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, 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. 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.
Jared Cohen is the founder and CEO of Jigsaw at Alphabet Inc. He also serves as an Adjunct Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. Prior to Alphabet, he was Google’s first Director of Ideas and chief advisor to Google’s executive chairman Eric Schmidt. From 2006 to 2010 he served as a member of the Secretary of State’s Policy Planning Staff and as a close advisor to both Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton.
Cohen is the New York Times bestselling author of four books, including "Children of Jihad", "One Hundred Days of Silence: America and the Rwanda Genocide", and "The New Digital Age: Transforming Nations, Business, and our Lives", which he co-authored with Eric Schmidt. His new book, "The Accidental Presidents" examines the eight instances in American history when a president has died in office. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Foreign Affairs, LA Times, Washington Post, TIME Magazine, and Foreign Policy. He has been named to the “TIME 100” list, Foreign Policy’s “Top 100 Global Thinkers,” and Vanity Fair’s “Next Establishment.” Cohen received his B.A. from Stanford University and his M.Phil in International Relations from the University of Oxford, where he studied as a Rhodes Scholar.