A Precursor to the 25th
The name of Dwight David Eisenhower will go down in history on many fronts. It's a footnote in comparison to his other exploits perhaps, but one area in which the 34th President of the United States would be a pioneer would be that of addressing presidential succession and disability. Unlike his predecessors in the office who gave little to no thought to the subject, perhaps thanks to his military training and understanding of a thorough chain of command, "Ike" was downright eager to address the issue. Early in his administration and under the guidance of Attorney General Herbert Brownell, Eisenhower and Vice President Richard Milhous Nixon reached a private agreement, just four paragraphs in length and establishing the first written protocol under which a Vice President of the United States would act as President if necessary.
Text of the Eisenhower-Nixon Agreement
The President and Vice President have agreed that the following procedures are in accord with the purposes and provisions of Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution, dealing with Presidential inability. They believe that these procedures, which are intended to apply to themselves only, are in no sense outside or contrary to the Constitution, but are consistent with its present provisions and implement its clear intent.
(1) In the event of the inability the President would - if possible - so inform the Vice President, and the Vice President would then serve as Acting President, exercising the powers and duties of the office until the inability had ended.
(2) In the event of an inability which would prevent the President from so communicating with the Vice President, the Vice President, after such consultation as seems to him appropriate under the circumstances, would decide upon the devolution of the powers and duties of the Office and would serve as Acting President until the inability had ended.
(3) The President, in either event, would determine when the inability had ended and at that time would resume the full exercise of the powers an duties of the Office.
Implementation and Continuance
The Eisenhower-Nixon Agreement would never be implemented in a formal manner similar to future invocations of Section 3 of the 25th Amendment, but under its auspices on three occasions Nixon would discharge certain non-ceremonial aspects of the office in Eisenhower's stead:
- On September 23, 1955, Eisenhower suffered a mild heart attack while on vacation. First misreported as a "digestive upset," Vice President Nixon would be stunned when he received a telephone call from White House Press Secretary James Hagerty, delivering the more serious news. The President would be hospitalized, during which time Nixon would chair meetings of the Cabinet and National Security Council.
- On June 8, 1956, Eisenhower experienced a serious bowel obstruction, resulting in a surgical operation conducted the following morning to relieve it. Again, Nixon would step in while the President recovered.
- On November 25, 1957, Eisenhower suffered a mild stroke, slightly impairing his speech but otherwise not causing obvious disability. As in the prior instances, Vice President Nixon would discharge some informal functions of the presidency until Eisenhower was once again able to do so.
An identical agreement would be signed between President John Kennedy and Vice President Lyndon Johnson when they took office as successors to Eisenhower and Nixon in 1961, and it would be in place on November 22, 1963 as they rode together in a motorcade through the streets of Dallas, Texas.