A look at nine accidental presidents

  • Written by Don C. White

History-Don-White-logo  We have had a total of nine accidental presidents.
  An accidental president occurs if a sitting president is impeached, dies in office or resigns.
  Two presidents were impeached by the House of Representatives but both were acquitted by the Senate. Eight presidents died in office — four of natural causes and four were assassinated. One president resigned from office in disgrace rather than face impeachment charges.
  All nine accidental presidents knew as sitting vice-presidents they were a heartbeat away from the highest office in the land. None of them were any more qualified to become president than the men they replaced. Training to be president begins minutes after the oath of office is administered.
  The following is a list of the nine accidental presidents with a brief comment of their time in office:

John Tyler
  John Tyler, No. 10 overall, was the first accidental president. He replaced William Henry Harrison who died on April 4, 1841, just 30 days after taking office. President Tyler finished the term and did not run again. One of his last acts was to sign bills admitting Texas and Florida as states.
  President Tyler died on Jan. 18, 1862 in Richmond, Va. before he could take his seat in the Confederate House. Could some consider him a traitor?

Millard Fillmore
  Millard Fillmore, our 13th president, served the remaining term of President Zachary Taylor. As president, Fillmore signed into law the Compromise of 1850 which helped delay the conflict over slavery. He was rejected by the Whig party to run for another term.

Andrew Johnson
  Andrew Johnson, No. 17, was sworn in on April 15, 1865 after President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. President Johnson spent much time fighting Congress over reconstruction. In 1867 the U.S. purchased Alaska from Russia for $7.2 million dollars. In 1868 Johnson was impeached by the House, but was acquitted by one vote in the Senate.

Chester Arthur
  Chester Arthur, No. 21, was sworn in on Sept. 20, 1881 one day after the assassination of James A. Garfield. President Arthur signed into law the Pendleton Civil Service Act, tariff reform legislation and the Edmonds Anti-Polygamy Bill aimed at the Mormons in Utah. He was defeated for the Republican nomination in 1884.

Theodore Roosevelt
  Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th president, was sworn in on Sept. 14, 1901 after the assassination of William McKinley. He was elected to a full term in 1904. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for arbitrating the end of the Russo-Japanese War. He did not seek reelection in 1908, but in 1912 he left the GOP and ran on the Progressive (“Bull Moose”) ticket. He lost the election to Woodrow Wilson.

Calvin Coolidge
  John Calvin Coolidge, No. 30, was sworn in on August 3, 1923 after the death of Warren G. Harding. In 1924 Coolidge was elected, but did not run again in 1928. He sent U.S. Marines to Nicaragua in 1925 during that country’s civil war. He vetoed the McNary-Haugen farm bill in 1926 and in 1928 vetoed the relief measure.

Harry Truman
  Harry S. Truman, No. 23, was sworn in on April 12, 1945 following the sudden death of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. On May 7, 1945 Germany surrendered and after we dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki Japan surrendered in September, 1945.
  He was elected in the “political upset” of 1948. He sent U.S. troops to Korea in 1950. Then in 1951 he relieved General Douglas MacArthur of his command. In 1952 Truman declined to seek reelection.

Lyndon B. Johnson
  Lyndon B. Johnson, our 36th president, was sworn in on Air Force One on Nov. 22, 1963 after the assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. In 1964 he was elected to a full term.
  He signed an $11.5 billion tax reduction bill and a major civil rights bill. He ordered the bombing of targets in North Vietnam in 1965. He started Medicare, the Department of Housing and Urban Development in 1965 and in 1966 the Department of Transportation was formed.

Gerald Ford
  Gerald R. Ford, No. 38, was sworn in on Aug. 8, 1974 as Richard M. Nixon winged his way to California in disgrace. On Oct. 10, 1973 vice president Spiro T. Agnew resigned from office and Gerald Ford was appointed to replace him. Among the first things that President Ford did was to appoint Nelson A. Rockefeller vice-president. Then he did something that many of us could not understand — he gave President Nixon a full and absolute pardon. In April 1975 South Vietnam surrendered to the Communists ending the war in Southeast Asia. In 1976 President Ford led the nation in celebrating the country’s 200th birthday. Later in 1976 he was defeated by Jimmy Carter in the presidential election.
  My choice for the top three accidental presidents in alphabetical order are: Lyndon Baines Johnson, Theodore Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman.

Don C. White is a historian from Palos Hills.

Speaking of talking…

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Bobs Column - The B SideI’ll own up to this at the onset: I love to talk.
I’ve always liked to chat, banter, chew the fat, converse, gab, yap. Some would say I’m a great conversationalist. Others would conclude that I have a big mouth. Truth is, it’s probably a combination of the two.index
I’ve always enjoyed shooting the breeze, even as a child. In fact, when I lived with my grandmother, her sister once insisted that I not answer the phone when she called. I guess my aunt wanted to avoid the long conversation she was in for if I picked up the receiver.
I routinely telephoned my mom at her downtown office to check in after school. She often reminded me that it had to be a quick call. She was at work and could not have extended conversations. I doubt I ever heeded her advice.
I’ve always gravitated to chatty people. My Irish grandmother could talk a blue streak. She was in her element at a wake, working a room like a politician. She loved every moment.
Over time, I perfected the skill, learning to engage practically anyone. It’s easy if you show an interest in the things that are important to them—family, hobbies, work, for example.
Want a surefire way to start a conversation? Inquire about where someone grew up. I, for example, had no idea that Chicago Ridge Village Clerk George Schleyer and Evergreen Park High School Supt. Beth Hart are Tommy More people from back in the day. I lived in St. Thomas More parish. We know many of the same people and could talk forever.
I guess the apple didn’t fall far from the tree when it comes to my grandmother and me. And my younger son, Mike, reminds me of her, too.
Mike knows everyone in our neighborhood and always has the latest scoop. Like me, his gift of gab is accompanied by a great sense curiosity. He often bounds up the stairs to my bedroom to tell me the latest news he’s gleaned by chatting up someone or the other.
A close friend of mine—who also works as a writer—suspects that some people confuse curiosity with nosiness or prying into their business. But he and I are convinced that the desire to question, to learn more, is part and parcel of our trade, not an attempt to be intrusive. We’re genuinely are interested in what you have to say.
Of course, these attempts at conversations have helped us suss out the idiots among us. They are the ones who say little not because they’re shy or bad conversationalists, but because they are stupid.
For example, a young woman who worked with my friend and me at a weekly newspaper chain once told us that she wanted to transition into public relations for many reasons, including, “You get to pick colors.” Occasionally, my buddy will send me a text that says, “You get to pick colors.” More than 25 years later and I still laugh.
Of course the trade off for a talkative person is the ability to listen. That’s the tough part of the deal. If people are going to listen to you yammer on about your children, golf game, vacation or latest DIY project, you’d better be all ears when they want to talk about their work, family or friends.
It can be boring. My friend is going through youth sports with his two children. Coaching, living and dying with wins and losses. I don’t care that much. That stuff happened for me a decade ago. But I have to remember that when my son made travel baseball teams and succeeded in multiple sports, my friend patiently listened to the stories about his achievements.
That said, people who can’t or won’t listen fascinate me—especially those who make it clear that they have little no time for conversation. Maybe I should be envious of them. The ability to shut someone down could be considered a skill.
It happened to me the other day. I got a call from someone seeking some important information. I assume it was important or they wouldn’t have called. I didn’t have the information at my fingertips, but promised to get it. I asked a few related questions and was told, “I don’t time have to chat.” Wow. Well, don’t call if you’re busy. It’s not as though I asked about the upcoming Bears season.
Earlier that day, I had to drop something off at person’s house. I didn’t know the guy and was happy to hand him the item and leave. Instead, he invited me inside. He started to talk about his upcoming vacation, his kids, his job. He did most of the talking. I was happy to listen. He seemed like a nice guy. We probably could have chatted for a long time.
Suddenly, however, he glanced at his adult son and said to me, “He wants me to let you go.” I was confused for a split second, but realized that the guy was wearing a Bluetooth headset. His son must have called him to convey the message.
“Lose this guy, dad.” Who knows, maybe they were going to eat dinner and or head out. No matter. I shook the guy’s hand and left. But I was sort of surprised at whatever scenario occurred to get the word to dad. Whatever, the stranger with the big mouth was driving away.

No charge for car battery and bonus bucks to boot

  • Written by Bob Rakow

I recently purchased a new battery for my car, but the transaction was unlike any other I’ve experienced.
I stopped at a local auto parts store, asked if they had a battery for my make and model and if they would install it. Within minutes, the new battery was in, the old one was out, and I was standing at the front counter waiting to settle up.
That’s where the confusion began. I walked to one register and was directed to another register where an employee asked me if I was “all set” or something like that before handing me $136.
Something seemed amiss. I was getting a free battery and $136? What a deal!
I stayed at the counter for a moment wondering why I received the money I owed the store. Rather than say something right away, I walked to my car, counted my money, recalled how much I had at the start of the day, factored in my other purchases and was positive the store screwed up.
I explained the situation to the manager, who reviewed the register receipts and found the cash drawer to be about $275 short—the $136 I was given plus the price of the battery that I never paid the store.
That’s a lot of money. My wife has worked in banking and retail most of her life, and having a cash drawer shortage is a very big deal.
The store manager summoned the employee who rang me out and said, with a hint of astonishment in his voice, “You gave him $136?”
The funny thing was, the employee wasn’t embarrassed, apologetic or ashamed. Instead, he tried to put his mistake on me, saying that I indicated all was well when he completed the transaction.
Funny, I sort of figured that retail employees know enough to charge customers who come in for goods or services. Giving money away is not typically in the business plan. If the guy was unsure of anything about my purchase, he should have asked.
The employee walked away from the counter until the manager, sounding like a father admonishing a young child, said, “Don’t you have something to say?” The young guy looked clueless until the manager told him to thank me.
I wasn’t looking for a “thanks.” I returned to the store only because I wouldn’t feel right about driving around with a free battery and $136 in my pocket. It’s dishonest.
I did tell the young man that a lot of people would have pocketed the money and never returned. Maybe he figured he’d be disciplined because I returned.
But the employee’s reaction or lack thereof reminded me again that there’s a lot of poor customer service out there.
I’m not sure if some people who staff stores, answer phones, work in restaurants and so on are ever trained to properly treat customers. Probably not. Others likely just don’t care.
They’re working thankless, minimum wage jobs. They don’t expect to keep the gigs for long, and if they get fired or become overly frustrated, they’ll just move on to a similar job.
It’s not entirely their fault. We’ve all had a part-time job with the insufferable manager. Bosses have a job to do, but when they fail to respect the employees, the work can become miserable real fast.
But no matter the reason, the customer pays the price for poor customer.
Thankfully, bad customer service is still the exception rather than rule. And I’ve learned that if you have a complaint about service, talk to a manager. They’re the ones who understand how to treat customers.
To wit, I have a warranty on my newer car. I had minor repairs done at the dealership a few weeks ago and was charged $160 for the diagnosis fee and some small parts—both not covered by the warranty—surprise, surprise.
I asked about the unexpected charges and, without hesitation, the general manager cut the invoice in half. He wanted me to leave happy, he said. If it cost him a few bucks, so be it. He wants me back when it’s time to buy another car.
I had problems recently with my hot water heater. I called my plumber, who worked his magic and had it repaired in no time. No charge either. We have a relationship. I’ll be calling him again for bigger work or I might refer him to a friend. He knows this, so why nickel and dime me on the little stuff?
When the recent storms hit and we lost power for two days, a refrigerator full of food spoiled. I emailed a detailed list and monetary value of the food to my insurance agent and a check was in the mail the same week. This is just one reason why he is my insurance agent. Availability and endless efforts to save me money are two others.
Seems there’s no gray area when it comes to customer service. It’s either really good or just plain bad. Giving away auto parts and money might be considered both.

Hoping for the nightmare to end

  • Written by Don C. White

A segment of the Civil War is examined closelyHistory-Don-White-logo

As the year 1864 began, the war-weary citizens of the Confederacy as well as those of the
Union had tired of the fighting.
When was this nightmare going to end?
How many more lives of the youth of America were to be sacrificed to complete, either the sundering of the nation or the healing of the nation? They looked to the leaders as they pondered these questions. They wanted answers that neither Arbraham Lincoln nor Jefferson Davis could give them as to when this terrible scourge upon the land would come to an end.
The leaders on neither side could not have imagined that the war would last this long. But it had. Now, in what would be the last full year of fighting, neither side gave any sign of stopping. Yes, there had been peace overtures but so far nothing that could bring the sides together.
For one thing, President Lincoln never considered the erring brothers to have left the Union.
As new territories entered into statehood, the total count carried on as if no state had seceded. From
Lincoln’s standpoint there could be no peace unless and until the nation was once again united. He
would not budge an inch from this position.
Most of the armies began the year in winter quarters, safe, if not snug, warm, if not well-feed,
Fighting would begin as soon as spring arrived. Meanwhile, the Confederate Navy kept busy with a number of torpedo attacks. The one most people remember occurred on February 17 off the coast of Charleston, South Carolina where the submarine H. L. Hunley sank the USS Housatonic with the loss of five of her crew. Tragically all hands on the Hunley were lost.
The torpedo attacks continued through-out the year and destroyed a number of Union vessels.
The most well-known naval battle of the year took place on June 19 off the coast of Cherburg, France between the CSS Alabama and the USS Kearsarge. The Confederate Raider had captured over 60prizes valued at more than $6 million. On this day, she met her match and was sunk with nine hands lost and many captured.
Late in 1863 and early 1864, some newspapers in the north began a campaign calling for
U. S. Grant to become a candidate for president. He had been a Douglas Democrat before the war but was behind President Lincoln 100 percent by this time. Also, around this time, Grant was being touted to become Lieutenant General of the Army and supreme commander of all Union troops.
Of course the talk of Grant for president was a concern for Lincoln. He knew better thananyone what this itch could do to a man. He needed to be reassured that Grant had no aspirations to run against him. At this stage of the war Lincoln and Grant had never met. Lincoln turned to the Congressman from Galena, Elihu Washburne for some insight on Grant. Washburne told Lincoln that Russell Jones of Galena knew Grant better than anyone.
Mr. Jones was a U.S. Marshall serving at Chicago. Lincoln sent for him to ask if he thought
Grant was the least bit interested in running for president. He offered Lincoln a letter he had recently received from Grant that stated as long as Lincoln could be retained in office, he, Grant, had no interest in running in 1864. This information assured Lincoln so that he could move ahead with the promotion of Grant to Lt. General and commander of the army.
From that moment forward things moved quickly, with Grant going to Washington on March 8, 1864. At a White House reception Lincoln and Grant met for the first time. The next day at a cabinet meeting Grant was presented his commission as Lieutenant General. Lincoln said in part, “The Nation’s appreciation of what you have done, and it’s reliance upon you for what remains to do, in the existing great struggle, are now presented with the Commission, constituting you Lieutenant General in the Army of the United States. …”
In Grant, Lincoln finally found the man that he had been looking for to lead the Union troops to victory.
Another item of interest that took place late in 1863 and early 1864 was the arrival of an armada of Russian ships docking at New York and San Francisco harbors. They spent the winter enjoying the sights and hospitality of America. Some reports say that a number of U.S. military officers along with Mrs. Lincoln were entertained on a shipboard reception. This over-whelming show of force in support of the Union sent a strong message to the Confederacy as well as to England and France that the North had a friend in Russia.
Meanwhile, fighting occurred at Averysboro, N.C.; Paducah, Ky.; Pleasant Hill, La. and
Fort Pillow, Tennessee. The fighting at Fort Pillow is known yet today as the Fort Pillow “Massacre”.
Accounts differed as to the number of troops killed, but after an Investigation it was determined that
nearly 350 Union men were killed. Most of the 262 African-American troops stationed there died in this battle.
Confederate losses were near 100, killed and wounded.
General Grant wasted little time in planning the spring offensive. In his first meeting with
George Meade, commander of the Army of the Potomac, Meade offered his resignation. He believed that Grant would want to put one of his western generals in command, so he offered to step aside. Grant would not hear of it; he wanted Meade to continue as commander. This move was the right thing to do to maintain the morale of the army. As the campaign progressed the Army of the Potomac would become known more as Grant’s Army than Meade’s.
On the 17th of March Grant and Sherman met at Nashville to finalize plans for the spring offensive. Grant was in a hurry to return to Washington, so he had Sherman and General Grenville Dodge travel to Cincinnati with him so they could hammer out the details of the campaign. For two days in a hotel room they poured over maps and paperwork to come up with a “grand strategy” to end the war. General Dodge was there to keep track of the details of their plan.
At the end of their meeting it boiled down to Grant going for Robert E. Lee and Sherman going for Joe Johnston. Sherman was given command of the Military Division of the Mississippi and
Grant would make his headquarters in the East, not behind a desk in Washington, but traveling with the Army of the Potomac.
Grant and Sherman’s plans fit perfectly with what President Lincoln had wanted since early in the war. In Grant he had found the general that could and would get the job done. Both armies were to keep constant pressure on Lee’s and Johnston’s armies.
President Lincoln told Grant, “All he ever wanted or had ever wanted was someone who would take responsibility and act. . .” Soon, Grant had his first run-in with Secretary Edwin Stanton. As Grant began ordering troops away from the defenses of the Capital, Stanton thought he should intervene and countermand Grant’s orders. When Grant wouldn’t back down to the overbearing Stanton, Stanton said they had better go talk with the President. Grant agreed and when Lincoln asked him to state his case, Grant said, “I have no case to state. I am satisfied as it is.” Stanton then stated his case and Lincoln answered, “You and I, Mr. Stanton, have been trying to boss this job, and we have not succeeded very well with it. We have sent across the mountains for Mr. Grant, as Mrs. Grant calls him. . . and I think we had better leave him alone to do as he pleases.”
With the matter clearly stated, Grant was able to organize and plan the campaign without further interference. General Meade’s Army of the Potomac was to follow General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia wherever it went. General Benjamin Butler was to disrupt and destroy
General Lee’s line of communications and General Sherman’s forces (Armies of the Ohio, Tennessee
and Cumberland) were to advance through Georgia against Confederate General Joseph Johnston’s
Army of the Tennessee.
By the beginning of May 1864, the only remaining question was whether Grant or Sherman would be the first to move upon the enemy forces. It was Sherman in the West on May 4 who began to move south out of Chattanooga, Tennessee towards Atlanta, Georgia. Sherman’s three armies numbered 98,000 troops and Johnston’s forces totaled 62,000.
In the East the Army of the Potomac (118,000 troops) opened the fighting against the Army of
Northern Virginia (61,000 troops) at the Battle of the Wilderness on May 5, 1864.

– Don C. White is a Palos Hills historian who loves delving into the Civil War. His columns run on occasion in the Reporter.

Inside the First Amendment - Remembering a man who championed freedom

  • Written by Gene Policinski

Freedom of Speech has lost one of its most eloquent voices.

John Seigenthaler, 86, led The Tennessean newspaper in his hometown of Nashville, Tenn., was the first editorial director of USA Today, and was the founder of the Newseum Institute’s First Amendment Center.
Seigenthaler died July 11 after being hospitalized briefly. More than 4,000 people lined up for the visitation at the First Amendment Center on July 13, and his funeral was conducted on July 14.
During John’s 40-plus year tenure as a journalist, he more than lived up to the old charge of that profession to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” Even in his later years, when he left daily newspaper work for his beloved First Amendment Center, his voice and his passion for justice raged on.
Whether it was lobbying for long-delayed college diplomas for now-aged former students denied graduation because of their civil rights work, or parole and then freedom, rather than the death penalty, for a woman he felt was unjustly sentenced – he worked, advised, strategized and inspired others to demand fairness and action.
He helped integrate Nashville churches by assigning a black reporter for the first time to do The Tennessean’s weekly report on Sunday sermons – just one of the many ways he took a larger-than-life role as editor in opposing bigotry, and pursuing claims of corruption, cheating, and back-room dealing in local and state government.
 History notes that Seigenthaler was knocked unconscious in Montgomery, Ala., while attempting to rescue two Freedom Riders from a Klan-led mob, while serving as a personal representative of President John F. Kennedy and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy.
Rising high above him on the wall behind his desk chair is a large, faux copy of a painting of the signing by the nation’s founders of the Declaration of Independence, framed and presented by his Center colleagues. Visitors often did a double take when they realized the historically incorrect painting had one more inconsistency – John’s face had been artfully painted-in where the painting portrayed Thomas Jefferson. As he entered his 80s, Seigenthaler joked that he felt old enough to have been around for the signing.
But age was not that kind of barrier to Seigenthaler, known for having several projects in the air at one time – and for a meeting and travel schedule that would exhaust those half his age. Whether debating the finer points of First Amendment law or relishing in the ins and outs of Nashville political life or researching books or preparing for TV programs, Seigenthaler was the embodiment of the concept that supports the First Amendment: The “marketplace of ideas.”
John Seigenthaler lived a life dedicated to encouraging the greatest possible number of his fellow citizens to participate in that marketplace and to using their First Amendment freedoms to the fullest. Each year, he’d review the results of the annual State of the First Amendment national survey, showing that most Americans can’t name all five freedoms in the First Amendment – and redouble his efforts to raise the score.
Just recently, Nashville named a downtown walking bridge across the Cumberland River in Seigenthaler’s name – to recognize his work in seeking equality for all, but also to note an incident in which 50 years ago as a young reporter he grasped the clothing of a man attempting to jump from the bridge railing – holding him until police rushed up to assist.
No doubt many words will be spoken of John’s many roles as editor, publisher, founder, author, TV host, lecturer, educator and more. But I think he’d be very happy if we remembered him with just five: Religion. Press. Speech. Assembly. Petition.
And while the customary end for a news story was the proofreader’s mark “-30-”… I think the more appropriate one for John is (based on the number of words in his beloved First Amendment) is this:
Gene Policinski is chief operating officer of the Newseum Institute and senior vice president of the Institute’s First Amendment Center. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .