tv Jared Cohen Accidental Presidents CSPAN December 27, 2019 6:57am-8:01am EST
be the person whose phone goes off on c-span. during the question and answer portion in the interest of the video and audio recording if you could come up to the microphone over here it's right here that way we can all hear your questions and engage in a nice discussion afterwards. last once everything is done if you could fold up your chairs and place them against something solid i'm pleased to introduce the founder and ceo at alphabet inc. "new york times" best-selling co-author with eric schmidt of the new digital age and has written several books on his own including the children of jihad. one of the great lessons of american politics that i've learned is the tale of two
brothers. the vice president isn't relegated to obscurity, namely when the president com, the pres president dies. in his newest best-selling book accidental president, he examines the legacies of these eight men john tyler, millard fillmore, andrew johnson, chester arthur, theodore roosevelt, calvin coolidge, perry truman and lyndon johnson who ascended because of these unfortunate circumstances. becoming president under these circumstances is a thankless task and many many of these men have disappointed rather than reassured. several exceeded expectations. jared cohen doesn't of the system of succession in this limited reading of the constitution which many americans take for granted may
not be the only way to handle succession was walter isaacson, author of leonardo da vinci rights jared cohen treats us to some of the most colorful and momentous episode in our history. he is the historic importance of lesser-known leaders and highlights the greatness of tr, truman and lyndon johnson. we learn why america is a resilient nation and our constitution a living document. a lesson very powerful today. please join me in welcoming jared cohen. [applause] >> thank you for having me. i can't think of a better place to give a talk about this book in this incredible bookstore. when i lived in dc it was my favorite place to be and i haven't been here, the place i want to start is why i wrote this book, important context for somebody who spent the last
eight years as technology ceo and four years working in foreign policy. people -- when i tell people i'm writing a book the past 5 years is it a book about cyber war? know. is a book about foreign-policy? know. what is it about? it is about dead presidents and it is confusing to them. to anybody unless you grew up with me. when i was 8 years old my parents bought me a children's book called the buck stops here. one of those wonderful rhyming books, different page for each president. has my parents read to me at night trying to transform me into a precocious child they didn't realize they would have eight conversations with me about death. my poor parents it was bad enough they didn't know who mckinley was, they had to explain why mckinley killed over in this cartoonlike picture. when you are in 8-year-old you have to deal with topics like death and assassination, my parents didn't figure out what they had gotten themselves into.
the interest sustained over time and when oliver stone came out with his film about kennedy's assassination i decided to solve the kennedy assassination. i and asked one of the rooms of our house and turned it into the kennedy room and put pictures and xerox copies of the footage across the wall some tax from one picture to another and all sorts of wild conspiracy theories none of which i remember so the obsession and fascination got into president collecting and memorabilia and i have a strange sub collection, presidential locks of hair which is weird until you see it. it is quite fascinating but this is been a passion of mine. it really is something. it has been my interest my entire life. i have been thinking about innovation and the future and
had a growing itch to want to dig into the past. when my wife was pregnant with our eldest daughter who is 5 years old i needed a nest egg project because i was annoying everybody and i decided to resurrect this childhood interested write a book about the eight times in history a us president died in office and how history was transformed by a heartbeat. this history in addition to being something i was deeply passionate about resonates with me on so many levels. we are at a time when everyone is looking at leadership qualities, we have a fascination with politics, fascination with history but our history is anchored in transitions that used to happen every 10 to 20 years. most people are familiar with one or 2 presidents to die in office, most are surprised there were eight. i am not going to go through every single one of them. i want to leave you with some incentive to buy the book but i will talk about the first time it happened, share with you the biggest catastrophe of the accidental transitions, share with you who i think was the
biggest and most unexpected success and why and talk you through the close calls because in addition to the eight presidents who died in office another 19 nearly died in office and other than the 19 who nearly died in office, eight died in office, 6 of those eight presidents who ascended to the presidency upon the death of their predecessor nearly died in office mostly through assassination attempts. we will get into that but i want to what your appetite. let's get to the framers of the constitution who didn't want a vice president, didn't think about the vice presidency, they viewed it as an electoral mechanism and so naturally it is not something they thought about. they talked about presidential succession but if you look at article 2 of the constitution what it says is in the event of resignation of the president, death or ability to discharge, the same shall devolve on the vice president.
the constitution is clear, he discharges those duties, the constitution is not clear whether the president becomes the president. 1840 the famous catchphrase tippecanoe and tyler to portray the famous week general into the white house. the whigs are so happy they got a president, he dies 30 days later and history tells us he died of pneumonia but bad sewer systems were likely responsible for his death and james paul's death and zachary taylor's death. we will save that for a gruesome lecture. john tyler who was thrown on the ticket even though he was basically a democrat because the whigs needed to win virginia and give a nod to states rights gives town after the inauguration because he is prepared to accept the realities of how irrelevant the vice presidency is. when a messenger showed up in the middle of the night
delivering the telegram the president is dead, john tyler who has studied the constitution understands the fight that is about to ensue. he interprets the constitution and he is now the president and he knows the cabinet will disagree and congress will disagree, he races back in dramatic fashion, proceeds to get into a fight with the cabinet and spent a few months arguing with congress about whether he's the acting president or president. ultimately he wins the battle even though people send him mail addressed to him as vice president which he returns on open door as acting president which he also returns on opened. he sets that precedent. you don't have a mechanism until the 25th amendment is ratified in 1967 so you have john tyler as the first accidental president, he set a precedent that he is now
president. that carries through lbj. lbj becomes president on the death of john f. kennedy-based on a precedent set in 1841. we never had a situation where a president has died in office and the 25th amendment has formally made them president. that only happens with nick can and ford entering the q&a session someone will ask me why i didn't include nixon and ford as a separate chapter and at some point i will beat you to the punch and answer the question. the reason the vacancy in the vice presidency is important is john tyler is a disaster for the whig party because he is basically a democrat. like most of the accidental presidents that came after him he has a different set of policies use and take the country in a different direction. he was completely ostracized, had no relationship with the
predecessor and didn't have a good sense of what was happening in the administration he was part of. the administration was only 30 days. as he subverts the way agenda with vetoing of two national banks and the getting formally excommunicated from the whig party so he plays leave the charge to kick john tyler out of the party, john tyler becomes the president without a party. he becomes upset with the idea of being determined not to win an accident. the only path for him to win the election in 1834 and the democrats don't want to because they are mad at him, change the political discourse, so we look at the impulsiveness and erratic behavior of the current president i remind you john tyler in a moment of rage decided to covertly annexed texas which precipitated war with mexico which brought us a
step closer to the civil war. going back to the vacancy in the vice presidency it is important because february 28, 1844, john tyler is sailing on the potomac on the uss princeton and it says gala on the potomac on the monica wanted to find to submit american naval prowess and the fact that he was on the verge of texas's annexation so they fire a state-of-the-art gun as they go to mount vernon in tribute to george washington and the gun explodes, kills the secretary of state, the secretary of the navy, multiple ambassadors and ministers, john tyler's favorite slave his mother was compensated $200 until the number of senators and members of congress, would have killed john tyler had he not been downstairs flirting with a woman half his age who he was in love with, but was more interested in the captain's son. as they heard the explosion they came up to the deck. her name was julio gardner and saw that among the dead was her
father, senator laying on the ground. he picks her up, carries her down the tank plank, doesn't realize the president is carrying her and you read about this in a letter, john tyler writes had she knocked them off the game clank they both would have died so they died a second time and end up marrying her, and fun fact john tyler, how is that possible, and in his 70s they are in their mid or late 90s, that is the story of john tyler's offspring, used at a cocktail party. had tyler died in that explosion are falling off the gangplank the nation's first accidental president would have
been dead. already hotly contested would have been unlikely to hold. what that means is andrew johnson, chester arthur, teddy roosevelt, calvin coolidge, harry truman and lyndon johnson could have ascended to the role of acting president instead of president so that's the story of our first accidental president and what happened. i want to juxtapose the biggest catastrophe with what i think is the biggest success story of an accidental president. i'm tempted to say despite the fact we more or less wing presidential succession and the fact that the founding fathers give us a guide, nothing close to a blueprint, i am tempted to say we navigated through pretty
well and got pretty lucky, a remarkable story. i can almost say that except when abraham lincoln died we got andrew johnson and we were supposed to get abraham lincoln's vision of reconstruction. instead the. on will this gives us andrew johnson a man born a racist, died a racist, the last president own slaves, a man who didn't emancipate his own slaves until after the emancipation proclamation and a man who as president and it up resurrecting every old element of the confederacy giving way to the black codes which pave the way to the jim crow laws which gave us segregation. if i look at the story of civil rights and post-civil war america it can be described in some respects as the story of two presidential assassinations beginning with abraham lincoln and ending with james garfield which i come back to. and the great scholars what can i write that they haven't
written about a seminal moment in history. and the good stand on lincoln's record, andrew johnson heartbeat from the presidency. the president didn't choose the running mate but this is an important moment in lincoln is so certain he would lose the election in 1864 that he engaged in a massive intrigue outside of his circle to move hannibal hamlin off the ticket and replace him with andrew johnson. if you look at who andrew johnson was in 1864 versus who andrew johnson was later it is a remarkable contrast and you feel some degree of empathy for lincoln having made such a bad decision because andrew johnson at the time was one of the forest men to run to the presidency. and despite his racist sentiments and beliefs he cared more about the union than anything else was when the first shots were fired on fort sumter all he cared about was breaking the confederacy.
the best way to break the confederacy was published every trader in brutal fashion and force civil rights upon them. johnson is the only southern senator in a state loyal to the union, gives up a seat in the senate to take a dangerous job as military governor of tennessee and in 1864 his rhetoric on civil rights is more forward leaning than abraham lincoln, his rhetoric a punishment of traders is forward leaning and aggressive than abraham lincoln and he is so feared by the south because he seems like such a radical relation to this republican despite being a democrat from a border state that the south is so much more terrified about the idea of andrew johnson as president than abraham lincoln and when jefferson davis is accused of plotting to kill abraham lincoln he reminds people that would be insane, anybody who hears or listens to andrew johnson would know that is a far worse situation for
the south. andrew johnson has the worst debut of any vice president in history. he is completely hammered when being sworn in and giving his inaugural address, he is supposed to speak for 30 seconds and maybe a minute at most and put his hand on the bible, it turns into a 17 minute drunken tirade in which he criticizes every member of the cabinet, he posits when he can from the name of the secretary of the navy and has to ask somebody. abraham like an's head is buried in his hand in shame and he proceeds to slobber all over the bible it is too drunk, some poor equivalent of an intern to do it. and abraham lincoln walk side-by-side with them outside before lincoln gives one of the best speeches, and frederick douglass is the most famous ex-slave in the country. and a man's eyes glazed over,
and describing a drunk person but doesn't realize andrew johnson is drunk but comes to the conclusion that man is no friend of my race and we should thank the heavens he's not president of the united states. a week later lincoln is killed, andrew johnson becomes president. his views are not transformed when he becomes president, his views are transformed when the civil war is over and all of a sudden the best thing for the union from his perspective is to get the southern elected officials reintegrated into congress and let the states deal with civil rights and go back to the best tactics. what is interesting about johnson is a plot to kill not just lincoln but andrew johnson, secretary of state seward and a number of others. the first time the cabinet sees andrew johnson after the drunken tirade is when he shows up at peterson house and is told by one of the cabinet members he's making mary todd lincoln uncomfortable and wants
to lead, andrew johnson is going to be president and by all accounts he should have been treated as president at that moment but he was asked to leave because he was making the first lady uncomfortable. the reason i stayed is a story of two assassinations is it is not until the election of 1876 that you have a end to reconstruction so that is when you get jim crow and active segregation laws. fast-forward to the republican convention of 1880 and it is a duel between uss grant going for nonconsecutive third term and james blaine and all the delegates get tired of it and on the thirtysomething ballot someone shall james garfield's name. garfield was there is the campaign chief for somebody running third or fourth in the delegate count and there is momentum that builds for garfield and he gets the nomination. he jumps on stage and says i
protest. how can you give the nominee into a man who does not seek it? he ends up with it anyway. he then has thrown onto the ticket a man whom burials all of the to the system, chester arthur. garfield with this man who was detached from party politics, who made a pledge, he was born in a log cabin, had runaway slaves as a child and his big issues were universal education and universal suffrage and the end to the spoil system and creation of the modern civil service and we are supposed to get that vision four months into his presidency, shot by an officer who met chester arthur who writes in his letter of declaration that he killed garfield so arthur can be president and expected to be rewarded as consul general and that didn't happen. arthur ends up having a respectable presidency in part because a mentally ill woman on the upper east side of
manhattan started snail mail trolling him telling him how loathsome he was but there is still hope for him. he described him, eerily reminiscent of the worst character of king henry viii but telling him there is still hope and he gets to his presidential carriage and shows up on the upper east side. as early as 1881, you control the president and the president might show up at your house. this meeting has profound impacts, one of these reasons he signs the pendleton act which creates the modern day civil service but arthur was a mediocre man, they walked around with important looking documents because they were embarrassed to tell people he didn't work, this façade of important stuff going on. he didn't push for the civil rights agenda we would have gotten with garfield.
the one who is most unexpected and the biggest success is harry truman. the reason i say this is in 1944 all the democratic party bosses knew that fdr was a dying command. you need to look no further than the fact they couldn't fathom henry wallace ascending to the presidency because they thought he was too liberal or a soviet sympathizer or both. and the seriousness of fdr's help to take a provincial politician from missouri who hadn't thought much about the world, kind of a local machine character and through them in the ticket without thinking whether he could govern or lead and was the best shot at making sure wallace wasn't on the ticket and he didn't care as long as whoever was thrown on the ticket with him didn't prevent him from winning the election. deep down he probably knew he was going to die.
he thought he could power through, when the war. of the war ended before his term he could resign and be the first secretary-general of the united nations. during truman's 82 days as vice president he meets with fdr twice, doesn't get a single intelligence briefing, doesn't meet a single for leader, is not briefed on the atomic bomb, he is out socializing. april 12, 1945, fdr takes his last breath, truman inherits 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 fiercest military battles of all time. he gets briefed on the manhattan project and has to figure out what to do with this destructive weapons that may or may not work. stalin is reneging on every promise, churchill is complex, doesn't know where a lot of these countries are on a map, spent several days in the map room getting smart on what is happening with the war. and move 1 million men from the
european theater to the pacific theater. is a bureaucratic battle between the army and navy that threatens the entire war effort and his first four months, and in history of the republic, decisions that shaped the war. i argue it is a combination of truman stepping up to the job and men like adina atkinson and george marshall defining a to the world rests on harry truman being successful in as much as they miss the great fdr there's not enough time, they don't have the luxury of acting on the grief and shock that harry truman is president. they decide to make him successful. to truman's credit truman has to listen to them. not all presidents listen. millard fillmore makes the oath of office after zachary taylor dies and fires the entire cabinet and his left without cabinet heads for some time. our current moment is not the first time we have had a lot of vacancies in the cabinet. when they tell truman leave and you focus on europe he listened
to them. we are going to move to questions but i want to talk about the close calls, to me it 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 never treated it with any degree of seriousness so it takes three presidents to be assassinated to decide to protect the president. we used to 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 the extent even by the time we start to protect the president we don't really do it professionally, it is a patronage opportunity for their buddies from home. if i was the target i would not want my buddies from home protecting me.
i would think they would not take a bullet for me. the other thing that frustrated me is the first call was james madison who was on his deathbed as president and dolly madison catches wind that they are beginning precision 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 them what did you mean when you said the same shall devolve on the vice president? andrew jackson shot at point blank by a man who believes he is the king of england, the gun is literally touching him so he assumes he has been shot, sort of in shock and 125,000 chances of manhandling -- malfunctioning and then he proceeds to beat the assailant with his cane. some of the founding fathers were still alive, nobody bothered to ask what did they mean by devolve to the vice
president? and william henry harrison dropped that in april 18, '41 the last founding father, james madison, has been dead for four years and there is nobody to ask. i could go through close call after close call, but i will tell you three of my favorite stories. what is me kind of constitutionally geeking out so what the constitution said in 1865 when lincoln was assassinated, if there is a double vacancy, the president pro tem for ends up as an acting president and the secretary of state has the constitutional authority to make that happen and call special elections for the following november you go back to the evening of april 14, 1865, lincoln shot, andrew johnson would have been murdered had -- another part of the lincoln murder conspiracy went in to go kill william seward, secretary of state and
seward was in his bed and stabbed him repeatedly. seward almost died. what happens if there is no secretary of state to make the president pro tem the acting president and call a special election was shockingly the constitution is very clear about this. the assistant secretary of state has the authority to do this. who is the assistant secretary of state? frederick seward, the son of william seward nearly bludgeoned to death by the handle of the gun and knife on the assassin's and william seward's bedroom to stab him. had the lincoln murder conspiracy, could have had a situation where there is no president, no vice president and no secretary of state or assistant secretary of state with constitutional authority to make the president pro tem the acting president or call a special election. that is not wild conspiracy theories, it almost happened. the most interesting close calls i will tell you before we go to question and answers, i want to tell you the story of a woman and her purse and house she saved the new deal. fdr arrived aboard a ship
called the norma hall, vincent astor's private yacht and gives his first speech as president-elect at a park in miami sitting on the back of a buick delivering the speech and an italian immigrant fires 5 shots in 15 seconds at him. the bullets would have hit fdr accept a 100 pound woman was standing next to the assailant, saw him pull up his purse from one arm to another. and and saved the new deal. and the 20th amendment was ratified 9 days before. the vacancy in the president-elect, the vice president-elect takes office on inauguration day. the last call, the suicide bomber nearly killed jfk as
president-elect. we noticed kennedy's assassination, how many of you know he was nearly killed by suicide bomber before he took the oath of office? shockingly none. disgruntled postal worker named richard pavlik stuffed his buick with enough dynamite to blow up an entire city block outside kennedy's home in west palm beach and ended up, was ready to do it and caught a glimpse of john john standing next to kennedy and decided he would do it later. he follows kennedy to church the next day, filled with the same amount of dynamite, with his hand in his pocket ready to pull it. kennedy, a number of people in the church, caught a glimpse of children and decided to waste another day to do it. the book is filled with crazy stories and writing a book about a president dying in
office in 19 who almost died and left with a feeling of deep melancholy. strangely field optimistic about it. when you realize our history is crazy and if you look at the current political moment the book is anchored around these abrupt transitions that covers a vast breadth of american history and look at how nasty congress is, he pulled a gun on another senator. and college other liars but doesn't get much worse than that, he body slammed somebody but doesn't compare to the 1850s and in texas in terms of constitutional crises if you look at the history of presidential succession, one of the most sustained constitutional vulnerabilities we had in our republic, it is not like everybody else.
i don't look at today with some concern, it is helpful to get a good dose of history when reflecting on the present. i just loved the last 51/2 years spending my day focused on the future and innovation and all of my evenings digging into the past and the contrast between the two is so exciting you get assessed with it and i got stuck, garfield to arthur chapter when my wife was pregnant with her second daughter, her middle name is garfield. with that i will take your questions. [applause] >> i'm surprised the supreme court did not get involved in 41 are at that point, to the
point when the amendment makes things clear and constitutional interpretation, why is that. >> a great question. in the case of tyler they actually tried to seek out the insights of the chief justice but the chief justice hated henry clay and hated tyler. he didn't want to get involved, he will make his enemies happy one way or another so he abdicated responsibility. it is in the book. >> if the constitution is clear the powers and duties of the president devolve to the vice president regardless what you call it can you spin out what is at stake with whether he is called the acting president or the president if he has all the
same powers? i understand there is a different image but it seems ephemeral. people perceive it is different. >> the reason it is so important. i can talk about why it was so important to tyler. none of the others had to grapple with that and by all accounts it was not an issue by the time taylor died in office and millard fillmore ascended to the presidency. what that means, people accepted the tyler president even in a 10 year period. having read about what tyler was thinking at the time and a lot of documents, the conclusion was twofold. the first was it dozens position you very well to be an incumbent and the likely person to win the next election and they all become assessed with winning the election in their own right so the idea of being president versus the acting president puts you in a different position for the election of 1844.
the other issue is the constitution talks about special elections in the context of acting presidents. tyler was worried if he accepted the reality of being and acting president then the assumption would be a special election would be called the following november. >> everybody should always take a tour around lafayette square on how to wean because it reenacts the events of april 18, '65. is it still true that no one has ever served as two terms as vice president and been elected president? >> george hw bush served two terms as reagan's vice president and ended up being elected so that would be the one. and martin van buren served as vice president before. the vice presidency is not a path to the presidency if you just look at it throughout history.
the other thing, you refer to lafayette, the president pro tem at the time of lincoln's assassination, there is another interesting twist. andrew johnson a month after ascending to the presidency is on his deathbed and nearly dead and foster, the president pro tem, is out west, trying to make nice with various native american groups and he gets a telegram saying mister president pro tem, you need to rush back to washington, the president is dying and he ignores it and goes on the next leg of his dirty. they telegraph them again and say if you won't come back to washington we need you to stay near telegraph office. with that happened. >> there is another vice president who became very formidable and that was theodore roosevelt in his own right.
would you agree with that? >> i argue in the book of all the accidental presidents the roosevelt is the only one who would become president anyway and there are three reasons people become vice president, in the history that i write about is one, doesn't anybody want a job or a constituency or 3 as punishment. in the case of teddy roosevelt it was punishment, he was a complete pain in whatever i can say on c-span. to think they are exiling him to the political equipment -- equivalent of elba in the election, the vice president dies in office with this vacancy and what is interesting about hobart, he is the only vice president in history enjoyed a close and intimate relationship with the president, there's a lot of financial planning.
having your financial banner as your vice president is convenient. in the case of teddy roosevelt what is interesting is the first reference i can find with heartbeats from the presidency is mark hanna, one of mckinley's most trusted confidants. when teddy roosevelt ends as vice president, the only vote against any roosevelt as vice president is teddy roosevelt as a delegate. mark hanna says to mckinley, mister president, your only responsibility in the next 4 years, mckinley shot and killed in september 1901. an interesting part of the story when i talk about accidental presidents who themselves nearly die in office people look to say the teddy roosevelt story when he shot the bullet penetrates the speech and penetrates his skin and he looks at it and declares i'm in a protected and i can survive an hour before the wind becomes failing gives the
>> goes to the hospital but he wasn't president when that happened, he came back to run in 1912 to torpedo william howard taft as the republican president. tr nearly does die in office so a year almost to the day after he ascends to the presidency, he is campaigning for the midterms and a trolley slams into his carriage and killed his driver, killed his bodyguard, the first member of the secret service ever killed in the line of duty and would have killed teddy roosevelt as well but for a few inches of luck. defies 30 feet face down, glasses are broken, he gets emergency surgery but not before threatening the driver of the trolley, flashing his epic teeth and hasn't been in a wheelchair for 6 weeks, has he wrote about -- teddy roosevelt
is the first to be wheelchair while president, not fdr. >> this week biden just declared he is running for president. what do you think the chances of that two terms vice president becoming president? >> i've learned i'm not a pollster, there is no upside in making predictions. i have also learned about predictions. if you make them far enough in advance and we are not far enough in advance you have the luxury of everybody forgetting if you are wrong and you get remind people you're a genius if you are right. i will say we are in the longest period of time in history without a president dying in office, the previous longest was george washington to william henry harrison. we are the longest period, if
the oldest president, two of the serious contenders on the democratic side are in their 70s and we are still treating the selection of a vice president like a political gimmick. the danger with how we think about the vice presidency is the seriousness, the recklessness with which we choose vice presidents is obvious gated by the fact the last several vice presidents, like them or not are certainly capable of leading the republic. we don't pay a lot of attention to the recklessness of it but look no further than sarah palin in 2008 and realize we literally have learned nothing. it is a terrible idea to let candidates choose who they run with because what it says is i am against the ropes and need 10 points in the polls in this particular we come in this particular chapter of the campaign which should have absolutely nothing to do with whether somebody can lead in a crisis. >> the you talked about that pertains to something i have been working on. i cannot believe roosevelt would have truman as vp and not
tell him about the manhattan project. >> roosevelt didn't think about the vice president. he barely spent any time, he was either in warm springs, georgia, recovering, or traveling. i did the interviews that i could for this book given those chapters of history, it is useful for stories for john tyler but i asked george hw bush this question because i did a number of interviews with him before he died, kissinger, cheney and a number of others and they all have the comment on vice presidency in the context of fdr and kissinger's remark was amusing. if fdr knew he was in dying and in denial about it why would you want to the person the most likely to benefit from your death lingering around? fdr didn't want to set eyes on truman. if you know you are dying and in denial about it you don't want to look at the guy who is about to take over for you.
>> you were telling us about nixon and ford. >> if i'm a revisionist and want to be funny i would say i got tired and didn't want to do next are chapter. it was a deliberate decision at the beginning because what i was captivated by my entire life was this idea somebody who is not the voters choice who nobody wants his vice president, how do they leave something when everybody misses their predecessor. the idea of death in office comes with a sense of you are depriving the voters of the person they choose what they chose. whoever a sense to the presidency has to deal with the reality of the country in morning, they feel an allegation to continue paying homage to some elements of predecessors policies, look at nixon resigning in disgrace, ford was under no obligation to
nixon by any stretch aside from pardoning him. it feels different to me. i talk about the nixon to ford transition in the context of some discussion toward the end of the book about the 25th amendment. that is when richard nixon plucks gerald ford from michigan to replace spirit agnew as vice president. aren't we glad he did? the interesting thing, you think the 25th amendment would be put in practice, it wasn't. james baker and others around reagan didn't want to search the president of making a determination that the president was unfit for office. no evidence they reflected back on james garfield being on his deathbed for 80 days or woodrow wilson but i wonder if it was in the back of their mind. the only time the 25th
amendment, due to an inability of the president to discharge their duties, the only time it was ever in practice is for colonoscopies, seriously. one more story while you are coming up to the mic about ford and vice president cheney told mckinley he was deputy chief of staff for gerald ford and what people don't realize about ford is ford made to assassination attempt against him in 35 days. they fired a shot at point blank and the gun malfunctioned and 35 days later, he pulled down the elevator, one of those elevators that opens vertically instead of horizontally and cheney talked about how the elevator door hit ford on the top of the head, cracked his scallop and, he went back to the room, had to get stitches, came back downstairs and sarah jane more fired shots at him. a secret service agent got his
finger between the assassin and the trigger and prevented her from killing gerald ford but the punchline, a really bad day for the president. >> this is apropos of the question that you said about ford and the question is what is the process for the appointment of the vice president of the accidental president. >> the process by which nixon -- >> nelson rockefeller as vice president which is an accidental vice president i guess you could say. once the vice president, the elected vice president ascends to the presidency, what is the process for a new vice president to be selected or appointed?
>> it is the same, it is no different from the 25th amendment, the president of the united states can pick somebody they can nominate and an approval process in congress. it is the same process whether the vice president ascends, somebody ends an accidental president, as long as it is post 25th amendment the selection process for replacing the vice president is the same as if there was a president, on the ballot box. other questions? if not i can tell more stories. the stories are endlessly incredible. my favorite quote from the book, most of the presidents
who end up as presidents never spent much time thinking about it. they expected to be irrelevant. teddy roosevelt spent his entire life thinking about being president. when mckinley finds out mckinley dies he can hardly contain his enthusiasm for the idea that he is president but he is conflicted and has an amazing quote, a terrible thing to come to the presidency this way but far worse to be morbid about it. >> i am thinking truman would be in this category, the vice president ascends to the presidency actually is politically aligned with policies, they are often picked for the balance and differences. >> the closest is calvin
coolidge and this is an interesting one because the harding coolidge transition has the most comparison with our present day moment. if you look at warren harding, the most scandalous administration in history. the teapot dome scandal, massive oil scandal and the attorney general and justice department, everything from bootlegging, fight fixing, dock manipulation, suicides, fishy murders, and the justice department, and a corrupt attorney general. harding dies an enormously popular man and calvin coolidge is the only accidental president to ascend to the presidency with less the near to go before the election of 1924. coolidge knows what the harding administration is all about and is terrified the scandals will break on his watch, republicans will lose in 1924 and power will be handed over to the democrats.
and many stories about coolidge, my favorite one is at the willard hotel's vice president and the hotel is on fire and is told he needs to evacuate and says i'm the vice president and he says you can stay. and the vice president of what? the united states and you need to evacuate. we thought you were the vice president of the hotel. what is interesting about coolidge, coolidge developed an interesting strategy. he takes a truth, that he is boring and insignificant and cultivates this image of silent, a man so boring and insignificant he couldn't possibly have been relevant enough to be complicit in any of the scandals. more engagement than any president who came before him, the advent of broadcast radio. he goes into living rooms the way no president had before. i'm not sure he needed to do that because the economy was booming on such a scale because
economic drunk on the ideas of access, pie, consumer-products, tabloids, good economic times they didn't care so much the president was warren harding, calvin coolidge or herbert hoover until the economy completely crumbles. to the extent you had a vice president continue business as usual calvin coolidge is the closest example. >> i was curious based on your research which vice president exercised undue influence on policy such that the president might have been absent or nonexistent in your opinion. >> teddy roosevelt was the most annoying of all the vice presidents. no one could control him, nobody could control him as vice president. there was a great story about him as assistant secretary, a great story, assistant
secretary of the navy where secretary of the navy long gets the equivalent of spa treatment and is so worried what teddy roosevelt might do as acting secretary of the navy and six hours that he instruct him not to take the country to war. teddy roosevelt mobilized the country for war in 6 hours. what is interesting is teddy roosevelt, every one of the accidental presidents get elected, none of the ones who came before him. you have way more reelections as president post 1900 then before. i tribute that to the fact that worn -- foreign-policy plays a more pronounced role on foreign policy. if you look at to answer your question the vice president exerted the most amount of influence, the last three or four vice presidents. they played advanced
foreign-policy roles. other questions? tell another story, wow. i will pull into the reservoir. i will share a personal story about the writing process of this. it was tricky because i had a day job also but i wanted to do this in a way that i got my hands on archival research and every time i went to write a new chapter i went through the same emotional period of volatility which is i determined i couldn't do it, there was nothing new to write and i felt the challenge was daunting and i decided with each chapter to approach it like i was playing the accidental president in a place so i would read all of these assessments of their
personality and their letters and get in their head and i got stuck in andrew johnson's head and it was a disturbing experience, really don't like him. when you encounter disagreement in the scholarship and the history if you can get yourself to imagine what it was like to be that particular person you can make, form an opinion about what they have done. that was a fun process that is like playing each accidental president in a play at least for the duration of writing it. >> andrew johnson, one of the hardest presidents to be impeached, why was congress so reluctant to impeach him?
>> great question but ultimately he does get impeached and what is interesting about andrew johnson, when people talk about what a catastrophe he was they point to the fact that he was impeached. the irony is the thing he was impeached for was violation of the tenure of office act which was deemed unconstitutional. it trivializes the failings and catastrophe of andrew johnson when we focus on impeachment. we should focus on the fact, he makes no mention of civil rights, gives amnesty to every single trader, the vice president of the confederacy, alexander stevens, to be reelected into congress. those are reasons to criticize andrew johnson. in terms of impeachment, the threshold was pretty high. what is interesting, impeachment historically has been used as a political tool. the only time where you have
serious impeachment proceedings that if they were allowed to play out would have resulted in the impeachment of the president was richard nixon. that is the only time it doesn't take a political flavor. the first impeachment proceedings against the president are against john tyler and they are totally politically motivated. the impeachment proceedings against andrew johnson are motivated by radical republicans who when johnson ascended to the presidency thought he was one of them because of his rhetoric on civil rights and punishment of traders and when the war ended they found out he was nothing like them. they are trying to get him on technicalities. the difficulty in impeaching him reflected a lack of comfort in the house of representatives, the idea of impeachment taking on a political flavor. he does get impeached and narrowly escaped conviction by a single vote.
on lbj, lbj is one of those once you go to write it and think what can i write that robert caro has not written? this is what is amazing about history, there's plenty to write about. there is still a lot of unsolved mystery, a lot of missing pieces in the reconstruction of our history. what i focus on is i really believe he was either going to have to resign as vice president for be kicked off the ticket the week after kennedy was assassinated in the reason for that is he was involved in a massive scandal involving bobby baker, native his in the senate and he was under investigation. what i learned in talking to tom brokaw who remembered that period quite well was cbs and time wife had the goods on lbj
and 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. this is important because the country had been through such a dramatic transition, you can't have a situation where kennedy was assassinated, scandal breaks and at the height of the cold war the president, the new president of the united states has a resign. there is no 25th amendment, no provision for replacing the vice president so they had flipped the speaker and president pro tem so would have gone to speaker of the house as acting president and the secretary of state would schedule a special election. this is an interesting sort of ethical issue to debate in the context of history. i am sorry, i should know the name, but - the country had
been through this dramatic transition and what was also fascinating, we know how bobby kennedy hated lbj but it was clear to the kennedys when they took the final trip to texas that lbj didn't have the sway in texas they thought he did. even if he wasn't willing to resign you can take they would have found a way to rotate him off the ticket. the conventional wisdom about lbj and jfk is a kennedys not assassinated you don't get civil rights act of 1964, maybe not the subsequent acts either but you also don't get vietnam. i don't subscribe to that view. i do not think you would have gotten the civil rights act of 1964 because i think the kennedys were prepared to pay lip service to civil rights but not to take electoral risks in favor of civil rights. hard to speculate after, if they had even won reelection. that is a big if. with vietnam the guardians of kennedy's reputation, solicitor and sorenson, have reconstructed a narrative that correctly settles lbj with
responsibility of culpability for vietnam but is all kennedy of too much responsibly. kennedy double the number of advisors, double the foreign assistance budget, turns the other way casting support for a coup against the vietnamese president and often times people will point to some of the advisors coming home which was later to be proven to be part of a normal troop rotation. i don't think kennedy was as 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. people i interviewed coming could be divided on this. a big game of maybe yes, maybe now. my personal view is there would have been some form of escalation under kennedy as well.
>> can you comment on cheney's vice presidency? >> what is interesting, if you look at dick cheney's background, he has one of the most extraordinary records of any man who ever ascended to the vice presidency. his before vice president and after vice president is a very different narrative. there is no doubt he was one of the most influential vice presidents in history particularly in the first term but i think you see the limits of the vice presidency by evaluating his second term as vp. >> thank you. [applause] >> we have copies of jared cohen's book available behind the register. if you form a line to the right of the table and pull up your chair, thank you. [inaudible conversations]
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