Why the US presidential order of succession is the way it is
Unless you’ve taken AP Government and Politics or AP Comparative Government—or unless you’ve binged-watched “Designated Survivor”—you may not know the full order of succession if a U.S. president dies in office. You may not care, either, but we live in an unpredictable world and the question of who runs the United States in the event of an unprecedented tragedy is a legitimate one.
We all know that the vice president takes over if the president kicks it, but after that, the order seems somewhat arbitrary. The speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives followed by the president pro tempore of the Senate and then all the Cabinet secretaries? And who decided what order the secretaries would go in?
One might assume that there was a solid, well-thought-out reason for the specific order of succession, but…well…no, not really. The order has been built over time through various incomplete acts and the 25th amendment, and as video creator CPG Grey points out, it’s mostly been a result of “historical happenstance.”
The entertaining-yet-informative video begins by explaining how the US presidency is the deadliest job in America, with eight out of 45 presidents so far dying while in office. (Four of natural causes and four via assassination, in case you’re wondering.) Then it explains the circumstances under which the office and/or the duties and powers of the presidency (which aren’t exactly the same thing) might be transferred from the president to another person.
Then we get into the nitty-gritty of who takes over in what order and the surprising lack of clarity about how the full succession system would work if it ever got tested. Ever heard of “bumping”? It’s a wild what-if scenario that turns the American presidency into a makeshift game of musical chairs, which is a little goofy and a little terrifying to think about.
The whole thing is quite a fascinating journey through American history. Watch CPG Grey’s explainer in “The Most Deadly Job in America”:
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