Raise Point of Disability
Washington Authorities Unable to Find Who Is to
Judge as to President’s Incapacitation.
Washington, D. C., Sept. 9.—[Special.]—In
the event President McKinley will be unable to perform his official
duties for a long time to come, the serious question may be presented
of who is to determine whether he is incapacitated. Inquiries made
at the government departments today developed that the matter had
never been settled officially.
The constitution provides that the
Vice President shall act in the event of the President’s inability,
but does not say how that fact is to be determined or who shall
determine it. The only opportunity for a determination was afforded
during the illness of President Garfield, from July 2, 1881, the
day on which he was shot by Guiteau, until Sept. 19, when he died.
Procedure in Garfield Case.
Andrew H. Allen, chief
of the bureau of rolls and library of the State department, in whose
custody are the official copies of most of the documents requiring
the signature of the President, had occasion while Garfield was
dying and subsequently to investigate this matter, and he was unable
to find that the duties of any President of the United States had
ever been delegated to the Vice President or any other person.
There is not an official document
in the files of the State department for the period between July
2, 1881, and Sept. 19, 1881, bearing the signature of President
Garfield. During that time General Garfield signed his name but
twice, so far as can be ascertained here, once to some documents
relating to an international case in which it was decided that the
President himself must act. The second signature was affixed to
an autograph letter to his aged mother.
New Law Does Not Decide.
The succession law passed
by Congress after the death of Vice President Hendricks does not
dispose of the question of how it shall be determined, or by whom,
whether a President of the United States is unable to perform the
duties of his official position.
The matter was discussed at great
length by the members of President Garfield’s Cabinet, and it was
agreed by them that, if they should determine that President Garfield
was disabled within the meaning of the constitution, they would
collectively announce that fact to the country and call upon Vice
President Arthur to perform the duties of the President.
During the lifetime of President Garfield,
and notwithstanding the fact that he was critically ill for nearly
ninety days, the Cabinet did not determine that he was incapacitated,
and, therefore, did not call upon Vice President Arthur to act.
It was not until President Garfield was dead that Vice President
Arthur assumed the Presidency and took the oath of office. As already
indicated, President Garfield did not sign any official business
during the entire time of his illness, as each member of the Cabinet
performed the duties relating to their respective departments, acting
without orders from the stricken President.
Powers of Cabinet Officers.
It has been decided
by the Supreme Court that a Cabinet officer has the right to execute
the laws relating to his department without conferring with the
President regarding every detail. In signing official papers and
in giving orders they do not use the expression “By direction of
the President,” but issue instructions in their own right. The Supreme
Court held that the Cabinet officers had authority to do this.
It is true the Secretary of War, who
issues more orders than all the other Cabinet officers combined,
does frequently use the expression, “By order of the President,”
but under the ruling of the Supreme Court this is not essential
to make his acts lawful.
When President Garfield’s Cabinet
decided upon the course to pursue, if they decided the President
was disabled, Vice President Arthur agreed with their decision and
did not attempt to exercise any of the duties which are by the constitution
imposed upon the President. There is no official record of the action
of President Garfield’s Cabinet, and in the unfortunate event of
the disability of President McKinley it is quite likely his Cabinet
may be governed by the plan mapped out by President Garfield’s official
household, but of course they will have to determine the matter
when the exigency arises.