President pro tempore of the United States Senate

From Academic Kids

Ted Stevens, the current President pro tempore of the United States Senate.
Ted Stevens, the current President pro tempore of the United States Senate.

The United States Senate, according to the United States Constitution, (Article I), is required to choose a President pro tempore (or, "president for a time," often shortened to President pro tem), who presides over the Senate in the absence of the Vice President. Because of the smaller size of the Senate and because Senate rules of procedure give more power to individual senators, the President pro tem is not a powerful position especially in comparison to the Speaker of the House of Representatives or even the party leaders of the Senate. As of 2005, the current President pro tempore of the Senate is Ted Stevens of Alaska.


Power and responsibilities

The President pro tempore is a constitutionally mandated office of the Senate. Although in some ways equivalent to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the powers of the President pro tempore are far more limited. In the Senate, most power rests with party leaders and individual senators. The President pro tempore represents the Senate at formal events and, in the absence of the Vice President, presides over the Senate and, with the Speaker of the House, over joint sessions of Congress. Due to the high visibility of joint sessions, they are one of very few instances in modern times where the Vice President does make an effort to attend and preside, so Presidents pro tempore rarely have the opportunity to preside at a joint session.

The President pro tempore, together with the Speaker of the House, is the authority to which declarations of presidential inability are transmitted in accordance with the 25th Amendment to the Constitution.

The President pro tempore is third in the line of presidential succession, following the Vice President and the Speaker of the House.


Originally, the President pro tempore was appointed on a daily or weekly basis when the Vice President of the United States was not present to preside over the Senate. Until the 1960s, it was common practice for the Vice President to preside over daily Senate sessions, so the President pro tempore rarely presided over the Senate unless the Vice Presidency became vacant.

Until 1891, the President pro tempore only served until the return of the Vice President to the chair or the adjournment of a session of Congress. Between 1792 and 1886, the President pro tempore was second in the line of presidential succession following the Vice President and preceding the Speaker of the House of Representatives. The President pro tempore and the Speaker were removed from succession in 1886, but were restored in 1947. This time, however, the President pro tempore followed the Speaker.

In the early years, the President pro tempore was usually a senator noted for his skill at parliamentary procedure. Over the years, however, the office became less work-a-day and more ceremonial; gradually, it became the custom for it to be given to a senior senator. Since the 1940s it has been the invariable rule that the most senior senator of the majority party holds the office.

The President pro tempore, just like the Vice President, over time has ceased presiding over the Senate on a daily basis, notably due to its lack of power or glamour. More importantly, since the President pro tempore is now usually the most senior senator of the majority party, he or she most likely also chairs a major Senate committee, along with performing other duties related to seniority. Therefore, the President pro tempore has less time now than in the past to preside daily over the Senate. Instead, junior senators of the majority party are designated acting president pro tempore to preside over the Senate on a daily basis. This allows junior senators to learn proper parliamentary procedure.

Presidents pro tempore of the United States Senate


1st Congress (1789-1791)

2nd Congress (1791-1793)

3rd Congress (1793-1795)

4th Congress (1795-1797)

5th Congress (1797-1799)

6th Congress (1799-1801)

7th Congress (1801-1803)

8th Congress (1803-1805)

9th Congress (1805-1807)

10th Congress (1807-1809)

11th Congress (1809-1811)

12th Congress (1811-1813)

13th Congress (1813-1815)

14th Congress (1815-1817)

15th Congress (1817-1819)

16th Congress (1819-1821)

17th Congress (1821-1823)

18th Congress (1823-1825)

19th Congress (1825-1827)

20th Congress (1827-1829)

21st Congress (1829-1831)

22nd Congress (1831-1833)

23rd Congress (1833-1835)

24th Congress (1835-1837)

25th Congress (1837-1839)

26th Congress (1839-1841)


27th Congress (1841-1843)

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38th Congress (1863-1865)

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46th Congress (1879-1881)

47th Congress (1881-1883)

48th Congress (1883-1885)

49th Congress (1885-1887)

50th Congress (1887-1889)

51st Congress (1889-1891)


At this point, it was decided that presidents pro tempore should serve until a new one was elected. They were as follows:

Upon Frye's death, it proved difficult to elect a successor. For the remainder of the 62nd Congress (1911-1913), the position alternated among:

In the next Congress, the selection process returned to as it had been since 1891:


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