Tuesday, March 1, 2016

President Mangum

We almost had a President Willie Person Mangum.
You can hear the theme song, can't you?
No, this is not some far-fetched probability. 
It almost happened. 
Not once, not twice, but three times.
OK really once. Maybe twice. And one is really far-fetched.

In 1836, North Carolinian Democratic Senator turned Whig Willie Person Mangum ran as one of the four regional Whigs opposing  Democrat Vice President Martin Van Buren. With 148 electoral votes needed to win in a Jacksonian world, the Whig strategy was to deny Van Buren an Electoral College victory and throw the selection to the House to decide...if their collective candidates received a majority. They didn't. Little Van won the election with 170 electoral votes to the Whigs 124. Mangum (and "John Tyler too!" as VP nominee) got 11 electoral votes. But let's face it. Willie didn't stand a chance. He didn't even appear on a ballot. The South Carolina legislature gave Senator Willie Person Mangum those 11 votes. A better chance for the highest office was coming five years later.

The Whigs eventually defeated Little Van with William Henry Harrison in 1841. We know how that went. He died 31 days after his inauguration. Harrison's VP (and Mangum's 1836 running mate), John Tyler then assumed Harrison's term after a brief Constitutional crisis regarding Presidential succession. The Vice Presidency was then vacant from 1841-1845.

"His Accidency" John Tyler was having all sorts of problems. As a result, there was a failed impeachment attempt in 1842. Had it succeeded and the President removed from office with no VP,  the Presidency would have gone to President pro tempore of the Senate. This was now Willie Person Mangum. More likely than what happened in '41 but the real chance came two years later.

Three times for Willie.
On February 28th, 1844, President Tyler and members of his cabinet were on the Potomac aboard the USS Princeton. She was a brand new state of the art steam powered prop driven warship with big new shiny weapons. Many other dignitaries such as former first lady Dolley Madison and Tyler's young fiance Julia Gardiner were also on board for this grand social event with much food and drink. The President's entourage included the Secretaries of State and Navy. Part of the entertainment was a demonstration of the Princeton's giant experimental long gun dubbed the "Peacemaker", the largest naval gun in the world. As the men (no girls allowed) went topside for the big show Tyler, as one story goes, stayed behind for one more drink.  During its firing, the Peacemaker's barrel exploded sending iron shrapnel everywhere. It even tore apart a section of the hull. This instantly killed six people including both Secretaries and his fiance's father Senator David Gardiner. Many more were injured. If Tyler had been above deck, he would have no doubt been killed with his party. Having no VP, Presidential succession would have again gone to President pro tempore of the Senate, Willie Person Mangum.
The beer that denied us
President Mangum

And what of the deadly incident on the USS Princeton? Who was held accountable? No one. Apparently, a whole scandal arose with Robert Stockton who used his political connections to escape punishment for his poor design. Some things don't change. Even though it was the gun that failed, a stigma was attached to the ship itself. The Princeton saw admirable service in the Mexican-American War but what was supposed to have been the pride of the US Navy was decommissioned and scrapped just 5 years later in 1849.

And what of Willie Mangum? His name was floated around as a possible Presidential or VP candidate in the next couple of elections. He finished his Senate term and retired to his home in North Carolina where he died in 1861 at age 69.

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