Constitutional Topic: Presidential Line of Succession – The U.S. Constitution Online – USConstitution.net

Constitutional Topic: Presidential Line of Succession


The Constitutional Topics pages at the USConstitution.net site are presented
to delve deeper into topics than can be provided on the Glossary Page or in the FAQ
. This Topic Page concerns the Presidential Line of Succession. The
Line of Succession is mentioned in two places in the Constitution; in Article 2, Section 1, and the 25th Amendment. The Topic Page for the Presidential Disability is also of interest.

The 25th Amendment reiterates what is stated in Article 2, Section 1: that
the Vice President is the direct successor of the President. He or she will
become President if the President cannot serve for whatever reason. The 25th
also provides for a President who is temporarily disabled, such as if the
President has a surgical procedure or if he or she become mentally

The original Constitution provides that if neither the President nor Vice
President can serve, the Congress shall provide law stating who is next in
line. Currently that law exists as 3 USC 19, a section of
the U.S. Code. This law was established as part of the Presidential Succession
Act of 1947. There, the following line of succession is provided:

  • Speaker of the House of Representatives
  • President Pro Tempore of the Senate
  • Secretary of State
  • Secretary of the Treasury
  • Secretary of Defense
  • Attorney General
  • Secretary of the Interior
  • Secretary of Agriculture
  • Secretary of Commerce
  • Secretary of Labor
  • Secretary of Health and Human Services
  • Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
  • Secretary of Transportation
  • Secretary of Energy
  • Secretary of Education
  • Secretary of Veterans Affairs
  • Secretary of Homeland Security

The only exception to the line provided in the law states that to ascend to
the Presidency, the next person in line must be constitutionally eligible. Any
person holding an office in the line of succession who, for example, is not a
naturally-born citizen cannot become President. In this case, that person would
be skipped and the next eligible person in the line would become President.

To see who holds these posts, see The Cabinet
Topic Page

Prior to 1947

In 1792, Congress passed the first presidential succession act. This act was
fraught with political wrangling between the Federalists and Antifederalists,
as much early U.S. policy was. The Federalists did not want the Secretary of
State, since Thomas Jefferson held the position, and he was emerging as a
leader to the Antifederalist camp. Some were wary of the President Pro Tem of
the Senate, because of the apparent mixing of the branches of government so
recently established. Ditto the House Speaker and the Chief Justice of the
Supreme Court. The eventual compromise did include two persons to fall in line
past the Vice President. The President Pro Tem of the Senate first, then the
Speaker of the House.

The issue was taken up again in 1886, when the Congressional leadership was
removed from the line and replaced with the Cabinet, with the Secretary of
State falling first in line. Finally, the 1947 Act added the Speaker of the
House and President Pro Tem back in the line (but reversed from the 1792