Carroll includes a fascinating section hypothesizing what would happen if different people had become president. Any of these scenarios would make for a fascinating alternate history novel.
For example, Jackson was nearly killed in the Creek War, but a Cherokee warrior named Junaluska saved his life. Had this not happened, John Quincy Adams would have been president instead and the Trail of Tears would not have happened.
Jackson nearly won in 1824. If so, the Trail of Tears would have happened earlier with a higher body count. Without Adams as president during this time, war with both France and Mexico would have been more likely as well.
John Tyler was almost accidentally killed by an explosion on a Navy ship in 1844. Willie Mangum was next in line and would have become president. Tyler pushed for war with Mexico in order to conquer Texas (which Polk later carried out), but Mangum was opposed to this. If he became president during Tyler’s term, Polk, an unlikely candidate who came from behind, wouldn’t have been elected. California would also have remained Mexican territory and the Native Californian genocide would be prevented. (Mexico would still kill natives, but they focused more on assimilation than genocide.) Without the take over of Mexican land, Utah might have become its own country with Mormons remaining socialist. Oregon would still become part of the US. In this alternate universe, Mexico would benefit from the Gold Rush, becoming as wealthy as the US.
Lincoln’s biggest mistake was switching vice presidents in order to appeal to southern voters. Hannibal Hamlin, Lincoln’s first vice president, would have prevented most of the 50,000 racist murders that Lincoln’s second vice president Johnson allowed to happen. Hamlin wouldn’t have taken land away that was given to former slaves and the Freedman’s bureau would have been expanded. Many lynchings and other racial strife wouldn’t have happened.
If Andrew Johnson had been impeached in 1866, Benjamin Wade would have been president and also wouldn’t have sabotaged Reconstruction. Wade was even in favor of women getting the vote.
McClellan, who was opposed to freeing slaves, was nearly elected instead of Lincoln in 1864. The Confederacy never had a chance of winning the Civil War, but with McClellan as president, it would have lasted longer. In the worst case scenario, McClellan would allow the scant territory held by Confederates to be independent. If the Confederacy gained independence, slavery would have continued. However, the Confederacy wouldn’t have much territory. Half of southern white men dodged the draft, sometimes forming gangs to drive away the Confederates. Two thirds of Confederate troops deserted. One of every eight slaves escaped during the war. Most Southerners were opposed to the Confederacy which censored the news, punished abolitionists with death, and banned political parties. (There was often only a single candidate on the ballot.) There were over 4,000 political prisoners and mass executions of dissidents.
Presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan was against the US-Filipino War that cost 200,000 to one million deaths. He was also opposed to conquering Hawaii.
If Custer hadn’t died at Little Bighorn, there’s a good chance he could have been president in 1880. He would have been horrible. At the massacre of Washita, he murdered women, children, and elderly after the Cheyenne had signed a peace treaty. His men even ripped open the bellies of pregnant women. The Cheyenne men were mostly away at the time, but Custer prevented the few there from attacking by using women as human shields. He also failed to protect black civil rights during Reconstruction when he was stationed in Texas. Custer’s brutal tactics would have prolonged war with the Apache. Why would they surrender if he was going to kill them either way? The US didn’t invade Latin America between 1859 to 1890. Custer the glory hound would have invaded a decade earlier. The Spanish American war may have happened sooner as well. The campaign against the Philippines would have been more brutal. He would also likely have made Cuba a US colony.
If McKinley had survived his assassination, his vice president Roosevelt wouldn’t have become president. McKinley was against unions, environmentalism, and against limiting corporate power. He wouldn’t have ended the US Philippines War, causing an additional tens of thousands of deaths. Roosevelt created the FDA, saving lives by making sure food and drugs are safe. McKinley wouldn’t have done this.
The American Liberty League plotted to overthrow Franklin Roosevelt. Some businessmen were so opposed to the New Deal, they wanted to use a private army to install a fascist government. The founder was white supremacist Irenne Du Pont. They were also in favor of eugenics. Because arresting them might hurt the stock market, they were never punished. If the plot hadn’t been exposed, it would have caused a second civil war, more destructive than the first. Possibly as many as 3.6 million would have died. If the fascists won, the US may have remained fascist until the 1970s as Spain did. Smedley Butler revealed the conspiracy, saving millions of lives.
Like Lincoln, Roosevelt made a huge mistake by replacing his vice president. Henry Wallace, Roosevelt’s first vice president, was extremely popular. He helped modernize farming and convinced 12 Latin American nations to fight the Axis. However, Roosevelt replaced him with Truman who started the Cold War responsible for 6-7 million deaths. Wallace was opposed to the Cold War and colonialism. If he had been president, millions of lives could have been saved.
Douglas MacArthur was a great military leader, although he made mistakes and suffered a few humiliating defeats. He called for using nukes during the Korean War which would have been disastrous. MacArthur was insubordinate and was fired by Truman. He actually sought permission from the Joint Chiefs of Staff to use nukes without the President’s approval, although he was against nuking civilian targets like Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He ran for president three times. Truman only barely won in 1948. If MacArthur had won, he would have authorized using nukes in the Korean War resulting in hundreds of thousands of deaths and it could have escalated into a nuclear war with the USSR.
When Stalin died and Khrushchev took over the Soviet Union, he denounced Stalin, allowed some freedom of speech, allowed western tourists for the first time, cut troops by a third, gave up plans for a large navy, and abolished special tribunals. Eisenhower and Nixon thought all this was a trick and kept the Cold War going. However, if presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson had beat Eisenhower in the election, things would have turned out differently. Stevenson was against the Cold War and nuclear testing. He would likely have established peace with the USSR 30 years before Gorbachev accomplished it. The Cuban missile crisis and the Vietnam War wouldn’t have happened.
If Robert Kennedy hadn’t been assassinated, he would have beat Nixon in the election. (Hubert Humphrey only barely lost to Nixon because he pledged to continue the war and anti-war voters stayed home on election day.) Robert Kennedy would have ended the Vietnam War five years earlier and would not have committed genocide in Cambodia, saving up to 3.3 million lives.
Reagan came close to being president in 1976. If so, he wouldn’t focus on human rights as Carter did. He might have bombed Vietnam, would likely have intervened in Angola, would have supported South Africa making apartheid last longer, and would have ignored the genocides in East Timor and Cambodia. He probably would have invaded Nicaragua to stop the Sandinista revolution. He would not have returned the Panama Canal to Panama. The Cold War would have lasted longer as well.
Ross Perot had a chance of being president in 1992, but he was a conspiracy theorist who thought George H. W. Bush was covering up evidence of US POWs in Vietnam. He thought “a six man Viet Cong-Black Panther hit squad” was after him. With no party in Congress, he likely wouldn’t have accomplished much, except making the War on Drugs worse. Perot favored harsher punishments for drugs and blocking off minority neighborhoods and searching house to house for drugs. He may have even went to war with Mexico and Colombia over drugs. Perot was erratic and prone to mood swings. He’d likely refuse to intervene in Bosnia, Somalia, and Rwanda, before suddenly reversing himself.
Al Gore actually won the 2000 election, but the Supreme Court appointed George W. Bush instead. Had this not happened, Gore would not have went to war with Iraq, wouldn’t have bungled the Afghanistan war, and not nearly as many would have died during Hurricane Katrina. Over a million lives would have been saved. Gore would have focused on Afghanistan, sending in more troops without the distraction of Iraq. Al Qaeda and the Taliban would have been defeated sooner. The US would have captured Osama Bin Laden in December 2001 if Bush had just sent more troops. Gore wouldn’t have invested in preventing AIDS in Africa like Bush did, though. (Carroll doesn’t mention this, but I wonder if 9/11 wouldn’t have happened at all with a President Gore. He certainly wouldn’t have ignored the intelligence reports like Bush did.)
George W. Bush was almost assassinated in 2005. If this happened, Dick Cheney would have become president. Cheney wanted to bomb Iran, but Bush was against it. A war with Iran would take two or three times as many troops as Iraq. Fighting three wars at once would have been disastrous.
Presidential candidate John McCain was very pro-war. He called for bombing Serbia, Iran (to the tune of a Beach Boys song), and called for staying in Iraq “maybe 100 years”.
Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was also pro-war. In favor of invading Iraq, Iran, and Libya. She presented a plan for arming Syrian rebels. She was also opposed to immediate national health care, favoring a gradual approach.
As governor, Romney was a moderate who created the model for Obamacare, balanced the budget of Massachusetts by ending corporate loop holes, was pro-choice, and favored gay rights. All that changed when he ran for president. He spoke of nuking Iran and arming Syrian rebels who were al Qaeda allies. If history has taught us anything, it’s that arming groups that hate the US always backfires. He spoke of returning troops to Iraq. He was also in favor of torture and against national health care. He wanted to turn Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security over to private companies, stealing from the poor to give to the rich. Studies show Medicare saves more lives than private insurance. Many elderly people would have died under Romney’s plan.