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Accidental Presidents: Eight Men Who Changed America (2019)

de Jared Cohen

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285393,236 (4.09)1
"The strength and prestige of the American presidency has waxed and waned since George Washington. Accidental Presidents looks at eight men who came to the office without being elected to it. It demonstrates how the character of the man in that powerful seat affects the nation and world. 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, 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. 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. Andrew Johnson, who succeeded our greatest president, sided with remnants of the Confederacy in Reconstruction. 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. 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 adds immeasurably to our understanding of the power and limits of the American presidency in critical times"--… (més)
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(2019) Fascinating exploration of all of the US Vice Presidents who have become President due to the death, assassination or resignation of their predecessor. Each of the chapters goes into why the ascending Vice President was chosen and how he managed in the job after taking over. Also explores how the country had to make up as it went along exactly how succession was supposed to work. And it is still a work in process.Kirkus: An examination of the problems of presidential succession in American history, which in numerous cases has been anything but orderly.William Henry Harrison lasted only a month as president before succumbing to pneumonia in 1841, thrusting his vice president, John Tyler, into office. Therewith a chain of events was set in motion that would splinter the Whigs and turn a powerful potential ally, Henry Clay, into a foe: ?While Clay sought reconciliation from Harrison,? writes Cohen (Children of Jihad: A Young American's Travels Among the Youth of the Middle East, 2007, etc.), ?he was prepared to wage war with Tyler.? It wouldn't be the first time the elevation of a vice president to chief office would rupture old relations, as the author documents. A more modern case was the arrival of Lyndon Johnson to the Oval Office after John F. Kennedy's assassination. The Texan had been building the power he lost when leaving his post as Senate majority leader, for as second-in-command, he ?lacked any real constituency inside the administration.? Other vice presidents brought into office following the demise or departure of the president were less effective, and certainly less showy: Calvin Coolidge earned the moniker ?Silent Cal,? but he effectively calmed the turbulent scene surrounding the administration of his predecessor, Warren G. Harding (around whose death, Cohen hints, a cozy conspiracy theory might be built). The book is light on theory and long on anecdote, but it makes for pleasant reading for politics junkies, especially those keen on reading the political winds. Though his book is timely, the author insists that it is incorrect ?to look at the timing of this book and assume it was inspired by all the impeachment talk surrounding Donald Trump.?Easily digestible political history and, Cohen's protestations aside, interesting reading for those contemplating the prospect of a President Mike Penceor President Nancy Pelosi.Pub Date: April 9, 2019ISBN: 978-1-5011-0982-9Page Count: 576Publisher: Simon & SchusterReview Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2019Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2019
  derailer | Jan 25, 2024 |
Note: I accessed a digital review copy of this book through Edelweiss.
  fernandie | Sep 15, 2022 |
Even though I consider myself to be well versed in the category of Presidential history, I was pleasantly pleased (and surprised) by the number of nuggets of knowledge that I picked from this outstanding book on our country's eight accidental Presidents.
Author Jared Cohen has created an extremely readable book on the stories surrounding the Vice Presidents who succeeded our country's leader after his death in office. Those interested in Presidential history will certainly enjoy, and appreciate, the painstaking research and use of primary sources Cohen cited to create this book. ( )
  coachtim30 | Jul 2, 2020 |
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(Foreword) John Tyler, Millard Fillmore, Andrew Johnson, Chester Arthur, Theodore Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson.  Eight times a vice president has become president upon the death of his predecessor - history altered by a heartbeat.
Chief Tecumseh had every right to be vengeful.
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"The strength and prestige of the American presidency has waxed and waned since George Washington. Accidental Presidents looks at eight men who came to the office without being elected to it. It demonstrates how the character of the man in that powerful seat affects the nation and world. 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, 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. 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. Andrew Johnson, who succeeded our greatest president, sided with remnants of the Confederacy in Reconstruction. 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. 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 adds immeasurably to our understanding of the power and limits of the American presidency in critical times"--

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