Presidents by Fate:

Nine Who Ascended Through Death or Resignation

Suddenly thrust into the maelstrom of U.S. presidential leadership, nine men have thus far shared the unique burden of ascension to the nation’s highest office without benefit of an election. Like all vice presidents, they made sense politically though most had no designs on the White House before being unexpectedly elevated to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Admittedly there were a few in the group who dreamed bigger, but theirs was a distant hope until tragic fate intervened.

What is surprising is that our accidental presidents have never been examined as a group. For instance, with so much in common, what were their similarities and distinct differences, and what made some so much more successful than others? Also, why did history so often repeat itself following four presidential assassinations, the natural deaths of four presidents in office, and one ignominious resignation?

These and other questions have been answered by reviewing the basics of their political careers, through extensive reviews of individual biographies, and by comparison of their presidential rankings, shared responsibilities, and the most important issues each faced in the White House. While some are better remembered than others, their combined accidental legacies account for much of our American saga.

Taken in chronological order, they include John Tyler, Millard Fillmore, Andrew Johnson, Chester Arthur, Theodore Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson, and Gerald Ford, and their legacies represent the gamut of both major parties through thirteen decades of our collective political experience, as well as several partisan coalitions that have long since ceased to exist. Their number also represents their anticipated re-occurrance after forty-five U.S. presidencies so far — an average (to date) of exactly every fifth administration — a frequency that figures to continue unless greater presidential security and healthcare advances curb this historical trend, leaving only corruption as an increasing threat to our normal presidential succession.

Chances are, however, given our ever-expanding political divide, more accidental presidents are sure to follow and take their place alongside the previous nine. How well we manage such departures from the norm and survive tragically unexpected transitions of power may even determine whether or not we maintain our traditional democratic ideals into the future.


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