Geek Trivia: Failure or success(ion)

What is the only post ever to have been permanently removed from the U.S. presidential line of succession -- a position that was formerly part of the presidential Cabinet but has since been demoted?

What is the only post ever to have been permanently removed from the U.S. presidential line of succession -- a position that was formerly part of the presidential Cabinet but has since been demoted?

In 1971, the position of U.S. postmaster general was demoted from Cabinet status at the same time the Post Office Department was reorganized as the U.S. Postal Service. Prior to 1971, the Postmaster General was by law the last in line to assume the presidency, despite the fact that -- even though succession priority generally followed the order of creation for each Cabinet post -- the U.S. Post Office and its postmaster existed before the office of the president, the U.S. Constitution, or even the U.S. Declaration of Independence.

Despite its seniority -- and the fact that Benjamin Franklin was himself the first postmaster general of the United States -- the office of postmaster was not one held in high historical esteem. Frequently used as a patronage position, many of the post's occupants demonstrated little qualification for, or interest in, actually running the Post Office Department.

Thus, there was little outcry when the position was demoted to mere CEO of what is now the third largest employer in America (behind the U.S. Department of Defense and Wal-Mart, respectively), which operates as a separate and wholly owned division of the U.S. federal government's executive branch.

Besides, elimination of the postmaster general within the Cabinet was necessary to make way for the five positions that have cropped up since 1971.

  • 1977: U.S. secretary of energy
  • 1979: U.S. secretary of health and human services and U.S. secretary of education (Both posts were created simultaneously by the division of duties of the former secretary of health, education, and welfare.)
  • 1989: U.S. secretary of veterans affairs
  • 2002: U.S. secretary of homeland security

There are currently 12 Cabinet positions, any one of whom could be pulled aside prior to the next major American political function and told he or she is the designated survivor, placing the individual one disaster-movie moment away from the U.S. presidency -- and an unending term in Geek Trivia.

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