25th Amendment

The 25th Amendment, proposed by Congress and ratified by the states in the aftermath of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, provides the procedures for replacing the president or vice president in the event of death, removal, resignation, or incapacitation.  The Watergate scandal of the 1970s saw the application of these procedures, first when Gerald Ford replaced Spiro Agnew as vice president, then when he replaced Richard Nixon as president, and then when Nelson Rockefeller filled the resulting vacancy to become the vice president.  Read more from the Congressional Research Service here....

Amendment XXV

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.

Section 3.

Whenever the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that he is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, and until he transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary, such powers and duties shall be discharged by the Vice President as Acting President.

Section 4.

Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.

Thereafter, when the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that no inability exists, he shall resume the powers and duties of his office unless the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive department or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit within four days to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office. Thereupon Congress shall decide the issue, assembling within forty-eight hours for that purpose if not in session. If the Congress, within twenty-one days after receipt of the latter written declaration, or, if Congress is not in session, within twenty-one days after Congress is required to assemble, determines by two-thirds vote of both Houses that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall continue to discharge the same as Acting President; otherwise, the President shall resume the powers and duties of his office.

President Donald Trump displays behavior that is questionable for one holding the highest office of the land and well as the world.  No other president has acted-out in public as he continues to act-out.  At times his public behavior mimics that of a sociopath and inveterate liar tweeting incessantly on matters that should be private--restricted to his Kitchen Cabinet in the White House or to his chief advisers, not to be pitched on social network.  However, Mary Graham in Presidents' Secrets: The Use And Abuse Of Hidden Power (2017) allows comparisons between Trump's irrational behavior and that of President Woodrow Wilson's behavior after he "suffered a severe stroke"--and a foundation for secret government was adopted.

On Thursday, October 2, 1919, Dr. Cary Grayson, President Woodrow Wilson's physician exclaimed, "My god, the President is paralyzed."  He had been discovered by his wife Edith Wilson semiconscious on the bathroom floor.  Grayson and Edith helped the president back to the large mahogany bed, where he world remain confused, weakened, and paranoid for the remaining eighteen months of his term.  With his wife and doctor, he managed to keep his stroke secret from his vice president, his cabinet, and members of Congress, world leaders, and fellow Americans.

Graham posits that the Constitution provides no guidance about when a disabled president should step down or who should make that decision.  Article II, Section 1, says only: "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."  "What is the extent of the term 'disability' and who is to be the judge of it?"  John Dickenson of Delaware had asked his fellow delegate at the Constitutional Convention, more than one hundred years earlier.  The question remained unanswered.

The Constitution's silence, an imperious first lady, a conflicted doctor, an intimidated vice president, a solicitous cabinet, and the power of secrecy allowed an incapacitated president to remain in office.

Personality Flaws

Even before World War I, Wilson had shown little tolerance for dissent.  The former college professor and Princeton University president championed a remarkable array of progressive policies--lower tariffs, a Federal Reserve banking system, a federal Trade commission antitrust laws, a graduated income tax, and child labor and workers' compensation laws.  With his carefully combed gray hair, rimless glasses, and piercing blue eyes, Wilson looked the part he had played so well--the nation's teacher.

But two years before the United States entered the European war, Wilson began giving fiery speeches that linked the misdeeds of a few violent anarchists and German agents to the legitimate activities of law-abiding citizens--workers trying to improve wages and hours, pacifists and other dissidents expressing principled objections to war, socialists peacefully questioning capitalism, and residents of German descent or citizenship going about their daily lives.

Wilson had no intention of making lasting changes in the United States' culture of openness  His limited aim was to solve two pressing problems.  He wanted to convince a comfortably isolated nation to spend vast resources rearming in order to enter a European war that posed no direct threat to the American people.  And he wanted to convince a public that included German business, political, and artistic leaders that that nation--and even those individuals--had become the enemy.

Wilson, a student of history, suggested that intolerance was an inevitable part of war.  "Once lead this people into war," Wilson told the editor of the New York World as he prepared to ask Congress for a declaration of war, "and they'll forget there ever was such a thing as tolerance.  To fight you must be brutal and ruthless, and the spirit of ruthless brutality will enter into the very fiber of our national life, infecting Congress, the courts, the policeman on the beat, the man on the street."

Wilson successfully urged Congress to approve the espionage legislation that he had proposed while the nation was at peace.  His bill was so broadly worded that it was used during and after WWI to prosecute political opponents and antiwar protesters, and with amendments, is still employed a hundred years later to prosecute government employees who leak classified documents to the press.

The Espionage Act of 1917 placed limits on free speech that set the stage for peacetime restrictions.  And The sedition Act of 1918, an amendment proposed by the White House and strengthened by the Senate Judiciary committee, made it a crime to willfully use disloyal language about the government, the flag, or the military when the nation was at war, and allowed the postmaster to return to senders any mail that violated the act, stamping it "Mail to this address undeliverable under the Espionage Act."

These laws suggested three aspects of the growing power of secrecy. First secrecy blocked constitutional checks.  Investigations could not be monitored by Congress, the courts, the press, or the public because their targets and procedures were secret.  Second, secrecy fostered fear and intimidation, making it uncertain whether its critics might themselves become targets.  Third, secrecy invited abuse.

Although the War was over, the nation was still in crisis when Wilson suffered a massive stroke.  Overnight, the nation lost its leader--without knowing it.  The most remarkable deception in presidential history became a tragic display of another dimension of executive secrecy--a president's power to keep secret his mental and physical incapacity to govern, an issue not fully resolved today.

A Physician's Dilemma

At 11:00 a.m. on October 3, the day after the president was stricken, Dr. Grayson issued the first of what would became a daily drumbeat of uninformative statements.  "The President had a fairly good night but his condition is not at all good this morning," and at 10 p.m. followed by a similarly hopeful diagnosis.

Grayson was caught on the horns of a dilemma.   Grayson held the information that the cabinet and the congress needed in order to make a constitutional determination of presidential disability.  As a physician treating a very sick patient, Grayson was obliged to respect Wilton's privacy.  As physician to the president of the United States, Grayson was obliged to inform the nation when its chief executive could no longer carry out his duties.  Neither the constitution nor Congress provided guidance about how to reconcile these conflicting obligations.

Lies & Self-Delusion

Only the president's wife and his doctors knew the extent of Wilson's impairment.  Strong-willed, possessive, and convinced that staying in office would encourage her husband's recovery.  Edith Galt Wilson controlled the flow of information.  Wilson had married Edith four years earlier, after his first wife, Ellen, died of Bright's disease. 

The morning after Wilson had his stroke, secretary of State Robert Lansing and the president's longtime secretary Joseph Tumulty were told by Grayson that the president was suffering only from nervous exhaustion.  It would be weeks and perhaps months before he could resume work, but his mind was unaffected.

Edith Wilson and Grayson organized a routine to conceal the president's condition.  Wilson remained in bed.  No visitors were allowed.  Gilbert close the president's confidential secretary, was banished.  Secretary of State Lansing never saw Wilson again.  Eleven days after the president's stroke, Attorney General Palmer told the New York Times that no member of the cabinet knew any more about the president's condition than appeared in the newspapers.  Even his closest aide, Tumulty, was not allowed to see Wilson for several weeks.  Newspapers reported that the president suffered from "nervous exhaustion" and "might be definitely on the road to recovery."


Graham posits that the role that Edith created for herself after Wilson's stroke became an unconstrained extension of her effort to be part of Wilson's work when he was well.  When they were courting, she wrote to Wilson: "How I wish I could help you in a practical way."  She wanted him to let her "take some of the responsibility."  She began by asking him for daily updates on confidential matters.  Wilson was soon sending her official papers to read just as he sent them to his cabinet.  He assured her that "whatever is mine is yours, knowledge of affairs of state not excepted."

Once they were married, Edith waged full-scale campaigns to depose advisers she didn't like.  When Wilson agonized over William Jennings Bryan's resignation as secretary of state, Edith wrote to Wilson, "Hurrah! Old Bryan is out!"  When he proposed State Department counselor Robert Lansing as Bryan's successor, she complained, "He is only a clerk isn't he?"  In fact, Lansing was the department's second most senior official.  When Wilson explained that Edward House was the only person with whom he could talk freely, Edith tried to eliminate him.  When he was healthy, the president gently rebuffed these accusations.  When she referred to Bryan as a traitor, Wilson responded, "My how I like you ... And how you can hate too."

Early in their marriage, Edith established a routine.  Each morning she brought the president papers he needed to sign from a drawer where his advisers left them.  She sometimes accompanied him to meetings with advisers, cabinet members, and foreign dignitaries, and worked hard to school herself in the issues they would discuss.  Press reports at the time observed that show was much more active in her husband's duties than were earlier first ladies.

After his stroke, Edith became a self-appointed gatekeeper.  She explained in her memoir, "I began my stewardship.  I studied every paper ... and tried to digest ... the things that, despite my vigilance, had to go to the President."  Asked by reporters how she decided what issues to raise with the president, she said, "I just decided ... I talked with him so much that I knew pretty well what he thought of things."

Without knowing it, the American people had elected and reelected a president who was a very sick man.  But then, as now, no law required candidates to tell voters about their physical or mental health.  More than twenty years earlier, in May 1896, when he was forty, Wilson suffered a stroke that caused weakness in his right hand.  Ten years later, when he was president of Princeton University, he awoke one day blind in his left eye because of a burst blood vessel.  An eminent neurologist, S. Weir Mitchell, who examined him when he was elected president in 1912, predicted he certainly would not survive his first term, a prediction that may not have been published at the time.

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The Trump administration is seeking deep cuts to the country's humanitarian budget. This comes at a critical time in Africa, where three countries are facing famine.

At the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, Wilson probably suffered a small stroke.  A neuropsychiatries who examine him reported that it affected his personality and gave him markedly lessened mental ability.  Grayson eventually acknowledged that Wilson had minor strokes while abroad.  At least by 1918, Wilson showed changes in temperament and memory, according to a later expert analysis.  When he was asked by Arthur S. Link to summarize the medical evidence and its impact on Wilson's behavior, the neurosurgeon Robert E. Park wrote that Wilson suffered memory loss and became increasingly irascible and suspicious a year before the massive stroke.

Two weeks after the president's massive stroke, in mid-October, a leak to the New York Times nearly ended Edith's ruse.  Faced with this explicit report and torn between his duty to his patient and his obligation to inform the public, Grayson decided to issue a detailed memorandum describing exactly what had occurred.  Gathering notes from consulting doctors, he explained that "it was desired by all the consultants in the case to make a full statement of the President's condition.

However, when he gave the memorandum to Mrs. Wilson for her approval, she absolutely refused to allow him to release it.  Grayson told Josephus Daniels the navy secretary, "I am forbidden to speak.  The President and Mrs. Wilson have made me make a promise to that effect."  Instead, Grayson continued his routine of daily bulletins to reassure the public.  A month after his stroke, "the President's improvement steadily continues.  He is eating, sleeping digesting and assimilating well."

Secrecy bred rumors.  The president had died and Edith was acting in his place.  The president was insane and Grayson had licked him up.  The president's advisers were urging him to step down but he wouldn't.  Grayson complained that people were saying the president would never be well enough to work and that Grayson was conspiring to keep secret the true state of Wilson's health.

That was true, of course.  The nation no longer had a working president.


From Wristwatches To Radio, How World War I Ushered In The Modern World


April 2, 20176:52 AM ET

U.S. soldiers operate a radio switchboard just behind the front line during World War I. The U.S. government banned private radio in America during the war. However, the government poured millions into research, which helped advance the industry and led to the rise of commercial radio stations after the war, when the ban was lifted.


Imagine you're a military officer in World War I. Armies have grown so large, you can no longer communicate just by the sound of your voice or the wave of your hand. You need to synchronize movements of troops and artillery, far and wide.

You need a wristwatch.

A 1917 Elgin wristwatch, which many American officers wore in World War I. Prior to the war, men rarely wore wristwatches, but officers needed them to coordinate movements across a vast battlefield. The watch has a "shrapnel guard" to protect the face of the watch.

Courtesy of Smithsonian's Museum of American History

"The entire process of using artillery to protect folks in the trenches, as they advanced, was an elaborately timed, choreographed forward motion," said Carlene Stephens of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, who's showing me a 1917 Elgin watch, the kind worn by many soldiers.

The U.S. sat on the sidelines for nearly three years, as World War I raged in Europe. But after renewed submarine attacks by German submarines on civilian vessels, including American ships, President Woodrow Wilson called for war and Congress backed him on April 6, 1917, a century ago this Thursday.

The war is best remembered for the brutal trench warfare, the millions of deaths and the failure to bring a lasting peace to Europe. But the conflict also saw a convergence of emerging technologies that would remake life on and off the battlefield.

Before the war, wristwatches were worn mostly as jewelry by upper-class women. But they become essential gear for front-line officers. The one at the museum has white numbers tipped with radium, a radioactive substance that makes them glow in the dark, and there's a metal grill that partly covers the watch face.

"This guard is often referred to a shrapnel guard, so that if a soldier is out in the field, the guard protects the tender dial of the watch," said Stephens.

These watches were wound by hand, and we found one that's still in working condition at the National Watch & Clock Museum in Columbia, Pa.

After the war, watchmakers saw a marketing opportunity and soon watches became a common sight on the wrists of men and women. It's just one small example of what grew out of the the first real technology war.

American World War I fighter pilot Eddie Rickenbacker poses with his plane in this undated photo. During the war, airplanes were employed at first for reconnaissance, but air battles soon followed as each side tried to shoot down the enemy's observation planes. The early planes were short on reliable cockpit gauges. Pilots used wristwatches to help determine how much fuel they had left. AP

Machine guns were introduced, as were tanks, radios, military aircraft — and chemical weapons.

"The soldiers rode in on horseback and flew out on airplanes," said Libby O'Connell, a commissioner on the World War I Centennial Commission, created by Congress to mark this year's anniversary.

Like many historians, she feels Americans don't appreciate the ways the war and its technology transformed this country and the world.

The day after Congress declared war, the U.S. government banned private radio stations and equipment, fearing it might be misused.

"What the government does by taking over the radio industry, they pour funding into it for research and development, and were able to really fund technological advances that would have otherwise taken years," said O'Connell.

A tank heads off to support French troops in Juvigny, France, in this undated World War I photo. Tanks were introduced in the war. The watchmaker Cartier designed a metal band for its wristwatches based on tank treads, a tradition that continues to this day. Cartier's prototype for the tank watch was given as a gift to Gen. John Pershing, commander of the U.S. forces.AP

One result was the emergence of the first commercial radio stations in the U.S. shortly after the war.

And these advances merged in ways no one had imagined before the war.

Radio and phone communications proved vital to orchestrating troop movements along a front line that stretched hundreds of miles. Wristwatches also proved critical for pilots, serving as a backup fuel gauge.

"If you were out too long as a pilot, you didn't make it back, because you ran out of fuel," said Stephens.

Perhaps you've never made the connection between tank treads and the distinctive metal wristband on some Cartier watches. But it's straight from the war.

"That rotating wheel design is not only the way tanks will be able to cover muddy ground, it becomes the design for wristwatch bands," said O'Connell.

Louis Cartier, who founded the watch company, came up with the design after seeing France's Renault tank. On its website today, Cartier boasts that the tank watch prototype was a gift to Gen. John Pershing, commander of the U.S. forces in Europe, before it was introduced to the public.

Cartier's Tank Americaine watch is still sold today, in more than a dozen styles ranging in price up to $67,000.

Of course, warfare and technology also collided in nefarious ways that produced mass death, most notably with chemical weapons.

Christopher Capozzola, who teaches history at MIT, notes that the war came at a time of unprecedented technological innovation in the civilian world.

"Then what happens during the war is that those technologies are turned from production to destruction," he said. "Almost any of the new technologies that are used on the battlefield in World War I are things that had first actually been innovated in some other area of American business."

But when the war ended, the U.S. emerged as a true military power, with the world's largest economy, a more global mindset and a new appreciation for technology.

"World War I will change everything," said O'Connell. "It changes the world in a way that turns it into the modern world. This will be the beginning of the truly modern era."

Greg Myre is a national security correspondent. Follow him at gregmyre1.


Presidents' secrets about their physical and mental capacity remain a recurring issue.  There had been earlier instances of disability that were not shared with the American people.  But no one broached the question of removing him from office.  Nor would Wilson's incapacity in office be the last.  The Twenty-Fifth Amendment to the constitution, approved by the states in 1967, did not entirely solve the problem.  Congress proposed the amendment after the assassination of President Kennedy raised concerns about the health of his successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, who had suffered a heart attack eight years earlier.  The amendment provided that a president could be removed from office by himself declaring his temporary or permanent disability or by his vice president and majority of his cabinet (or another group designated by Congress) declaring disability.  The amendment also provided for congressional review and approval of presidents' appointments to fill vice presidential vacancies.

However, the amendment did not resolve the two most difficult issues concerning presidents' physical or mental incapacity.   It relied on the president, vice president, or cabinet to declare the president disabled.  And it did not require that the president's doctor provide information about the president's health to the vice president, the cabinet, or the public information on which a judgment of disability might be based.

Graham cautions that Congress has never acted on proposals to supplement the judgment of the president's personal physician with a medical committee, to require that evidence of incapacity be quickly discorded, or to require physical exams and health histories for candidates for the presidency and vice presidency with results disclosed to the public.


Graham cautions that voters often know little about the health of presidential candidates when they go to the polls.  Revealing medical records remains a matter of choice.  Candidates usually provide some information about their health voluntarily, but the completeness and amount of detail vary widely.  In 2015, the Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump released letters from his doctor that provided few specifics.  The Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton also released a letter from her doctors summarizing his good health.  In 2008, Democratic candidate Barack Obama released six paragraphs summarizing his previous twenty-one years of physical exams along with a statement for his physician attesting that he was in excellent health.  Republican candidate John McCain allowed reporters a laughable three hours to review more than 1,100 pages of medical records.  George H.W. Bush and Michael Dukakis set a better example in 1988, when each candidate allowed his physician to discuss his medical histories with at least one reporter, Lawrence K. Altman of the New York Times, himself a physician.  Bill Clinton revealed less about his health during his presidential campaign than any nominee in the previous twenty years, according to Altman.

Graham sums: Woodrow Wilson's need to solve immediate political problems, his low tolerance for dissent, and his failure to restrain zealous department heads led to fears of hidden conspiracies that justified new kinds of government secrecy.  Walled off from constitutional checks, secret programs and practices continued to expand without clear limits after he left office.

National Security

An Update On Russia Investigations


April 2, 20177:46 AM ET

NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro asks reporter Adam Entous of The Washington Post where the investigations into Russian meddling in the U.S. election stand — and where they are heading.

Author Interviews

Uncovering Presidential Secrets, From Washington To Trump


February 20, 20171:51 PM ET
Presidents' Secrets

The Use and Abuse of Hidden Power

by Mary Graham

Hardcover, 258 pages

Author Mary Graham discusses the confidences that presidents keep. When it comes to President Trump, she says: "I think we're seeing that it's not possible to keep policies secret in the digital age."

A president's lifelong denial of ill health, a headstrong wife's determination to protest him, and a doctor's divided loyalty became a nation's tragedy--a tragedy that could recur.  Nearly a hundred years after Wilson's stroke, Professor Link's warning remains prescient.  "The story of President Wilson's disability clearly foretells what might well happen under the Twenty-fifth Amendment today."

Views: 62

Comment by mary gravitt on April 3, 2017 at 12:33pm

Is President Donald Trump insane?  Or is anybody who runs for President sane?  Ego is at base, but that is not excuse for letting the insane be in charge of the Codes.  The way Trump likes to Tweet in the middle of the night, makes his mental state very important.  Trump is a man who does not trust men.  He trust only women, but likes to abuse them.  Bannon may be a confidant, but Ivanka is his right hand.

Pray for US.

Comment by moki ikom on April 3, 2017 at 1:27pm

US, like Sen. McConnell, Trump, Bannon, the right wing or U.S. like us?  Us, not US nationalists, US white nationalist, US corporatist capitalist... US?

Pray for US? Do so at your own peril, but leave us out of it.

Comment by Jonathan Wolfman on April 3, 2017 at 3:11pm

the invoking of the 25th amendment in this case is overwhelmingly unlikely

Comment by Rodney Roe on April 3, 2017 at 6:35pm

The short answer is no.  The legal definition for insanity applies to almost nobody; the inability to distinguish between right and wrong.  Furthermore, the diagnosis every armchair shrink, including me, makes is "narcissistic personality disorder", but I understand that has been removed from the latest version of the DSM, the official catalog of psyciatric diagnoses.

I don't think that he and other narcissists, sociopaths and others who don't feel empathy are fully human, but that's another question.  Removal of Trump will depend on either the emoluments clause or impeachment for "high crimes and misdemeanors".  The real problem lies in the fact that the Republican dominated congress will start proceedings on either of these paths only when their chances of reelection are threatened. 

I'm going to go bury my head in the sand.  

Comment by Birdinhand on April 4, 2017 at 1:51pm

I sure wouldn't diagnose mental illness, not that it matters if I did.

Mentally ill people more often than not have scruples and feel bad when they do bad.

I don't think he ever feels bad.

Mr. Roe, the most current DSM-5 includes NPD.


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