What if the Presidency devolves on someone who doesn't want it?

Presumably, every President so far has wanted to be President. But suppose there’s a Vice President who definitely likes being behind the scenes and doesn’t want the job if the President dies, for example.

Does the Constitution allow a successor to pass the job along to the next in line?

Anyone can resign. Nixon did, for example. If the VP became president and didn’t want the job, he’d just quit.

What InvisibleWombat said. But a successor need not first take office as President, and then resign. He or she can simply refuse the office altogether by means of “an instrument in writing, declaring the same, and subscribed by the person refusing to accept or resigning, as the case may be, and delivered into the office of the Secretary of State.” 3 U.S.C. § 20. This issue was a significant plot device in The Man by Irving Wallace: the ailing vice president refuses the Presidency, resulting in succession by the Senate president pro tem, who thereby becomes the first African American president.

Just out of curiousity, why didn’t the Speaker of the House take the job? He’s next in line after the VP. Perhpas not 35 years of age (not likely) or not a natural born citizen of the U.S. (more likely).

In the book, the Speakership was vacant, the speaker having died in the same accident that killed the president.

This is a bit of a hijack, but this thread reminds me of a worry I had when I was a child. That was during the Vietnam war, and so the draft was on everyone’s mind. At the same time, I was first hearing about the NFL draft. As someone who disliked sports, I got the two ideas mixed up, and one thought went through my mind:

“What if you’re drafted into the NFL, but you don’t WANT to play football? Can they force you?”


What if there’s a very bad situation and no one wants to be President? Could there be resignation en masse – the whole cabinet resigning at once, say – until they eventually get to the one person who will dare to take the job? Also, if the instrument of resignation has to be delivered to the Secretary of State, what if that position is empty?

I can’t picture EVERYONE in the State Department resigning over something. That’s a lot of people. Besides the President could just point to some clerk and say “Hey, want a recess appointment as Secretary of State? Looks good on your resume!”

Think of the Saturday night massacre during the Nixon Administration. The AG and the Assistant AG both resigned rather than fire Archibald Cox. So Nixon went to the next guy in line, Solicitor General Robert Bork, who executed the president’s wishes, mainly because he didn’t believe he had any other choice.

“I don’t wanna be president! You be president!”
“I’m not gonna be president!”
“Let’s get Mikey!”

The statute doesn’t say “delivered to the Secretary of State.” It says “delivered into the office of the Secretary of State.” The office is there even when the secretaryship is vacant.

“Hey, he likes it! He likes being President!”

"Dear Secretary of State,

Anybody tries to make me President, I will kick their ass.

Have a nice day."