secretary of State Would Be President until March 4 If the President’s
Terminate Fatally—Then Roosevelt Would Be Inaugurated, First as
and Immediately Afterward as President, to Fill the Then Existing
Vacancy in That Office.
The death of Vice President Hobart created
a vacancy in that office, so that should President McKinley die, Secretary
of State John Hay would take the oath of office to serve until March
4. Thus far the problem is a simple one, but beginning with, or rather,
looking ahead to the 4th of March it becomes complex. If the President
should die who would be inaugurated as his successor on March 4? The
natural impulse is, of course, to answer that question by pronouncing
the name of Theodore Roosevelt. But there is no warrant in law for
such an answer. Not until after the second Wednesday of February will
either the President or Mr. Roosevelt have perfected their claims
to the office to which they were chosen on November 6th.
Should a president-elect die before
the Electoral College assemble in each of the several states the members
would be absolved of their pledges and could vote for any man of their
choice for the presidency. Had McKinley died before the meeting of
the electoral bodies Roosevelt would doubtless have been chosen and
the possible problem of March 4 determined. But if the President should
die any time after next Monday the entire situation will undergo a
change. The electors will on Monday cast a majority of the votes for
McKinley and Roosevelt. Their action will not, however, be consummated
until the second Wednesday in February, when the electoral votes will
be canvassed before the Senate and House, sitting in the Hall of Representatives,
and the result formally declared. There is no provision for reconvening
the Electoral College after is has adjourned, and if the President
should died before the vote is canvassed he would, nevertheless, be
declared duly elected President of the United States. His death would,
of course, make it necessary to inaugurate some one else. The House
of Representatives could not under such circumstances determine the
succession, its right to interfere being limited to the contingency
of such a disagreement in the Electoral College as would prevent any
candidate receiving a majority of all the votes cast.
Now, the question arises, since President
McKinley’s term expires at noon on March 4, could a vacancy exist?
It is pretty well established that no vacancy can exist in the case
of one who has never been installed in office. It would, therefore,
follow that, by a strict construction, Vice President Roosevelt could
not succeed to the office, and the country would be in a serious dilemma.
Fortunately, however, the practice at inaugurations would intervene
here. The presidential office is, theoretically, a continuing one.
But in practice there is a hiatus of about one hour every four years,
being the time between the beginning of the inaugural ceremony in
the Senate Chamber and the moment of delivering the oath to the President-elect.
This practice is the basis of the claim made by some now discussing
this contingency, that it is possible for a vacancy to exist in the
presidential office when it has not been regularly filled. This claim
offers a solution of the problem that would arise if President McKinley
should die after the Electoral College has voted and before he is
Secretary of State Hay would, under
the law, serve as president up to March 4. The situation on that day
would be met by administering the oath of the vice presidential office
to Theodore Roosevelt at noon in the Senate Chamber. Immediately thereafter
the announcement would be made that a vacancy existed in the presidential
office. As vice president Roosevelt would be eligible to succeed to
the presidency and the oath of that office would then be promptly
taken by him and he would become President of the United States.
There are situations and conditions
in which this solution of the problem would be impossible as, for
instance, in the event of a secretary of state refusing to refusing
to [sic] surrender the office, the House asserting a right
to elect, etc., and the dispute being carried into the courts. Very
happily, President McKinley’s illness is not of such a character as
to foreshadow any such contingency.