Dead Presidents

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

By Anthony Bergen
E-Mail: bergen.anthony@gmail.com
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Posts tagged "Vice President"
Can you give any examples on how Joe Biden is one of the most "active and influential" VPs?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

The Vice Presidency is unique in that its power and prestige is largely a modern development.  Now “modern” is used in different ways for different things.  Many historians say that the first “modern” campaign was the 1800 campaign between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.  Some say that the first “modern” Presidential election was the 1824 contest between John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, Henry Clay, and William H. Crawford that was decided by the House of Representatives.  But when I say that the Vice Presidency’s importance is a largely a “modern” development, I mean within the lifetime of most of the people reading this.

Garret A. Hobart, McKinley’s first Vice President, was probably the first Vice President with any power or responsibility outside of the VP’s Constitutional role as president of the Senate.  President McKinley had a lot of respect for Vice President Hobart and they were friends, and Hobart served in a role not too different from that of a present-day White House Chief of Staff.  Hobart was an anomaly, though.  After he died in office, the VP once again became “the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived”, as the first Vice President, John Adams, described it.

To a certain extent, Richard Nixon (as Eisenhower’s VP from 1953-1961) and Lyndon Johnson (as JFK’s VP from 1961-1963) expanded the duties a bit.  Nixon was a bit more visible partly because he was a rising young star in the GOP, but also because President Eisenhower, who was the oldest Chief Executive in history upon leaving office, suffered a heart attack, a mild stroke, and serious intestinal problems during his term.  LBJ despised the Vice Presidency but he was one of the first VPs regularly invited to Cabinet meetings and was given a highly-visible and important role as chairman of the National Aeronautics and Space Council during the space race with the Soviet Union and participated in the tense deliberations throughout the Cuban Missile Crisis.

It was Walter Mondale (Jimmy Carter’s VP from 1977-1981) who helped mold the Vice Presidency into what we know it as today — an integral member of the President’s Administration with a spot in the Cabinet and National Security Council, and an office in the White House itself.  George H.W. Bush (Reagan’s VP from 1981-1989) and Dan Quayle (Bush 41’s VP from 1989-1993) weren’t quite as powerful as Mondale, but still much more involved in the workings of the Executive Branch than most of their Vice Presidential predecessors.

Al Gore (Bill Clinton’s VP from 1993-2001) and Dick Cheney (Bush 43’s VP from 2001-2009) took the Mondale model of the Vice Presidency and, with the blessing of their Presidents, made the position into one of the most powerful posts in the world.  Clinton and Gore, both Southerners, close in age, and not too far apart politically, changed the idea that running mates should be different from one another and balance each other out.  Once elected, Clinton gave Gore tons of responsibility and power — not quite a co-Presidency, but something more than second fiddle to the Oval Office.  

Cheney, of course, was so influential that many people considered him the power behind the throne — a dark force who was the instrument pushing through the most controversial policies of George W. Bush’s Administration.  Now, that isn’t quiet correct.  It’s clear now that George W. Bush had far more control of his Administration than people gave him credit for and that Cheney’s power and influence was largely neutralized in Bush’s second term as Cheney’s allies were forced out of the Administration and Bush became more confident in his duties.  

As for Vice President Biden, he took the role as Barack Obama’s running mate with the promise that he would have the President’s ear.  Biden wanted to scale back some of the seemingly limitless power that Cheney supposedly held at the beginning of George W. Bush’s term, but Biden also wanted a real role in the Obama Administration and he has had one.  Because of his lengthy experience in the Senate and political connections, and Obama’s relative inexperience, Biden has been called upon time-after-time to close the deal on important legislation from the Affordable Health Care Act to the negotiations over the debt ceiling and economic policy.  Biden is the Mariano Rivera of the Obama Administration — a superstar legislative liaison with a unique skill set that most Vice Presidents have lacked.  Vice Presidents Mondale, Bush, Quayle, Gore, and Cheney all served in Congress, but none of them had the experience on Capitol Hill that Biden had.  And none of them built relationships with Senators and Congressmen like Biden did for nearly 40 years.  He has been more than active and influential — Joe Biden has been invaluable to the Obama Administration.

Asker Anonymous Asks:
When does the electoral college meet to officially cast their votes for president and is that done at the capital building in Washington?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

The Electoral College actually never gathers together for a meeting.  The Electors who American voters chose on Election Day last month will meet on December 17th in their respective state capitals.  The Electoral College meets to officially cast their votes on the first Monday after the second Wednesday of December following Election Day. 

While each state has their own process for the meeting of their Presidential Electors, they don’t differ all that dramatically.  There are various formalities and for the casting of the votes and some strict protocols for officially sending the votes to state officials and then to Congress, which officially counts and certifies the Electoral College results.  That takes place in a Joint Session of Congress in early January and that responsibility is one of the first major actions of the new Congress.  That means that, for the 2012 election, it will be the 113th Congress (which begins on January 3, 2013) instead of the 112th Congress (the Congress in office at the time of the 2012 election) which counts and officially certifies the Electoral College results.  In our case, that’s probably a good thing because if anybody could screw up counting the Electoral votes, it’s the abysmal 112th Congress.

Interestingly, it is usually the Vice President, in his Constitutional role as President of the Senate, who presides over the Joint Session and the certification of the Electoral College results.  Sometimes, that can lead to what must be an awkward and probably even somewhat heartbreaking experience of a Vice President presiding over the official certification of an election that he lost — something that has happened a few times recently: 1960 (Nixon, lost the Presidential election to Kennedy), 1968 (Humphrey, lost the Presidential election to Nixon), 1980 (Mondale, as Carter’s running mate), 1992 (Quayle, as Bush’s running mate), and, of course, 2000 (Gore, as famously seen in Fahrenheit 9/11.)

Asker Anonymous Asks:
If you're doing Bergen-2016 who is your runningmate?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

Well, I’ll only be 36 years old — Constitutionally eligible to be President, but just barely — and woefully inexperienced, so I’d need someone who is respected and has a solid resume.  How about Leon Panetta? 

Actually, Panetta would be a damn good running mate for someone (not just in the hypothetical “Anthony for President” silliness).  Panetta served eight terms in Congress, was President Clinton’s OMB director and White House Chief of Staff, and is now President Obama’s Secretary of Defense after serving the first two years of the Obama Administration as CIA Director.  That’s about as solid of a resume for a present-day American public servant as I can think of.  Any Democrat running for President in 2016 should have him on their short list for Vice President.

So, there you go, that’s my ticket: Bergen/Panetta 2016 (although “Bergen/Panetta” kind of sounds like the name of a concentration camp.)

(And the previous sentence is a clear example of why I could never be President.)

Asker Anonymous Asks:
I think you expertise probably includes vice-presidents so I'm curious, have any VPs besides Alexander Hamilton died in office?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

Well, Alexander Hamilton wasn’t a Vice President.  I think you got yourself mixed up a bit there because Hamilton was killed in a duel with Aaron Burr, and it was Burr who was the incumbent Vice President at the time of the duel. 

Even before the Vice President killed Hamilton, Burr had no chance of being President Jefferson’s running mate again in 1804 because Jefferson didn’t appreciate the fact that Burr, who had clearly been the Vice Presidential candidate during the campaign, had tried to steal the Presidency from him in 1800 when it was being decided in the House of Representatives after no candidate won a majority of Electoral Votes.  From the beginning of his term, President Jefferson basically wanted nothing to do with Burr.  Of course, after the duel, Burr was even more radioactive.  Even if you dump him from your ticket, it’s never a good thing when your Vice President has been charged with murder.

I should answer your question instead of going off on my own little tangent.  Hamilton wasn’t a VP, he was killed by the VP.  However, we have had several Vice Presidents who died in office.  While four Presidents died in office of natural causes and four were assassinated, a whopping SEVEN Vice Presidents — the men who were just a heartbeat away from the Presidency — died in office. 

Being James Madison’s Vice President was especially dangerous, as both of his VPs died in office.  George Clinton had actually replaced Aaron Burr as Vice President during Thomas Jefferson’s second term (1805-1809) and stayed on to serve as Madison’s first term VP.  Clinton died in April 1812 in Washington, D.C., shortly before the War of 1812 broke out and a few months before Madison faced re-election.  Madison’s second term Vice President was Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts.  Gerry was just a few months short of his 69th birthday when he was inaugurated as VP and, as of 2012, remains the third-oldest VP in history.  Gerry died on November 23, 1814, leaving the Vice Presidency for the remainder of Madison’s Presidency.

Franklin Pierce’s election in 1852 also resulted in the election of Alabama’s William Rufus DeVane King as Vice President.  King’s story is an interesting one for many reasons (Google the many stories which tell of the very close relationship that King, America’s only bachelor VP, enjoyed with his longtime roommate James Buchanan, America’s only bachelor President).  King spent a few years representing North Carolina in Congress and then moved to Alabama, which he began representing in Congress as soon as it became a state.  Oddly enough, King was one of the few politicians, especially prior to the late-20th Century, who actively sought the Vice Presidency.  By the time he got his wish and was finally elected VP in 1852, King was dying of tuberculosis.  King was attempting to regain his health in Cuba’s climate and was unable to travel back home for Pierce’s inauguration.  It was pretty obvious that King would not live much longer, so Congress passed a special dispensation which allowed King to be sworn in as Vice President in Havana, Cuba.  During his brief Vice Presidency, King never spent a day in Washington, D.C.; after leaving Cuba, he returned home to Alabama where he died on April 18, 1853. King was Vice President for just 45 days, shorter than all but two other VPs (John Tyler and Andrew Johnson, who both assumed the Presidency shortly after they became VP).

Henry Wilson was elected as President Grant’s second term VP after Grant dumped his first term VP Schuyler Colfax from the ticket in 1872.  Wilson hadn’t been Vice President for long when he suffered a crippling stroke in 1873, but worked to regain some of his health and return to many of his duties as Vice President.  In November 1875, the 63-year-old VP had another series of strokes and died in the U.S. Capitol building.

When President Garfield died just six months into his term in 1881 and Chester A. Arthur succeeded him, it left the Vice Presidency vacant from September 19, 1881 until March 4, 1885.  With the inauguration of President Grover Cleveland on that day, Vice President Thomas A. Hendricks finally filled the Vice Presidential vacancy.  When Vice President Hendricks died eight months later, the country once again went without a VP for over three years.  As I’ve written before, there was no mechanism for filling a vacancy in the Vice Presidency until the ratification of the Twenty-fifth Amendment in 1967.  In the eight years of Garfield, Arthur, and Cleveland’s first term (1881-1889), there was no Vice President in the line of succession for an incredible 2,457 out of 2,922 days!

It’s very surprising to most people that the first Vice President who possessed real power and influence was Garret Augustus Hobart.  I guess that it is surprising to learn because most Americans have never heard of Vice President Hobart, couldn’t tell you who he served, and wouldn’t be able to pick him out of a lineup.  Hobart was VP during President McKinley’s first term and enjoyed unprecedented access and influence to the point that he was thought of at times as an “assistant President”, joined planning sessions and unofficial Cabinet meetings, and, in perhaps the biggest difference between normal President/Vice President relationship of that era, McKinley and Hobart were close personal friends.  Less than three years into their term, the heart troubles that plagued Hobart intensified and the Vice President — just 55 years old — died on November 21, 1899.  Hobart’s death led to New York Governor Theodore Roosevelt’s placement on the ticket as McKinley’s running mate in 1900.  GOP leaders were wary of TR’s rising stardom and hoped the dead-end Vice Presidency would be be a good place to trap him and arrest his skyrocketing career, but McKinley was shot to death in September 1901 and TR was suddenly President.

The seventh and most recent Vice President to die in office was President Taft’s VP, James Schoolcraft Sherman.  In 1912, the third party Presidential candidacy of Theodore Roosevelt split the voting on the Republican side between TR and the man he had hand-picked as his successor in 1908, William Howard Taft, all but guaranteeing a victory by Democrat Woodrow Wilson.  Interestingly, after decades of VP vacancies, one-term wonders, and apathy towards the VP position, 1912 witnessed a remarkable milestone — for the first time in 80 years, an incumbent VP was actually renominated by his party.  Unfortunately, that same VP was dying of Bright’s disease — an incurable kidney ailment at the time which had ravaged President Arthur in his final months in the White House.  Six days after his 57th birthday, Vice President Sherman died at his home in Utica, New York.  Sherman’s death also took place six daysbeforethe 1912 election, but it didn’t matter, as Wilson coasted to victory.

As noted earlier, and in a previous article, the sheer duration of time in which the Vice Presidential office was vacant is incredible, especially because of the succession problems which that could have caused.  Besides the seven VPs who died in office, two (Calhoun and Agnew) resigned, and nine vacated the Vice Presidency to assume the Presidency (Tyler, Fillmore, A. Johnson, Arthur, T. Roosevelt, Coolidge, Truman, L. Johnson, and Ford).  So, of the 47 Vice Presidents in American history, EIGHTEEN (that’s 38%!) vacated the office for some reason.  Since a VP vacancy couldn’t be filled until 1967’s ratification of the Twenty-fifth Amendment, only TWO VP vacancies were ever filled: Ford replaced Agnew in 1973 and Rockefeller replaced Ford in 1974.

By looking at these statistics, it’s easy to see just how little the Vice Presidency mattered
in the early decades of the Presidency and up to the provisions in the Twenty-Fifth Amendment which outline filling vacancies.  It seems so foreign to us to not have a Vice President in what is now such an important role, but it was almost normal in years past.  The craziest statistic of all is that, in the 223 years that the Vice Presidency has been in existence the position has been vacant for a grand total of 37 years, 290 days!

Asker Anonymous Asks:
Which Vice Presidents would've made a great president? Which would've made an awful president?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

We’ll try to keep it more modern because it gets tougher the further back into history we go.

Spiro Agnew, Dan Quayle, and Henry A. Wallace would have been pretty terrible Presidents.  If Agnew hadn’t been forced to resign in disgrace, I’m pretty sure that Nixon would have survived Watergate because nobody in Congress (in either party) was interested in seeing “President Agnew”.  Quayle was in over his head as Vice President, so he would have been a disaster as President.  Wallace was a weird dude all around, and the Democrats dropped him from the ticket in 1944 because they knew FDR was probably going to die in office and they didn’t want Wallace succeeding him.

I think Joe Biden would be a great President.  Gore would have been pretty good, as would have been Mondale and Rockefeller.  Rockefeller was a solid executive as Governor of New York, and kind of got a raw deal in 1976 when the Republicans forced President Ford to dump him from the ticket in favor of Bob Dole to placate the Conservatives in the GOP after Ronald Reagan’s primary challenge.  Rockefeller had been a loyal VP for Ford, and it simply wasn’t fair to jettison him, although Rockefeller continued being a good soldier despite that.  President Ford later said that one of his biggest political regrets was dumping Rockefeller from the ticket in ‘76.

One of the recent questions you posted about Biden's future as VP got me thinking: In recent times, it seems as if the only good a VP has done is balancing a ticket for a President. In your opinion, what is the most significant thing that a VP has done while holding their title as a VP?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

I disagree.  The Vice President has always been important for balancing a Presidential ticket.  Most VP candidates are chosen for that role primarily, but in the past 30-40 years, the Vice President has been an integral role in government.

Beginning with Walter Mondale (served under President Carter, 1977-1981), every Vice President has had an office in the White House itself and been responsible for major initiatives.  With the exception of Dan Quayle under George H.W. Bush (1989-1993), pretty much every Vice President elected after Watergate (Mondale, Bush, Gore, Cheney, Biden) has been more experienced than the President that they served under.  The Vice Presidency has become a very powerful position, far different than what it was even 50 years ago and virtually unrecognizable to the office that the Founders likely intended when they wrote the Constitution.

The most significant thing a VP has done is probably Dick Cheney spearheading the push into Iraq in 2003.  Cheney was basically responsible for the foreign policy of the Bush Administration and it continues to have repercussions on the world to this day.  Cheney was undoubtedly the most powerful Vice President in American History.

One of the recent questions you posted about Biden's future as VP got me thinking: In recent times, it seems as if the only good a VP has done is balancing a ticket for a President. In your opinion, what is the most significant thing that a VP has done while holding their title as a VP?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

I disagree.  The Vice President has always been important for balancing a Presidential ticket.  Most VP candidates are chosen for that role primarily, but in the past 30-40 years, the Vice President has been an integral role in government.

Beginning with Walter Mondale (served under President Carter, 1977-1981), every Vice President has had an office in the White House itself and been responsible for major initiatives.  With the exception of Dan Quayle under George H.W. Bush (1989-1993), pretty much every Vice President elected after Watergate (Mondale, Bush, Gore, Cheney, Biden) has been more experienced than the President that they served under.  The Vice Presidency has become a very powerful position, far different than what it was even 50 years ago and virtually unrecognizable to the office that the Founders likely intended when they wrote the Constitution.

The most significant thing a VP has done is probably Dick Cheney spearheading the push into Iraq in 2003.  Cheney was basically responsible for the foreign policy of the Bush Administration and it continues to have repercussions on the world to this day.  Cheney was undoubtedly the most powerful Vice President in American History.