Accidental Leaders: How Eight U.S. Vice Presidents Changed History


Podcast is brought to you by knowledge award. There have been eight times in American history when the president has died in office, and the vice president has taken over these were men who are not elected to be head of the country, and in some cases weren't even the first choice of their own party. But yet they vastly changed US history. The men included John Tyler Millard, Fillmore, Andrew Johnson, Chester a Arthur Theodore Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, Harry Truman, and Lyndon B Johnson, a new book looks at what these men accomplish. And why half of them were actually reelected. The book is titled accidents presidents. Eight men who changed America. It's written by Jared cone CEO of jigsaw at alphabet. Cohen also spent five years as a member of the secretary of state's policy planning staff, and was a close advisor to both Condoleeza Rice and Hillary Rodham Clinton. Jared pleasure to have you with us today. Thank you for having me. Thank you. I have to ask it the top in looking at all these examples one that came. Mind. That was not included. Was Richard Nixon, and Gerald Ford. Yes, I debated this. When I when I went out to start writing the book, and what I concluded is the thing that was most interesting. And most compelling was the unexpected and abrupt transfer of power. If you look at the Nixon Ford transition, the transition didn't happen, upon the death of the president, it was sort of drawn out, it was it was related to scandal, and resignation and it's abrupt dramatic unexpected death in office that throws the country into a tailspin and abruptly elevates, a man, nobody thought was going to be president, the case afford so long as the Watergate hearings were happening in the lead up to people began to experience the idea and get used to the idea that Ford might become president. So as I mentioned, the top four these gentlemen, that you write about the book actually were re elected, so we have some examples here of vice president who became president who did a very. Good job. But also, you have examples of ones that didn't have a great time as the as the executive. That's correct. And I think what I'm struck by, in writing this book is how we basically wing two presidential. Succession, you don't have the twenty fifth amendment formalizing the fact that the vice president becomes president when their predecessor dies office until after JFK is assassinated. And so you get these men who are thrust in power who were thrown on the ticket, either as punishment in the case of teddy Roosevelt, or because they were the available man in the case of Millard Fillmore, but in each infants they rose to the pinnacle of power some of the most seminal moments in our history. So let's take, you know, ABRAHAM LINCOLN ABRAHAM LINCOLN is absent towards the tail end of the civil war, and we're supposed to get his vision for reconstruction, instead, the bullet of John, Wilkes, booth gives us Andrew Johnson. The last president owns waves who instead of following Lincoln's path ends up resurrecting many elements of the confederacy, we're joined on the phone by Jerry code who is the author of the book access. Dental presidents your comments are welcome at eight four four Warton, eight four four nine four two seven eight six six or if you'd like to comment on Twitter at biz radio one thirty two or my Twitter account, which is at Dan loan, yellow any y Twenty-one. What was the what was the impetus for wanting to do a book like this, because it's interesting when you role as CEO of jigsaw. It sounds like American history is very much an interest of yours when I was eight years old. My parents bought me children's book about the president's and when you're an eight year old and you're reading a book about the president's it's supposed to be innocent experience. But I v in on the eight instances, where president died, and my poor parents had to have conversations about death and assassination, and I never quite let it go. So when my wife was pregnant with our eldest daughter, I needed a nesting activity and decided after a life of reading biographies related to these abrupt transfers empower and collecting presidential memorabilia, including locks of presidential presidential hair, which is weird really? I decided this was going to be my nesting activity, and there's something nice about being CEO of, of an organization in an industry focus in Tirlian on the future, and spending my down time, reading about John Tyler Millard, Fillmore teddy Roosevelt, Alvin caused. It's very therapeutic and good for the soul. Who was of these eight men, who do you think was was probably the most accidental of the accidental presidents? Well, John Tyler certainly was the most accidental because the framers hadn't thought much about the vice presidency and didn't really want one in the first place. The vice president was added at the last minute as an electoral mechanism and William Henry Harrison dies after just thirty days in office. John Tyler has to race back from Virginia, because there's a debate that ensues with the cabinet the that he inherited about whether he's the president or the acting president. Yes. To spend his first month in office debating with congress, why he's not acting president. He ends up setting oppressive. That was followed seven more times, including all the way up to LBJ LBJ becomes president based on the precedent set by John Tyler in eighteen forty one and it ends up disastrous Tyler who's not really a wig. But it's thrown on the ticket to win Virginia, which they lost and give a nod states. Right. As ends up getting kicked out of the party. And in a moment of political rage animosity decides to annex, Texas and precipitate war with Mexico, Harry Truman. Probably the, the most predictable of this group of because of, of the illness issues that are had Harry Truman was both the most predictable, and in many respects the most ill prepared for the moment. And when you read about FDR and Harry Truman, it's endlessly frustrating because Truman during his eighty two days as vice president remember, he's thrown onto the ticket, because the party bosses no FDR is going to die, and they can't fathom the idea of Henry Wallace, who seen as Soviet sympathizer and ultra liberal liberal ending up as. Resident Truman during his eighty two days as president, he meets FDR twice doesn't get a single intelligence briefing, doesn't mean a single foreign leader. Isn't briefed on the Manhattan project isn't read into the war. And then he wakes up on April twelfth nineteen forty five five himself as president at the height of the war in the Pacific. You know, he's trying to figure out how to engage Churchill Stalin's reneging on every one of his promises from y'all to and yet Truman ends up being remarkable success. Yes. To make more seminal decisions, and it's I four months in office and probably any president who came before him, one of the big seems in the book and surrounds, the twenty fifth amendment, which is obviously getting some conversation right now as well. But this goes back in time to the days of, of LBJ JFK. And obviously this assoiation president Kennedy and take us into it for a second. The importance you'd think that the twenty fifth amendment has really had potentially for the presidency if it is needed to be in VO. Act which it has been a couple of times in, in recent years for when presidents have gotten sick. So with the mazing is the twenty fifth amendment gets passed at the end of LBJ's administration. And the first time it gets put into motion is, is actually not that the president the vice president Wednesday or two yak new resigns office. You know, Richard Nixon uses the twenty fifth amendment to replace him with Gerald Ford, and essentially pluck him from Michigan's fifth district. What what's fascinating is of the eight accidental presidents six of the vice presidents who ascended nearly died in office themselves. And yet, there was no provision of replacing the vice president of United States until the twenty fifth amendment. This, this sustained constitutional vulnerability that we left ourselves exposed to for most of the history of the Republic. The time of the twenty fifth amendment should have really been put in place was when Reagan was shot when Reagan was shot in eighty one the cabinet. A decision that, you know, it was a dangerous precedent for them to set to decide that Reagan was disabled. And so they chose not to vote the twenty fifth amendment. That's how you get the kind of elite type moments what's interesting is the twenty fifth amendment has only been exercised in terms of presidential disability for colon Oskoui's literally yet see an instance of the twenty fifth amendment being vote to temporarily discharge the duties of president or the vice president for any instance, other than a colonoscopy, George. George W Bush was one, and I believe President Reagan as well. Correct. Yes, that's correct. We're joined by Jerry Cohen, who's the author of the book, accidental president, your comments, welcome at eight four four Wharton. Eight four four nine four two seven eight six six or if you like Senator comment via Twitter either at biz radio one thirty two or my Twitter account, which is at Dan Loney, Twenty-one, I guess when you look at all of these different examples, the JFK LBJ one is probably one of the most talked about and, and remembered. Because of its timing, and also because of the fact that it was really in the starting to be in the TV agent in, you know, being able to see the video of what occurred. But then you also have to go back to Lincoln because of how that played out the nation by John Wilkes booth, and then also his successor, Andrew Johnson. So when I interviewed Jesse Jackson for the book, he said that when he learned of JFK's assassination, he felt like it was double facination won the president of the United States into civil rights people expected LBJ to be eight disaster for the civil rights movement, and what proved to be true with that the Kennedys were prepared to pay lip service to civil rights. They weren't really willing to back it up with real action. Particularly not in the lead up to the nineteen sixty four election. So I do believe that my write about this in the book that had Kennedy. Not had Kennedy survived. I think it's very unlikely you would have had the nineteen sixty four Civil Rights Act. You know, I also think that we overstate. Late. This idea that Kennedy wouldn't have gone down the same slippery slope in Vietnam, that LBJ did, I think that, that's largely architect by the guardians of Kennedy's reputation. If you look at the history of succession in, in this country, we look at the assassination of JFK as sort of, you know, incredibly dramatic moment in history because it's the most recent and it's also something that played out on television. But when you dig into the impact that assassination had at other times in our history Lincoln Garfield McKinley. There was a similarly dramatic impact and sustained period of mourning that ensued, and we just have forgotten, what that's like we're in the longest period of time without a president dying in office. How do you believe that, that Andrew Johnson should be remembered in his term, you know, following Lincoln? So Andrew Johnson proved to be the biggest disaster of all of the accidental presidents. And when we look at how we wind presidential succession throughout history, we got more or less pretty lucky navigating through except for the Andrew Jackson. They enter Johnson moment. And it was a moment of great significance. Johnson was put on the ticket eighteen sixty four because at the time he was the only southern Senator who had stayed loyal to the union. He wanted to put the union back together so badly that his rhetoric on civil rights and punishment of traitors was even more forward leaning than Lincoln. But once the racist, always racist, and when the civil war, ended Andrew Johnson. Remember he was the last president to own slaves. Andrew Johnson, the his true color showed, and he ended up, you know, giving amnesty almost everybody delegating civil rights to the states. It pave the way for the black codes, which are the precursor. The Jim crow laws and the interesting thing about Andrew Johnson, a an amazing story that you people know, he was completely neabry aided when delivering his oath of office as president, and he basically stood up there. Completely hammered insulting every single person. There Lincoln's hands are headed buried in his hands. He can't remember the name of certain members of the cabinet he slobber all over the bible with, like drooling kiss. And then Lincoln to reduce the awkwardness when they go outside points out Federick Douglas at the time is the most famous ex wave in the country and Frederick, Douglass, writes in his autobiography that I looked at the glare and that man's eyes and I knew that he was no friend of my race. And what Frederick Douglas didn't realize the glare and his eyes that he was completely hammered. The conclusion was corrected. Andrew Johnson was no friend of his race. But then he gets put into office after Lincoln says the nation and I would imagine, you know, he had to he's he has to be taken aback by the first by the fact that he. Was in there because of the fact that, that these assoiation Lincoln was, was so shocking to so many people, and as you lay out, he did not have a great time as the leader of the United States. One of the things I point out in dental president is that in an era, so you look today in a narrow social media. The vice president would immediately that their president on in case of Andrew Johnson. Yeah, the knock comes on his door, and he's supposed to be assassinated that night as well except Georgetta rod, who was his would be fastened. Got drunk at a nearby tavern? So enter Johnson goes to the Peterson home where ABRAHAM LINCOLN is, is essentially on his deathbed and everybody. There knows Andrew Johnson is going to be president of the United States because everybody knows Lincoln is dying, but he's asked to leave the room because he's making Mary Todd Lincoln uncomfortable. Right. Then when he takes the oath, the next day, Mary Todd Lincoln refuses to leave the White House for many weeks. She auctioned off most of the items in the White House, and then a week later, Andrew Johnson ends up. You know, so. Incredibly ill that he ends up more or less on a deathbed, and they notify the president pro temporary who's out west man name lobbying foster, and, and tell him that he needs to rush back to Washington, because enter Johnson might die. We're joined on the phone by Jerry Cohn, who's the CEO of jigsaw at alphabet. He is the author of the book, accidental presidents here on Sirius XM one thirty two business radio. Powered by the word school, then, oh, of all of these gentlemen, is there one that is kind of maybe more under the radar. That is a least talked about accidental president. I think the one that's most interesting at least talked about and relevant for today, Calvin Coolidge. Because if you look back at history of the most scandalous administration, I in the history of Republic was the war, and hurting administration, you had teapot dome, you had a massive scandal at the veterans bureau, the attorney general was complicit in everything from fight fixing stock manipulation bootlegging and various other shady, activities, and warrant hurting dies out west an incredibly popular man, but the scandals in his administration or a ticking time bomb that threatens to destroy the Republican party and his administration, Calvin Coolidge ascends to the presidency. He finds out about all the scandals a couple of weeks into the presidency, you have less than a year before the nineteen twenty four election and the scandal break three months later, so Calvin Coolidge, does something, very clever, which is he cultivates an image of himself, so boring so relevant. You know what's called silent cow that I couldn't have possibly been involved in any of this. And what's interesting is, whether he did that or not. And he sailed to victory in nineteen twenty four the economy was booming to such an extent in the nineteen twenties that I don't think that Americans cared. If it was Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover in the early years, whether there were scandals, whether it was clean as long as the good times, we're rolling in and the roaring twenties continued, I think the lesson for today is that the economy Trump's gamble Chester a Arthur, succeeded Garfield, and he was thought I guess that he was not going to have a great presidency. But apparently, I guess he did okay because of the, the understanding that he had of Garfield 's kind of path that he wanted to take the country, correct? So you have never seen a bigger one eighty turn around in the history of the Republic, and the turnaround of Chester Arthur after he ascended to the presidency. James Garfield was the only man ever. To get the nomination for his party and win the presidency without seeking in the first place, basically, when the party bosses got frustrated between debate over USA's grant, and James. Blaine Garfield name was thrown into the hat, and he ended up as the nominee against his. Well, he's one of the most beloved men in the country by both parties by all sections by all races. And then he shot by an insane office seeker four months into his presidency Chester Arthur was a machine politician, who was so vain that he changed the year of his birth to see younger head spent his entire time as by president undermining Garfield. I mean he literally cared more about patronage in New York than he did his own administration, and forwarded it every at every step, there's a scene where where we're Chester Arthur, and machine boss. Vasco conquering barge into president-elect Garfield room at one in the morning on the eve of his inaugural address to kind of intellectually rough him up. But when Garfield is this acid? Dated Arthur has to more or less go into hiding for a month and some change because people are blaming him for the nation since the assassin plan to do it on behalf of Arthur, and then something amazing happened since we like to talk about trolling, and trolling as it relates to the president today. Arthur's impacted by the very first average citizen to troll. The president and get a reaction that woman named Julius, and who lived on the upper east side of in Hatton wrote him, these long, you know, you know, balti- page letters telling him what a despicable man, he was. But they were still hope for him comparing him to some of the worst characters in the court of Henry the eighth. And we know that these letters had an impact on Chester Arthur because one day he showed up in his presidential carriage outside of her townhouse on the upper east side have been Hatton, and came in and spend some time with her. How do you put where are should say? Where do you put teddy Roosevelt in this mix? I think that teddy road. So teddy Roosevelt is the only one of the accidental president who almost certainly would have ended up as president himself, LBJ was certainly qualified. He waited too long to, to join the nineteen sixty campaign teddy Roosevelt is your classic example of somebody who ended up in the vice presidency as a containment strategy by New York party bosses who wanted to punish him by exiling him to the political of Elba. But teddy Roosevelt was such an outside personality for his day, two things happened as a result of his presidency one. He ushered in an era, progressivism that probably wouldn't have been ready for election in nineteen. Oh one. When he ended to the to the presidency, y'all fundamentally changed the scope of US foreign policy, but we should consider ourselves fortunate that teddy Roosevelt didn't preside over war as president, you know, if he if you put him in modern day context, he's as fascinating as he is crazy and, you know, his fascination with war, and his love for. War and adventure would have been a dangerous thing as commander. And she's you spend a chapter in the book also looking at close calls, and obviously, one of them, you mentioned it before President Reagan when he was shot by John Hinckley. How important is it to also cover that part of the story, as well? With has a variety of different instances of those close calls, where president almost was killed. I mentioned that one of my frustrations in writing the accidental. President is that we didn't learn our lesson at any step of the way and we allowed this constitutional vulnerability to sustain when I talk about nineteen close calls in addition to the eight presidents who were assassinated, eight presidents who died in four who were assassinated. These are legitimately close calls. We're talking about Andrew Jackson shot at point blank and the gun mouth functioning. Yeah, we're talking about. Gerald Ford shot at point blank. And then a second time from a distance one time the gun now function. There's an incredible story of FDR. President-elect. He's giving a speech in Miami in February of nineteen thirty three he sitting on the back of the Buick in his three car motorcade and a man named Zep he's on and talion immigrant fires five shots in fifteen seconds at him. A hundred pound woman named Louis and cross saw him pull up the gun and smacked him with her purse. It's watered, his aim. He missed FDR by about three inches ends up killing the mayor of Chicago whose impound as well, as you know, three or four others, but this extraordinary woman in her purse, save the new deal. And then there's an another amazing story where president elect Kennedy was stocked by literally disgruntled, postal worker. It doesn't get more cliches and that he filled his he filled also his Buick. I don't know why Buicks keeping an appearance here, but he filled his Buick with enough enough dynamite to blow up the entire city block outside of his house, in Palm Beach. And he didn't end up going through with it because as Kennedy came to the door to go to church. He saw one of. Kennedy children marron felt bad. So he follows JFK to church built his pants dynamite has hand on the trigger in his pocket. And it's ready to do it. Standing four feet away from the president elect and then sees a bunch of children. And once again, doesn't do it, so it's extraordinarily all the talk about suicide bombing and so forth. And the context of modern terror we almost had one of our most famous presidents as president-elect killed by a suicide bomber, and it is something that should be noted the fact that we've gone so long now without having a president assassinated, obviously, there have been attempts in recent years. But, but we have not had one killed in office. And yet, isn't it amazing that we enter the twenty twenty election. We have the oldest president ever in the history of the country and two of the most serious contenders on the democratic side are both in their late seventies. So my conclusion is I still don't think we've learned very much from our history. We still treat the vice president as a marriage of political convenience when a candidate. Needs a bump in the polls. And I think you look at, you know, the various gimmicks of coming out of the gate with running mate, or you know what was tried Sarah Palin with John McCain. You know, it's still see, it's so long as it's the sole toys of the campaign and not the choice of the party, it's going to continue to be viewed as an election play. What do you think that then could potentially be the impact of, of the twenty fifth amendment moving forward? Especially with what we've seen in reason recent conversation about that amendment, and surrounding President Trump by people in Washington DC. Well, one of the things that's really important is precedent, right? So once you have a situation the, the very first time where the twenty fifth amendment gets used to, to replace the president, with the vice president based on something other than, you know, serious illness, or even, you know, sort of being under general anesthesia, you run a very you have to be very thoughtful about that. So even if you impeachment impeachment is used as a political tool because when the first impeachments against the president happened with John Tyler in eighteen forty two it was used as a political tool by the Whigs to get, John Tyler kicked out of his own party, and they didn't succeed, impeaching the president. But the radical Republicans did succeed in impeaching Andrew Johnson. As a way to try to get him out of office, he was saved by one vote from conviction in the Senate. And I think if you just look at the partisan split of Bill Clinton's impeachment, you also conclude that, you know, impeachment was used as a political tool. So we have to be very, the bar should be extremely high for exercising, the twenty fifth amendment and it should not be used as a way to say, we don't like the president's policies, and therefore, the president must be mentally disabled, I think that that clause in the constitution. Was imagine more for a scenario like when James Garfield sat on his deathbed for eighty days before, succumbing to his wounds or Woodrow Wilson suffered? A debilitating stroke in his final year as president. It's a fantastic book. Jared, congratulations on it all the success with it, and we look forward to talking again the sometime down the road. Thank you very much. I appreciate it. Thank you. Jerry cone CEO of jigsaw at alphabet, the book, as we mentioned is titled accidental presidents. Eight men that changed America. It is fantastic. Read it is valuable in bookstores and online for your purchase right now for more insight from knowledge, at Warton, please, visit knowledge dot Morton dot U. Penn dot EDU.

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