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U.S. President and the Order of Succession

A brief history of presidential succession

Congress has wrestled with the issue of presidential succession throughout our history. Why? Because, between 1901 and 1974, five vice presidents inherited the the nation's highest office due to four presidential deaths and one resignation. In fact, between the years 1841 to 1975, more than one-third of all U.S. presidents have either died in office, quit, or become disabled. Seven vice presidents have died in office and two have resigned resulting in a total of 37 years during which the office of vice president was completely vacant.

Sources: Feerick, John D. From Falling Hands: The Story of Presidential Succession. New York: Fordham University Press, 1965; U.S. Department of State; White House; United States Senate; National Archives

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Recommended Reading: U.S. Presidents for Dummies (408 pages). Description: Forty-three Americans, as of 2002, have held the office of President of the United States. Each has a story, be it one of vision, accomplishment, conflict, scandal, triumph, or tragedy. And each story is at the center of the national story, a part of what we all experience. History buffs find endless fascination – and a greater understanding of America today – in the colorful personalities and momentous events that surround the Oval Office. If you want the complete take on U.S. presidents, from George Washington to George W. Bush, you’ll appreciate U.S. Presidents for Dummies. Continued below...

Written in a lively style by a history professor at the University of Texas, this fun guidebook of chief executives is packed with information, factoids, and memorable quotes. Inside, you’ll find out which president:

Promised to only serve one term, and kept his word!

Was a great person but a rotten president

Campaigned on nothing but image – in the nineteenth century!

May be the most underrated president in history

Had his own distributor bringing liquor to the White House – during Prohibition!

Appointed the first female cabinet member

Pushed through the first civil rights legislation after the end of the Civil War

Said of himself, “I am a man of limited talents from a small town. I don’t seem to grasp that I am president.”

U.S. Presidents for Dummies offers a wealth of knowledge on what it takes to be the leader of the free world, and who has stepped up to the challenge. Dividing the ranks of presidents into chronological groups for a broader, historical understanding of the office, this book discusses:
The birth and evolution of the presidency
Ineffective presidents
Forgettable presidents
Working up to the Civil War
Reconstruction presidents
Becoming a force in the world
Instituting the Imperial Presidency
Today’s changing dynamics and the Presidency
A treasury of information, this book features an easy-to-comprehend style and sharp historical analysis. Sidebars, photos, timelines, and best and worst lists make U.S. Presidents for Dummies a historical blast to read and a must-have for understanding the state of both yesterday’s and today’s union.
 

Recommended Viewing: The History Channel Presents The Presidents (DVD: 6 Hours). Description: THE PRESIDENTS is an unprecedented eight-part survey of the personal lives and legacies of the remarkable men who have presided over the Oval Office. From George Washington to George W. Bush, THE PRESIDENTS gathers together vivid snapshots of all 43 Commanders in Chief who have guided America throughout its history--their powerful personalities, weaknesses, and major achievements or historical insignificance. Based on the book To the Best of My Ability, edited by Pulitzer Prize-winner James McPherson, THE PRESIDENTS features rare and unseen photographs and footage, unexpected insight and trivia from journalists, scholars, and politicians such as Walter Cronkite, David Brinkley, Wesley Clark, Bob Dole, and former President Jimmy Carter. Continued below...

Viewed within the changing contexts of each administration, the Presidency has never seemed more compelling and human. Narrated by Edward Herrmann ("The Aviator"), this three-DVD set is a proud addition to the award-winning documentary tradition of THE HISTORY CHANNEL®. DVD Features: Feature-length Bonus Program "All The Presidents' Wives"; Timeline of U.S. Presidents; Interactive Menus; Scene Selection, and more!

  

Recommended Reading: Complete Book of U.S. Presidents: From George Washington to George W. Bush (Hardcover, 848 pages). Description: This is the consummate guide to the political and personal lives of every U.S. president through Bill Clinton. Arranged chronologically, The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents elaborates not only on the major accomplishments and events of their terms, but also on less well-known details such as personalities, careers before the presidency, Supreme Court appointments, hobbies, ethnic backgrounds, and even extramarital affairs. Continued below...

Well-organized and packed with details, the book also includes a bibliography on each executive, including books written by and about them, along with useful and entertaining appendixes on the political composition of every Congress, presidential curiosities (such as the uncanny similarities between the lives and deaths of Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy), and a ranking of presidents. Whether you want to know the opponent of James Monroe in the election of 1816 or read some of Harry S. Truman's more memorable quotes, this is a most complete and thorough reference to each commander-in-chief.

 

Recommended Reading: Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation. Review: In retrospect, it seems as if the American Revolution was inevitable. But was it? In Founding Brothers, Joseph J. Ellis reveals that many of those truths we hold to be self-evident were actually fiercely contested in the early days of the republic. Ellis focuses on six crucial moments in the life of the new nation, including a secret dinner at which the seat of the nation's capital was determined--in exchange for support of Hamilton's financial plan; Washington's precedent-setting Farewell Address; and the Hamilton and Burr duel. Most interesting, perhaps, is the debate (still dividing scholars today) over the meaning of the Revolution. Continued below...

In a fascinating chapter on the renewed friendship between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson at the end of their lives, Ellis points out the fundamental differences between the Republicans, who saw the Revolution as a liberating act and hold the Declaration of Independence most sacred, and the Federalists, who saw the revolution as a step in the building of American nationhood and hold the Constitution most dear. Throughout the text, Ellis explains the personal, face-to-face nature of early American politics--and notes that the members of the revolutionary generation were conscious of the fact that they were establishing precedents on which future generations would rely. In Founding Brothers, Ellis (whose American Sphinx won the National Book Award for nonfiction in 1997) has written an elegant and engaging narrative, sure to become a classic. Highly recommended.

 

Recommended Reading: American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies at the Founding of the Republic (Hardcover). Review: From the prizewinning author of the best-selling Founding Brothers and American Sphinx, a masterly and highly ironic examination of the founding years of our country. The last quarter of the eighteenth century remains the most politically creative era in American history, when a dedicated and determined group of men undertook a bold experiment in political ideals. It was a time of triumphs; yet, as Joseph J. Ellis makes clear, it was also a time of tragedies—all of which contributed to the shaping of our burgeoning nation. Continued below...

From the first shots fired at Lexington to the signing of the Declaration of Independence to the negotiations for the Louisiana Purchase, Ellis guides us through the decisive issues of the nation’s founding, and illuminates the emerging philosophies, shifting alliances, and personal and political foibles of our now iconic leaders—Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, and Adams. He casts an incisive eye on the founders’ achievements, arguing that the American Revolution was, paradoxically, an evolution—and that part of what made it so extraordinary was the gradual pace at which it occurred. He shows us why the fact that it was brought about by a group, rather than by a single individual, distinguished it from the bloodier revolutions of other countries, and ultimately played a key role in determining its success. He explains how the idea of a strong federal government, championed by Washington, was eventually embraced by the American people, the majority of whom had to be won over, as they feared an absolute power reminiscent of the British Empire. And he details the emergence of the two-party system—then a political novelty—which today stands as the founders’ most enduring legacy. But Ellis is equally incisive about their failures, and he makes clear how their inability to abolish slavery and to reach a just settlement with the Native Americans has played an equally important role in shaping our national character. He demonstrates how these misjudgments, now so abundantly evident, were not necessarily inevitable. We learn of the negotiations between Henry Knox and Alexander McGillivray, the most talented Indian statesman of his time, which began in good faith and ended in disaster. And we come to understand how a political solution to slavery required the kind of robust federal power that the Jeffersonians viewed as a betrayal of their most deeply held principles. With eloquence and insight, Ellis strips the mythic veneer of the revolutionary generation to reveal men both human and inspired, possessed of both brilliance and blindness. American Creation is a book that delineates an era of flawed greatness, at a time when understanding our origins is more important than ever. About the Author: Joseph J. Ellis received the Pulitzer Prize for Founding Brothers and the National Book Award for his portrait of Thomas Jefferson, American Sphinx. He is the Ford Foundation Professor of History at Mount Holyoke College. He lives in Amherst, Massachusetts, with his wife, Ellen, and their youngest son, Alex.

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