Accidental Presidents

Accidental Presidents

by Jared Cohen

Overview: This New York Times bestselling “deep dive into the terms of eight former presidents is chock-full of political hijinks—and déjà vu” (Vanity Fair) and provides a fascinating look at the men who came to the office without being elected to it, showing how each affected the nation and world.

The strength and prestige of the American presidency has waxed and waned since George Washington. Eight men have succeeded to the presidency when the incumbent died in office. In one way or another they vastly changed our history. Only Theodore Roosevelt would have been elected in his own right. Only TR, Truman, Coolidge, and LBJ were re-elected.

John Tyler succeeded William Henry Harrison who died 30 days into his term. He was kicked out of his party and became the first president threatened with impeachment. Millard Fillmore succeeded esteemed General Zachary Taylor. He immediately sacked the entire cabinet and delayed an inevitable Civil War by standing with Henry Clay’s compromise of 1850. Andrew Johnson, who succeeded our greatest president, sided with remnants of the Confederacy in Reconstruction. Chester Arthur, the embodiment of the spoils system, was so reviled as James Garfield’s successor that he had to defend himself against plotting Garfield’s assassination; but he reformed the civil service. Theodore Roosevelt broke up the trusts. Calvin Coolidge silently cooled down the Harding scandals and preserved the White House for the Republican Herbert Hoover and the Great Depression. Harry Truman surprised everybody when he succeeded the great FDR and proved an able and accomplished president. Lyndon B. Johnson was named to deliver Texas electorally. He led the nation forward on Civil Rights but failed on Vietnam.

Accidental Presidents shows that “history unfolds in death as well as in life” (The Wall Street Journal) and adds immeasurably to our understanding of the power and limits of the American presidency in critical times.

Faith Bowers (06/29/19): I normally do not read non fiction but this was on a best sellers list and looked interesting. I thought Cohen did a great job writing about 16 Presidents and the combined histories were easy to read. These are Presidents who died in office and the Vice Presidents who take over.

There is less information on the earlier Presidents but that is when the precedent were set that the Vice President becomes the President and not just an acting President. John Tyler set this precedent. The 25th amendment where the Vice President actually is handed over the responsibilities for the president even if it just for a colonoscopy didn’t get written until the late 20th century.

Historically Vice Presidents are stuck in a high office with nothing to do. This was a common theme amongst the histories. I have always said that history repeats itself, even in our United Sates history of only 300 years. This book authenticates my statement.
Rating: ***

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