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Accidental Presidents: Death, Assassination, Resignation, and Democratic Succession

Authors

  • PHILIP ABBOTT

    Corresponding author
    1. Wayne State University
      Philip Abbott is professor of political science at Wayne State University. His most recent book is The Challenge of the American Presidency.
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Philip Abbott is professor of political science at Wayne State University. His most recent book is The Challenge of the American Presidency.

Abstract

One of the commonly stated virtues of modern constitutional democracies is their capacity to ensure reliable and accepted methods of political succession through election. This essay focuses on one particular, though not uncommon, complication in the democratic mode of political succession: American vice presidents who assume office as a result of the death, assassination, or resignation of a president. Three basic strategies by “accidental presidents” to establish and enhance their legitimacy are identified. The efforts of accidental presidents provide a framework to assess a democratic theory of succession, for a certain resiliency is necessary to respond to irregular modes of succession yet excessive plasticity might threaten election as the privileged method of succession.

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