Weird History Reminder: The US Constitution Never Originally Said The Vice President Was Next In Line For The Presidency  

Cleo Egnal
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In 1841, President William Henry Harrison died three months into his presidency. This left the country in an unexpected and unprecedented predicament: who would succeed him? The U.S. Constitution had some vague wording about the line of succession, but nothing concrete. This left Harrison's vice president, John Tyler, with a decision.

Tyler took the office of president without hesitation, and with a lot of backlash. The presidency of John Tyler wasn't very popular over his nearly four year run, but he did manage to set a new precedent for the United States. He also caused a lot of questions to be asked: did the vice president always become president? And just how did John Tyler become president? In hindsight it was all thanks to Tyler that the 25th Amendment was adopted into the Constitution in 1967; read on to learn more about this landmark political event.

Tyler Was Only Vice President ... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list Reminder: The US Constitution Never Originally Said The Vice President Was Next In Line For The Presidency
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Tyler Was Only Vice President For A Month Before Choosing To Step Into The Role Of President


William Henry Harrison was elected to office in 1841, and took his oath in March of that year. It was a cold day, and Harrison gave the longest inaugural speech in U.S. history. Sadly, Harrison contracted pneumonia shortly thereafter, and was unable to recover. He died a month later, and was the first president to ever do so while in office.

Harrison's death left the country reeling, in part because no one quite knew what to do. John Tyler, the vice president, promptly stepped into the role. Many thought Tyler would just be "acting president," and require the approval of Harrison's cabinet to make decisions. However, Tyler was determined to have full presidential power, and basically threatened to fire anyone who didn't respect his authority.

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Photo:  U.S. National Archives and Records Administration/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

There Was Wording In The Constitution About The Succession To The Presidency, But It Was Unclear


Before the 25th Amendment was ratified in 1967, the constitution had pretty vague wording about what the line of succession to the president would be. Article II, section I, said:

"In case of removal of the President from office, or of his death, or inability to discharge the powers and duties of said office, the same shall devolve on the Vice President…"

This left it unclear as to whether or not the wording referred to 'same' as meaning the actual presidency, or just the duties of the job — the difference between actual president and acting president. Whatever the case was, Tyler chose to infer the former, and he became President of the United States.

The Bold Decision Led To The
Photo:  Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

The Bold Decision Led To The "Tyler Precedent," Which Was Implemented 8 Times Before Officially Being Added To The Constitution


Tyler's decision to basically declare himself president shocked his contemporaries, but put forth a new pattern that eight more presidents after him would follow, until the act of vice president becoming president became fully legalized in 1967. Tyler's accession to the presidency created what was called the "Tyler Precedent," and it allowed these vice presidents to take office after the president died: Millard Fillmore, Andrew Johnson, Chester Alan Arthur, Theodore Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, Harry Truman, and Lyndon B. Johnson. 

Tyler's actions assured that these men would be more than just acting presidents, and that they would have full power when taking over office.  

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Tyler Was So Unpopular With His Own Party, They Shunned Him While He Was Still In Office


Tyler belonged to the Whig party when he became vice president, but his run as president left the party with a bad taste in their mouths. Tyler didn't have a lot in common with the party to begin with; after all, they elected Harrison, not Tyler. 

When Tyler began blocking numerous acts of legislation put forth by the Whigs, they got so fed up they ousted him from the party. The Democrats didn't like him either, and Tyler essentially spent his presidency without an affiliated party. It was no wonder that when he ran for reelection in 1844, he didn't get very far.