Ohio is frequently referred to as the “Mother of Presidents.” As a state they claim eight. These would be Ulysses S. Grant of Point Pleasant, Rutherford B. Hayes of Delaware, James Abram Garfield of Orange Township now Moreland Hills, Benjamin Harrison of North Bend, William McKinley of Niles, William Howard Taft of Cincinnati and Warren G. Harding of Corsica now Blooming Grove. That would only be seven, but Ohio also claims William Henry Harrison, though born in Virginia he settled in Ohio after a military career against Native Americans and the British in the war of 1812.

A couple of interesting things can be said of this list. First, four of them: William Henry Harrison, Garfield, McKinley and Harding died in office. Second, although these eight are from our neighboring state, none of them have more than a passing connection to the upper Ohio Valley. In fact George Washington may have spent more time in our region during his military adventures of the 1760’s and his land speculation thereafter. I have written previously of some occasions where a person with ties to our region was at least an actor on the Presidential stage. But these occasions: the near nomination of Champ Clark a Bethany graduate as the Democratic candidate for President in 1912, and the election of Garfield, a Bethany Trustee, really did not involve the election of someone truly tied to our region.

 The death of William Henry Harrison set off a Constitutional controversy. When elected in 1840,  approaching the age of 68, William Henry Harrison became the oldest person to assume the office of President of the United States. In the ensuing 181 years only Ronald Reagan, Donald Trump and Joe Biden, current and recent presidents all, have been of a similar age. However, these recent three have had the benefit of modern health care, not available in 1841. William Henry Harrison served as President for one month, March 4, to April 4 in 1841. Many have attributed his death to giving the longest inaugural address on record (two hours) on a cold damp day without a coat or hat. Although he may have been demonstrating his vigor on inauguration day, he did not become ill until approximately three weeks later. Modern investigators believe it likely he died from a water borne infection as the White House water supply was downstream from where public sewage was dumped. Although treated with bloodletting, emetics and other crude remedies he passed within about a week.

The President’s death created a problem. Article II, Section 1, Clause Six of The Constitution then provided:  “In Case of the Removal of the President from Office, or of his Death, Resignation, or Inability to discharge the Powers and Duties of the said Office, the same shall devolve on the Vice President ….” Strict construction of the language, (my apologies to the late Justice Scalia, of whom I was a fan) would indicate that the Vice-president would PERFORM the duties of the President, not BECOME the President. In any case, nature abhors a vacuum, and John Tyler the Vice-President hurried to take the oath of office as President and move into the White House. Although his enemies referred to him as “His Accidency” he rightfully referred to himself as “the President.” This was subsequently confirmed by the Resolutions of both houses of Congress.

The process repeated itself in 1850 on the demise of President Zachery Taylor. Next it was followed upon the assassination of Abraham Lincoln on April 15, 1865.However, in the case of Lincoln, a plot, or conspiracy was in operation. Today every school child is taught that John Wilkes Booth assassinated Lincoln with a shot to the back of the head, while the President was watching the play “Our American Cousin”, a comedy at Ford’s Theatre in Washington D.C., six days after the surrender of Lee’s Forces at Appomattox Court House. They know that Booth shouted “Sic Semper Tyrannis” as he left from the President’s Box to the stage to escape. A large manhunt ensued, Booth was presumably killed inside a burning barn, and that his co-conspirators were quickly tried, convicted and executed.

However, one aspect of the Lincoln Assassination that is less taught, is the scope to the plot and its near success. In addition to Lincoln there were two other targets: Vice-President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State William Seward. Upon the death of Lincoln, Andrew Johnson would become President. If Johnson also died Seward would become President. The plotters missed Johnson. The assigned attacker began to drink to give himself courage but instead took a hotel room and slept through the night. Seward was a much closer run matter. He was ill and in bed. A ruse of delivering medicine was used to gain access to his home. Force was used to gain access to his bedroom. Household members were injured and Seward was stabbed repeatedly but not fatality, and recovered.

The question is: Had Johnson and Seward also been assassinated, who would have become President of the United States? The answer to that question is: someone from our Region.