The Presidential order of succession

October 20, 2013

Former House Speaker Tom Foley (D-Wash.), who passed away on Friday at the age of 84, spent five and a half years as third in line for the presidency. That’s higher than any other Washingtonian has ever reached in the presidential line of succession (Full disclosure: Your author happens to be a proud Washingtonian).

That got us thinking: Who was the highest person in the presidential line of succession in each state? So we spent part of our Friday afternoon finding out.

Presidents have come from 19 states. Nine more states have sent vice presidents to the White House. But politicians from 19 other states and the District of Columbia haven’t been as lucky. And pity poor Montana, Nevada and South Dakota — they’ve never had anyone in the presidential line of succession.

Remember, the line of succession beyond the vice president was only established in 1947. So, for Cabinet secretaries, we started there: The top-ranking Cabinet official who served after 1947 got the nod.

Here’s how it looks on the map (The darkest blue is reserved for states from which a president hailed; the mid-range blue are vice presidential home states; the lightest blue had to settle for someone lower on the chain):


A reminder of the order of succession:

1. Vice President of the United States

2. Speaker of the House

3. President pro tempore of the Senate

4. Secretary of State

5. Secretary of the Treasury

6. Secretary of Defense

7. Attorney General

8. Secretary of the Interior

9. Secretary of Agriculture

10. Secretary of Labor

11. Secretary of Health and Human Services

12. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development

13. Secretary of Transportation

14. Secretary of Energy

15. Secretary of Education

16. Secretary of Veterans Affairs

17. Secretary of Homeland Security

And here are the highest-ranking officials from each state. For vice presidents, we started with the founding. For everyone else, we started at 1947:

(Update: Yes, we know some politicians were born in other states. But we’re giving credit to states from which those politicians were nominated for office. So, Kentucky residents, we’re giving Abraham Lincoln to Illinois because that’s how he was nominated for president in 1860.)

Alabama: Vice President William King

Alaska: Senate President Pro Tem Ted Stevens

Arizona: Senate President Pro Tem Carl Hayden

Arkansas: President Bill Clinton

California: Presidents Hoover, Nixon and Reagan

Colorado: Secretaries of the Interior Oscar Chapman, James Watt, Gale Norton and Ken Salazar

Connecticut: Secretaries of State Dean Acheson and Alexander Haig

Delaware: Vice President Joe Biden

District of Columbia: Attorney General Eric Holder*

Florida: Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger

Georgia: President Jimmy Carter

Hawaii: Senate President Pro Tem Daniel Inouye

Idaho: Secretaries of the Interior Cecil Andrus and Dirk Kempthorne

Illinois: Presidents Lincoln and Obama

Indiana: President Benjamin Harrison

Iowa: Vice President Henry Wallace

Kansas: President Dwight Eisenhower

Kentucky: Vice Presidents Richard Johnson and Alben Barkley

Louisiana: President Zachary Taylor

Maine: Vice President Hannibal Hamlin

Maryland: Vice President Spiro Agnew

Massachusetts: Presidents Adams, Quincy Adams, Coolidge and Kennedy

Michigan: President Gerald Ford

Minnesota: Vice Presidents Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale

Mississippi: Senate Presidents Pro Tem James Eastland and John Stennis

Missouri: President Harry Truman

Montana: none

Nebraska: Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel

Nevada: none

New Hampshire: President Franklin Pierce

New Jersey: President Woodrow Wilson

New Mexico: Secretary of the Interior Manuel Lujan

New York: Presidents Van Buren, Fillmore, Arthur, Cleveland, Teddy Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt

North Carolina: Presidents Polk and Andrew Johnson

North Dakota: Senate President Pro Tem Milton Young**

Ohio: Presidents William Henry Harrison, Grant, Hayes, Garfield, McKinley, Taft and Harding

Oklahoma: House Speaker Carl Albert

Oregon: Secretary of the Interior Douglas McKay

Pennsylvania: President James Buchanan

Rhode Island: Secretary of the Treasury William Miller

South Carolina: Vice President John Calhoun

South Dakota: none

Tennessee: President Andrew Jackson

Texas: Presidents Lyndon Johnson, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush

Utah: Secretary of the Treasury David Kennedy

Vermont: Senate President Pro Tem Patrick Leahy

Virginia: Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe and Tyler

Washington: House Speaker Tom Foley

West Virginia: Senate President Pro Tem Robert Byrd

Wisconsin: Secretaries of Defense Melvin Laird and Les Aspin

Wyoming: Vice President Dick Cheney

* – Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and Madeleine Albright would have ranked higher than Holder, but they were both born outside the United States, making them ineligible to serve as president.

** – Young served as Senate President pro tem for only a single day. If we don’t count Young, North Dakota’s next highest-ranking official would have been Secretary of Defense Thomas Kleppe.

Reid Wilson covers state politics and policy for the Washington Post's GovBeat blog. He's a former editor in chief of The Hotline, the premier tip sheet on campaigns and elections, and he's a complete political junkie.
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