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Putting Muscle Behind the Hustle

Image of the first page of Senate Joint Resolution 1, which ultimately became the 25th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

The 1964 election of Lyndon Johnson and Hubert Humphrey temporarily set minds at ease with respect to presidential disability and succession, but while in the past the filling of a Vice Presidential vacancy stopped momentum for reform, Indiana Senator Birch Bayh pressed on.  And surprisingly, he would be aided by none other than President Johnson himself.

In his 1965 State of the Union address, Johnson advised that "Even the best of government is subject to the worst of hazards.  To that end, I will propose laws to insure the necessary continuity of leadership should the President be disabled or die."  Bayh was elated - Johnson had the most impressive legislative credentials of any President in American history, and felt sure that impetus would make an amendment reality.

The resulting legislation was proposed in both houses of the 89th Congress within days of one another.  And as a symbolic gesture signifying the priority of the amendment, the legislation was numbered as "House Joint Resolution 1" and "Senate Joint Resolution 1," respectively.

Getting the Job Done - At Last

The original form of the Senate version, however, was seen as incomplete to its task, and as such the House and Senate worked out details in conference committee.  Their report, and the amendment, carried in the Senate by a 68-5 vote; and on April 13, 1965, the House joined the Senate in overwhelmingly passing the amendment, 368-29.  For the first time, an amendment clarifying presidential succession and disability was before state legislatures for their ratification.

The state legislatures in turn took remarkably little time in their ratification, realizing the amendment was long overdue.  Nebraska would be first on July 12, 1965, and by the end of that year 13 states were already on board.  At the end of 1966 that number had increased to 31.  And sensing that they had opportunity to be the 38th state necessary to make the amendment law, in early 1967 a flurry of state legislatures would ratify, capped by Minnesota and Nevada, who became the 37th and 38th states on February 10, 1967.

What many perceived as a serious flaw in the United States Constitution had, after 179 years, finally been corrected.  To commemorate the occasion, President Johnson staged a ceremony in the East Room of the White House on February 23, 1967, at which time General Services Administrator Lawson Knott officially certified that the 25th Amendment was now part of the United States Constitution, with its principal architect, Senator Birch Bayh, looking on.

Bayh would go on to serve three terms in the United States Senate, and would author another Constitutional amendment as well - the 26th, which lowered the national voting age requirement to 18 years.  And just as in 1962, as a 34 year old man he upset a nationally known three-term incumbent to win his seat, in 1980 he would be upset by a 33 year old man from Indiana, one whom a decade later would be considered as a potential Acting President when his ticket mate was diagnosed with Graves Disease... 44th Vice President of the United States James Danforth Quayle, III.

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