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tv   History Bookshelf Jared Cohen Accidental Presidents  CSPAN  November 3, 2020 9:48pm-10:52pm EST

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author and former jigsaw ceo jared cohen talks about his book accidental presidents, eight men who changed america, which looks at the eighth vice president to ascend into the presidency after the death of a president in office. politics and prose in washington d.c. hosted this event in april of 2019. >> good evening, everybody. my name is katie willard and i'm part of the events staff here at politics and prose. before we begin, i want to go over a few quick announcement. please silence your cellphones and other noisemaking devices. not only is it courteous to the author but we're also on c-span tonight so you do not want to be the person whose phone goes off on c-span. secondly, during our question
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and answer portion, in the interest of video and audio reporting, if you could just come to our microphone by the white pillar so we can hear your questions and engage in a nice discussion, and lastly, once everything is done if you could please fold up your chairs and place them against something solid. our staff, as in me, would greatly appreciate that. tonight i'm pleased to introduce jared cohen, to politics and prose the founder and ceo of jigsaw alphabet inc. as well as an adjuncrt senior fellow at the council on foreign relations. he is the new york times best selling author with eric schmidt of the new digital age and has written "the children of jihad". one of the great lessons of american politics that i've learned is the tale of two brothers. one went off to sea and one became vice president. neither was heard from ever
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again. however in rare cases, the vice president is not relegated to obscurity. namely when the president -- the previous president dies. and his newest, best "new york times" best selling back, accidental presidents, cohen examines the legacies of these men, millard film, or chester arthur, theodore roosevelt, calvin coolidge, harry truman, and lyndon johnson, who ascended to the presidency because of these unfortunate circumstances. becoming president under these circumstances is often a thankless task and many hoover this men have disappointed rather than reassured, although several have exceeded expectations. cohen delves into the implications the system of seeings and argues that this limited reading to the constitution, one of which many americans take for granted, may not the be only way to handle succession. walter isaacson writes this out,
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jared cohen treats to us colorful and momentous episodes of our history. he reveals the historic importance of some lesser known leaders and highlights the greatness of t.r., truman and lyndon johnson. we learn why america is a resilient nation and our constitution a living document. lessons very powerful for today. now please join me in walking -- welcoming jared cohen. >> thank you all very much for having me. i can't think of a better place to give a talk about this book than this incredible bookstore. when i lived in d.c., it was my absolute favorite miss to be some i love the backdrop of all these books here tonight. the place i want to start is why i wrote this book. because think it's important context for somebody who spent the last eight years every single day as a technology ceo and before that four years working in foreign policy. so people ask me why, when when i tell people i'm writing a
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book they say is it's book but cyber war? no, foreign policy? no. what's it about? i say, it's about dead presidents. and it's confusing to them. it's confusing to anybody unless you grew up with me. when is was eight my parents bought in the a children's book called the buck stops here. it was one of these wonderful rhyming books, a different page for each president. as my parents read to me, trying to transform me into a child they didn't realize they would have to have eight different conversations about death. and my poor parents, it was bad enough they don't know who mckinley was, they had to explain to me why mckinley was keeled over in this cartoonlike picture. when you're an eight-year-old you have to deal with these heavy topics like death and assassination my parents didn't figure outer what they had gotten themselves into. the interest sustained over time and when oliver stone came
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out with his film in 1992 about kennedy's assassination i decided to solve the kennedy assassination. so i annexed a room in our house and turned into it the kennedy room. and i put pictures and sort of xerox copies of the zapruder footage with yarn and thumb tacks and i had wild conspiracy theories, none of which i remember and that's quite deliberate. so the obsession and fascination got into presidential collecting and memorabilia and i have a strange subcollection of presidential locks of hair which is weird until you see it. it's quite fascinating. this really has been a passion of mine my -- trust me, really is something. this has been an interest my entire life so i spend all day thinking about innovation and the future but i had this sort of growing itch to want to dig into the past. when my wife was pregnant with a our eldest daughter who is five years e nears old i needed a nesting project because i was annoying everybody and i
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decided to write a book about the eight times in history that a u.s. president died in office and how history was transformed by a heartbeat. and this history, in addition to being something i'm deeply park not but, it resonates with me on so many different levels because we're in a time where everybody is look agent leadership qualities. we have a fascination with politics, we have fascination with history but our history is also anchored around transitions that used to happen every ten to 20 years. most people are familiar with one or two presidents who died in office. most people are surprised that there were eight. so, what i'm going to do today, not going through every single one of them because i have to leave you with some incentive to buy the book but i'm going to talk to you but the first time it happened and i'll share what the biggest catastrophe of the accidental transition who is think was the biggest and the most unexpected success and why and then i'm gonna talk to you through some of the close calls because in addition to eight presidents who died in office you had another 19 who nearly died in office.
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and of those 19 you have eight presidents who die in office, six of the eight presents who ascended to the presidency also nearly died in office, mostly through assassination attempts. so we'll get into that as well but want to whet your appetite a little bit. so going back to the framers of the constitution who didn't want a vice president or think much about it. they viewed as an electoral mechanism. so naturally it's not something that they had thought about. they'd given a little thought to presidential succession but if you look at article 2 in the constitution, what it says is that in the event of the resignation of the president, death, or inability to discharge duties of the said office, the same shall devolve on the vice-president. the constitution is completely clear that in the case of a vacancy of the presidency, the vice president acts as president and discharges those duties. the constitution is not clear about whether the vice president becomes the president. so, 1840, the famous catch
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phrase, tippecanoe and tyler too propels william henry harrison, famous whig general into the white house. the whigs are so happy they finally got a president. he dies 30 days later, and despite the fact that history tells us he died of pneumonia it was later proven that bad sewer systems around the white house was likely responsible for his death and later james polk's dater and later zachary taylor's death but we'll save that for another gruesome lecture. so, john tyler, who was thrown on the ticket, even though he was basically a democrat, because the whigs needed to win virginia and needed somebody who'd give a nod to state's rights, skips town after the inaguration. so, when a messenger shows up at his house in the night delivering the telegram the president is dead, john tyler who has in fact studied the constitution, understands the fight that's about to ensue
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because he interprets the constitution as he is now the president and he knows the cabinet will disagree and congress will disagree. so he races back and very dramatic fashion, a combination of horse and carriage, boat and train, and he proceeds to get into a fight with the cabinet. he then spends the first three months of his presidency arguing with congress whether he his is he acting president or president. ultimatesly he wins the battle even though people send him mail dressed to him as vice president which he returns unopened, or as acting president, which he also returns unopened. but he sets the precedent. what is interesting is you don't have a mechanism for replacing the vice president of the united states until the 25th amendments is ratified in 1967. so, you have john tyler as the nation's first accidental president. he set a precedent that he is now president. now that precedent carries through lbj. lbj becomes president upon the death of john f. kennedy based on a precedent set by john tyler in 1841.
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so we've never had a situation where a president has died in office and the 25th amendment has formally made them president. that only happens with nixon and ford and i'm sure somebody will ask me why i didn't include nixon and ford as a separate chapter, and at some point i'll beat you to the punch and answer the question. recent to the vacancy of the vice president is on the other hand, john tyler is a disaster for the whig party because again, he's basically a democrat. he doesn't subscribe to the whig agenda at all. like most of the accidental presidents that came after him, he has a completely different set of policy views than his predecessor and takes the country in a completely different direction. like all eight, he was ostracized from the administration, had no relationship with the predecessor and didn't have a good sense of what was happening in the administration he was part of.
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enough at least the information was only 30 days. so, tyler, as he subverts the whig agenda, most prominently with the veto are of two national banks get excommunicated from the whig party. so henry clay leads the charge to kick john tyler out of the party. so john tyler, the first accidental president, becomes the president without a party. he, like all accidental presidents becomes obsessed with this the idea of, i'm determined not to be an accident. i need to win election in my own right. so the only path for him to win the election in 1844, since he can't run as a whig and the democrats don't want him because they're mad as running him as whig is to change the politics discourse and annex texas. so looking at the impulsive and erratic behavior of our current approximate, i remind you john tyler decided to covertly annex texas which precipitated war with mexico and brought is closer to the civil war. going back to the vacancy in the vice-presidency, this is important because on february 28, 1844, john tyler is sailing
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on the potomac on board the u.s.s. princeton and a gala on the nautical wonder designed to celebrate american naval prowess and the fact that he was on the verge of texas's annexation. so they fire of the state of the art gun cause peacemaker going by mt. vernon and the gun explodes, kills the secretary of state, the secretary of the navy, multiple ambassadors and ministers, kills john tyler's favorite slave whose more was compensatessed $200. kill as number of senators senators and a members of congress and would have killed john tyler had he not been downstairs flirting with a woman who was have his age but who was more interested in the captains son. so as they heard the explosion they came up to the deck and her name was julia gardner, and she saw that among the dead was her father. new york state senator. laying on the ground she faints
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into john tyler's arms. he picks her up, carries her down the gangplank. she wake up and doesn't realize it's the president carrying her and you read about this in a letter that she later writes, john tyler writes had she knocked them off the gangplank they would have died or almost died a second time. and he marries her and they have eight children with her on tom over the seven he had, and john tyler been during the administration of george washington has two grandsons still alive. child 15 fathered a child in his 7s and that child fathered two children in his 70s, who arenow in their mid-and late 90s so that's the israel of john tyler's offspring. fun fact, use it at a cocktail party. had tyler died in that explosion or had he died falling off the gangplank, the nation's first accidental president would have been dead. i believe strongly the tyler
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precedent which was already controversial, and already hotly contested, would have been very unlikely to hold. it means fillmore, adrew johnson, chester arthur, teddy involved, calvin cool usage, harry truman and lyndon johnson could have ascended to the role offing president instead of president. that's the story of the first accidental president and what happened. now, what i want to do is juxtapose what i think is the biggest catastrophe with what if think is the biggest success story of an accidental president. i'm almost tempted to say despite the fact that we more or less winged presidential succession, and despite the fact that the founding fathers gave us a guide but nothing close a blueprint, i'm tempted to say we navigated through it pretty well and got pretty lucky. it's a remarkable story and i can almost say that except for the fact that when abraham lincoln died we got andrew
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johnson and we were supposed to get lincoln's vision of reconstruction, instead the bullet of john wilkes booth gives us andrew johnson, man born a racistest died a racist, the last president who didn't emancipate his slaves until seven months later and a man as president resurrect almost every old almost of the con fed was circumstance paving way the at the black codes and the jim crow laws and gave is segregation. if i look at the story of civil rights and post-civil war america to me it can be described in some respects as to story of two presidential assassinations beginning with
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abraham lincoln and ending with james garfield. so, when i set out to write the chapter about lincoln and you think what can i write that all the great scholars have not written about. i decided what i wanted to do is vindicated the one stain on lincoln's record which is putting andrew johnson a heartbeat away from the president. the president didn't choose the running mate but such an important moment and lincoln was so certain he would lose in 1864, that he engage inside a massive intrigue outside of his circle to move hannibal hamlin off the ticket and replace him with andrew johnson. now, if you look at who andrew johnson was in 1864 versus later at president, it's a remarkable contrast and you feel some degree of empathy for lincoln having made such a bad addition but andrew johnson at the time -- he was the poorest men ever to rise to president si, owed everything he had to the union and despite his racist extentment and his beliefs he cared more but the union than anything else. so, when the first shots were fired on fort sumpter, all he cared about was breaking the
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confederacy and the best way to punch every trader in brutal fashion and to force civil rights upon them. so, johnson is the only southern senator to stay loyal to the union. he gives up a bomb proof seat in the senate to take a dangerous job as military governor in 1864 his rhetoric on civil right is more forward leaning than even abraham lincoln him he is so fielder by the south because he seemed like such a radical republic aside from being a border contribution, the south irmore tired buts the idea of an dry johnson as president than abraham lincoln and when jefferson davis is accused open lots offing to kill abraham lincoln he reminds people that would be insane because anybody who hears or hiss to be andrew johnson knows that would be a far worse situation for the south. now, andrew johnson has the
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wore debut of any vice president. completely hammered while being sworn in and giving his inaugural address remember he. he is supposed to speak for 30 second and then be sworn in, instead it's a 17 minute drunken tirade in which h--the cabinet and pauses when hey can't remember the name of the secretary of the navy. poor lincoln's head is buried in his hands in shame and then he proceeds to slobber all over the bible and to drunk to swear in the new senators so he asks some poor intern to do it. and i'm not sure legally you can do that. so then abraham lincoln walks side by side with hill outside right before lincoln gives arguably one of the best speeches of his career and lincoln opinion otherwise
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frederick douglas he describes a man's eyes glazed over, stumbling with hatreds and he is describing a drunk person but doesn't realize that andrew jobson is drunk but draws that man is no friend of my race and we should thank the heavens is not president of the united states. six weeks later lincoln is killed and andrew johnson becomes president and his views are not transformed when he becomes presidents. himself views transform when the civil wars over. and all of a sudden the best thing from his perspective for the union is to get the southern elected officials reintegrated back into congress and let the states dealing with civil rights rights and. what is interesting is he is a mott to kill not just lincoln put johnson, sowards and others. what's interesting is interesting about johnson, this is just not a plot to about killing him but the first time that the cabinet sees andrew johnson, after the drunken tirade is when he shows up at the petersen house. he is told by one of the cabinet members that he's making mary todd linking uncomfortable and he should leave. and everybody knows lincoln is about to die and he should have been president and he should've
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been treated at as president, but he was asked to leave as he was making the first lady uncomfortable. the reason i say it's the story of two assassinations, because it's not until the controversial election of 1876 you have an end to reconstruction. that is when you really start to get jim crow and some of the active segregation laws. fast forward to the republican convention of 1880, and it's really a duel between ulysses-esque grant going for a non consecutive third term, and james blane. and all of the delegates get tired of it and someone shout-out on the 32nd ballot jim garfield's name and he was running third or fourth in the delegate count. and this momentum builds for garfield and he gets a domination. and he jumps up on stage and says i protest, how can you give the nomination to a man who does not seek it. he ends up with it anyway, and he then has thrown onto the ticket, of a man who embodies
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all the spoils of the system which is chester arthur. and he is detached from party politics, and he made a pledge you know he was born in the log cabin, had runaway slaves as a child, and his big issues were universal education in universal suffrage. and an end to the spoil system and the creation of a modern civil service. we are supposed to get that vision, but four months into his presidency, he is shot by an office seeker who had met with chester arthur, who wrote in the declaration that he had killed garfield so the arthur could be president, and he expected to be rewarded as counsel general in paris. and obviously that didn't happen, and arthur ends up having the no they started snail mail trolling him, and there was still hope for him. she described him kill as number of --
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she described him in manners -- eerily reminiscent of the worst characters court of king henry 8th but kept telling him there's still hope and he shows up at her house on the upper east side and we know as early also 1881 that you control the president, and the president might show up at your house. you troll the president and at the prod my show up. the meeting has a impact on him. the man signs the humbles an act which creates the modern civil service, but arthur did not like working. his aides to walk around with a basket important looking documents because he literally did not work and they were embarrassed tell people he did not work so they would just create is facade of important stuff going on. so he did not push for the civil rights agenda that we would've gotten with garfield. now, the one who is the most unexpected and i would say the biggest success is harry truman and the reason i say this is because in 1944 all the
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democratic party bosses knew that fdr was a dying man. you need to look no further than the fact they couldn't fathom the idea of henry wallace, being combat vice president, and -- ascending to the vice president -- ascend into the presidency because they thought he was too liberal or soviet sympathizer or both. but they recognize the seriousness of fdr's health enough to take a provincial politician from missouri who had not that much about the world, who was kind of a local machine character and through monica that thing about whether you could gather -- governor he could lead, but he was the best shot to make sure wallace was not on the ticket, and fdr did not really care as long as whoever was on the ticket with him did not prevent him from winning the election. deep, down he probably knew he was going to die. and the question was timeline. i think he thought he could power through, win the war, and could resign him be the first secretary general of the united nations. during truman's 82 days is vice president he meets with fdr
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twice. he doesn't get a single intelligence briefing. he doesn't meet a single foreign leader. he is not briefed on the atomic bomb. it is not into the happenings of yalta or the war he's basically out socializing april 12, 1940, five fdr takes his last breath. truman inherits probably one of the most overwhelming portfolios of crises of any president in history with less preparation than any president in history. the battle of okinawa is literally at its height, one of the fierce military battles of all time he gets briefed on the manhattan project and has to figure it out, what's he going to do with this destructive go up and that may or may not work. stolen is reignite every single one of his promises from yalta. churchill is complex. it doesn't know where a lot of these countries are on a map he spends his for several days in the map room literally king's model was happening with the war. yes a deal with the reality that he might have to move 1 million men from the -- to the pacific theater. there is a massive bureaucratic battle between the army and
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navy that threatens the entire war effort and yet in his first months he makes some of the most important decisions in the history of our republic, decisions that win the war and shape the post war and i argue that it is a combination of truman shaping up to the job and men like in at jason and george marshals -- deciding that the fate of the world rest on harry truman being successful as much as they may miss the great fdr there is not enough time, or they don't have the luxury of acting on the grief in the shock that harry truman is president. they decide to make him successful so determined credit, truman also has to listen to them, road former takes the oath of office after zachary taylor dies, and immediately fires the entire cabinet and is left of their covered heads for sometime. our current moment is not the first time we've had a lot of vacancies in the cabinet so when they tell truman leave asia to mcarthur and focus on europe he listen to that. now we're going to move to questions shortly but i do want to talk a little bit about the
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close calls because to me is fascinating. i found myself overwhelmingly frustrated writing this book because i don't understand why we didn't get the importance of figuring out presidential succession and why we never treated it with any degree of seriousness so, it takes three presidents to be assassinated for us to decide that it's a good idea to protect the president. we used to literally just let the white house be overrun with office seekers and people who may or may not have been mentally ill and anybody had access to the president and to the extent that even by the time we start to protect the president, we don't really do it professionally. they basically use protection of the president as a patronage opportunity for their bodies from home. now, personally if i was a target i would not want my bodies around protecting me, as much as i think they like me, i do not think they would take a bullet for me. but another thing that frustrated me was the very first close call is james madison, on his deathbed as
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president, and dolly madison catches wind that they are beginning succession proceedings on what to do in the senate, talking about what happens with vice president gary and she writes a note exaggerating her husband's recovery and eventually does make a recovery. james madison was instrumental in writing the constitution and nobody bothers to ask him, what do you mean when you said the same shell devolve on the vice president. and then projection is shot at point blank, why a man who believes he's the king of england. the he assumes he's been shot, and he's in shock, and the guy who now 125,000 chance of not functioning, he says the gun did not work and he beats the person with his cane. so so what do they mean, by devolved vice president. so by the time the last founding father, james madison has been dead for years, there is nobody to ask. so i could sort of go through
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close call after close call after close call, but i will tell you three of my favorite stories and one is just me kind of constitutionally geeking out for a minute so what the constitution said in 1865 when lincoln was assassinated he said if there is a double vacancy then the president ends up being an acting president and the secretary of state has the constitutional authority to make that happen and call a special election for the following november. you go back to the evening of april 14th 1865, lincoln is shot, andrew johnson would've been murdered, had he not decided to get drunk in a bar nearby, and another part of the lincoln conspiracy murder conspiracy, was to go in and kill william seward, who was the secretary of state. and seward was in his bed and he stabbed him repeatedly so he almost dies. so what happens if there's no secretary of state, to make the
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president have the acting president and called election. so then they're clear about this the assistant secretary of state has the authority to do this. so who is the assistant secretary it's frederick stewart, who is nearly bludgeoned to death by the assassin who's on his way to his bedroom to stop him. had the lincoln murder conspiracy born fruition, you could have a situation where there was no president, no vice president no secretary of state or assistant secretary of state. with the constitutional authority to make the a acting president or you know call an election. so they are too close calls, before we go to question and answer, i'd like to talk to person about this woman fdr is the president elect, he gets his first speech as president elect ads at a park in miami.
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he sitting in the back of his motorcade, delivers a speech, and then a person fall fires five shots in 15 seconds. so 100 pound woman was next to the assailant, saw him pull out his 32 caliber, she used her person smacked his gun was with enough force to fort his aim. and that killed the mayor of chicago, but saved fdr's life. so what happens if the president elect dies in office. so that was ratified nine days before, among other things the 20th amendment says if there's a vacancy in the president elect, the vice president elect takes the office on inauguration day. the last close call, before we go to question and answer. is the suicide bomber, who nearly killed jfk as president elect. so remember kennedy's assassination, but had many of you know that he was nearly
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killed by a suicide bomber before he took the oath of office. shockingly none of. you a disgruntled postal worker, stuffed his buick with enough dynamite to blow up an entire city block in west palm beach, and that was near candies home. he was ready to do it, and he caught a glimpse of jon jean standing right to right beside kennedy, and decided to do it later. he followed kennedy to church next day, fills up his pants with the same amount of dynamite, standing four feet from jfk, with his hand in his pocket and on the trigger ready to pull, it and he would've blown up himself and kennedy and he saw some children and decide he would wait another day to do it. the book is filled with these crazy stories. and you think that writing a book about eight presidents dying in office, and 19 who almost died, you'd be left with the feeling of deep melancholy.
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but strangely, i ended up feeling optimistic about it, because you realize that our history is pretty crazy. and if you look at our current political moment right now, the books anchored around these eight during transition, but it covers a vast breath of american history. then you look how nasty congress is today, an 1861 senator pulled a gun on another senate the senator and almost killed him. now they call each other liar, or i think there was a guy who body slumped somebody but it doesn't compared to what we saw in the 18 fifties. in terms of constitutional crises, if you look at presidential succession, it's one of the most sustain constitutional vulnerabilities we've had in a republic. so it's not that, like everybody else i don't look at today with some concern, but it is helpful to get a good dose of history when reflecting on
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the president. i will tell you i've just loved the fullest five and a half years focusing on the future, and all my evenings kind of digging into the past in the contrast between the two, that so exciting that you get really obsessed with it. can i get stuck on the garfield to arthur chapter, when my wife was pregnant with my second daughter. so her name is garfield. and with that i will take your questions. [applause] >> thank you. a fun story that's for sure. so i am wondering why the supreme court apparently didn't get more involved, in many of these things in particular the tyler case in 41, or at any point say prior to to the point when the amendment kind of makes things clear. we are dealing with you no
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constitutional interpretation, it seems to be an issue. so why is that? >> it's a great question, so in the case of tyler, they actually try to seek out the insights of the chief justice but the chief justice hated henry clay, and hated tyler. he want to get involved because he will make one of his enemies happy one way or the other, so he abdicated responsibility. it is in the book. >> so if the constitution is clear, the duties and powers of the president goes to the vice president, and that's you call it could you spin out on what's really at stake whether he's called the acting president, or the president if he has all of the same powers? i understand there's a different image, but it seems a little ephemeral. and people perceive it differently. >> i think that the reason it
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was so important, and i can answer this by talking about why it was so important to tyler. it was not an issue at all by the time tyler died. what that means is that people accepted the tyler precedent, even in a ten-year period and having read a lot about what tyler was thinking at the time and a lot of the documents from the era, the conclusion i came to was twofold. the first was it doesn't position you very well to be kind of an incumbent and the likely person to win the next election and they become obsessed with winning the election in their own right so the idea of being president versus and acting president, assumes a different position for the election of 1844. also the constitution talks about special elections in the context of acting presidents. tyler was worried if he
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accepted the act of being an acting president, a special election would be called the following november. >> everybody should always take the tour around lafayette square on halloween, because it reenacts vividly the events of april 1865 and is it still true that no one has ever served two terms as vice president, and been elected president? >> well george h. w. bush, served two terms as reagan's vice president, and he was elected. so that would be the one you know and also martin van buren, served as vice president before, but the vice presidency is not pass to the presidency. if you look at it throughout's history. but the other thing that you mentioned, you referred to
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lafayette as being the president pro tem in the times of lincoln's assassination. there's another piece of this a twist to. it foster who is the president proton, his out west trying to make nice with the various native american groups, and he gets a telegram saying mister president pro tem, you need to rush back to washington because the president is dying. so he ignores it and goes on his next leg of the journey. and they said fine if you don't come back to washington, we need you to at least stay near a telegraph office so. that happened. >> yeah there is another vice president who i think became a very formidable president and that was theodore roosevelt. in his own right. did you agree with that? >> so why are you in the book, is that all the accidental
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president, theodore roosevelt was the only one that would become president anyway. there's three reasons why people become vice presidents in the history of read about. one is they are available, because nobody wants the job. or two to win a state, or constituency or as punishment. in the case of teddy roosevelt it was punishment. the new york party bosses could not stand him, he was a complete spay that complete pain. and so they think they are excelling him to what is considered like alba, but the vice president, dies in office so there is this vacancy, what is interesting about hobart, he is the only vice presidents in history, that enjoyed a close an intimate relationship with the president, because he did a lot of his financial work. and it turns out, that having your financial planner as your vice president is convenient. in the case of teddy roosevelt,
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what is interesting is the first reference that i can find about heartbeats away from the presidency, comes from mark hanna. he is one of mckinley's most trusted confidants. when teddy roosevelt ends up as vice president, and the only vote against teddy roosevelt as vice president is teddy roosevelt as delegate. and mark hanna says to mckinley, mister president you are only responsible for the next four years is to live. that's our only responsibility. and you could be shot and killed in september of 1901. interesting part of the story, whenever i talk about accidental presidents themselves, people love to say all the teddy roosevelt story, when he shot and the bullet penetrates his skin, and he looks at it and declares i'm an expert taxidermist, and i can survive an hour before the wound becomes fatal. but he wasn't president when it happens. that was in 1912, when he tried
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to torpedo william howard taft, as the republican president. but, tea are nearly does die in office. but a year almost a year to the day, after he ascends to the presidency. he is in pits field, and he is campaigning for the midterms. a charlie slams into his carriage. it kills his driver, it kills his bodyguard who is the first member of the secret service ever killed in the line of duty. and it would've killed teddy roosevelt as well, except for a few inches of luck. he flies 30 feet, ends up face down, he has to get emergency surgery, but not before threatening the driver of the trolley, and the fist in the face, and flashing his epic teeth. he ends up in a wheelchair for six weeks. he's the first roosevelt, to be wheelchair bound while president. not fdr.
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>> this week biden declared he is running for vice president, or running for president sorry, so do you think his chances are? >> there is no upside making predictions, but i've learned about predictions by the way, and if you make them far enough in advance, and we're not far enough advanced, you have the luxury of everybody forgetting if you're wrong. and you get to remind people your genius if you're right. but one year is not enough time to do that. what i will say, is we're in the longest period of time, in history without a president dying in office. the previous period of time with george washington to henry harrison. we're in the longest period we had a president dying in office. we have the oldest pierre the oldest president, and two democratic's onto a contenders on the democratic side are in their seventies. and we are still treating this like a political gimmick so i think the danger with how we
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think about the vice presidency, is the seriousness and the recklessness which with which we choose vice presidents is stated by the fact that the last vice presidents, are certainly capable of leading the republic. we do not pay a lot of attention to them, but look no further back than sarah palin, in 2008. and you realize we've learned nothing. so, i think it's a terrible idea to let candidates choose who they run with. because what it says is, i'm against the ropes and i need ten points in the polls, and this particular week, in this particular chapter of the campaign. and it should have nothing to do with whether somebody can lead in a crisis. >> follow-up question, something we talked about because it pertains to something i'm working on, i cannot believe that roosevelt would have truman as vp, and not telam about the manhattan project. >> roosevelt did not think about it, about the vice president he was just trying to pummel through it. he barely spent any time of,
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them he was either in georgia or he was traveling. you know it's interesting i did a lot of united the interviews i could for this book, given that most chapters of history people are dead. although tyler's grandsons are interesting for stories about john tyler. but i asked george h. bush this question, and cheney and others and they have the same comment about the vice presidency. and i asked them about the context of fdr, and kissinger's remark on this was quite amusing, he said if fdr knew he was dying, and in denial about it, why would you want the person who is most likely to benefit from your death to linger around. and fdr did not want to set eyes on truman. if you know you're dying and you're in denial about, it you don't want to look at the guy who's about to take over for you. >> you mentioned you are going to tell us about this about
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nixon and ford so please do. >> so if i'm a revisionist, and i want to be funny i would say i got tired and i do want to do an extra chapter, but that's not the reason. it was deliberate decision at the beginning, because when i was captivated by my entire life, was this how is somebody who is not the voters choice, and nobody wants this president, how do they lead something that's not theirs when everybody misses their predecessor. so, the idea of death in office, comes with a sense of deprive will. you are depriving the voters of the person they chose. and whoever has the presidency has to deal with the reality of the country and morning. they feel an obligation to continue at least playing homage to some elements of their predecessors policies. if you look at nixon resigning in disgrace, ford was not under any any obligation to nixon. but it feels different to me, and i talk about the nixon to
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forge transition. i talk about it in the context of some discussion, towards the end of the book. towards the 25th amendment. the first time the 25th amendment is put into practice, is when richard nixon flux gerald ford from michigan's fifth, to replace agony as president as vice president sorry. and he did, because it was certainly needed. and the interesting thing, is you would think that the 25th amendment, would've been put into practice when reagan was shot in 1981 and it wasn't. james baker, and others around reagan they did not want to set the precedent of making a determination as the cabinet, that the president was unfit for office. there is no evidence that they reflected back on james garfield that he sat back for 80 days, or woodrow wilson. the only time the 25th amendment, has ever due to the inability of the president to discharge a duty, the only time it was put into practice was
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for colonoscopy's. seriously. one more story about ford, that vice president cheney told me, he was deputy chief of staff are forward, and what people don't realize about ford, he had two assassination attempts against him in the span of 35 days. so the next week, he fired a shot at him point blank, and the gun malfunctioned, 35 days later he's giving a speech, outside a hotel and he comes down the elevator, and it's one of those elevators that opens vertically instead of horizontally, and cheney talked about the elevator door hit ford on the top of the head, practice head open, yet to get stitches came back downstairs and the fired shots at him. luckily the secret service agent, got his finger between the assassin and the trigger, and prevented her from killing gerald ford. but the punchline as he described it for the president was a really bad day.
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>> this is kind of apropos, of the question of what you just said about ford, and the question is what was what is the process, for selection or appointment of the vice president, of the accidental president. >> so you mean what was the process by which. >> well i mean, also we ended up with nelson rockefeller as vice president, which was an accidental vice president i guess you could say. so once the vice president, the elected vice president said has descended to the presidency, what is the process for a new vice president to be selected or pointed? >> it's the same as at really it's no different, it's like the 25th amendment says the president united states gets to pick somebody that they can nominate. then they go through an approval process in congress. but at the same process whether
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the accidental you know the weather the vice president a sense, if you end up as an accidental president, as long as it's post 25th amendment, this election for replacing the vice president is the same as if there was a president who became president based on the ballot box. >> other questions? it's not like until more stories. and the stories really are endlessly, incredible. i will say my favorite quote, from the book, so most of the presidents, or most of the accidental presidents who ended up as president, never spent much time thinking about it. either the expected to be relevant, and teddy roosevelt spent his life thinking about being president. so when, mckinley when he finds out the mckinley dies, he can sort of hardly contain his
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enthusiasm for the idea that he's president. but he is conflicted. he has this amazing quote where he says, it's a terrible thing, to come into the presidency this way, but it would be far worse to be morbid about it. >> i'm thinking truman would be in this category, but are there any others where the vice president, was sent to the presidency, is politically aligned with and a continuation of the policies of the former. because as you have made the point, often they are being picked for the balance and for their differences etc, but are any of the others people who actually try to fulfill the aspirations of the presidents. >> the closest example to this is calvin coolidge, this is an interesting one because the harding coolidge transition, has the most comparison with our present a moment. if you look at warren harding, from a scandal's administration
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in history, you had the teapot dome scandal, that was a massive oil scandal. the veterans bureau. the attorney general, and justice department complicit in everything from bootlegging, to fight fixing and stop manipulation. there was suicides, within the rankin murders and it was a nasty justice department. and a corrupt attorney general. and harding dies, with an enormous popular man. and calvin calvin coolidge, is the replacement. so, coolidge knows what the harding administration was all about, and he is terrified that the scandal will break on his watch. and the republicans will lose in 1924, and power will be handed over to the democrats. so, he has a very self reflective moment, he recognizes that he's quite boring, and there are many stories of coolidge is insignificant. my favorite one is when he's at the willard hotel, and hotel is
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on fire, he's told he needs to evacuate. he says i'm the vice president, they said ok you can stay. and then they turn around and said, the vice president of what, he says united states. they said no you need to evacuate, we thought you were the vice president of the hotel. so it is interesting about coolidge, he develops an interesting strategy, in which he takes the truth which is that he's boring and insignificant, he cultivates this image of a silent person. so silent and insignificant, that he could not be complicit in any of the scandals. and it works. he does more engagement, with the public than any president who gave before him. because you have the advent of broadcast radio. he goes into peoples living rooms the way that no president had before. to answer your question, i'm not sure he needed to do that. the economy was booming, to such a scale that americans were economically you know happy with the idea of a scramble pies, and capitalism, in good economic times. they didn't care so much that
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the president was warren harding or calvin coolidge, or herbert hoover. until the economy crumbled. to the extent that you had a vice president, that continued business as usual. calvin coolidge is probably the coasts example. the closest example. >> teddy roosevelt was the most annoying, of all the vice presidents, nobody could control him. mckinley could not control him as assistant secretary of state, nobody could control him as vice president, there is a story about him as assistant secretary of the navy. and he goes on a six hour break, to get the equivalent of a spa treatment. he is so worried about what teddy roosevelt might do is
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acting secretary of the navy in six hours, that he tells him not to take the country to war. while he is getting back treatment, teddy roosevelt mobilizes the country for war in six hours. so what is interesting, is that beginning with tony roosevelt, every one of the accidental presidents gets elected in their own right. none of the others do. i attribute a lot of that to the fact that foreign policy plays an ill plays more pronounced role. what if you look at and to answer your question, the vice president has exerted the most amount of influence, either last three or four vice presidents. if you look a lot of them have played a lot of foreign policy rolls. look other questions?
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>> tell another story. >> okay all have to pull into the reservoir. so i will share a personal story about the writing process of this, because it really is tricky because i had a day job also, but i wanted to do this in a way that i got my hands on the critical research, and every time i went to write a new chapter, i went through the same emotional sort of period of volatility which is determined that i couldn't do it, there is nothing for me to write and i felt the challenge was daunting. and i decided to with each chapter, to approach it like i was playing the accidental president in a play. so i would read all of these assessments of their personality. i would read their letters, and i would try to get in their head. and i got really stuck in andrew johnson's head, and it was a disturbing experience.
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because i don't like him. but it is interesting, when you encounter disagreement in the scholarship or disagreement in the history if you can sort of get yourself to imagine what it would've been like to have been that particular person, you can begin to make at least form an opinion about what they might have done. so that was a fun process, which is playing each accidental president in a play, at least for the duration of writing it. >> some andrew johnson, was one of the hardest to be impeached. they tried several times, and why was it you know why was congress, so reluctant to impeach him? >> well that's a great question, and ultimately he does get impeached. i think what's interesting about andrew johnson, is that
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when people talk about what a catastrophe he was, they often point to the fact that he was impeached. there are many reasons to critique andrew johnson, and the irony is that the thing he was impeached for, was violation of the tenure of office act. that was later deemed unconstitutional. i think it trivializes the failings as a catastrophe of andrew johnson. when we focus on impeachment i, think we should focus instead on let's say the north carolina state hood. and he gives amnesty to every single trader, and he allows the vice president of the confederacy to be reelected into congress. those are the reasons to criticize andrew johnson. and in terms of impeachment, i think the threshold was pretty high, and i think what's interesting is that impeachment historically has always been used as a tool. and the only time where you have serious impeachment proceedings, but if they were allowed to play out in the
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impeachment of the president like an richard nixon. that's the only time where it doesn't take a political flavor. but the first impeachment proceedings against the president, were against john tyler. and the impeachment proceedings against andrew johnson, were politically motivated by radical republicans, who when johnson descended to the presidency ascended to the presidency, and his is statement on civil rights and they basically are trying to get him on a technicality. and i think the difficulty, and impeaching him in some respects, reflected a lack of comfort in the house of representatives at the time. the idea of impeachment, sort of taking on the political flavor. of course he does get impeached any narrowly escapes conviction. >> can you talk about lbj.
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>> lbj is one of those ones where you go to writing you think yourself, what on earth can i write that has not already been written. and this is what is amazing about history, there is plenty to capture. there's plenty to write about. and there still a lot of unsolved mysteries mysteries and a lot of puzzle pieces in the reconstruction of our history. and when i focused on with lbj, was i really believed that he was either going to have to resign as vice president or be kicked off the ticket a week after kennedy was fascinated. and the reason for that is that he was engulfed in a massive scandal involving a man named bobby baker who was an aide of his in the senate, and he was under investigation, and what i learned in talking to tom brokaw, who remembers that period quite well, was that both cvs and time life had the goods on lbj. they had the full dossier and they were ready to go public with it and when kennedy was assassinated, they made a deliberate decision to put it back in the box, and this is
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really important because the country had been through such a dramatic transition but you couldn't have a situation where kennedy was assassinated, scandal breaks, and at the height of the cold war, the president of the united states, the new president of the united states has to resign. remember, there is no 25th amendment, so there is no provision for replacing the vice president so they had flipped, and you would've gone to the speaker of the house as acting president and then the secretary of state was a special election, and so this is an interesting sort of ethical issue to debate in the context of history. i'm sorry? i should know the name, but, so, the country had been through this dramatic sort of transition and what is also fascinating is we also know the story about how bobby kennedy beat lbj. what was clear but the committees when they took that
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final trip to texas is that lbj did not have this way in texas that they thought he did to even if he was not willing to resign, you can speculate they would have found a way to rotate him off the ticket. now, the conventional wisdom about jfk and lbj is if kennedy is not assassinated, you don't get the civil rights act of 1964, and maybe not the subsequent act either, but you also don't get the -- i don't subscribe to that view. as we track to the view that i do not think he would've gotten a civil rights act of 1964 because i think the candidates were prepared to pay lip service a civil rights but they weren't prepared to take electoral risks in favor of civil rights. it's hard to speculate actor, if they had even won reelection, i think that's a big if. with vietnam, i think that the guardians of kennedy's reputation, schlesinger and sorenson, i have reconstructed a narrative that correctly saddles lbj with responsibility and culpability for vietnam but absolves kennedy of far too much responsibility. kennedy doubles the numbers of
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advisers. he more than doubles the foreign assistance budget. he turns the other way, which is sort of tacit support for a coup against the vietnamese president and oftentimes, people will point to some of the advisers coming home, which was later proven to be part of a normal troop rotation. now, i don't think that kennedy was his predisposed to go down the same escalation path as lbj but everyone was scared of the big red arrow, and they may have found themselves going down the same slippery slope. now, people that i interviewed, incredibly divided on. this is a big game of maybe, asked maybe no so, this is my personal view is, there would have been some form of escalation, some form of escalation under kennedy, under kennedy as well. >> could you comment on cheney's vice presidency? >> what is interesting, if you look at dick cheney's
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background, he as one of the most extraordinary records of any man who ever ascended to the vice presidency. so, he is before vice president and after vice president is a very different narrative there is no doubt that he was one of the most influential vice presidents in history, particularly in the first term, but i also think you see the limits of the vice presidency by evaluating his second term as vp. >> great, well, thank you. >> thanks [applause]
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in september, the dwight d. eisenhower memorial was dedicated to the nation's 34th president, whose world war ii leadership and two-term presidency are remembered at a site just off the national mall and at the base of capitol hill. among those intend, it's memorial designer frank garry, former secretary of state condoleezza rice, family members david and susan eisenhower and eisenhower memorial commission chair sen. pat roberts.


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