William Rufus DeVane King of Alabama was one of the few people in American History who openly sought the Vice Presidency of the United States and when Franklin Pierce was elected President in November 1852, King finally had the opportunity to become the presiding officer of the United States Senate.
Within days of the 1852 election, King found a nagging illness to be worsening. As the date of his inauguration as Vice President came closer, King developed a vicious cough and lost so much weight that he was almost unrecognizable to friends and colleagues. The Vice Presidency was finally near his grasp, so King left the cold of a Washington, D.C. winter to attempt to recover his health in the tropical climate of Cuba.
In Cuba, King’s health did not improve. Though he was supposed to be sworn in on March 4, 1853 in Washington, King found that he didn’t have the strength to even leave the island. As a tribute to King’s long service, Congress decided to give special authorization for the most unlikely inauguration for any government official in American History. Twenty days after Franklin Pierce became President, a representative of the United States government met an emaciated William Rufus DeVane King in the small seaside village of Matanzas, Cuba. King couldn’t stand under his own power, so he as he was helped to his feet and steadied, he took the oath of office as the 13th Vice President of the United States. King is the only President or Vice President to be inaugurated in a foreign country.
Vice President King never made it back to Washington, D.C. Determined to return to his country, he made a arduous journey back to his plantation in Cahaba, Alabama. By the time he arrived in Alabama, King was completely weakened by tuberculosis and near death. On April 18, 1853, William Rufus DeVane King died at his home at the age of 67. King served only 45 days as Vice President, a shorter term than all but two Vice Presidents — John Tyler and Andrew Johnson — who served brief terms before succeeding to the Presidency upon the deaths of William Henry Harrison and Abraham Lincoln respectively.
Today, if King is remembered at all, it is not for his brief term as Vice President or the fact that he was inaugurated in Cuba. What King is most well-known for is probably the long-standing rumor that he and James Buchanan, the 15th President, may have been involved in a homosexual relationship. Nothing is certain and the rumors can never be proven true, but I’ve written about the allegations before. What is a fact is that Buchanan and King were incredibly close, lived together for 15 years, were widely considered to be lovers by their contemporaries, wrote long and loving letters to one another (most of which were later destroyed by Buchanan prior to his death, and were the only President and Vice President respectively to remain lifelong bachelors.
Yes. The Constitutional eligibility requirements for Vice President are exactly the same as the requirements for President. That’s why a term-limited former President (Bill Clinton, for example) could not be elected Vice President.
In the scene you’re referring to, the Vice President is addressed as “Mr. President” because he is in the Senate chamber executing his only Constitutional responsibility — presiding over the Senate. Although the Vice President is President of the Senate, he rarely presides over it unless there is some important reason or if he is needed to break a tie.
There is a president pro tempore of the Senate — generally the longest-serving Senator of the majority party — but the day-to-day duty of presiding over the Senate is usually rotated from Senator-to-Senator. During debate, anyone who is sitting in the chair presiding over Senate activities is addressed as “Mr. President” as part of parliamentary procedure.
I have no hesitation in saying that Calhoun is one of the most base hypocritical and unprincipled villains in the United States…(his) vote in the case of Mr. Van Buren, has displayed a want of every sense of honor, justice or magnanimity.”
Andrew Jackson, on his own Vice President, John C. Calhoun, after Calhoun cast a tie-breaking vote against Jackson’s nomination of Martin Van Buren as Minister to Great Britain
1. No, the President cannot fire the Vice President. The VP has won a national election and has taken a Constitutional oath. He can be impeached by the House and removed from office if convicted by the Senate, but the President can’t just arbitrarily get rid of the VP.
2. Technically, the Vice President is only responsible for presiding over the Senate and casting tie-breaking votes in the Senate. Besides assuming office in the case of a President’s death, incapacitation, resignation, or removal, the Vice President has no other Constitutional duties.
The Vice President does not have to be an integral part of the Administration. Most Vice Presidents throughout our history have had little to no professional relationship with the Presidents that they were elected with. Most VPs were considered to be legislative functionaries rather than members of the team running the Executive branch.
If, for some reason, the next President shut the VP out of their Administration and we only saw that VP presiding over the Senate once in awhile and breaking the rare tie vote now and then, it would seem completely alien to us. But that’s what the traditional role of the Vice President largely was basically until the second half of the 20th Century. A Vice President with an important Executive branch presence and an office in the White House or the OEOB is a surprisingly modern development.
"[Spiro Agnew has] tremendous brain power, great courage, and [an] unparalleled legal mind. He has vigor and imagination and, above all, he acts." — Richard Nixon, explaining why Agnew was qualified to be his Vice President, 1969
"By any criteria he falls short. Energy? He doesn’t work hard. He likes to play golf [instead]. Leadership? [Nixon simply laughs at the idea]. Consistency? He’s all over the place. He’s not [even] really a conservative, you know?" — Richard Nixon, explaining to aide John Ehrlichman why Agnew was not qualified to be President
I now know the difference between a cactus and a caucus — in a cactus, all the pricks are on the outside.
Lyndon B. Johnson, to reporters, after meeting with the Senate’s Democratic Caucus following LBJ’s election as Vice President, January 1961
Jerry, you’re a damn fool to do this.
Betty Ford, to Gerald Ford, on his decision to dump Vice President Nelson Rockefeller from the ticket in 1976 in favor of Bob Dole
It is hard to visualize a situation where there are absolutely no candidates for President, so let’s look at it this way: What would happen if nobody actually won a Presidential election? Let’s say an election was disputed or undecided and we arrived at Inauguration Day without a President-elect or Vice President-elect.
Now, something like this has never happened, and when it comes to Constitutional crises where things aren’t clearly defined there is always some room for surprises. For example, when President William Henry Harrison died a month into his term in 1841, most American political leaders believed that the Vice President, John Tyler, would only be “acting President”. Tyler, however, quickly assumed the office of the Presidency in name, trappings, and all the power that came with it and set the precedent which all future Vice Presidents who assumed office would follow (and which was eventually codified in the Constitution with the 25th Amendment).
So, if no President or Vice President was been elected or qualified for office as of Inauguration Day, the 20th Amendment (ratified in 1933), states that “Congress may by law provide for the case wherein neither a President elect nor a Vice President elect shall have qualified, declaring who shall then act as President, or the manner in which one who is to act shall be selected, and such person shall act accordingly until a President or Vice President shall have qualified”.
In other words, it would be up to Congress to decide HOW the President or Vice President should be selected and WHO the President and Vice President would be. Most likely, the House of Representatives would choose the President and the Senate would choose the Vice President. I make that assumption because that’s what would happen if no candidate won an Electoral College majority — the Presidency would be decided by the House and the Vice Presidency would be decided by the Senate.
But two Vice Presidents were non-WASPs: Charles Curtis (Herbert Hoover’s VP) was 1/4th Native American was the first President or Vice President with non-European ancestry and Vice President Biden is the first Roman Catholic VP in history.
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.