General Articles

Washington Memo

ERNEST K. LINDLEY November 1 1948
General Articles

Washington Memo

ERNEST K. LINDLEY November 1 1948

Washington Memo

ERNEST K. LINDLEY

ONE OF the peculiarities of the United States Constitution is the “interregnum,” to use the politicians’ word for the interval between the repudiation of a President at the polls and the inaugurat ion of a new President of opposing party.

Until recently inauguration day was March 4. Now, by constitutional amendment, it comes on Jan. 20, still leaving a gap of 10 or 11 weeks following election day. The old President holds office during this period, of course, but if he has been rejected at the polls lie cannot be expected to have much influence. A crisis, especially an international crisis, during this interval could find the United States Government unable to act.

In 1916, when President Woodrow Wilson ran for re-election he planned, if defeated, to turn over his office immediately to his opponent, Charles E. Hughes. He could do this by appointing Hughes Secretary of State, resigning from the presidency and bringing about the resignation also of the Vice-President. Foreign policy was to some extent an issue in tin* 1916 campaign. Our own relations with the belligerents on both sides were then ata delicate stage in another six months we were at war. Wilson felt, probably rightly, that if he were defeated foreign chancelleries would no longer heed him and that the interests of his country would be served better by the prompt installation of Hughes and a Republican cabinet than by four months of drift. Wilson’s intention was not publicized during the campaign and, as he was re-elected by a narrow margin, did not become known until years afterward.

Now, unless all the pre-election omens are wrong, we face another “interregnum.” As the law of succession has been changed, there is no way in which Truman could turn

the government over immediately to Dewey, even if he wanted to. Now the next in line after the Vice-President (which office has been vacant since Truman succeeded Roosevelt) is the Speaker of the House and after the Speaker comes the President Pro Tem of the Senate. The law could be changed at a special session of Congress of course, but that would take time, even if the present Congress could be persuaded to reverse its own previous and ostensibly considered judgment that a vacancy in the White House should be filled by an elected official instead of by one who merely has been appointed, as all cabinet members are.

Happily, the development of a bipartisan foreign policy has relieved the most serious danger inherent in the “interregnum.” Throughout the campaign, the State Department, with the approval of Truman, has gone to extreme lengths to forestall any disagreement or misunderstanding between the government and Dewey over our policies with regard to the Berlin difficulty and (o (fie Soviet Union and the United Nations generally. Dewey’s chief foreign policy advisers, John Foster Dulles and Senator Arthur II. Vandenberg, not only have been kept fully informed but have been consulted in advance of every important step. Dulles went with Secretary of State Marshall to the UN meeting in Paris. Arrangements were made for Dewey, even while roving the country on a campaign train, to receive direct, full and prompt radio communications from Dulles and the State Department.

Should critical decisions have to lie made between Nov. 2 and Jan. 20, which is altogether likely, the judgment of the winning presidential candidate should prevail. Even among men of the same general outlook on foreign policy, there can he sharp divergences of opinion as to specific steps, especially when the penalty for a misstep may be war. ★