same (3). Today: As a Constitutional Crisis. An ambiguous “same” pronoun once gave rise to a major constitutional question: whether John Tyler was in fact the tenth President of the United States. When President William Henry Harrison died on April 4, 1841, Article II of the Constitution read: “In case of the removal of the President from office, or of his death, resignation, or inability to discharge the powers and duties of the said office, the same shall devolve on the Vice-President. [U.S. Constitution, Art. II, § 1.]” There was some uncertainty whether “same” referred to “the powers and duties of the said office” or to “the said office” itself. (Note that an “it” or a “they” would have prevented the ambiguity.) For some time, senators debated whether Tyler — after being inaugurated on April 9 — had assumed the presidency or only the President’s powers (and continued as Vice President). Although Congress passed a resolution referring to Tyler as “the President of the United States,” one scholar more than a century later asserted that “constitutional historians are in unanimous agreement that the framers intended the Vice-President to act as President but not to be President” (Clinton Rossiter, The American Presidency 209 [2d ed. 1960]). But the conundrum was quite complex: in a thoughtful essay on the point, David P. Currie concludes that “it is inconceivable either that Tyler became President or that he did not; I see no satisfactory way out of the box” (“His Accidency,” 5 Green Bag [2d series] 151, 154 [2002]). Ultimately, it all hinged on the ambiguity of “same.” In 1967, the 25th Amendment remedied the ambiguity by providing that if the President dies, resigns, or is removed, “the Vice President shall become President” (U.S. Constitution, Amend. 25, § 1). If the President is disabled, the Vice President assumes the office’s powers and duties as “Acting President” as long as the disability continues (ibid. §§ 3, 4). Next: In Ill-Formed Phrases. For information about the Language-Change Index, click here. ——————– Quotation of the Day: “Modern memoirs . . . are generally written by people who have either lost their memories, or have never done anything worth remembering.” Oscar Wilde, “The Critic as Artist” (1890), in Oscar Wilde, Plays, Prose Writings, and Poems 1, 3 (1930).
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