When a person is elected president, it is usually based upon how they relate to the American public and their own charisma.
Very rarely is a president elected because of who their Vice President is, as the Vice President is normally put on the ticket because of their ability to influence votes and work deals.
However, in history, there have been eight cases where the Vice President suddenly becomes President. Four of these instances are due to an Assassination, with the other four becoming President due to an illness.
Within Cohen’s book, we’ll explore three of these people, which include:
- John Tyler, and how he used his influence to annex Texas into the United States
- Andrew Johnson wasting a historic opportunity
- Harry Truman creating a new structure after World War II
First Lesson: John Tyler and the annexation of Texas
Tyler was the Vice President for the person who holds the record for the shortest term in office, William Henry Harrison.
After 31 days in office, Harrison passed away from typhoid fever. With no constitutional guidelines in place at the time, Tyler was named as a President.
Even though he was named president, Tyler was not very popular among anyone in Washington DC. Due to this, Tyler knew the only way he would be re-elected is if he did something bold.
The controversy was already brewing with Slavery. The issue prevented the state of Texas from becoming part of the United States.
There was a balance between the Northern Free States and Southern slave states. Adding Texas would tip the scales in favor of one or the other.
During his fourth year as president, Tyler pushed through a treaty allowing Texas to come into the union as a slave state. However, this was not enough to propel Tyler to a 2nd term, as he eventually withdrew from the race before the election was even held.
The next President, James Polk, was able to have Texas sign the annexation bill, which allowed Texas to become a state within the United States.
Lesson 2: Andrew Johnson and a Wasted Opportunity
During Abraham Lincoln’s first term as President, his Vice President was Hannibal Hamlin. During the next four years, with the Civil War in full throttle, it became apparent that Lincoln was going to need to appeal to the South to win a 2nd term as President.
Lincoln replaced his Hamlin, who was from Maine, with Andrew Johnson, who was from Tennessee. Johnson was a known racist who owned slaves. Still, he supported the United States and Union in the war, even labeling those in the South who went to war “traitors.”
Shortly after they won the election, the Civil War came to a conclusion in favor of the North, but Lincoln was assassinated. Johnson was immediately installed as the President.
Although during the war, he criticized those in the South who wanted to be removed from the Union. When it came time to deal with the consequences, Johnson opted for pardons rather than deal out any punishments. Due to this, Southern States started passing laws that limited the freedoms of free slaves.
Rather than enforcing the National Law, Johnson wanted to so badly integrate the South back into the fold that he overlooked what was happening. Rather than solidifying their equality and freedoms, he allowed the civil rights of freed slaves to be squandered.
Lesson 3: Harry Truman creates a New World Order
FDR is the only President in US History to serve more than two terms consecutively. When he knew his health was failing before his upcoming fourth term, he decided to replace his current VP Henry Wallace with a person who was more known for his perceived unremarkable identity, Harry Truman.
When FDR passed away from illness 82 days into his fourth and final term, Truman took over as President.
This was during a time where the United States was deep into World War II. Truman had not been advised of any foreign policy briefings before this time. He had to deal with both the Nazi offensive in Europe, as well as the threat from the Pacific in Japan.
During his first term, Truman did just that.
He listened to the advisors whom he left in place after FDR passed away, which allowed him to help end World War II. He also oversaw the creation of the United Nations, helped Europe rebuild after the war was over, and even helped the world recognize Israel as its own independent state.
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