Eight men became American presidents without being elected to the office. All acceded to the role after the incumbent was assassinated or succumbed to illness.
In Accidental Presidents: Eight Men Who Changed America, Jared Cohen provides historical details of their achievements and failings. Most were unprepared for the top office because they were uninterested, though a few coveted the presidency.
Theodore Roosevelt and Harry Truman were extraordinarily successful. The former succeeded William McKinley Jr. who was assassinated, and the latter Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who died of longstanding ailments. Except for the Vietnam War debacle, some believe Lyndon Johnson would be among the greatest presidents ever. He became president after the assassination of John Kennedy.
The most disastrous was Andrew Johnson, who became president after Abraham Lincoln was gunned down. The first to be impeached, Johnson reversed policies by Lincoln to help the nation heal after the bloody civil war. He set the stage for Jim Crow, initiating a century of intense discrimination against African Americans that boiled over into the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s.
Cohen demonstrates the importance of presidents choosing able persons as their deputy. Not all vice presidents were chosen for their ability but as a compromise candidate to appease interest groups or various constituencies in their party.
In the times we live, Cohen’s Accidental Presidents may prove especially insightful.
Accidental Presidents: Eight Men Who Changed Americav by Jared Cohen. Simon and Schuster, April 2019
Reviewer bio: Eron Henry is a communications consultant. He blogs at https://oletimesumting.com.
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