Publication information

Baltimore American
Source type: newspaper
Document type: article
Document title: “Neat Question Now Discussed”
Author(s): anonymous
City of publication: Baltimore, Maryland
Date of publication: 13 January 1901
Volume number: 190
Issue number: 34568
Pagination: 13

“Neat Question Now Discussed.” Baltimore American 13 Jan. 1901 v190n34568: p. 13.
full text
presidential succession; Theodore Roosevelt (assumption of presidency: scenarios).
Named persons
John Hay; Garret A. Hobart; William McKinley; Theodore Roosevelt.

Neat Question Now Discussed


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 Should
Terminate Fatally—Then Roosevelt Would Be Inaugurated, First as Vice President,
and Immediately Afterward as President, to Fill the Then Existing Vacancy in That Office.

Washington, January 12.     
     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.
     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.