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I have a question about the 38th US president Gerald Rudolph Ford.

Ford is the only person to become U.S. president without winning an election for president or vice president.

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I told my father that Ford was the only person who became US president without receiving a single vote from voters or electors. My father, who is a historian, asked: “What about assassinated presidents?"

I realized that, in case of the assassination of the president, the US vice president takes the murdered president's office automatically. Thus, in 1963 JFK was killed; LBJ was vice president at that time; and so LBJ took JFK's place. This means that LBJ became president with no voting.

Is Wikipedia wrong?

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    I think you need to read the quoted sentence again..."without winning an election for president or vice president." LBJ was elected as vice president on the ticket with Kennedy.
    – Steve Bird
    May 22, 2023 at 20:08
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    Thanks. Understood. And Ford? Why didn't he win the vice president ticket when Nixon became president in January 1969? Must be some kind of strange reason... P.S. Sorry, I had to read JayFor's answer more carefully. It's 1973, resignation of Spiro Agnew.
    – Alexander
    May 22, 2023 at 22:04
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    @Alexander The (rather unkind, but possibly accurate) assessment at the time was that Nixon was looking for someone for VP who would make Congress unwilling to impeach him (Nixon) for fear of getting something worse. (Agnew met this requirement; Ford was widely respected.) It didn't work and after Agnew resigned ahead of near-certain removal, many felt that Nixon picked Ford in hopes of him keeping Nixon afloat. (That didn't work either.)
    – Mark Olson
    May 23, 2023 at 0:33
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    This question could be improved by editing out a lot of the OP's personal psychology and focusing more on the question at hand. May 23, 2023 at 7:11
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    @WS2 Sure. He was approved by Congress.
    – Mark Olson
    May 23, 2023 at 14:07

2 Answers 2

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Wikipedia is correct in that Ford is the only US President that was never elected to either the Presidency or the Vice Presidency:

All the other men that have succeeded to the US Presidency have at least been elected Vice President (and several of them went on to be elected President in their own right):

So poor Gerald Ford is distinguished as the only President never to win any kind of Presidential election (although he was elected as a Representative before becoming Vice President).

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    Correct. Unlike Fillmore et al, Ford was renominated, although he came close to losing the nomination to Reagan.
    – Ne Mo
    May 23, 2023 at 12:03
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    Was there a necessary house or senate vote to approve Ford's nomination as VP? May 23, 2023 at 18:59
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    @chux-ReinstateMonica: Wikipedia says "The United States Senate voted 92 to 3 to confirm Ford on November 27 [1973]. On December 6, the House confirmed Ford by a vote of 387 to 35. After the confirmation vote in the House, Ford took the oath of office as vice president." This is in line with Section 2 of the Twenty-fifth Amendment
    – Henry
    May 23, 2023 at 19:02
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    @Henry Thanks, so not a national populace election, but a VP confirmation by Congress. May 23, 2023 at 19:05
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    Gerald Ford is also the only president to have fallen down the steps of Airforce One. May 23, 2023 at 23:00
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Unless you want to count David Rice Atchison (which you probably shouldn't), or the fictional Glen Allen Walken played by John Goodman on The West Wing, then yes, Ford is the only one.

Theoretically, a third person can become President if both offices become vacant. This has never happened. Well, except possibly once in 1849. Some people claim that Atchison (president pro tempore of the Senate at the time) was technically President for 24 hours across March 4-5. Most scholars dismiss this.

Absent that, in order for someone not elected President or Vice-President to become President, three things have to happen in a four-year span:

  • The office of Vice-president has to become vacant, either because the VP died, or resigned, or succeeded to President because the President died or resigned. This has happened 14 times through American history.

  • The President has to appoint someone to fill the vacancy, and Congress has to confirm this person.

  • Finally, the President has to leave office and the replacement Vice-President has to succeed.

It's that second bullet that's the kicker.

Before the 25th Amendment was ratified in 1968, there was no provision for filling a Vice-Presidential vacancy. The Constitution gives Congress the power to enact legislation to determine the succession order, and it has done this three times: in 1792, in 1886, and in 1947. Each time, however, the statute only provided for what happened when both offices were empty. The 25th Amendment, however, gave the President the power to appoint a new Vice-President, with Congressional confirmation. And the (unamended) Constitution does not provide for filling a vacancy.

Since 1968, this has happened only twice:

  • Nixon appointed Ford after Agnew resigned.
  • Ford appointed Nelson Rockefeller after succeeding to the Presidency. Both served out their term (Ford lost the 1976 election). All Presidents and Vice-Presidents since then have served out their terms.

Congress may by Law provide for the Case of Removal, Death, Resignation or Inability, both of the President and Vice President, declaring what Officer shall then act as President, and such Officer shall act accordingly, until the Disability be removed, or a President shall be elected.

United States Constitution, Article II, Section I

And be it further enacted, That in case of removal, death, resignation or inability both of the President and Vice President of the United States, the President of the Senate pro tempore, and in case there shali be no President of the Senate, then the Speaker of the House of Representatives, for the time being shall act as President of the United States until the disability be removed or a President shall be elected. SEC. 10. And be it further enacted, That whenever the offices of President and Vice President shall both become vacant, the Secretary of State shall forthwith cause a notification thereof to be made to the executive of every state, and shall also cause the same to be published in at least one of the newspapers printed in each state, specifying that electors of the President of the United States shall be appointed or chosen in'the several states within thirty-four days preceding the first Wednesday in December then next ensuing....

Presidential Succession Act, 1792

That in case of removal, death, President and resignation, or inability of both the President and Vice-President of Vice-President. the United States, the Secretary of State, or if there be none,or in case of his removal, death, resignation, or inability, then the Secretary of the Treasury, or if...

Presidential Succession Act, 1886

if, by reason of death, resignation removal from office, inability, or failure to qualify, there is neither a President nor Vice President to discharge the powers and duties of the office of President, then the Speaker of the House of Representatives shall, upon his resignation as Speaker and as Representative in Congress, act as President....

Presidential Succession Act, 1947

Whenever there is a vacancy in the office of the Vice President, the President shall nominate a Vice President who shall take office upon confirmation by a majority vote of both Houses of Congress.

Twenty-Fifth Amendment, section 2

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