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Presidential Succession Act of 1886

Made in the 1880's, the "Resolute Desk" has adorned the office of the President for many (but not all) administrations since.

Taking a Second Crack at Presidential Succession

The assassination of James Garfield in 1881 marked the sixth case in just forty years where questions regarding presidential succession had gone unanswered.  Five years later, Congress decided to take some action on the subject.  Unfortunately, it didn't take enough action.

Authored by prominent Massachusetts Senator George Frisbie Hoar, the Presidential Succession Act of 1886 removed Congressional officers from the line of succession, replacing them with cabinet secretaries in the order of the date their departments were established.  The removal of the Speaker of the House and President Pro Tempore of the Senate from the list meanwhile was a response to Ben Wade's near ascent as Acting President in 1868.

A New Way of Failing to Address The Old Problems

The 1886 law succeeded in the sense that it created a line of succession that was seen as inexhaustible, ensuring that another 1849-like situation couldn't be repeated.  Further, by removing the Congressional officers it ensured that an Acting President would be from the same political party as the incumbent President.

But sadly, as with the 1792 law, the 1886 act failed to address the fundamental questions which now dated back nearly a century:  Who determines that a President is disabled?  How does someone legally become Acting President?  How does a recovered President legally resume his service?

Remarkably, it'd take another 81 years - and several more incidents of presidential vacancy and disability - to get answers to these questions.

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