Sunday, October 19, 2008

Consequential Non-Election Presidential Successions

The American Presidents Blog posted recently about consequential presidential elections. Which got me thinking: what about consequential presidential successions that were not the result of elections – i.e., due to the death or resignation of the incumbent.

The candidates are:

William Henry Harrison – John Tyler
Zachary Taylor – Millard B. Fillmore
Abraham Lincoln – Andrew Johnson
James A. Garfield – Chester A. Arthur
William McKinley – Theodore Roosevelt
Warren G. Harding – Calvin Coolidge
Franklin D. Roosevelt – Harry S. Truman
John F. Kennedy – Lyndon B. Johnson
Richard M. Nixon – Gerald Ford

What’s amazing is how consequential so many of these successions were. You wouldn’t think that would be the case. After all, the incoming president is a member of the same party as, and often picked by, his successor.

But consider:

Harrison/Tyler – It is inconceivable to me that Harrison would have stirred up the Texas hornet nest as Tyler did. Texas would not have been admitted in 1845. No James K. Polk? No Mexican War? No Wilmot Proviso? Etc. etc. etc.

Taylor/Fillmore – As I have discussed on a number of occasions, but for Taylor’s death and Fillmore’s accession there is significant doubt whether the Compromise of 1850 would have passed. War breaks out between the United States and Texas in 1850 or 1851? Leading to a broader war in which slave states line up with Texas?

Lincoln/Johnson – Would a Radical Republican Congress have composed the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments if Lincoln had lived? What form would Reconstruction have taken?

Kennedy/Johnson – I tend to think that Kennedy would have gotten drawn into Vietnam as Johnson did. But even so, it is hard to conceive the Great Society under Kennedy.

Other speculations are welcome!


  1. well obama will win for sure

  2. Anonymous8:02 PM

    Actually, Kennedy was involved in Vietnam. Our military was sending tech. people there. One of my friends was a military radar repairman sent to Vietnam while Kennedy was still alive. Kennedy did a lot of things that weren't reported in the press at that time.


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