Culture and Society

How have constitutional amendments altered the U.S. vice presidency?
Answered by Discovery Channel
  • Discovery Channel

    Discovery Channel

  1. Originally, the Constitution required each state elector to cast two ballots for president, at least one of which had to be for a candidate who was not from the elector's home state. This was intended to ensure that the president-elect would be someone of national prominence, known and appreciated outside his own state. The presidential contender who won the most votes became the U.S. president, while the runner-up became the vice president. It became clear that this process was ineffective during the 1800 election, when presidential candidates Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr received an equal number of votes. The decision went to the House of Representatives, as required by the Constitution, and the members of the House also gave the candidates equal votes -- 35 times in a row! Eventually, Jefferson was declared president, but this experience led to a change in the law. In 1804, Congress instituted the constitution's 12th Amendment. In accordance with this amendment, state electors began to cast separate ballots for president and vice president.

    The 25th Amendment, passed in 1967, states that if the president becomes incapacitated, the vice president becomes acting president until the president is capable of resuming his or her position. Ronald Reagan is the only president to have formally passed authority to his deputy in this way, which he did while he was undergoing cancer treatments. The vice president may also announce (independently) the president's inability to fill his or her office. In this case, the vice president's claim must be supported by a majority of Cabinet members. The vice president can even block the president's return to office with the support of a Cabinet majority. If this were to occur, the former president could challenge the decision, and a two-thirds vote by Congress could oust the acting president and restore the former president. Such a power grab has never been attempted.

    Also under the 25th Amendment, if the vice president resigns or dies, or if the vice president becomes president (for instance, following the president's death), then the president may choose a new vice president. The House and the Senate must confirm the appointment. This scenario occurred, for example, when President Ford -- himself a former vice president, who became president when Richard Nixon resigned -- nominated Nelson Rockefeller to be his vice president in 1974. Previous to 1967, on 17 occasions the position of vice president became empty and remained unfilled until the next election, which was sometimes as many as three years later.

    And can anyone be vice president? Not quite. The basic constitutional requirements for vice presidential candidates are the same as for presidential contenders. To stand for election to the vice presidency, a candidate must meet the following criteria:

    • He or she must be at least 35 years old.
    • He or she must have been born in the United States, or on U.S. soil in another country.
    • He or she must have lived at least 14 years of his or her life within the United States.


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