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 Is Inaugurated—
Secretary of State Would Be President until March 4 If the President’s Illness
Terminate Fatally—Then Roosevelt Would Be Inaugurated, First as Vice President,
and Immediately Afterward as President, to Fill the Then Existing Vacancy in
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 reinaugurated.
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.