The Eisenhower-Nixon Agreement
A True Prelude to the 25th
The name Dwight David Eisenhower will go down in history on many fronts, but one largely goes underlooked. Unlike those who preceded him as President, not only was "Ike" not squeamish about the subject of presidential disability and succession - he was eager to address the issue.
Early in his administration and under the guidance of his Attorney General, Herbert Brownell, Eisenhower and Vice President Richard Nixon reached a private agreement, just four paragraphs in length, that established the first written protocol under which Nixon would act as President if it became necessary. This agreement ultimately would lay the groundwork for Sections 3 and 4 of the 25th Amendment, and would be put to the test three times during Eisenhower's term.
On September 23, 1955, Eisenhower suffered a mild heart attack while on vacation. First misreported as a "digestive upset," Vice President Nixon was stunned when he received a telephone call from White House Press Secretary James Hagerty, delivering the more serious news.
The President was hospitalized, but thanks to the Eisenhower-Nixon agreement, there was at least some answer to two of the key questions: the President would declare himself unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office if he was able to do so; otherwise, the Vice President, after "appropriate consultation," could take the helm.
While never formally invoked following the heart attack, in June 1956 when Eisenhower was hospitalized for a bowel obstruction, or even on November 25, 1957 when he suffered a mild stroke, in each instance Vice President Nixon informally carried out some of Eisenhower's presidential functions. An identical agreement would be signed between John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson when they took office, and would be in place on November 22, 1963, as they rode together through the streets of Dallas, Texas.
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 wtih 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 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 and duties of the Office.