Dead Presidents

Historical facts, thoughts, ramblings and collections on the Presidency and about the Presidents of the United States.

By Anthony Bergen
Posts tagged "History"


Riots in Puerto Rico and an attempt on President Truman’s life, 1950:

This assassination attempt on President Harry Truman is one of two major incidents in the 1950s connected to the Puerto Rican Nationalist movement that are strangely overlooked or flat-out forgotten about in history.

During the Truman Administration, extensive renovations were done on the White House — basically, the interior of the Executive Mansion was completely gutted and rebuilt — and the First Family spent four years (1948-1952) living across the street in Blair House, which is traditionally used as an official guest house for visiting dignitaries and the place that the President-elect stays the night before being inaugurated.

On November 1, 1950, President Truman was taking a nap in an upstairs bedroom when Puerto Rican nationalists Griselio Torresola and Oscar Collazo approached Blair House with a brazen attack plan; they intended to shoot their way past Truman’s protective detail on Pennsylvania Avenue in broad daylight, enter the building through the front door, and kill the President.

Collazo opened fire first, wounding a uniformed White House Police officer, and alerting Secret Service about the attack, triggering a gunfight in the streets below the window of the room where the President was sleeping. Collazo’s progress was halted by a Secret Service agent who shot him in the chest and left him badly wounded. Collazo continued firing at police officers and Secret Service agents despite being wounded. Other agents rushed to secure all entries to Blair House and engage the gunmen.

Torresola reached one of the security booths where White House Police officers — who are essentially uniformed members of the United States Secret Service — were stationed to secure the perimeter surrounding Blair House and opened fire at nearly point-blank range on Officer Leslie Coffelt. Torresola shot Coffelt four times with wounds that would be mortal; Torresola figured that Coffelt had been neutralized and continued towards to building while Collazo continued to fire at some of the other agents and police officers, without striking anyone.

Officer Coffelt was down and gravely wounded, and Torresola was still standing and shooting. Collazo was wildly firing shots, but was down near the steps of Blair House, unable to get any further due to his chest wound. White House Police Officer Joseph Downs made a dash towards a door leading to the basement of Blair House, hoping to keep Torresola from getting into the building, but became Torresola’s next target in the process. Downs was shot three times, but was able to secure the basement door despite his wounds.

Officer Donald Birdzell had been the first person wounded in the attack, and the only person who was hit by one of Oscar Collazo’s bullets. Collazo had shot Birdzell in the knee as the attack commenced, and as Birdzell attempted to steady himself and take aim at the gunman, Torresola shot him in the other knee. Officer Birdzell survived his wounds, but Torresola was still fighting his way to get into Blair House. At this point, a head poked out of an upstairs window, curious about the cause of the commotion interrupting his nap. With a gunfight raging in the streets below, an officer had to order the President of the United States to “Get the hell back!”. Two weeks after the attack, Truman shared details about the assassination attempt to his cousin, Ethel Noland, and said that the director of the Secret Service, U.E. Baughman later pointed out, “Mr. President, don’t you know that when there’s an Air Raid Alarm you don’t run out and look up, you go for cover!”

As President Truman got a quick bird’s-eye view of the carnage below, Griselio Torresola reloaded his 9 mm for one last do-or-die charge into the President’s temporary residence. Bleeding profusely and mortally wounded, Officer Leslie Coffelt had been left for dead in the security booth after Torresola shot him four times at the beginning of the rampage. The President ducked out of sight as a Secret Service agent demanded of him. Torresola inched near the steps of Blair House. Officer Coffelt summoned his last surge of strength, his final burst of action, and in his life’s closing seconds of consciousness, he pulled himself up to a standing position, leaned against the security booth, and fired one shot for the people, for the President, and for public service. After firing his one, single, final shot, Officer Leslie Coffelt collapsed and never regained consciousness; he died from his wounds four hours later at a Washington hospital and remains the only Secret Service agent in American history to be killed while protecting the President.

Griselio Torresola had reloaded his gun and was within several feet of the steps leading to the entrance of Blair House when Officer Coffelt fired his last shot. Torresola didn’t get an inch closer than that. From a distance of about ten yards, Coffelt shot the assassin — the man who was trying to kill the President, had shot two of Coffelt’s colleagues, and caused the severe wounds that Coffelt would soon die from — in the head, killing him instantly. President Truman wore that Coffelt had “put a bullet in one ear and it came out the other.” Leslie Coffelt was buried with full honors at Arlington National Cemetery.

The other Secret Service agents, White House Police officers, U.S. Capitol Police officers, and responders involved in the attack on Blair House were honored by the President and their respective law enforcement organizations. Officers Donald Birdzell and Joseph Downs fully recovered from their wounds. The other Puerto Rican gunman, Oscar Collazo, recovered from his wounds. He was convicted of murder and sentenced to death, but shortly before Collazo’s scheduled execution in 1952, President Truman commuted his sentenced to life in prison. In 1979, President Jimmy Carter further commuted his sentence to time served and Collazo was released from prison. He returned to Puerto Rico and continued to advocate independence for his home island until his death in 1994.

Nearly four years later, another dramatic incident by Puerto Rican Nationalists occurred which many Americans aren’t aware of despite the magnitude of the event. On March 1, 1954, four members of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party, three men and one woman were viewing the proceedings of the United States House of Representatives from the chamber’s “Ladies Gallery”. On the floor of the House, over 240 Representatives were debating an immigration bill when the Puerto Rican woman, Lolita Lebrón, the leader of the Nationalist team, displayed a Puerto Rican flag and yelled “¡Viva Puerto Rico Libre!” All four Puerto Ricans were armed with semi-automatic weapons and opened fire on Congress. Over 30 shots were fired and five Congressmen — Ben Jensen of Iowa, Kenneth Roberts of Alabama, George Hyde Fallon of Maryland, Clifford Davis of Tennessee, and Alvin Bentley of Michigan — were wounded. Shockingly, those were the only five people who were shot and nobody was killed; Bentley’s chest wound was the most serious, but House pages quickly carried him out of the chamber and he received immediate medical attention. The four attackers were quickly arrested and eventually convicted and sentenced to a minimum of 76 years in prison instead of the death penalty, as the government had requested. One of the attackers was released from prison in 1978, and the other three had their sentences commuted by President Carter in 1979 at the same time as Oscar Collazo. They returned together to Puerto Rico and were welcomed home as heroes in San Juan.

Asker emt4com Asks:
The other day you mentioned you thought LBJ might have lived through another term as president. I've thought the same about TR. He loved the presidency so much, even though he thought he had someone to carry on his policies for him, why did he step aside in 1908? If he had run in 1908, he would have won, right? Do you think he could have been like his cousin & served 11, 15, or even 19 years? Maybe even more as the job seemed to give him life?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

Theodore Roosevelt stepped aside in 1908 because immediately after winning the 1904 election, he announced that he wouldn’t run for President in ‘08. It was one of those situations where he probably wanted to grab the words out of the air and take them back as he was saying them. TR loved being President and he regretted his 1904 declaration to not run in 1908 for the rest of his life. But Roosevelt also strongly believed that a person’s word is their honor and he couldn’t bring himself to break the promise he made in 1904, even if the electorate would have not only forgiven him for it, but would have preferred that he run again. 

TR definitely would have won in 1908, and if he had been re-elected that year, he would have probably implemented a progressive agenda and neuter the basis for Woodrow Wilson’s successful 1912 campaign for the Presidency. Plus, Roosevelt wouldn’t have had to torpedo poor William Howard Taft and split the Republican Party, which likely would have helped him win re-election again in 1912 because the electoral landscape would have been very different. TR probably could have been elected again-and-again if he had run in 1908 and held on to the job. Roosevelt was still popular and even though he kept his promise in 1908, many Republicans urged him to reconsider — including Roosevelt’s handpicked successor, Taft. Unfortunately for TR, keeping his promise in 1908 complicated his political future, especially because of the break with establishment Republicans and President Taft.

As it was, TR had a remarkable showing in 1912 considering his party split into separate factions and he had to run as a third-party candidate for a party that was basically just thrown together at the last minute when Taft was renominated by the GOP. TR didn’t run in 1916 because he still had to heal some wounds within the Republican Party and wanted to show solidarity by staying out of that race and supporting the GOP nominee, Charles Evans Hughes. Hughes lost that 1916 race to Wilson with one of the narrowest Electoral College margins in American history (Wilson 277, Hughes 254), so even with the lingering intraparty bad blood, Roosevelt probably could have won the 1916 election. He was not going to sit out the 1920 election and he was the clear frontrunner for 1920 basically from Election Day 1916. Roosevelt would have won the 1920 election — and won big considering the fact that the comparatively unknown (and exceedingly unqualified) Warren G. Harding ended up winning over 400 Electoral votes.

Roosevelt died on January 6, 1919, and that shook up every projection of the 1920 Presidential election. We mention Roosevelt’s popularity as one of the reasons he could have been elected President on several occasions, but another important factor was his age. When TR assumed the Presidency upon the assassination of President McKinley, he was just 42 years, 322 days old; he was the youngest President in history. He’s still the youngest President in history. In fact, Roosevelt was younger when he LEFT office after 7 1/2 years as President (50 years, 128 days old) than most Presidents have been upon their inauguration! TR was 60 years, 71 days old when he died, meaning TEN Presidents were older on the day of their inauguration than Roosevelt was on the day that he died.

I imagine that you’re probably right and that Roosevelt’s health — like LBJ;s — would have benefited from TR staying active and engaged through the important work that he was doing everyday. There are a couple of differences, though. Roosevelt remained a lot more active than LBJ did after leaving office. TR was very involved in politics nationally and in New York; he continued his amazingly prolific output as a writer; he dedicated significant amounts of time and energy on his expeditions as a naturalist and hunter; and let’s not forget that he actually did run for President again (and was so active during that campaign that he was shot in the chest in an assassination attempt and then gave an hour-long speech before heading to the hospital). LBJ let himself go in a way, but TR couldn’t stop going full-steam ahead on multiple projects.

But in Theodore Roosevelt’s case, that active and adventurous lifestyle probably contributed to his death. In 1914, TR spent nearly eight months on a scientific expedition in Brazil exploring a destination so remote that it was called the River of Doubt since few explorers had ever successfully reached it (Brazil later renamed it “Rio Roosevelt” in TR’s honor). During the Brazilian expedition, Roosevelt suffered a nasty cut on his leg that became so infected that there were worries it might have to be amputated in the field. Even more worrisome was the fact that Roosevelt was stricken with malaria so severe that he was hallucinating and had a dangerously high fever which reached 106 degrees. Roosevelt was convinced that he was dying and urged the other members of his expedition, which included his son, Kermit, to carry on without him because he worried that he would hold the party back and expose all of them to further danger. The rest of the expedition refused and eventually got Roosevelt out of the Amazon and back home to New York.

TR had recurring bouts of malaria for the rest of his life and never fully recovered from that or the serious infection which nearly cost him his leg. Roosevelt was famously energetic and physically active — his exercise regiments in the White House often included boxing, wrestling, and jiujitsu (TR basically the first American mixed martial artist). But he was weakened by the illnesses from Brazil and was hospitalized for weeks at a time when he had relapses, even though he was not quite 60 years old. Roosevelt still had his eye on a run for the White House in 1920 despite his health problems, but he really began to decline rapidly after July 14, 1918. All four of his sons saw combat in World War I and made their father immensely proud; his three oldest sons, Theodore Jr., Kermit, and Archibald had been wounded in action. But on July 14th, the former President’s youngest son, 20-year-old Quentin Roosevelt, a fighter pilot in the early American Army Air Force was shot down by a German fighter in a dogfight over France.

Theodore Roosevelt had spent his life seeking military glory and praising the heroic action of “the man in the arena”, but when his son was killed in action, the horror of war truly came home for him. Roosevelt was devastated by Quentin’s death and his already-declining health seemed to fail even more quickly. The chronic health problems stemming from the expedition in Brazil, constant physical pain from a life filled with dynamic exercise of his body and mind, and a broken heart from the death of his youngest son sapped him of his strength and stripped him of two things that Theodore Roosevelt always had in abundance — endless energy and iron will. TR was only 60 years old when he died, but he was the oldest 60-year-old man who had ever lived.     

Did you ever think that making a speech on economics is a lot like pissing down your leg? It seems hot to you, but it never does to anyone else.
Lyndon B. Johnson (1908-1973) to economist John Kenneth Galbraith (1908-2006)
Asker ultra-pop Asks:
How well would you say you know California history compared to general US and Presidential history?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

Obviously, my main area of interest and expertise is Presidential history and U.S. history because those two topics are so closely intertwined — you can’t have one without the other. I love all history and do my best to be as knowledgeable as possible on as many historical subjects as possible. With Presidential history being the focus of my studies and my work, I’m strongest when it comes to United States history from the ratification of the Constitution to the present.

As a native Californian, I’ve always enjoyed the history of my home state, so I’d say my knowledge of California history is pretty solid. No area of study approaches the level I’m at with Presidential history, but I was born and raised in California’s capital city and, with the exception of a four-year sabbatical of sorts, I’ve lived in Sacramento my entire life. Sacramento is a very historic city — not just in California’s history, but in American history, particularly when it comes to the 19th Century, Westward Expansion, the Gold Rush, and the Transcontinental Railroad. Living in Sacramento has helped feed my interest in California’s history because, as the seat of government, there are plenty of important museums and terrific state archives to search through. Sacramento is also a great place to get your fix if you happen to be a political junkie; my favorite spot in the city has long been Capitol Park, and I couldn’t even attempt to estimate how much time I’ve spent wandering around inside the State Capitol Building or reading and relaxing among the scores of wide varieties of trees and plants in Capitol Park (Sacramento’s climate allows for a ton of different types of trees and plants to grow and it seems like one of everything is planted in Capitol Park). Monuments and historic sites are just as plentiful as the tree and plant life, and I never get tired of exploring downtown Sacramento, or strolling through Capitol Park with someone and taking them to a spot where you can literally see the Governor working at his desk through a window of his corner office. Those are the types of things that motivate a continued interest in learning more-and-more about California’s history. I doubt that my knowledge of California will ever surpass my knowledge of Presidential history, but the Golden State’s history definitely appeals to me, and I love doing things like checking out some of California’s historic missions or going back-in-time to the 1840s by visiting Coloma or Sutter’s Fort.

This is the workspace of a crazy man, and I am exhausted. Can somebody just please give me a book deal? Because the work is done. And I can’t stop writing.

I’ll probably need an editor, too, because nobody publishes or reads books that are over 6,000 pages long.

Okay, ladies and gentlemen…I received a great response to this year’s edition of the Presidential Rankings and always get requests for more projects that are recurring series with entries spread out over several days similar to how the 2014 Presidential Rankings were published. Ranking other important figures from history or various government positions doesn’t appeal to me, but profiling some of our political leaders — especially those who are often overlooked by history — definitely interests me.

So, this sneak peek is of the next big project here on Dead Presidents — a feature that I’ve given an extraordinarily creative and original title: "Vice Presidential Profiles". Hopefully the name of the project won’t confuse too many people, but just in case, the idea of the recurring series is to profile the Vice Presidents.

Once the Vice Presidential Profiles series begins (which will happen soon), I’ll be posting individual entries that look a lot like the entries for the Presidential Rankings. The entries will feature biographical information and political data on each Vice President, along with photos or portraits (so you actually can learn what some of the people who were a heartbeat away from the Presidency actually looked like), as well as a handful of random facts or trivia about every individual VP.

I haven’t decided exactly how many of the Vice Presidential Profiles I will release each day, but the series will kick-off soon. I hope you’ll enjoy the project and I look forward to your feedback on this new series!

Asker Anonymous Asks:
I've honestly been wondering this for so long. Why do people give Biden so much crap, and make him the butt of a lot of jokes?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

Vice Presidents always tend to be easy targets and since Biden is so affable and open, people seem to underestimate him. Quite frankly, I don’t know where the Obama Administration would be without Vice President Biden. It’s no secret that Obama has been terrible with building relationships with Congress (and that’s certainly not solely his fault), and can be aloof at times because that’s just one of his personality characteristics — he’s not cold, he’s just a very serious, focused, cautious person. On the other hand, Biden is open and candid — sometimes to a fault — and it makes it easy to poke fun at him. Biden lacks a filter and often says things that he probably shouldn’t say — not necessarily because he’s saying something inappropriate, but more so because he’s so authentic. Like I said, some people find that to be a fault, but I find that to be incredibly refreshing, especially in a political leader who has basically spent his entire adult life in elective office.

But Biden has built bridges between the White House and Congress that have helped accomplish the big things that the Obama Administration has actually been able to get done. That’s because of Biden’s masterful political skills and the relationships and connections that Biden forged through nearly 40 years in the Senate. Biden likes to be underestimated because Biden knows exactly how gifted he is. He has never lacked that confidence — not even when he first ran for the Senate. I mean, Joe Biden is a guy who was so confident in himself that he ran for the Senate (and won) even though he wasn’t yet Constitutionally eligible to actually take his seat until a few weeks after the election.

Plus, a lot of people don’t truly know Joe Biden’s story. They know that he’s been around forever and that he spent decades in the Senate, but he’s never been the stereotypical fat cat incumbent clinging to his spot on Capitol Hill. Biden has always been active, always been a fighter, and always been straightforward. Biden earned everything that he has ever obtained and he worked for the people of his constituency in Delaware every day since his 1972 election, and he’s continued that work on behalf of the people of the United States every single day since he was elected Vice President. I wish that everyone would read more about Joe Biden, learn his story, and see how much he has overcome and how hard he has worked to get to where he is today — Jules Witcover’s Joe Biden: A Life of Trial and Redemption (BOOK | KINDLE) is a great place to start.

On a personal basis, I don’t hesitate to stay that Vice President Biden is probably my favorite politician alive today; it’s a close race between Biden and Bill Clinton. But from a professional standpoint — removing any of my personal biases or political beliefs from the equation — I think Joe Biden is probably the best Vice President in American history. Dick Cheney was a more powerful Vice President, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into excellence. Al Gore was the most influential VP up to that point, but his relationship with President Clinton wasn’t as symbiotic as Biden and Obama’s. Barack Obama is the mind and the conscience of the Obama Administration, but Joe Biden is the heart and soul.  

Lyndon Baines Johnson is one of those few Presidents or political leaders who is instantly identifiable by his initials — “LBJ” — an exclusive club also populated by TR, FDR, and JFK but few others. Richard Nixon spent years and tons of energy working to become a member of that group, going as far as naming his autobiography RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon. But LBJ’s initials became a recognizable brand long before he became President; he also had the added advantage of being able to monogram everything in his home with his initials since they were also shared by his wife (Lady Bird Johnson), his two daughters (Lynda Bird Johnson and Luci Baines Johnson), and even one of his dogs (“Little Beagle Johnson” — which wasn’t one of the dogs President Johnson was famously photographed picking up by their ears, those beagles were named “Him” and “Her”).

But where did the name “Lyndon” come from? LBJ’s middle name — “Baines” — was his mother’s maiden name, but “Lyndon” wasn’t a family name. In fact, LBJ didn’t have a name for the first three months of his life. The man who would one day become the 36th President of the United States spent the first three months of his life just being called “Baby”. Of course, he couldn’t spend the rest of his life with the name “Baby”, so LBJ’s parents, Sam Ealy Johnson and Rebekah Baines Johnson, finally came to an agreement on what he would be called. Since LBJ was a far better storyteller than I will ever be, I’ll let him explain, courtesy of the LBJ Library’s always-incredible Oral History Project, as well as LBJ Library Director Mark K. Updegrove’s awesome book, Indomitable Will: LBJ In The Presidency (BOOK | KINDLE).

According to LBJ:
"I was three months old when I was named. My father and mother couldn’t agree on a name. The people my father liked were heavy drinkers — pretty rough for a city girl. She didn’t want me named after any of them.

Finally, there was a criminal lawyer — a country lawyer — named W.C. Linden. He would go on a drunk for a week after every case. My father liked him and he wanted to name me after him. My mother didn’t care for the idea but she said finally that it was alright, she would go along with it if she could spell the name the way she wanted to. So that is what happened.

[Later] I was campaigning for Congress. An old man with a white carnation in his lapel came up and said, ‘That was a very good speech. I want to vote for you like I always have. The only thing I don’t like about you is the way you spell your name.’

He then identified himself…as W.C. Linden.”

Asker Anonymous Asks:
Given the term limit malarkey, hypothetically, what is the longest time a modern American president could serve in office?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

Today, the longest that a President could possibly serve is 9 years, 364 days. A Vice President who assumed the Presidency can be elected to serve two four-year terms as long as they served less than two years of the unexpired term of whomever they succeeded.

For instance, Lyndon Johnson served 1 year and 59 days of John F. Kennedy’s expired term following JFK’s assassination. He was re-elected in 1964 and would have been eligible for re-election in 1968, bringing his total service to 9 years, 59 days.

On the other hand, Gerald Ford served 2 years and 164 days of Richard Nixon’s unexpired term following Nixon’s resignation. Had Ford been re-elected in 1976, he would have been ineligible to seek the Presidency again in 1980 because he finished more than two years of Nixon’s unexpired term

Since this was implemented — with the 22nd Amendment in 1947 — the last President who wasn’t affected by the limits was Harry Truman. Since he was President at the time of the Amendment’s ratification, it didn’t apply to him, so he actually would not have been restricted by term limits had he wanted to seek a third or fourth term. Truman’s successor, Dwight Eisenhower, was the first President to be Constitutionally term-limited.  

Asker robofsydney Asks:
I have just read about the 1896 and 1900 presidential elections and found that Charles Dawes perhaps influenced William McKinley more than Mark Hanna did, Can you recommend any books on Dawes?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

Nobody influenced McKinley more than Mark Hanna, but Charles Dawes did play a part in McKinley’s 1896 campaign. Dawes managed the McKinley campaign in Illinois and ran something similar to a whip operation during the 1896 Republican National Convention in St. Louis on behalf of the McKinley campaign (therefore working on behalf of Mark Hanna). Dawes was efficient and successful, and it landed him a place in the McKinley Administration, but he didn’t have as extensive of a role in McKinley’s 1900 campaign and he certainly didn’t approach the power of Hanna.

Dawes is definitely an interesting character, though. At the time of that first McKinley campaign, he was only about 30 years old, so he was rising quickly. He ended up making good money in the banking business after failing to win a Senate seat (he lost his major benefactors when McKinley was assassinated and Hanna died shorty afterward), and served overseas during World War I, returning as a Brigadier General. Following the war, his work on rebuilding shattered economies in Europe earned him a Nobel Peace Prize, and he was elected as Calvin Coolidge’s Vice President in 1924. Somehow, he managed to offend and piss off both President Coolidge and the Senate (which Dawes, as Vice President, was the presiding officer of, Constitutionally) within minutes of taking the oath of office. The Senate took every effort to embarrass him, and President Coolidge could barely bring himself to speak to Dawes. Dawes had better success following his Vice Presidency when President Hoover appointed him the U.S. Ambassador to the Court of St. James (United Kingdom) — at least for a while; eventually he offended King George V over an issue of protocol. The best little bit of trivia about Vice President Dawes is that he’s the only Vice President to ever have a record hit #1 on the pop charts. Dawes was a musician, and he wrote a melody before World War I that was interpolated in the 1950s into a popular song called “It’s All In the Game” and recorded by numerous pop stars of the time, with a version by Tommy Edwards claiming the #1 spot on the Billboard charts in 1958.

Off-the-top of my head, I can’t think of any books to recommend, although I know that there are some good ones — nothing very new, but some solid older titles.  I would suggest checking out this site. Since Vice Presidents are the Presidents of the Senate, there are busts of each VP in the U.S. Capitol, and the U.S. Senate History website has fantastic entries on every single American Vice President, along with images of the busts which are on display.

What is your opinion on the assassination of JFK?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

I’m one of those crazy people who think that Lee Harvey Oswald killed President Kennedy and that he was the lone gunman. I don’t argue with people about it because it’s one of those issues that people are passionate about and nobody can ever change anybody else’s mind.

But if someone wants an argument, I suggest reading Vincent Bugliosi’s Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy (BOOK | KINDLE), because I don’t know how anybody who reads that book — and at 1,648 pages long accompanied with CDs packed with source information, anyone actually reading the whole book deserves a prize — can walk away with questions that haven’t answered.

Asker kray814 Asks:
This is a two part question: In the 1976 Republican Primaries , after Ford barely beat Reagan, why did he not select him as his VP? I understand they weren't necessarily fond of each other, but wouldn't having Reagan as his VP would've almost guaranteed Ford being re-elected. Also, is it true that after his loss in the 1976 election, Ford was deeply depressed and almost suicidal?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

Even though Reagan came close to beating out President Ford for the Republican nomination in 1976, he continued to focus on becoming President and I think Reagan would have seen the Vice Presidency as a major step in the wrong direction. If Ford had asked Reagan to be his running mate, I don’t think Reagan would have accepted. I don’t think Nancy would have allowed him to. Nothing could be gained for Reagan by serving as Ford’s running mate. The Vice Presidency was finally gaining influence and significance in the 1970s, but it wouldn’t have done anything to actually further Reagan’s Presidential prospects.

A Ford/Reagan ticket might have resulted in a victory, but Reagan wouldn’t really gain anything from that, either. Ford wouldn’t have been able to run for re-election in 1980 because of the 22nd Amendment (Ford had served more than two years of Richard Nixon’s unexpired term, so he would have been ineligible to be elected again had he won in 1976). But if Ford and Reagan had been elected together in 1976 and the Ford had a rough four years in office, Reagan would have been intimately connected with that Administration, giving his potential 1980 opponent something to strongly use to campaign against him with. He would have been pegged as the successor or as the continuation of that hypothetical Ford Administration. Anything like that would have been a huge risk for Reagan because part of the reason he challenged Ford for the Republican nomination in 1976 (besides believing that Ford wasn’t Conservative enough) was that Reagan was already 65 years old. In 1976! He was older than Nixon and Ford and a full six years older than John F. Kennedy. People forget about that — Reagan was worried, even in the 1970s, about whether his age would be an issue. Even if he had beaten Ford out for the GOP nomination in 1976 and been elected that year, Reagan would have been the second-oldest President ever inaugurated — and that was a full four years before he actually be did become President!

More than anything else, though, President Ford was pissed off in 1976 by the fact that Reagan challenged him (Ford), an incumbent President of the same party, and required Ford to expend energy and much-needed campaign funds just to get a nomination that is usually an automatic for an incumbent President. When Reagan notified Ford that he was going to seek the nomination that year, Reagan said he hoped it wouldn’t be divisive and Ford responded, “How can you challenge an incumbent President of your own party and not be divisive?”. The Ford/Reagan battle in the 1976 primaries really hurt Ford more than anything — even more than Ford’s controversial pardon of Richard Nixon or Ford’s big mistake in the second Presidential debate with Jimmy Carter when he stumbled and suggested that there was not Soviet domination of Eastern Europe. But the GOP primary battle allowed Carter to begin the general campaign with a huge lead over Ford and Ford came extraordinarily close to closing that gap and winning the election — with another week of campaigning, he likely would have beaten Carter. Ford genuinely believed that Reagan (and Reagan’s advisers) were to blame for the fact that Ford had to fight from so far behind against Carter. In interviews embargoed until after his death, Ford admitted, “It burned the hell out of me that I got the diversion from Reagan that caused me to spend an abnormal part of my time trying to round up individual delegates and to raise money.” Ford was also bothered by the fact that even after Ford clinched the Republican nomination, Reagan did very little to help him out during the general election. Recognizing that the focus of Reagan and his team immediately turned towards 1980 following the 1976 Republican National Convention, Ford said, “They didn’t give a damn whether I won or not because they were already planning to run in 1980.”

Gerald Ford was, by all accounts, one of the most good-natured, mild-mannered, polite, reasonable, and loyal politicians in American history. That’s one of the reasons that Congressional Democrats all but demanded that Nixon nominate Ford to fill the vacancy caused by Vice President Spiro Agnew’s resignation in 1973. Ford also knew that he needed a more Conservative running mate in 1976 because he and the Vice President that he had appointed, Nelson Rockefeller, were too moderate for his increasingly Conservative party. Ford dumped Rockefeller in favor of the more appealing (to the far right of the GOP) Bob Dole and, later in life, frequently mentioned that the biggest regret of his life was dumping Rockefeller from the 1976 ticket — not because of any disrespect towards Senator Dole, but because Rockefeller had served him well and Ford was ashamed that he had pandered so much in taking that action. But before he chose Bob Dole at the 1976 Republican National Convention, many Republicans pushed for Ford to choose Reagan as his VP and there was nothing mild-mannered or good-natured about President Ford’s response. When Reagan’s name was mentioned, he bluntly said, “Absolutely not. I don’t want anything to do with that son-of-a-bitch.”

So, to answer the rest of your question, yes, Ford likely would have been re-elected if Reagan had been his running mate. However, he likely would have been re-elected if Reagan hadn’t forced him to spend the spring of 1976 fighting for the Republican nomination even though he was the incumbent President.

And, yes, Ford was extremely depressed about losing the 1976 election, but he wasn’t suicidal. It was an understandably devastating defeat — George H.W. Bush has spoken of how devastated he was, too, upon losing the 1992 election to Bill Clinton. General Colin Powell recalled a conversation with Bush at Camp David after the 1992 election where Bush 41 was nearly in tears while telling General Powell, “Colin, it hurts. It really hurts. I just never thought they’d elect him.” It’s an unimaginable sadness for anyone who hasn’t actually been the most powerful person in the world and then had hundreds of millions of people decide, “No, we don’t want you anymore.” But Ford was not suicidal. Some people have suggested that he was in a dark place because it was his wife, Betty, who read Ford’s concession speech in 1976, but in actuality, Ford had been making non-stop campaign swings during the last days and hours of the ‘76 campaign and had completely lost his voice, so that’s why Betty Ford gave the speech as he stood nearby.

I just want to say that I picked up Shooting Victoria at the library based on your review and I'm finding it to be the most interesting book! I'm only on chapter 4, but I've learned a lot already. Thanks for recommending it.
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

Cool, I’m happy to hear that you checked it out! That book, Shooting Victoria: Madness, Mayhem, and the Rebirth of the British Monarchy (BOOK | KINDLE), is really interesting, especially for people like me who spend most of their time reading about American history rather than British history (or the history of other foreign leaders). It also made me understand Queen Victoria in a very different light, especially after reading somewhat similar books like Helen Rappaport’s A Magnificent Obsession: Victoria, Albert, and the Death That Changed the British Monarchy (BOOK | KINDLE) and Jane Ridley’s The Heir Apparent: A Life of Edward VII, the Playboy Prince (BOOK | KINDLE) — both of which are also excellent.

I would also recommend checking out another book on a similar subject and from pretty much the same era — Why Spencer Perceval Had To Die, (BOOK | KINDLE) Andro Linklater’s book about the only assassination of a British Prime Minister, which took place in the lobby of Parliament in 1812.