Prologue Magazine

Abrupt Transition

Winter 2000, Vol. 32, No. 4

By C. L. Arbelbide

© 2000 by C. L. Arbelbide


refer to caption

Shortly after being called to the White House after Franklin Roosevelt's death, Harry Truman was sworn in as President. (NARA, Harry S. Truman Library)

One of the continuing threads in the American tapestry of democracy is the inauguration of the President of the United States. In existence since George Washington's first swearing-in on April 30, 1789, the planned celebration is one of political theater and dignified simplicity—an event eventually elevated to federal holiday status when President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the congressional bill into law on January 11, 1957.

For the winning party, the day represents the political icing on the two-tiered cake of nomination and election. The celebration topping consists of a spectacle of parties, parades, and balls where the common man and social elite rub elbows while political bosses hibernate in smoke-filled rooms.

Within the eye of this eclectic mix of activity there exists one constitutionally required event: the formal swearing-in of the President-elect. Witnessed by all three branches of government, administering the oath of office balances the ritz with rite, circus with commencement, and pageantry with protocol.

That was, until 1841, when Vice President John Tyler acceded to the presidency following the death of William Henry Harrison, the first President to die while in office. In this time of abrupt transition, celebration gave way to commemoration. Tyler was convinced his Vice President's oath entitled him to discharge the succession duty. Persuaded to take the presidential oath of office, the "Tyler Precedent" was established, whereby the Vice President succeeds to the office of the President upon the death of an elected President.1

The Tyler swearing-in eclipsed all previous inaugurations. Circumstances had led to the reinvention of the ceremony both in the minds of the politicians and public. The oath was no longer just for newly elected Presidents.

Succession without Election

Nine Vice Presidents—John Tyler, 1841; Millard Fillmore, 1850; Andrew Johnson, 1865; Chester A. Arthur, 1881; Theodore Roosevelt, 1901; Calvin Coolidge, 1923; Harry S. Truman, 1945; Lyndon B. Johnson, 1963; and Gerald Ford, 1974—have acceded to the presidency upon the death or resignation of the chief executive.

Administering the oath of office as quickly as possible to the acceding Vice President allowed the office of the presidency to continue uninterrupted. For four—Roosevelt, 1904; Coolidge, 1924; Truman, 1948; and Johnson, 1964—individual presidential electoral victories allowed each to retake his presidential oath on the traditional inauguration day.

The importance of administering the oath was equally apparent for a tenth man, Rutherford B. Hayes, whose 1876 presidential victory became the only election to be determined by a fifteen-member electoral commission. Such was the concern that the planned swearing-in ceremony would be interrupted by protesters that President Ulysses S. Grant arranged for the oath of office to be administered in the Red Room of the White House on the Saturday evening preceding Monday, March 5, 1877, thus assuring the legal transfer of presidential power.2

Only Thirty-five Words

Article II, sec. 1, par. 8, of the Constitution sets out the words that every President has repeated: "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of the President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States." Only Franklin Pierce in 1853 affirmed (rather than swore) to faithfully execute the office of the presidency. The practice of adding the words: "So help me God" at the conclusion of the oath was introduced by George Washington at the end of his 1789 open-air ceremony. [5-30-2019: There is debate about whether Washington added these words. In 2000, the Senate Historical Office attributed the phrase to Washington; it no longer does so.] 

The inaugural event went in and out of public view. Washington's second inauguration, as well as that of John Adams, was held inside Congress Hall near Independence Hall in Philadelphia. In 1801 the ceremony for Thomas Jefferson moved to the District of Columbia, where the third American President took his oath in the original Senate chamber. Not until James Monroe's inauguration in 1817 did the ceremony reemerge for public viewing. It seems controversy over distributing seats among the Senate and House of Representatives prompted organizers to move the ceremony to a platform erected in front of the east portico of the Capitol, offering the elected, the governed, and the world the opportunity to witness the transition of the American presidency from one electorally elected victor to another.

. . . and Tyler Too!

With the April 4, 1841, death of William Henry Harrison, Vice President John Tyler became the first man to accede to the presidency having not been directly elected by the electoral college.

In the capital, turmoil and confusion swirled about. No President had ever died in office. Clearly this was not the time for official celebrations, parties, parades, or fashionable balls. The traditional trappings of an inauguration were replaced by shock, disbelief, and attempts to honor Harrison's memory.

It was hard to believe that just one month earlier (March 4), Tyler had taken the Vice President's oath. The vice presidential swearing-in ceremony took place out of the limelight and under the lamplight inside the old Senate chamber.3 Sworn in by President Pro Tempore William R. King, Tyler's five-minute acceptance speech was barely audible as Harrison circulated, receiving the greetings of well-wishers invariably drowning out the Vice President's brief comments.4

Shortly thereafter, the officials moved outside to the east portico steps of the Capitol to witness, with the public, Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger B. Taney administer the oath of office. Harrison stood, despite the cold weather and without the shelter of a coat or hat, to deliver his address for more than ninety minutes.5

In the midst of the post-ceremony commotion, Tyler gathered his belongings, then slipped unnoticed out of town. A Vice President's constitutional duties were few: preside over the Senate and cast tie-breaking votes when necessary.6 John Adams, the nation's first Vice President, once remarked of the office: "My country has in its wisdom contrived for me the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived."7 Aware that not much had changed in the responsibilities since Adams's time, Tyler chose to return to his estate, Sherwood Forest, near Williamsburg, Virginia, and settled in with his partially paralyzed wife, Letitia, planning to remain as unobtrusive as possible.8

Harrison, having successfully survived "the first modern presidential campaign, complete with partisan songs, decorative objects advertising the candidates, and hoopla," now focused his considerable energies on staffing a new government.9 The President assembled his cabinet, securing, among others, Daniel Webster as secretary of state. In addition to rewarding partisan supporters, Harrison was besieged with office seekers while simultaneously countering former Whig Party front-runner Henry Clay's attempts to run the administration from behind the scenes.10 The daily cabinet meetings, the incessant visitors, and the numerous social events began to fatigue the President.11

Seemingly oblivious to Mother Nature, Harrison took a morning walk on March 27 in a rain shower, only to take to bed that evening with a cold. Originally diagnosed as pneumonia, consulting physicians later found Harrison's condition to be complicated by "congestion of the liver" and neuralgia, and they changed their diagnosis to bilious pleurisy. Subjected to a host of different, and at times, contradictory remedies, Harrison died on April 4, 1841, a week after taking ill and a mere month after taking office.12

One can only imagine Tyler's reaction when Fletcher Webster, chief clerk of the State Department (dispatched by his father, Secretary of State Webster) and Senate assistant doorkeeper Robert Beale arrived at his home in the early sunrise hours of April 5 to inform him that by an act of God he had become President of the United States.13 Within a few hours, Tyler was on his way to Washington, leaving behind his wife and postponing any immediate decision about whether she would join him at the White House. Tyler arrived in Washington during the early morning hours of April 6, settled in at Brown's Indian Queen Hotel, and received the cabinet.14

The first vacancy in the presidency had occurred more than half a century after the ratification of the Constitution.15 The document had provided for the Vice President to accede to the presidency: "In Case of the Removal of the President from Office, or of his Death, Resignation, or Inability to discharge the Powers and Duties of the said Office, the Same shall devolve on the Vice President, and the Congress may by Law provide for the Case of Removal, Death, Resignation or Inability, both of the President and Vice President, declaring what Officer shall then act as President, and such officer shall act accordingly until the Disability be removed, or a President shall be elected."16 The only other related legislation, the Succession Act of 1792, addressed the issue only if a double vacancy in the presidency and vice presidency occurred.17

Many members of Harrison's cabinet and others questioned whether Tyler was a temporary substitute until an election could be held or a permanent replacement until the term of office ended.18 With no surviving delegates of the Constitution Convention to offer firsthand accounts and both the official and unofficial records of the convention still unpublished, the Tyler debate would not subside.19

Secretary of State Webster raised the concerns with William Carroll, clerk of the Supreme Court, who conveyed the issue to Chief Justice Roger Taney. The justice, upon being invited to "confer," declined, wishing to avoid "the suspicion of desiring to intrude into the affairs which belong to another branch of government."20

Tyler believed "his oath of office as Vice President covered the new situation both legally and constitutionally" despite the difference in wording and the fact that no formal vice presidential oath existed in the Constitution.21 At the Indian Queen Hotel, in the presence of the cabinet and "to forestall any doubts as to whether or not Tyler was legally the chief executive," he took the constitutional oath administered by Chief Justice William Crunch of the United States Circuit Court of the District of Columbia. Crunch "appended" "a statement to the copy of the oath along with Tyler's objection," noting "that although the Vice President considered himself qualified to perform the duties and exercise the powers of the office of the President without more than his prior vice presidential oath, he nonetheless took the presidential oath of office 'for greater caution' and to allay any doubts that might arise."22

Silk ribbons in support of the new President began to appear in public.23 One New York Times editorial commented, "We risk nothing in expressing our entire confidence that he will fulfill, in all their extent, the expectations of the People."24

Still, there were those who continued to argue that John Tyler was only the "Acting President" or the "Vice-President Acting President."25 Nicknamed "His Accidency," Tyler stood fast, returning all mail so addressed unopened.26 Congress convened for a previously called special session on May 31, 1841, only to focus on Tyler's claim to the presidency. An effort "to address Tyler officially in correspondence as 'Vice President, on whom, by the death of the late President, the powers and duties of the office of President have devolved' overwhelmingly failed to pass."27

President Harrison was, at seventy-eight years, the oldest person to be inaugurated as President. Now at fifty-one, Tyler became the youngest man to occupy the office. Tyler had run the gauntlet of challenges and survived—setting a precedent for future Vice Presidents. Little could anyone imagine that the second death of an incumbent President was less than a decade away.

Twice in a Decade

President Zachary Taylor, like Harrison, took ill while in office. During a long and hot Fourth of July celebration in 1850, the President had participated in the laying of a ceremonial stone at the partially completed Washington Monument. Returning to the White House, Taylor consumed a trio of edibles thought to have a connection to the Asiatic cholera epidemic that was sweeping parts of the country—ice water, chilled milk, and fresh cherries. Within a few days the President had developed various symptoms diagnosed as "cholera morbus," a nineteenth-century catchall term for various intestinal maladies not related to the dread Asiatic cholera.28 Although the President initially responded to treatment, he took a turn for the worse, and by July 8 predicted he would be dead in "two days."29 He died late the next evening of July 9.

Unlike Tyler, Vice President Millard Fillmore was present in the Capitol—called from the dais in the Senate chamber "to keep vigil outside the President's bedroom."30 Fillmore later returned to his room at the Willard Hotel, where a cabinet messenger delivered the news of the President's death to the sleepless Vice President. The next morning, in a letter carried to the Senate chamber by a presidential messenger, Fillmore announced his intention "to take the presidential oath at noon [July 10] in the House chamber."31 Once again the duty fell to Judge Crunch, who administered the ceremony before a joint session of Congress in the House of Representatives chamber. Walking up to the clerk's desk, Fillmore took his oath on a Bible.32

Later that afternoon, the entire Taylor cabinet submitted their resignations—a group decision designed to allow the new "chief executive to chart his own course."33 Fillmore tapped Daniel Webster as secretary of state, making Webster the first man to serve in that position under three chief executives: Harrison, Tyler, and Fillmore. Unlike the reception given Tyler, few questioned Fillmore's right to full succession.34

To the Best of Our Abilities

The death of a President due to assassination was shocking to a people who had come to pride themselves on the peaceful and orderly transfer of executive power. From 1865 to 1901 the country experienced the loss of three Presidents to assassination: Abraham Lincoln, 1865; James A. Garfield, 1881; and William McKinley, 1901.

The pounding on the door that Friday evening of April 14 awakened Vice President Andrew Johnson from a sound sleep in his room at the Kirkwood House, on the corner of Twelfth Street and Pennsylvania Avenue (between the Capitol and the White House). Had it been the previous evening, the noise could have been attributed to the "Grand Illumination" revelry in which all the public buildings were lit up in celebration of the end of the Civil War.

The banging belonged to former governor of Wisconsin Leonard Farewell, bringing news of the shooting of Abraham Lincoln while attending a play at Ford's Theater just a few blocks away. Farewell returned to the theater to gather more information about the injured President and returned with the District of Columbia's provost marshal. Concerned that there was a conspiracy (the first reports had indicated Secretary of State William H. Seward had been killed when in fact he was seriously injured and would survive), the Vice President was strongly urged not to venture outside until "order had been restored in the streets."35 At dawn, word from Secretary of War Edwin Stanton arrived, announcing that the President was dying. Johnson, flanked by Farewell and the provost marshal, rushed to the Peterson House across the street from Ford's Theater, where Lincoln had been carried. Mortally wounded, the President succumbed later that Saturday morning at 7:30, April 15. Before noon, the Vice President was administered the oath of office by Supreme Court Justice Salmon P. Chase in Johnson's suite at the Kirkwood House in the presence of most of the cabinet members, among others.36

Concerns of a conspiracy were justified. Occupying the room "almost directly above the ground-floor suite occupied by the vice president" was George Atzerodt.37 A confederate of both John Wilkes Booth (who assassinated Lincoln) and Lewis Payne (who wounded Secretary Seward), Atzerodt had been instructed by Booth to target Johnson but lost his nerve and fled the Kirkwood.

"An Extraordinary Occasion"

Whereas Lincoln's death followed within hours of being shot, James A. Garfield lingered for almost three months. The lone gunman attacked the President on July 2, 1881, as Garfield walked arm in arm with Secretary of State James G. Blaine through the waiting room of the Baltimore and Potomac railroad station, located off Pennsylvania Avenue less than a mile from the U.S. Capitol. His valiant struggle for life ended September 19.

During those eighty days the nation lacked a leader, and almost no executive functions were carried out.38 Vice President Chester A. Arthur spent most of that period at his home in New York City. In late August "the cabinet considered asking Arthur to assume the executive duties."39 When consulted, Arthur "indicated that he had no wish to come to Washington" and "was averse to any appearances that he was waiting for Garfield's death so that he might assume office."40

The notification of Garfield's death reached Arthur at his home at No. 123 Lexington Avenue at 11:30 the night of September 19. The Vice President, himself a widower, was deeply moved and, burying his face in his hands, laid his head on the table and wept.41 In the home to offer support were Police Commissioner Stephen B. French, District Attorney Rollins, Elihu Root (who would later become secretary of war under William McKinley), and John C. Reed, Arthur's private secretary.42

The Vice President's immediate decision to take the oath of office once he had returned to Washington was dispelled upon receiving a dispatch from the cabinet (gathered near Garfield's cottage at the seaside resort of Elberon, New Jersey), which urged him to take the oath without delay.43 In the dark of night, District Attorney Rollins and Root searched for Judge John R. Brady of the New York Supreme Court, while Commissioner French hurried from Arthur's home in the opposite direction to locate Judge Charles Donohue, also of the New York Supreme Court. Judge Brady was first to arrive and set about writing out the oath on a piece of paper.44 Out of courtesy, the party waited for Judge Donohue. Within twenty minutes all had arrived. Arthur's son Chester Alan Arthur, Jr., had arrived about midnight, having driven furiously to the house in a coupe when he heard the news. P. C. Van Wyck, a close friend to the Vice President, moved into the front parlor on the ground floor as the Arthur's valet, Aleck Powell, rearranged the curtains and lit the gas chandelier.45 At 2:15 a.m. on September 20, the oath was read in low voices as Arthur responded sentence by sentence. Ending with "So help me God," the new President kissed the Bible.46 The President then affixed his signature under the written oath as did Judge Brady. Over the next few hours, reporters kept the doorbell ringing. Not until 5 a.m. were the lights extinguished, allowing Arthur to retire for a few hours of sleep.47

Within a very short time, Secretary of State James G. Blaine and Secretary of War Robert Todd Lincoln arrived to escort the President to Elberon to pay their respects to the dead President and to call on Mrs. Garfield.48

The succession law of 1792 dictated that next in line after the Vice President was the president pro tempore of the Senate, followed by the Speaker of the House. Yet neither the Senate nor the House of Representatives were in session. In the event something should happen to Arthur, there was no Vice President, no president pro tempore, and no Speaker to step into the presidency.

Knowing that if he were to be assassinated there would be an interregnum for the first time in American history, Arthur drafted a proclamation on September 20 calling the Senate into special session and mailed it to the White House. Upon his safe arrival in Washington on September 22, the President, to establish a federal record of it all, took a second oath administered by Supreme Court Chief Justice Morrison R. Waite and witnessed by former Presidents Grant and Hayes among others, in the Vice President's office at the Capitol.49 The letter no longer necessary, Arthur issued a proclamation "declaring that an extraordinary occasion requires the Senate of the United States to convene" in a special session on October 10 to elect a president pro tempore.50

Three times during his tenure, President Arthur tried to prod Congress into acting on proposals dealing with the issues of presidential disability and succession. But with the immediate crisis past, Congress refused.51 Partial attention was finally paid to the issue in 1886. The second succession act located the line of succession in the President's cabinet in the order the departments were created, beginning with the secretary of state.52 "Some members of Congress (including a future President, Rep. William McKinley of Ohio) opposed the measure on the grounds that it violated democratic principles by allowing the President to appoint the successors. The statute was also unclear as to whether succession would be temporary (pending a special election) or permanent in the event of a double vacancy."53

Barely into a New Century

Newspapers held out hope that President William McKinley would recover after he was shot as he greeted people at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, on September 6, 1901. Vice President Theodore Roosevelt, on a speaking trip in Vermont, as well as the majority of the cabinet, journeyed to Buffalo to be near the chief executive. First treated at the hospital on the exposition grounds, the President survived surgical attempts to locate the two bullets, one of which was not found.54 When doctors thought it safe, the President was transported to the home of exposition president John G. Milburn for postoperative recovery. Advised on September 10 that McKinley's condition was so improved that they might "as well disperse," Roosevelt joined his wife and family awaiting him at a cabin in the Adirondacks.55 Over the next three days the President could not sustain his rally, and the cabinet and the Vice President were recalled. A mounted courier carried the message to the Vice President and his hunting party on Mount Marcy, the highest peak in the Adirondack region.

In the early morning hours of September 14, McKinley, "whispering the title of his favorite hymn, 'Nearer, My God, To Thee,'" died.56 Roosevelt arrived by special train early that afternoon. At the Milburn home, the Vice President inquired as to the health of Mrs. McKinley and was assured the first lady was doing better, then was escorted to the upstairs area. Gazing upon the silhouetted features of the chief executive, the Vice President did not speak but stood silently with bowed head. Turning to leave the room, tears streamed down his face, "his strong frame shaking from convulsive sobs."57

Refusing the escort of the Fourth Signal Corps and two platoons of mounted police stationed outside the Milburn house, Roosevelt did accept the services of three mounted policemen. His closed carriage (followed by carriages carrying many members of the Cabinet and other dignitaries) traveled one mile along Delaware Avenue, arriving at the home of Roosevelt's personal friend Ansley Wilcox at 3:15.58

The Vice President was directed to the library, where he positioned himself in the bay window. Forty-three witnesses were present. The scene was one of short delays and high emotions. An attempt to capture the moment on film failed when a photographer's bulky camera and stand crashed to the floor, prompting the Vice President to ban any further efforts. A five-minute conversation between the Vice President and Secretary of War Elihu Root confirmed that the oath should be taken before Roosevelt would sign the written copy.

The witnesses crowded into a semicircle as Secretary Root began to speak, only to be overcome with tears and grief, as were many in the room. (It had been twenty years earlier when Root had been present at the solemn swearing-in of President Arthur.) Starting and stopping twice, the secretary pushed out the words: "I have been requested on behalf of the Cabinet of the late President, at least those who are present in Buffalo, all except two, to request that for reasons of weight affecting the affairs of government that you should proceed to take the constitutional oath of President of the United States."59

U.S. District Court Judge John Hazel moved forward to the side of the now-composed secretary. Roosevelt replied, "I shall take the oath at once in accordance with your request and in this hour of deep and terrible national bereavement I wish to state that it shall be my aim to continue absolutely unbroken the policy of President McKinley for the prosperity of our beloved country."60 As Judge Hazel began, "Mr. Roosevelt's right arm shot straight up above his head," and he held "it rigid there until the oath was complete."61 As President Roosevelt's chin dropped to his chest, a profound moment of silence followed, quietly broken by Judge Hazel directing the President to "attach his signature" at the bottom of the document resting on a small table nearby.62 Adjourning to the home's morning room, Roosevelt composed his first presidential public statement, then followed with a short cabinet meeting in the library.

At age forty-two Roosevelt was the youngest man ever to become President. Although Congress was not in session at the time of McKinley's death, the Succession Act of 1886, opposed by then-Representative McKinley, positioned Secretary of State John M. Hay next in line.

In sixty years, from 1841 to 1901, five Presidents had died in office, two from natural causes and three from assassinations. The inaugural swearing-in ceremony had come to simultaneously represent the starting of a new administration whether by electoral votes or succession.

The Bible—From Coronations to Inaugurations

One element of the swearing-in ceremony not required by the Constitution is the ritual of the President placing his left hand on the Bible and raising his right hand toward heaven. The practice of taking oaths upon Bibles stemmed from English and American colonial history. Bibles were used in the coronations of Britain's kings and queens and in the administration of oaths in civil and ecclesiastical courts.63

Just before George Washington's swearing-in on the balcony at the Federal Hall in New York City, Chief Justice of the New York state judiciary, Chancellor Robert R. Livingston, who would administer the oath, raised the question, "would legitimacy be lacking if the oath was administered without a Bible?"64 A search ensued. When no Bible could be found in the building, the inquiry spread to St. John's Masonic Lodge No. 1, a few blocks away on Wall Street. A Bible secured, the ceremony proceeded as scheduled.

Not every swearing-in ceremony has included a Bible, although there is strong evidence that a Bible has been present in the proceedings since James Buchanan's inauguration in 1857. The exception is Theodore Roosevelt in 1901, when he was hastily sworn in after William McKinley died.65

The image of a Bible barely visible through a dimly lit Vermont farmhouse would set the stage for the next unexpected swearing-in ceremony and "fire" the nation's imagination.

Through Father to Son

Vice President Calvin Coolidge was vacationing at his father's homestead in Plymouth Notch, Vermont (a village within the township of Plymouth). Early in the morning of August 3, 1923, Col. John Coolidge awoke his son, addressed him as "Mr. President," then delivered the telegram containing the news of President Warren G. Harding's death at 7:30 the previous evening.66

There were no telephones in the Coolidge home. The original announcement had been telegraphed to White River Junction, Vermont, from San Francisco by George B. Christian, secretary to President Harding.67 At White River the operator telephoned W. A. Perkins, "in charge of the public telephone at the village of Bridgewater," who sought out Erwin C. Geisser, the Vice President's stenographer, and Joseph N. McInerney, his chauffeur, who in turn roused reporter William H. Crawford. Perkins then rushed the message by automobile to the Coolidge home.68 Geisser, McInerney, and Crawford arrived soon after.

Activity in the household quickly escalated. The Vice President and Mrs. Coolidge dressed and proceeded downstairs. Left upstairs to sleep were housekeepers, Aurora Pierce and her assistant, Miss Bessie Pratt. Outside, the automobiles began to arrive.

More than half the reporters assigned to Coolidge when President Harding's condition worsened had been recalled by their editors when Harding's health stabilized. The remaining reporters received word at the hotel in nearby Ludlow and hastened to the scene.69 Amid the caravan that made its way to the homestead was an automobile carrying recently resigned congressman and Senate candidate Porter H. Dale of Vermont; L. L. Lane, president of the Railway Mail Association of New England; and Joseph H. Fountain, editor of the Springfield (Vt.) Reporter (a weekly newspaper and also representing the Associated Press).70

The Vice President, sitting at the desk where many of his schoolboy reports had been written, put pen to paper composing a note of condolence for Mrs. Harding. He then dictated a statement for arriving reporters, many of whom immediately departed to file their stories of Coolidge's first reaction—unknowingly missing out on witnessing the oath-of-office ceremony.

Across the road at the general store, Coolidge discussed the ceremony by telephone with Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes (also next in line to the presidency). Hughes urged the Vice President to take the oath of office immediately.71 "It should be taken before a notary," said the secretary, who then approved the Vice President's choice—the senior Coolidge—also a Windsor County notary.72 Preparations inside the home continued as a copy of the Constitution was located.

The home was a stark contrast to formal settings for presidential oath-of-office ceremonies. The fourteen-by-seventeen-foot parlor was the "essence of rural America."73 At the center of the parlor, dimly lit by a kerosene lamp, was a table on which rested three books: the Revised Laws of Vermont, a catalog of farming tools, and a Bible that had belonged to Coolidge's mother, Victoria.74

The Bible remained on the table, highlighted by the light from the lamp, as the senior Coolidge readied to become the first father to swear in his son as President. The colonel and the Vice President faced each other as soon-to-be First Lady Grace Coolidge stood nearby. The President recalled Dale, Geisser, and McInerney being in the room, while Mrs. Coolidge remembered the presence of Crawford.

The comings and goings of automobiles had aroused the neighbors, of whom about fifteen joined reporters holding vigil on the veranda to witness the ceremony through the bay window. Only the voices of father and son could be heard through the still night air. At the conclusion of the oath, they heard a brief pause, then the voice of the new President added, "So help me God!" As the clock showed the time to be 2:47, Colonel Coolidge affixed his notary seal to the typewritten oath, which was signed in triplicate by the new President and the witnesses.75 Both Fountain and Lane were thought to have been present and were noted in numerous newspaper accounts. The signed oaths that could prove their presence have since disappeared.

Although the Coolidges returned upstairs to bed, activity did not cease. As Lane stood guard, reporters and the curious continued to gather as a telephone lineman arrived to install a telephone—the line running through the kitchen window.76 In Ludlow, D. P. Rossiter, former editor of the local weekly, had routed out of bed the manager of the local telephone company, convincing him of the importance of installing wire service for the reporters' use upon their return.77

That morning, as the President and first lady departed for Washington, he directed the limousine to stop near the family cemetery, where he stood silently by his mother's grave for a few moments. The President recounted, "It had been a comfort to me during my boyhood when I was troubled to be near her last resting place, even in the dead of night. Some way, that morning, she seemed very near to me."78

Once in Washington and under the advice of Attorney General Harry M. Daugherty (who worried about the legitimacy of having a state official swear in a national figure), Coolidge retook the oath of office. It was administered by Judge A. Hoehling of the District of Columbia Supreme Court in Coolidge's suite at the Willard Hotel on Tuesday, August 21.79 No publicity followed, as it was feared news of the second oath-taking would "take the edge off" the simplicity of a scene that had served as the backdrop for the transfer of great power. The scene was so vivid in people's minds that even the President's reminder in The Autobiography of Calvin Coolidge that Bibles were not used in Vermont or Massachusetts in administering oaths could deter public reaction.

Artists' renderings of the ceremony were published in newspapers and "replicated and sold in the hundreds of thousands."80 Arthur Keller traveled to the farmhouse, painted the interior, sketched Colonel Coolidge, and afterwards went to Washington to sketch the faces of the other participants.81

Once the President had left, the senior Coolidge had the telephone removed. Recalling the momentous occasion, Colonel Coolidge, in the "mood to dispose of all the myths that had grown up around the administration of the oath," admitted that both Miss Pierce and Miss Pratt "did not like it very much" that he had forgotten to wake them that historical night in time to witness the ceremony.82 They were even more distressed when "one of the Boston papers" noted "we used an old greasy kerosene lamp."83 "It's old enough," commented the colonel, "but it wasn't greasy, that morning or any other morning."84

"The Moon, the Stars, and All the Planets"

Summoned to the White House from the Capitol early in the evening of Thursday, April 12, 1945, Vice President Harry S. Truman was escorted upstairs to the study of Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt. Putting her arm around Truman, Eleanor informed him, "Harry, the President is dead." Stunned and speechless, the Vice President found the words to ask Mrs. Roosevelt, "Is there anything I can do for you?" The new widow's reply was simple and to the point: "Is there anything I can do for you? For you are the one in trouble now."85

Truman, like Tyler, had been Vice President for a short period of time—less than three months. Unlike the Coolidge swearing-in ceremony, this oath of office would be administered in the White House spotlight amid press and high-ranking officials.

In the Cabinet Room, the Vice President, sitting by himself in a brown leather chair, looked "absolutely dazed." A tearful Bess Truman and daughter, Margaret, "feeling as if she were going under anesthesia," arrived. At seven o'clock nearly everyone who was expected, including all ten members of the cabinet, stood quietly waiting for the staff to locate a Bible. Howell Crim, the fastidious head usher, returned with a Gideon edition that was properly dusted before being placed on the table. Truman later told his mother he would have "brought Grandpa Truman's Bible from his office bookcase if had he only known."86

Standing in the area between the end of the conference table and the wall, on which the portrait of President Woodrow Wilson hung, Vice President Truman held the book in his left hand as Chief Justice Harlan Stone administered the oath of office. Bess and Margaret stood within arm's length, while the cabinet squeezed into the area's remaining space behind the family. Cameramen, with less bulky equipment than that which disturbed Theodore Roosevelt's 1901 ceremony, positioned themselves to capture such a proceeding on film for the first time. Like Coolidge, Truman ended the oath with the added words "So help me God," and like President Arthur, Truman kissed the Bible.

By 7:15 the new President was convening his first cabinet meeting and issuing his first decision: the United Nations conference scheduled to open in San Francisco would indeed go on as planned. The meeting at an end, Secretary of War Henry Stimson remained to speak to the new President on a matter of great urgency. Thus Truman learned of the Manhattan Project and the nearly completed development of the atomic bomb.87

The new President's first full day in office came on Friday, April 13. At noon, Truman, with a full presidential entourage of cars, police, and Secret Service, arrived at the Capitol to lunch with friends. Surrounded by armed men, the President walked down halls where only the day before he had walked free and alone. A crowd of reporters awaited his departure. Truman, having enjoyed a relaxed relationship with the press, commented: "Boys, if you ever pray, pray for me now. I don't know whether you fellows ever had a load of hay fall on you, but when they told me yesterday what had happened, I felt like the moon, the stars, and all the planets had fallen on me."88

In 1945 Truman reopened the issue of succession. He was concerned that "it now lies within my power to nominate the person who would be my immediate successor in the event of my own death or inability to act, I do not believe that in a democracy this power should rest with the Chief Executive."89 Calling for a reversion to the first Succession Act of 1792 but placing the Speaker of the House first, Truman also encouraged restoring the old act's special election provision.90 When the Republicans regained control of both houses during the 1946 midterm elections, Congress passed the Succession Act of 1947, rearranging the line of succession as Speaker of the House, president pro tempore of the Senate, then members of the cabinet beginning with the secretary of state.

On May 8, within twenty-five days of taking over the presidency, Germany surrendered, allowing Truman to celebrate simultaneously Victory-in-Europe Day and his sixty-first birthday. Decisions to drop two atomic bombs on Japan hastened the end of the war. Throughout the remaining term, Truman's "Buck Stops Here" philosophy was embraced by the American public.

"I Ask for Your Help— and God's"

How quickly does one move to take over the presidency when the President has been assassinated? Lyndon B. Johnson would be criticized both for not taking over quickly enough and for taking control too quickly.

The presidential journey had, on the morning of November 22, 1963, brought both President John F. Kennedy and Vice President Johnson together. Each rode in separate open limousines through the streets of downtown Dallas, Texas, on their way to a luncheon at the Trade Mart. Kennedy was shot by a sniper as the President's car moved away from the Texas Schoolbook Depository. The Vice President, two cars back, heard the shots. To the Vice President, it was unclear if the President was the only intended target or if this was a grand conspiracy. Johnson raced the scenarios through his mind—the President was dead—were he and possibly the Speaker of the House also in danger?

On the east coast, it was lunchtime. Special bulletins announcing the shooting of President John F. Kennedy interrupted television soap operas. It would be the first time that an abrupt transition of the American presidency would be played out worldwide through the young media of television and the transistor radio.

Word that priests were at the President's bedside reached Speaker John McCormack in the House restaurant. This news convinced him the President had died. A congressman followed with news that the Vice President too had been shot and that the Secret Service was on its way to provide McCormack protection. If both Kennedy and Johnson were dead, McCormack was no longer Speaker of the House but President of the United States. Once aware of this possibility, the Speaker rose up, only to experience a severe attack of vertigo. Sinking back into his seat and attempting to focus what little energy he had left, he was informed that the Vice President was unharmed.

Although President Kennedy was officially pronounced dead at 1:15 p.m. eastern standard time, public announcement was delayed until Johnson was safely on board Air Force One at Love Field. Concerned about a plot, Agent Rufus Youngblood directed the Vice President and Mrs. Johnson to separate cars. Johnson was herded into the backseat and told to crouch below the window level as Agent Youngblood sat guard over him. An arriving delivery van inadvertently blocked their departure from Parkland Hospital, prompting agents to draw their firearms. Fortunately it was just bad manners on the part of the delivery driver. Upon arrival at the plane, Youngblood ordered the group to run up the boarding steps. The hurried departure from the hospital left most of the aides and agents in the emergency room without any idea the Vice President had left the building.91

Once on board, Johnson headed for the stateroom television set, which was tuned to CBS commentator Walter Cronkite. In his mind Johnson knew he needed to be sworn in as soon as possible but sought affirmation from a variety of sources. Mrs. Johnson "listened to her husband canvas three congressmen on the question."92 The debate of when to take the oath was displaced with the question, "What about the oath?" Fuzzy memories of Truman, the published engravings of Coolidge and Arthur taking the oath were recalled, but the exact text eluded them.

Johnson's aide Jack Valenti, finally reunited with the Vice President on board Air Force One, recalled him murmuring "See that Marie Fehmer [secretary to the Vice President] gets the precise wording of the presidential oath."93 A frantic search ensued for a lawyer who knew the wording. Barefoot Sanders, a Dallas-based U.S. attorney rummaging through volumes of statutes, froze in foolish silence when a clerk suggested, "Hey, what about the Constitution?"

Johnson placed a telephone call to Attorney General Robert Kennedy, brother of the slain President, at his home in Virginia. Expressions of condolence gave way to the business of taking the oath. There remains a question over whether or not the attorney general advised that the Vice President should be sworn in in Texas. A return call from Kennedy to Johnson advised, "Anybody can swear you in. Maybe you'd like to have one of the judges down there whom you appointed. Any one of them can do it."94 Johnson directed that Sarah Tilghman Hughes, appointed by President Kennedy as U.S. District Judge for the Northern District of Texas, be found. John Spinuzzi, her law clerk, knew only that Judge Hughes had been on her way to the Trade Mart lunch to hear President Kennedy's address.

At Parkland, Mrs. Kennedy refused to leave the hospital without the body of her husband. On board Air Force One the Vice President made it clear the plane was not leaving without Mrs. Kennedy.

A verbal storm raged at Parkland, with Secret Service agents keeping most of the arguments from the young widow. Removing the remains of a homicide victim without an autopsy was breaking Texas law. Heated discussion mixed with the Secret Service's need to transport the slain President's casket to Love Field converted the situation into one huge shoving match. The use of muscle opened up a path through the corridor for the casket to be steered onto the ambulance dock. Mrs. Kennedy walked directly behind her husband, a gloved hand touching the casket. At 2:08 p.m., with the death certificate tucked into an agent's pocket, the young widow was directed to the jump seat beside the coffin and shortly thereafter followed her husband's casket up the steps of Air Force One, where it rested near the rear of the plane.

Judge Hughes had left the Trade Mart and returned home, telephoning her whereabouts to her clerk, who informed her that U.S. Attorney Sanders was searching for her. Just ten minutes from Love Field, if traffic was with her, Hughes returned to her car and headed for the airport. On board Air Force One, Mrs. Kennedy had agreed to the Vice President's request that she be present for the ceremony. Attention then turned to finding a photographer.

refer to caption

Lyndon Johnson, flanked by Lady Bird Johnson and Jacqueline Kennedy, is sworn in as President aboard Air Force One. (NARA, LBJ Library)

Official White House photographer Cecil Stoughton stood in the stateroom positioning the participants. He would photograph from Judge Hughes's right side and face the Vice President. On the Vice President's right stood Lady Bird Johnson, to his left, Mrs. Kennedy, still wearing the pink blood-stained suit.

A three-by-five-inch file card containing the oath was given to Judge Hughes. "What about a Bible?" a voice asked. President Kennedy always carried with him his personal Bible. In his private cabin, under the lid of the table between the two beds was the tooled leather volume. Imprinted on the cover was a gold cross, and tiny black-on-black initials, "JFK," were sewn on the inside cover. It was placed in Justice Hughes's right hand to hold for the President while she read the oath.

As Stoughton snapped his first frame, he heard only a sickening silence. A small pin inside had failed to make contact. He jiggled and twisted the film advance lever, finally hearing a click. At 2:40 p.m., the ceremony completed, orders were given to take off.

Judge Hughes, in the process of stepping down the boarding steps, was hailed by a self-assured man who inquired if she wanted the two items she held in her hand. Assuming he was a security man and because the items did not belong to her, Judge Hughes transferred to the man the file card and the President's Bible, neither of which were ever located.

Upon arrival at Andrews Air Force Base, the President's casket was unloaded from the rear of the plane ahead of the new President—an error in protocol. President and Mrs. Johnson remained out of sight, allowing attention to be focused on the slain President. The slight may have been for the better. All eyes were riveted on the rear door as the spectators saw for themselves that what was said was true. The sight of the President's coffin sadly confirmed that Kennedy was indeed gone.

When the hearse had departed, full attention was directed to the new President. Standing at the microphones erected in the glare of television lights, the President's remarks were brief, ending with a simple and pointed request, "I ask for your help—and God's."

With his 1964 electoral victory, Johnson was officially sworn in as President on January 20, 1964. Where once stood the clerk of the U.S. Supreme Court holding the Bible, now stood Mrs. Johnson holding the family Bible, making her the first wife to stand with her President-elect husband at a formal oath-of-office ceremony.95

The Twenty-fifth Amendment

The abrupt transition of 1963 propelled to the forefront the issue of vice presidential vacancies. The next two offices in the 1947 line of succession were occupied by "aged and ill members of Congress," Speaker of the House John W. McCormack and President Pro Tempore of the Senate Carl Hayden.96

Between 1789 and 1963 sixteen vacancies had occurred in the vice presidency.97 Neither the Constitution nor the succession acts addressed the issue. Astonishingly lengthy lapses in the vice presidency had occurred.98 President Johnson would go without a vice president for nearly fourteen months until the 1965 inauguration. Unlike President Arthur, Johnson would not be put off any further.

When commenting on the introduction of the proposed Twenty-fifth Amendment in 1965, Senator Birch Bayh of Indiana reminded his listeners:

     The accelerated pace of international affairs, plus the overwhelming problems of modern military security, make it almost imperative that we change our system to provide for not only a President but a Vice President at all times.
     The modern concept of the vice presidency is that of a man "standing in the wings"—even if reluctantly—ready at all times to take the burden. He must know the job of the President. He must keep current on all national and international developments. He must, in fact, be something of an "assistant President."99

Ratified in 1967, the Twenty-fifth Amendment simultaneously empowered a President to nominate a Vice President when that office became vacant and addressed the issue of an "Acting President" in the event a presidential disability was determined to exist.100

One concern was that the amendment allowed for both the vice presidency and the presidency to be transformed from an elected office to an appointed position. Within less than eight years, that concern become a reality.101

"Our National Nightmare Is Over"

When Spiro Agnew resigned as Vice President on October 10, 1973, President Richard M. Nixon implemented the new amendment on October 12, nominating House Minority Leader Gerald Ford to fill the void. The entire process lasted seven weeks from the announcement to confirmation. Gerald Ford was administered the oath as Vice President in the House chamber by Chief Justice Warren Burger on December 6. Among those witnessing the historic ceremony were Betty Ford (standing between the two holding an open Bible), President Nixon, a joint session of Congress, and a television viewing audience.

Just over eight months later and minutes after President Nixon's resignation went into effect at noon on August 9, 1974, the Vice President was sworn in as President.

In one of the most historic White House scenes, a President bade the nation a televised farewell, was escorted to the waiting helicopter by his Vice President, who returned inside and took, in a televised East Room ceremony, the presidential oath. Mrs. Ford held the family Bible as Chief Justice Burger swore in the thirty-eighth President.

Shortly thereafter, the only man to be appointed as Vice President was implementing the Twenty-fifth Amendment and appointing his own Vice President. The year 1974 ended with the confirmation and swearing-in of Nelson Rockefeller as Vice President on December 19.

The irony of this chain of command was not lost on historians and commentators covering the July 4, 1976, bicentennial celebration. The Constitution, the document of democracy, had supplied the legal mechanism for the executive branch to be governed by an appointed President and Vice President. In his inaugural comments, Ford reminded the nation that "Our Constitution works," then set about demonstrating the importance of having a knowledgeable Vice President standing ready.

The Reflective Milestone

When the inaugural oath of office is administered, whether because of election or succession, something called history is happening. Each inauguration has come to serve as a reflective milestone not only of how the transfer of presidential power came about but of how each man handled the moment.

Under the best of circumstances such ceremonies have been eagerly anticipated and repeatedly recounted. In the worst of times, those unscripted and impromptu moments of abrupt transition remind us of the essence of the democratic process and of the Vice Presidents who carry on the presidency in the midst of national mourning.

C. L. Arbelbide is a historian and storyteller specializing in federal holiday history and unique events associated with the White House, the U.S. Capitol, and the National Mall. She is the author of The White House Easter Egg Roll (1997).


1. Margaret Jane Wyszomirski, "Removal of the President," in Michael Nelson, ed., Congressional Quarterly's Guide to the Presidency (1989), p. 353.

2. President Grant and Secretary of State Hamilton Fish witnessed the Saturday evening swearing-in ceremony administered to Hayes by United States Supreme Court Chief Justice Morrison R. Waite.

3. It would not be until 1937 that the Vice President would share the swearing-in spotlight with the President. Ratified in 1933, the Twentieth Amendment, in part, allowed for successive presidential and vice presidential terms to begin on January 20th rather than March 4. When Franklin D. Roosevelt was sworn into his second presidential term in 1937, Vice President John Nance Garner became the first Vice President to be sworn in in public.

4. Robert Seager II, And Tyler Too: A Biography of John & Julia Gardiner Tyler (1963), p. 144.

5. Mark O. Hatfield et al., Vice Presidents of the United States (1997), p. 142.

6. Constitution of the United States, Article 1, Section 3, clause 4: "The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate, but shall have no Vote, unless they be equally divided."

7. Alfred Steinberg, The First Ten: The Founding Presidents and Their Administrations (1967), p. 59.

8. Seager, And Tyler Too, p. 144.

9. William A. DeGregorio, The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents (1993), p. 143.

10. Ibid., p. 145.

11. Wymszomirski, "Removal of the President," p. 353.

12. Ibid.

13. Seager, And Tyler Too, p. 148; Hatfield, Vice Presidents, p. 142.

14. "The New President," National Intelligencier, Apr. 7, 1841, p. 3, col. 1; Hatfield, Vice Presidents, p. 143.

15. Michael Nelson, "Selection by Succession," Congressional Quarterly's Guide to the Presidency, p. 338.

16. Constitution of the United States, Article II, sec. 1, par. 6.

17. The 1792 act "stipulated that a double vacancy in the presidency and vice presidency should be remedied by a special election to a full four-year term the following November unless the vacancy occurred during the last six months of the departed president's term. In the meantime, the president pro tempore of the Senate (or if there were none, the Speaker of the House of Representatives) would 'act as president.'"

James Madison, then a Virginia congressman, objected, in part, to positioning a federal legislator next in the line of succession as it would violate the principle of separation of powers, and in part because the legislation would bypass the cabinet members, specifically the secretary of state, who happened to be Thomas Jefferson. Overall concern revolved around the possibility of a successor from Congress who might be from a different political party. Nelson, "Selection by Succession," pp. 339–340.

18. Constitution of the United States, Article II, sec. 1, par. 6. This clause would be later modified by the Twentieth Amendment (ratified Jan. 23, 1933) and the Twenty-fifth Amendment (ratified Feb. 10, 1967). Both the Twentieth, in part, and the Twenty-fifth Amendments reconfirm the Vice President is first in line to accede to the presidency under the established set of circumstances, while the Twenty-fifth also introduces the issue of "Acting President" in the event the President becomes disabled.

19. Nelson, "Selection by Succession," p. 339.

20. Hatfield, Vice Presidents, p. 143.

21. Seager, And Tyler Too, p. 149.

Joseph Nathan Kane, Facts About the Presidents (1989), p. 9: The Act of Congress signed by President George Washington in 1792—"An Act to Regulate the Time and Manner of Administering Certain Oaths"—established in Section 1 the oath that Vice Presidents-elect, Senators, Representatives, and other government officials would be administered: "I, (state name), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States." Tyler felt this oath was enough but was persuaded to take the presidential oath as outlined in the Constitution.

During the Civil War the oath was revised. Today the wording is as follows: "I, (state name), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God."

22. Norma Lois Peterson, The Presidencies of William Henry Harrison & John Tyler (1989), p. 48; Wyszomirski, "Removal of the President," p. 353.

23. Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., ed., Running for President: the Candidates and Their Images, (1994), p. 161.

24. Editorial, New York Times, Apr. 7, 1841, p. 3, col. 1.

25. Seager, And Tyler Too, p. 149.

26. Hatfield, Vice Presidents, p. 143; Seager, And Tyler Too, p. 149.

27. Nelson, "Selection by Succession," p. 339.

28. Wyszomirski, "Removal of the President," p. 354.

29. Ibid.

30. Hatfield, Vice Presidents, p. 175.

31. Ibid., p. 176.

32. "Scenes and Incidents in the Capital," National Intelligencier, July 11, 1850, p. 3, col. 4.

33. Hatfield, Vice Presidents, p. 176.

34. Wyszomirski, "Removal of the President," p. 351.

35. Hatfield, Vice Presidents, p. 217.

36. Joint Committee on Printing, A Compilation of Messages and Papers of the Presidents, Vol. 8 (1897), p. 3501.

37. Hatfield, Vice Presidents, p. 216.

38. Wyszomirski, "Removal of the President," p. 362.

39. Ibid.

40. Ibid.

41. "The New Chief Executive," New York Times, Sept. 21, 1881, p. 1, col. 7.

42. "The Oath Administered," New York Times, Sept. 20, 1881, p. 1, col. 7.

43. "The New Chief Executive," New York Times, Sept. 21, 1881, p. 1, col. 7.

44. Ibid.

45. "The Oath Administered," New York Times, Sept. 20, 1881, p. 1, col. 7.

46. "Arthur Inaugurated," Washington Post, Sept. 23, 1881, p. 1, col. 6.

47. "The New Chief Executive," New York Times, Sept. 21, 1881, p. 1, col. 7.

48. Wyszomirski, "Removal of the President," p. 362.

49. "Arthur Inaugurated," Washington Post, Sept. 23, 1881, p. 1, col. 6; Kane, Facts About the Presidents, p. 131.

50. A Compilation of Messages and Papers of the Presidents, Vol. 10, pp. 4621, 4622.

51. Wyszomirski, "Removal of the President," p. 362.

52. Nelson, "Selection by Succession," p. 340.

53. Ibid.

54. National Park Service brochure: "Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural."

55. Edmund Morris, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt (1979), p. 739; Wyszomirski, "Removal of the President," p. 363.

56. Hatfield, Vice Presidents, p. 305.

57. "Mr. Roosevelt is Now the President," New York Times, Sept. 15, 1901, p. 1, col. 7.

58. Ibid., p. 1, col. 6.

59. "Roosevelt Quickly Sworn In As President," Buffalo Express, Sept. 15, 1901.

60. Ibid.

61. Ibid., p. 2, col. 1; p. 1, col. 7.

62. "The New President," Washington Post, Sept. 15, 1901, p. 1, col. 3.

63. Charles C. Euchner and John Anthony Maltes, "Selection and Removal of Presidents," in Congressional Quarterly's Guide to the Presidency, p. 262.

64. Ibid.

65. Ibid.

66. Donald R. McCoy, Calvin Coolidge: The Quiet President (1988), p. 148.

67. "The Midnight Oath," Ladies Home Journal, April 1924, p. 236.

68. Ibid.; Claude M. Fuess, Calvin Coolidge: The Man from Vermont (1940), p. 308.

69. Fuess, The Man from Vermont, p. 308.

70. "The Midnight Oath," Ladies Home Journal, April 1924, p. 17; Fuess, The Man from Vermont, p. 310; McCoy, The Quiet President, p. 148; Robert Sobel, Coolidge: An American Enigma (1998), p. 232.

71. McCoy, The Quiet President, p. 148; Sobel, An American Enigma, p. 232.

72. McCoy, The Quiet President, p. 149; Sobel, An American Enigma, p. 232.

73. McCoy, The Quiet President, p. 149.

74. "The Midnight Oath," Ladies Home Journal, April 1924, p. 17; Fuess, The Man from Vermont, p. 310.

75. Fuess, The Man from Vermont, p. 310.

76. McCoy, The Quiet President, p. 149.

77. "Coolidge Takes the Oath of Office," New York Times, Apr. 3, 1923, p. 5, col. 4.

78. Sobel, An American Enigma, p. 233.

79. Ibid., p. 235.

80. Ibid., p. 232.

81. Fuess, The Man from Vermont, pp. 310, 311.

82. "The Midnight Oath," Ladies Home Journal, April 1924, p. 17.

83. Ibid.

84. Ibid.

85. Jim Bishop, FDR's Last Year (1974), pp. 596 - 598.

86. David McCullough, Truman (1972), p. 347.

87. Ibid., p. 348.

88. Ibid., 353.

89. Nelson, "Selection by Succession," p. 340.

90. Ibid.

91. William Manchester, "A Troubled Flight from Dallas," Look Magazine, Feb. 21, 1967, p. 43 (excerpt from The Death of a President [1967], p. 238).

92. Ibid., p. 44 (Death of a President, p. 267).

93. Jack Valenti, A Very Human President (1975), p. 47.

94. Manchester, "A Troubled Flight from Dallas," p. 45 (Death of a President, p. 272).

95. James Browning, during the 1961 Kennedy inauguration, became the last of the clerks of the Supreme Court to hold the Bible.

96. Nelson, "Selection by Succession," p. 343.

97. By 1974 eighteen vice presidential vacancies had occurred. Beyond the nine Vice Presidents who acceded to the presidency, seven Vice Presidents died in office: George Clinton, 1812, (Madison); Elbridge Gerry, 1814 (Madison); William R. King, 1853 (Pierce); Henry Wilson 1875, (Grant); Thomas A. Hendricks, 1885 (Cleveland); Garret A. Hobart, 1899 (McKinley); and James S. Sherman, 1912 (Taft). Two vacancies were due to vice presidential resignations: John C. Calhoun, 1832 (Jackson), and Spiro T. Agnew, 1973 (Nixon).

98. With the deaths of President Taylor (1850) and Vice President King (1853, Pierce) the vice presidency remained vacant for all but six weeks from July 9, 1850, until March 4, 1857. From September 19, 1881, when President Garfield died, until March 4, 1889, when Vice President Levi Parsons Morton (Harrison) was inaugurated, the vice presidency was vacant for all but the few months that Vice President Hendricks (Cleveland) served in 1885 before dying. President Madison had vice presidential vacancies during parts of both of his administrations. For more than three-fourths of the terms of Presidents Tyler, Andrew Johnson, Arthur, Cleveland, Theodore Roosevelt, and Truman there were no Vice Presidents. President Coolidge went without a Vice President for eighteen months—from August 3, 1923, until Charles Gates Dawes was sworn in on March 4, 1925. For President Lyndon B. Johnson the office remained vacant for fourteen months until newly elected Vice President Hubert Humphrey was inaugurated on January 20, 1965. President Richard M. Nixon was—with the resignation of Spiro T. Agnew—without a Vice President from October 10, 1973, until Gerald Ford's swearing-in on December 6. Ford acceded to the presidency on August 9, 1974, and by December 9 had his vice presidential nominee Nelson A. Rockefeller on board.

99. Congressional Record, 88th Cong., 1st sess., Dec. 12, 1963, Vol. 109, pt. 18: 24421.

100. Constitution of the United States, Amendment Twenty-five:
     "Section 1: In case of the removal of the President from office or of his death or resignation, the Vice President shall become President.
     "Section 2: Whenever there is a vacancy in the office of the Vice President, the President shall nominate a Vice President who shall take office upon confirmation by a majority vote of both Houses of Congress."

101. Ibid., p. 345.


Articles published in Prologue do not necessarily represent the views of NARA or of any other agency of the United States Government.