Publication information

Chicago Daily Tribune
Source type: newspaper
Document type: article
Document title: “Raise Point of Disability”
Author(s): anonymous
City of publication: Chicago, Illinois
Date of publication: 10 September 1901
Volume number: 60
Issue number: 253
Part/Section: 1
Pagination: 2

“Raise Point of Disability.” Chicago Daily Tribune 10 Sept. 1901 v60n253: part 1, p. 2.
full text
William McKinley (incapacity); presidents (incapacity); James A. Garfield (incapacity); presidential assassinations (comparison).
Named persons
Andrew H. Allen; Chester A. Arthur; James A. Garfield; Charles J. Guiteau; Thomas Hendricks; William McKinley.

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.