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I was reading the Wikipedia article on the 25th Amendment when I came across this confusing paragraph (I bolded the sections of interest):

Fielding and White House Chief of Staff Donald Regan recommended that Reagan transfer power and two letters doing so were drafted: the first letter specifically invoked Section 3 of the Twenty-fifth Amendment; the second only mentioned that Reagan was mindful of this provision. At 10:32 a.m. on July 13, Reagan signed the second letter and ordered its delivery to the appropriate officers as required under the amendment. Vice President George H. W. Bush was Acting President from 11:28 a.m. until 7:22 p.m., when Reagan transmitted a second letter to resume the powers and duties of the office. It is the longest "term" as Acting President and makes George H.W. Bush the person to serve as Acting President for the longest cumulative time.

  1. Is that the second or the third letter? A "second" letter was already ordered at 10:32 a.m. to be delivered, so how could this "second" letter be transmitted at 7:22 p.m.? Are they talking about the same letter?
  2. Is that really the longest term of an Acting President? What happened, when, say, Lincoln was assassinated?
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    Unlike what's been shown in a recent movie Lincoln never recovered after the shooting... – JonathanReez Sep 1 '17 at 12:38
  • I think this is a case of 'wikipedia isn't always a reliable source of information' and there is some typos or mistakes in the group editing. – David Grinberg Sep 1 '17 at 13:51
  • I believe the term "longest acting" is meant to be specific to someone who was a temporarily in that role and ceded those powers back to the original president to resume. Someone who was initially acting and then continued as the acting President isn't what they are after here. But that's more a matter of very sloppy language (throughout the article, as noted in answers) on their part, not any comprehension shortcomings on yours. – PoloHoleSet Sep 1 '17 at 16:14
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Vice President George H. W. Bush was Acting President from 11:28 a.m. until 7:22 p.m., when Reagan transmitted a second letter to resume the powers and duties of the office.

You are correct. This is a third letter. Two were prepared previously and one was thrown away. This sentence would make more sense if it read "another" or "a followup" rather than "a second" letter. This is confusing rather than incorrect though. It was the second letter that was actually sent, although it was the third prepared. That's evident just from the section that you posted.

Is that really the longest term of an Acting President? What happened, when, say, Lincoln was assassinated?

Prior to the twenty-fifth amendment, which was ratified on February 10th of 1967, there was no acting president. John Tyler set the precedent in that. There was an argument that he was acting president after William Henry Harrison died. Tyler insisted that he was actually president. Subsequently Tyler's view was confirmed. So until 1967, there was no such thing as an acting president.

Specifically with Abraham Lincoln, Lincoln was president. Then he was shot. Then he died. Then Andrew Johnson took the oath of office. Then Johnson was president. So there was never an acting president term. Lincoln was president until he wasn't. If he had lingered in a coma, Johnson might have been effectively president. Or not. That's why the 25th amendment exists, to avoid these ambiguous situations. So people wouldn't have felt a need to hold out for a Lincoln recovery in that hypothetical situation.

In 1985, George H. W. Bush became the first acting president ever, for more than seven hours. Since then, Dick Cheney became acting president twice. Both times, George W. Bush had no complications and resumed his duties in less than three hours.

Presumably the second Bush was only invoking as a precaution. If something happened and he was not able to resume duties, the cabinet would not have needed to invoke section 4 to note his incapacitation. He could have gone straight to surgery, confident that things were being handled. Note that Reagan had to invoke after the same procedure. So if Bush had followed Reagan's precedent, he wouldn't have invoked at all.

George H. W. Bush is one of only two acting presidents for three terms between them. Of those three instances, Bush's term was the longest by more than five hours.

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