I understand what you’re saying. This is another one of those instances — as is the case with most questions about Presidential succession or the 25th Amendment — where there are no precedents to follow and a lot of confusion, and where that confusion will remain until something happens that actually puts the 25th Amendment into effect and tests the process.
To refresh everyone’s memories, a President can permanently relinquish his office by resigning, which leads to the Vice President (or the person next in the line of succession) becoming the new President. If that happens, the VP-turned-President can be elected to two full terms as President in his own right unless the VP completes more than two years of the unfinished term of the President he succeeded. In that case, the VP is only allowed to be elected to one term in his own right. As an example: when LBJ assumed the Presidency upon the death of John F. Kennedy, JFK had less than two years left in his term. So, LBJ was able to run again in 1964 (and won), and would have been allowed to run for another term in 1968 if he had chosen to. After that, he would have been term-limited and unable to seek the Presidency again in 1972. On the other hand, when Gerald Ford succeeded Richard Nixon in 1974 following Nixon’s assassination, Ford completed more than two years of Nixon’s term. Ford was unsuccessful in trying to win a term of his own in 1976, but if he had won the ‘76 election, he would have been term-limited from seeking another term as President in 1980.
But a President could also temporarily the powers of the Presidency if he or she were incapacitated or unable to discharge their duties, and then reclaim their duties when they are ready. This has happened a couple of times when recent Presidents have undergone medical treatment which required anesthesia. When that happens, the President invokes the 25th Amendment, and the Vice President becomes “Acting President” until the President feels clear enough to reclaim the full duties of the Presidency once again.
Now, this is where the questions start popping up. When a President resigns and a Vice President permanently assumes the powers, duties, and trappings of the Presidency (as in the aforementioned cases of LBJ and Gerald Ford), the VP becomes President of the United States in full. However, when a President invokes the 25th Amendment and temporarily transfers power to the Vice President, the VP does not become “President of the United States”. Instead, the VP becomes “Acting President”, and remains “Acting President” until the President reclaims the position, resigns, or is removed from office.
Since this Constitutional curiosity has never been put to the test, we don’t know for sure what the answer to your question is. But my interpretation is that the time that a VP served as “Acting President” in an instance where the 25th Amendment was invoked would not count towards term limits if that VP eventually became the President in his own right. Plus, the invocation of the 25th Amendment in order to temporarily relieve an incapacitated President of his duties is not meant to be a long-term solution. The 25th Amendment also has a mechanism for removing a seriously incapacitated President who has little change of regaining the ability to discharge his duty. If things got that serious, a temporary fix would be bypassed in favor of removing the incapacitated President and handing power to the next in the line of succession. At that point, the clock would begin ticking to determine whether the successor would be limited to being elected to one or two terms as President on their own, but that’s a different discussion.
The strangest (and most confusing) thing about the differences between someone who assumes the Presidency permanently and someone who temporarily becomes “Acting President” is that there isn’t any difference in actual power. The difference is in the title, but — whether temporary or permanent — they exercise all of the powers of the Presidency.
This is one of those weird areas where there is a lot of confusion because the Constitution requires the President to take the oath of office before discharging the duties of the office, but in reality, we’ve never been without a President. In the eyes of the government and the military and the Secret Service, there is never an interregnum, even if the oath hasn’t been taken. While it might not be exactly what the Constitution sets forth, the powers of the Presidency instantly changes hands when a President dies or resigns.
Using the Kennedy Assassination for example, the powers of the Presidency passed to LBJ as soon as President Kennedy was pronounced dead. And, even as JFK was being worked on in the trauma room at Parkland Hospital in Dallas, the Secret Service recognized that he wasn’t going to survive and immediately began switching protection to LBJ. Some Secret Service agents regularly on JFK’s detail didn’t even know what to do at the time because there was no precedent for the protection of a deceased President’s family. They questioned who would go with LBJ from Parkland to Love Field — LBJ’s regular Secret Service detail, or the regular Presidential detail (since, to them, LBJ was now President — even if he hadn’t yet been sworn in). Even when people addressed LBJ at Parkland Hospital, minutes after President Kennedy was officially pronounced dead, they addressed him as “Mr. President”. Technically, he hadn’t raised his right hand and taken the Presidential oath, but he was President — and that’s how it’s been with every other transition.
There is never an instant where we don’t have a President because it’s potentially dangerous, and continuity-of-government is an extraordinarily important part of maintaining a democratic republic. The people need to know that somebody is always in charge, and our enemies always need to know that we will never be caught sleeping. That’s why we have “designated survivors” — individual officers in the Presidential line of succession that are taken to a safe place or undisclosed location during events like the State of the Union Address when most of the rest of the people in the line of succession are gathered in one place. That’s also why a nuclear football travels everywhere the Vice President goes, too. If there was a sudden nuclear attack on Washington, D.C. that took out the President and most of Congress while the Vice President was out of town, we wouldn’t wait for the VP to be sworn in as President. The VP has the same type of military aide as the President and the same authentication card for launching nuclear weapons as the President, so if something happens to the POTUS, the VP can take charge as Commander-in-Chief and launch retaliatory strikes, if necessary.
You asked about what would happen if the President hadn’t been declared dead. In that case, there are contingency plans under the 25th Amendment, but it depends on the situation. If there is the possibility of recovery, power can be transferred to the Vice President (or whomever is next in the line of succession) while an injured or ailing President is recovering. The President can transfer power to the VP himself with a letter to the Speaker of the House and President pro tempore of the Senate, and the VP would be Acting President until the President notifies the same two leaders that he is able to reclaim his office and discharge the duties.
But if the President is incapacitated and unable to transfer power to the VP by letter, there is another way to enact the 25th Amendment — and this would also be something necessary if a President was incapacitated and refusing to transfer power (an example of this is Woodrow Wilson clinging to office after his debilitating stroke, or if a President was clearly declining due to Alzheimer’s disease but wouldn’t resign). In that case, the Vice President and either a majority of “the principal officers of the executive department” (the Cabinet secretaries) or a majority of Congress could notify (by writing) the Speaker of the House and President pro tempore of the Senate of the President’s irreparable incapacitation. Then, it would require a 2/3rds majority from both the House of Representatives and the Senate to transfer power to the Vice President or next in the line of succession as Acting President.
The Constitution does specifically require that the President take the oath (or “affirmation) of office “Before he enter upon the Execution of his Office…” and that tends to be the first thing that a President actually does, but a President becomes President at the moment their predecessor’s term ends. Fortunately, we haven’t had any sort of Constitutional crisis where a new President who has not yet taken the oath has issued an order and been rebuffed by someone who says, “Ummm…you didn’t say the magic 35 words.”
On August 27, 1858, Daniel Marshall brought his young son, Tommy, into Freeport, Illinois, near the Wisconsin border, where nearly 15,000 people had gathered in a downtown square for the second of seven debates between Senator Stephen A. Douglas and his Republican challenger Abraham Lincoln. Marshall was a solid Democrat who had moved his family to Illinois from Indiana a year earlier and supported the incumbent Senator Douglas.
In Freeport, under the debating rules set by the candidates, Lincoln spoke first for 60 minutes, Douglas spoke next for 90 minutes, and Lincoln finished with a 30-minute-long rebuttal. The population of Freeport tripled on the day of the debate and the proceedings took place in unseasonably cool, cloudy weather for late-August.
As Lincoln and Douglas engaged in perhaps the most newsworthy debate of their historic series, 4-year-old Tommy Marshall found himself the best seat in the house. While Lincoln spoke, Tommy sat in the lap of Stephen A. Douglas. When Senator Douglas responded, Tommy sat in the lap of Abraham Lincoln.
Decades later, after little Tommy Marshall had grown into Thomas Riley Marshall and became Vice President of the United States under Woodrow Wilson, sitting in the laps of history at the second Lincoln/Douglas debate remained one of his fondest memories.
THOMAS RILEY MARSHALL
38th Vice President of the United States (1913-1921)
Full Name: Thomas Riley Marshall
Born: March 14, 1854, North Manchester, Wabash County, Indiana
College: Wabash College, Crawfordsville, Indiana
Career Before the Vice Presidency: Lawyer, Columbia City, Indiana (1875-1909); Unsuccessful Democratic candidate for Prosecuting Attorney of Whitley County, Indiana (1880); 27th Governor of Indiana (January 11, 1909-January 13, 1913)
Political Party as Vice President: Democratic
State Represented as Vice President: Indiana
Term as Vice President: March 4, 1913-March 4, 1921
Length of Vice Presidency: 8 years, 0 days
Age at Inauguration: 58 years, 355 days
Served: President Wilson (1st term and 2nd term)/32nd Administration (1913-1917) and 33rd Administration (1917-1921)/63rd Congress (1913-1915), 64th Congress (1915-1917), 65th Congress (1917-1919), and 66th Congress (1919-1921)
Post-Vice Presidential Career: Lawyer, Indianapolis, Indiana (1921-1925); Author (1921-1925); Appointed by President Harding to serve as a member of the Lincoln Memorial Commission (1921), Appointed by President Harding to serve as a member of the Federal Coal Commission (1922-1923)
Died: June 1, 1925, Washington, D.C.
Age at Death: 71 years, 79 days
Cause of Death: Heart attack
Buried: Crown Hill Cemetery, Indianapolis, Indiana
Random Facts About Vice President Marshall:
•On August 27, 1858, 4-year-old Thomas Riley Marshall accompanied his father, Daniel, to Freeport, Illinois, where Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas were engaging in the second of seven debates which would go down in history as the epic “Lincoln-Douglas Debates”. Little “Tommy” was too young to understand what was going on, but he had the best seat in the house. When Lincoln spoke, Tommy Marshall sat on the lap of Senator Douglas. When Douglas spoke, Marshall sat on the lap of Abraham Lincoln.
•While Marshall attended college, he wrote an article for the school newspaper about a visiting female speaker who gave a lecture on campus at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana. The woman felt Marshall had crossed the line and sued the future Vice President for libel in 1872. Each side lawyered up with notable legal representation. The plaintiff hired Lew Wallace, who was a Union General during the Civil War, later became Governor of the New Mexico Territory, and is best-known today as the author of Ben-Hur. Marshall found himself a lawyer in Indianapolis that was also a former Union General during the Civil War and who would later surpass even Wallace’s political accomplishments. Marshall’s lawyer was able to make it clear to the plaintiff that Marshall’s comments might have been in poor taste, but they were likely true, and the case was dropped. Marshall’s attorney was future President Benjamin Harrison.
•After beginning his own law career, Marshall fell in love with a young woman named Kate Hooper, but she died shortly after they were engaged to be married. Marshall was devastated by her death and began drinking heavily. Alcoholism took a toll on Marshall’s health, career, and reputation until he finally married Lois Kimsey in 1895. Lois helped Marshall quit drinking, which gave him the focus to begin his political career. He didn’t win his first political election until he was 54 years old.
•In 1909, Marshall — as Governor of Indiana — installed the final brick to complete the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the site of the Indianapolis 500.
•Marshall was not Woodrow Wilson’s first choice as his Vice President in 1912. In fact, Marshall wasn’t Wilson’s choice as a running mate at all. Wilson had wanted the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Oscar Underwood of Alabama, to join him on the ticket, but Underwood declined the offer. The delegates of the Democratic National Convention decided upon Marshall, and Wilson was not pleased with the choice. He thought Marshall was a “small-calibre man”.
•Despite his original doubts, Wilson stuck with Marshall in 1916 when many of the President’s closest aides suggested dumping the VP in favor of another running mate. With their victory that year, Marshall became the first Vice President since John C. Calhoun in 1828 to be re-elected to another term.
•Thomas Riley Marshall is largely remembered because of his many humorous quotes poking fun at the insignificance of the Vice Presidency. When he was nominated as VP, Marshall pointed out that it made sense since he was a native of Indiana, “the mother of Vice Presidents, the home of more second-class men than any other state.” A favorite Marshall story was one about a man who had two sons: “One went away to sea…the other was elected Vice President…he never heard from either one afterward.”
•Other popular Marshall quotes:
-"I don’t want to work [after retiring], but I wouldn’t mind being Vice President again."
-"If you look on me as a wild animal, be kind enough to throw peanuts at me." (To a group touring the Capitol)
-"What this country needs is a good five-cent cigar."
•Despite Marshall’s humor and frivolity, there was a serious Constitutional crisis near the end of Woodrow Wilson’s Presidency. Wilson suffered a massive stroke in 1919 that virtually incapacitated him and kept him from fully discharging the duties of his office. For the last 18 months of of Wilson’s Presidency, Wilson’s wife and a handful of close aides carefully managed the Administration, keeping the truth about Wilson’s health hidden. Today, a President in Wilson’s condition would almost certainly need to hand the office over to the officer next in the line of succession, either temporarily or permanently. But the 25th Amendment did not exist during Wilson’s time, and a group of Wilson confidants conspired to keep the truth from the rest of Wilson’s Administration, including Vice President Marshall. Marshall didn’t push to find out the extent of Wilson’s illness; if he had, Wilson likely would have been forced to resign and Marshall would have become President. Most of the people close to President Wilson believed it would be disastrous to pass the reigns of government on to Vice President Marshall. But considering the track record of the Wilson Administration at the end of his Presidency, many historians believe that “President Marshall” could have helped get the Treaty of Versailles ratified and shepherd the United States into joining the League of Nations.
It was about two hours after midnight on September 20, 1881, and not unusual for the resident of 123 Lexington Avenue in New York City to be up at such a late hour, or to have plenty of guests. In fact, he preferred to keep late hours, entertaining friends deep into the night with late-night dinners, drinks, and endless conversation. Yet, on this night, 123 Lexington Avenue was somber and the mood was grave. Just a few hours earlier — at 11:30 PM — a messenger knocked on the door of Vice President Chester Alan Arthur’s Manhattan brownstone and handed Arthur a telegram. Surrounded by a few friends and colleagues, Arthur read that President James Garfield, just 49 years old and in office for barely six months, had died in a beach cottage at Elberon, New Jersey. Turning to his friends in his sitting room, Arthur said, “I hope — my God, I do hope it is a mistake.”
On July 2nd, President Garfield was shot twice and seriously wounded by Charles Guiteau as he walked through the Baltimore & Potomac Railroad Station in Washington, D.C. with Secretary of State James G. Blaine and Secretary of War Robert Todd Lincoln (son of Abraham Lincoln) en route to a speaking engagement at his alma mater, Williams College in Massachusetts. Guiteau was a disgruntled, disturbed, and delusional office-seeker who had been pleading for an appointment as consul to Paris despite an absence of diplomatic and political experience and a complete lack of qualifications. Hounding Garfield throughout the early months of an administration that had just begun on March 4, 1881, Guiteau’s constant harassment of the new President finally resulted in Secretary Blaine ordering Guiteau to never return to the White House again. Guiteau felt that he had been entitled to some office, particularly an ambassadorship, and was terribly upset that Garfield and his cabinet members refused to consider his requests. Blaine’s order to stay away drove Guiteau to purchase an ivory-handled .44 British Bulldog revolver (specifically chosen because Guiteau felt that particular firearm would look good in a museum) and he began stalking Garfield throughout Washington before finally shooting him in the rail station two days before Independence Day 1881. As police arrested him, Guiteau shouted, “I am a Stalwart of the Stalwarts…Arthur is President now!”.
But, Arthur wasn’t President; not yet at least. Garfield was a physically robust man and relatively young in comparison to most Presidents. While one bullet had lodged in Garfield’s spine, the other bullet grazed his arm and caused no significant damage. While it appeared that he was gravely ill immediately following the shooting, Garfield’s vital signs soon started to improve and the American people began to get their hopes up about a full recovery. A vigil of sorts was underway as President Garfield convalesced in the White House, and his doctors issued regular bulletins updating his condition. Garfield’s doctors also poked and prodded with unsterilized instruments and dirty fingers to attempt to locate the bullet still inside of his body. Had they left it alone, Garfield almost certainly would have survived; his wounds were significantly less dangerous than those survived by Ronald Reagan 100 years later. However, the unnecessary poking and prodding resulted in a serious infection that ravaged Garfield’s body, weakened his heart, left the muscular, 215-pound President emaciated, weighing less than 135 pounds, and turned the 49-year-old Garfield’s dark brown beard and hair a ghastly white color. Fighting for his life in the sweltering summer heat of Washington, on September 6th it was finally agreed upon to transport Garfield to a cottage on the Jersey Shore in hopes that he could benefit from the fresh ocean air. Sadly, it was too late. The infections were accompanied by blood poisoning and pneumonia, among other ailments. On September 19th at 10:35 PM, Garfield suffered a massive heart attack and was pronounced dead. An hour later the messenger arrived at 123 Lexington Avenue.
The Vice Presidency was a stretch. Chet Arthur of New York as Vice President? When offered the Republican Vice Presidential nomination by James Garfield in 1880, Chester Arthur was urged by his political mentor, Stalwart leader Roscoe Conkling, to decline the appointment. Arthur, a man who had never spent a day in Congress or been elected to any office at any level, refused. The Vice Presidency was certainly a stretch, but President of the United States? That was an almost frightening thought to a nation still recovering from Civil War and desperately seeking civil service reform, especially now that a disgruntled office seeker had assassinated the President. Arthur as President left a lot of Americans worried — some because Arthur’s political background was as the powerful and somewhat shady Collector of the Port of New York, appointed during the corrupt administration of President Ulysses S. Grant and eventually fired by President Rutherford B. Hayes during a housecleaning of corrupt institutions; and some because James Garfield’s murderer had claimed to be a Stalwart and, by his own words, insinuated that Garfield’s shooting might be a conspiracy on behalf of Arthur’s side of the divided Republican Party.
Chester Arthur was a creature of the era known as the “Gilded Age” and was the symbolic mascot for the widespread political corruption of the 1870’s due to his position at the Port of New York. Born in Vermont in 1829, Arthur was the son of a preacher and grew up mostly in upstate New York, graduated from Schenectady’s Union College in 1848, briefly taught school while studying law, and was admitted to the bar in 1854. As his law practice grew in the 1850’s, Arthur immersed himself in New York Republican politics yet never ran for office. A political appointee to the New York State Militia, he found himself serving during the Civil War and his superb organizational skills led to quick promotions all the way to quartermaster general in 1862, a position which carried the rank of brigadier. As a political appointee to the militia, however, Arthur served at the pleasure of the Governor of New York and was forced to resign in 1862 when a Democratic Governor took office. Returning to New York City, Arthur resumed his law practice and political gamesmanship. More appointments came his way as he supported Republican candidates throughout the state and worked on national campaigns such as President Lincoln’s 1864 bid for re-election and Ulysses S. Grant’s 1868 Presidential campaign.
In 1871, President Grant appointed Arthur as Collector of customs at the Port of New York which gave Arthur responsibility for about 75% of the nation’s customs duties and was one of the most powerful patronage positions available in the United States government. Arthur used his office to efficiently raise money for Republican campaigns and candidates, supporting President Grant’s 1872 re-election campaign by seeking contributions from his employees at the customhouse. In 1876, Arthur championed his political mentor, Roscoe Conkling, for the Republican Presidential nomination, but supported Rutherford B. Hayes in the general election, once again using the employees at the customhouse to help raise money to finance the successful Republican campaign. However, once Hayes was elected, the new President made it clear that he was serious about civil service reform and that meant reforming Arthur’s customhouse, too. In 1877, Arthur testified before the Jay Commission, which was formed to investigate charges of corruption and eventually recommended that President Hayes reduce the workforce of the customhouse and eliminate the corrupt elements that had worked there for so long. Due to Arthur’s longtime support of the Republican Party, President Hayes offered him an appointment as consul in Paris in order to quietly remove him from the Port of New York. When Arthur refused the appointment, the President fired him and Arthur resumed his law practice in New York City.
When Arthur headed to the 1880 Republican National Convention at the Interstate Exposition Building in Chicago, it was as a New York delegate supporting the aspirations of former President Ulysses S. Grant who was coming out of retirement to seek an unprecedented third term. However, neither of the front-runners for the nomination — Grant and Senator James G. Blaine of Maine — could capture enough votes from delegates to clinch the nomination. After thirty-five ballots, Blaine and another prospective candidate, John Sherman of Ohio, threw their support behind a dark horse candidate — Ohio Congressman James A. Garfield. On the next ballot, Garfield clinched the nomination and reached out to the opposing wing of the Republican party for his Vice Presidential choice. The first choice, Levi P. Morton of New York (who would later serve as President Benjamin Harrison’s Vice President), declined Garfield’s offer, and Arthur — who had never previously held an elective office — excitedly accepted, much to the chagrin of his angry political mentor, Roscoe Conkling. Not confident in Garfield’s chances for election, Conkling told Arthur, “You should drop it as you would a red hot shot from the forge.” Arthur replied, “There is something else to be said,” and Conkling asked in disbelief, “What, sir, you think of accepting?”. Despite the complaints and anger of Conkling, Arthur told him, “The office of Vice President is a greater honor than I have ever dreamed of attaining. I shall accept. In a calmer moment you will look at this differently.”
Following the election, Arthur prepared to settle into the quiet role of Vice President during the 19th century. The Vice President of the United States has only one real responsibility — to preside over the Senate and even that responsibility is normally delegated to Senators who rotate as presiding officer almost daily. The powerful or even influential American Vice Presidency is a fairly recent evolution, not even 40 years old. While some Vice Presidents were relied on for advice or counsel or given larger duties than others, most Vice Presidents were so far removed from the Executive Branch that they were not only kept out of the decision-making process, but also kept in the dark about certain information. For example, when President Roosevelt died towards the end of World War II in 1945 and was succeeded by his Vice President, Harry Truman, he had to be quickly briefed about the existence of the Manhattan Project to develop atomic weaponry. Still, the first Vice President to have an office in the White House was Walter Mondale and that didn’t occur until 1977, so in 1881, a Vice President was expected to preside over the Senate on special occasions, cast a tie-breaking vote when necessary, and be available to take the oath of office if the President happened to die or resign.
Like most 19th century Vice Presidents, Chester Arthur didn’t spend much time in Washington, and he was returning to his regular home in New York City on July 2, 1881 when he stepped off a steamship with Roscoe Conkling and was told that President Garfield had been shot. In fact, the message that Arthur received first erroneously reported that Garfield was already dead and at the request of Garfield’s Cabinet, the stunned Vice President immediately returned to Washington, D.C. to proceed with the next steps necessary to maintaining the continuity of government. When Arthur arrived in Washington, President Garfield’s condition had improved and his recovery continued to show signs of promise as the Vice President and the nation prayed for him and held vigil throughout the summer. Shaken by rumors that he and his “Stalwart” wing of the Republican Party conspired to assassinate Garfield, Arthur returned home to New York City, hesitant to invite criticism that his continued presence in Washington was merely an eager deathwatch so that he could grab power.
Garfield clung to life for eighty excruciating days with doctors probing him in an effort to remove the bullet in his body, causing infections and leaving the President suffering from blood poisoning which led him to hallucinate at times. The Navy helped rig together an early form of air conditioning in Garfield’s White House sickroom in order to give him relief from Washington’s stifling summer conditions. When Garfield was taken by train to New Jersey in early-September, it was clear to many that the long vigil was nearly over. More infections set in, along with pneumonia and painful spasms of angina. When the messenger arrived at 123 Lexington Avenue just before midnight on September 20, 1881 to inform Arthur that President Garfield had died just 60 miles away, the new President wasn’t suprised, but he also wasn’t quite prepared. The nation worried about the lifetime political operative stepping into the position being vacated by the promising President assassinated before he could enact the civil service reforms promised in his Inaugural Address. What would Arthur — the quintessential patronage politician — do as President? Nobody knew, but Chester Alan Arthur had an idea.
It was fitting that Arthur was surrounded by friends when he took the oath of office at his home in Manhattan at 2:15 AM on September 20, 1881. Arthur’s beautiful wife, Nell, died of pneumonia in January 1880 and he was inconsolable for months, regretting for the rest of his life the fact that she never saw his election as Vice President or ascendancy to the Presidency. People who knew Arthur stated that he clearly never fully recovered from her death, and that as a “deeply emotional…romantic person”, it was no surprise that he ordered that fresh flowers were placed before her portrait in the White House every day while he was President.
Chester Arthur had a lot of friends. That’s what happens when you control as many patronage positions as Arthur controlled for as long as Arthur controlled them. But it wasn’t just his political position that gained him friends. Arthur was a great storyteller, a man who loved to hunt and fish, kind, easy-going, charming, graceful, and smooth. During his life he was nicknamed “Elegant Arthur” and is considered one of the most stylish of Presidents. Photographs of Presidents from the 19th Century show us men no different than statues. They dressed the same, the looked the same, and when portrayed in the black and white photos of the time, we feel no differently when we see their pictures than when we see a slab of marble carved in their image. Arthur leaps out of his photographs, however. He was a very large man for his era, standing 6’2” and weighing around 220 pounds during his Presidency. Large muttonchops connected to a bushy mustache and his close-cropped, wavy brown hair seemed to pull back his forehead and place more emphasis on expressive black eyes that easily reflected his moods. While it seems that most Presidents of the 19th century wore the same boring black suit and black tie like a uniform, Arthur’s ties are patterned, jewelry is visible, collars are crisp, handkerchiefs are folded creatively, and his lapels shine as if they were polished along with his shoes. We see photographs of Arthur in fashionable overcoats, a wide variety of hats, and he employed a personal valet who helped the President change clothes for every occasion — he was said to have over 80 pairs of pants.
Most apparent of all is that Arthur was a gentleman — an interesting man with superb social skills and fastidious manners. Even as one of the top operatives in New York’s Republican political machine of the corrupt 1870’s, he was nicknamed the “Gentleman Boss”. As President, he brought entertainment back to the White House — something that had been missing on a large scale since before the Civil War twenty years earlier. His predecessor, Rutherford B. Hayes, was one of the few critics of this development, stating that there was “nothing like it before in the Executive Mansion — liquor, snobbery, and worse.” Arthur also redecorated the White House, hiring Louis Comfort Tiffany to help with the design. To help raise money for the redecoration, Arthur basically held a White House yard sale. On the lawn of the mansion, twenty-four wagons full of history (including a pair of Abraham Lincoln’s pants that were left behind in a closet) were sold to citizens. To some, the items were priceless; to President Arthur, they were ugly and a man like Chester Arthur did not live in an ugly home. Several weeks after Garfield died, Arthur got his first look at his new home and quickly stated, “I will not live in a house like this.” He didn’t end up moving into the White House until three months into his Presidency.
After taking the oath of office at home in Manhattan in the early hours of September 20, 1881, now-President Arthur proceeded to Washington, D.C., stopping in Long Branch, New Jersey to pay respects to the late President Garfield and his grieving family. Once Arthur succeeded to the Presidency upon Garfield’s death, there was no Vice President, no president pro tempore of the Senate, and no Speaker of the House (Congress had not elected its leadership yet), thus, there was no Constitutional line of succession. If something had happened to Arthur at that moment, the United States would have faced an unprecedented Constitutional crisis. As his first act as President, Arthur immediately called the Senate into session in order to select their leadership positions and place someone in the line of succession. Upon arriving in Washington, Attorney General Wayne MacVeagh suggested that Arthur take a second oath of office and he did so at the U.S. Capitol on September 22nd in the presence of Garfield’s Cabinet, members of Congress, Supreme Court Justices, and former Presidents Grant and Hayes.
Americans worried about the former machine politician’s integrity were transformed quickly as Chester Arthur underwent somewhat of a transformation himself. Widely considered a lapdog of New York’s Roscoe Conkling, Arthur broke ranks with the party boss and pushed for the same civil service reform championed by James Garfield prior to the assassination. Arthur’s former associates in the New York Republican Party were disappointed when he declined their requests for political favors. One former colleague sadly reported, “He isn’t ‘Chet’ Arthur anymore. He’s the President.” Arthur found that the transformation was almost automatic and out of his control, noting that “Since I came here I have learned that Chester A. Arthur is one man and the President of the United States is another.” His old benefactor, Conkling was one critic of the new President, complaining “I have but one annoyance with the Administration of President Arthur and that is, in contrast with it, the Administration of Hayes becomes respectable, if not heroic.” Arthur signed the Pendleton Act in 1883 with created a modern civil service system and eliminated the spoils system that had long dominated American politics. This reform, which Conkling called “snivel service” was the final break between the longtime friends and colleagues.
To the American people, the great surprise of an Arthur Administration was the fact that it was clean, honest, and efficient. Arthur helped lift the gloomy moods that had shadowed Washington through the Civil War, Lincoln’s assassination, Reconstruction, the corruption of the Gilded Age, and Garfield’s assassination. His popularity rose throughout his term and most critics focused on his lavish entertainment or the fact that he was notoriously late for meetings and seemed bored or lethargic at times. He often procrastinated — as a White House clerk once said, “President Arthur never did today what he could put off until tomorrow.” Still, most Americans were happy with President Arthur and echoed the thoughts of Mark Twain who said, “I am but one in 55 million; still, in the opinion of those one-fifty-five-millionth of the country’s population, it would be hard to better President Arthur’s Administration.”
He was bored, though. President Arthur didn’t like being President. He enjoyed the entertaining dinners that he could throw and loved public events or ceremonies that allowed him to meet the people of the United States, but the desk work was tedious and he wasn’t interested in policy. Arthur stayed up late and seemed to vacation often, which perplexed many people because it was said that he was constantly exhausted. What they didn’t know was that from almost the time he become President, Chester Arthur was dying. In 1882, he was diagnosed with Bright’s disease, a fatal kidney ailment at the time. Despite reports that he was suffering from the disease, Arthur hid it from the public, desperately protecting his privacy, as always. Arthur’s distaste for the Presidency probably stemmed in part from depression triggered by the Bright’s disease. At times, Arthur suffered from debilitating illness and it was always covered with a story about the President catching a cold during a fishing trip or spending too much time in the sun while hunting. In a letter to his son Alan in 1883, the President confided, “I have been so ill that I have hardly been able to dispose of the…business before me.”
Despite his popularity, Republican leaders opposed Arthur’s renomination as President in 1884. The man who opposed it most, however, was the President himself, who stated “I do not want to be reelected.” Not only was he disinterested in a second term, but he knew very well that there was a possibility he might not even survive to the end of his current term. He did, and after attending the inauguration of his successor, Grover Cleveland, on March 4, 1885, Arthur returned home to New York City where his health rapidly declined. The former President was aware that he was dying and made plans for a relatively quiet retirement, deciding to practice law, but doing very little work due to his health. When asked about his future, Arthur said, “There doesn’t seem anything for an ex-President to do but to go out in the country and raise big pumpkins.” On November 16, 1886, Arthur suffered a stroke that paralyzed his left side. Gravely ill, he called his son to his bedside the day before his death and had all of his public and private papers stuffed into trash cans and burned. On November 18, 1886, the 57-year-old former President died in the same place he became President just five years earlier, 123 Lexington Avenue in New York City. After a quiet funeral at the Church of Heavenly Rest on Fifth Avenue in New York, Arthur’s remains were buried next to his beloved wife at Rural Cemetery in Albany, New York.
When President Arthur had many of his personal papers burned prior to his death, he eliminated one of the best sources of information for future historians. With a thin resume and a fairly uneventful Presidency, there wasn’t much public information about his career, either. This leaves us with very little to remember Chester Alan Arthur by. Research on his life — particularly his personal life — is difficult, and Arthur would have appreciated that. During his Presidency, leaders of the temperance movement called on Arthur and urged him to follow the non-alcoholic lifestyle led by President Hayes and his teetotaler wife, who was known as “Lemonade Lucy” .
Arthur’s response: “Madam, I may be President of the United States, but my private life is nobody’s damn business.”
And so it isn’t.
JAMES S. SHERMAN
27th Vice President of the United States (1909-1912)
Full Name: James Schoolcraft Sherman
Born: October 24, 1855, Utica, New York
College: Hamilton College, Clinton, New York
Career Before the Vice Presidency: Lawyer, Utica, New York (1880-1884); Mayor of Utica, New York (1884-1886); Member of the U.S. House of Representatives (R-NY, Mar. 4, 1887-Mar. 4, 1891); Unsuccessful candidate for re=election to Congress (1890); Member of the U.S. House of Representatives (R-NY, Mar. 4, 1893-Mar. 4,1909)
Political Party as Vice President: Republican
State Represented as Vice President: New York
Term as Vice President: March 4, 1909-October 30, 1912 (Died in office)
Length of Vice Presidency: 3 years, 240 days
Age at Inauguration: 53 years, 131 days
Served: President Taft/31st Presidential Administration/61st and 62nd Congresses
Post-Vice Presidential Career: None (Vice President Sherman died in office)
Died: October 30, 1912, Utica, Oneida County, New York
Age at Death: 57 years, 6 days
Cause of Death: Bright’s disease
Buried: Forest Hill Cemetery, Utica, New York
Random facts about James Schoolcraft Sherman:
•Sherman was most recent Vice President to be born in the State of New York; in all, eight Vice Presidents have been born in New York — more than any other state. In addition, a record eleven Vice Presidents represented New York while in office.
•Since the main Constitutional duty of the Vice President is to serve as President of the Senate, ceremonial busts are sculpted in tribute of each former VP (usually after leaving office) and displayed throughout the U.S. Capitol building. Sherman’s bust (pictured above) was actually completed and placed on display while he was in office. Sherman’s bust is the only Vice Presidential sculpture in which the subject is wearing eyeglasses.
•Sherman’s eyeglasses played even more of a prominent role than being a conspicuous feature of his official Vice Presidential bust; after working closely with several Native American tribes while he was in Congress, Indians bestowed a Native American name upon Sherman which was translated as “Four Eyes”.
•The Vice President was a distant relative of legendary Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman and the General’s younger brother, longtime Senator John Sherman, who also served as Secretary of State (under President McKinley) and Secretary of the Treasury (under President Harrison).
•Today, it’s almost a foregone conclusion that an incumbent Vice President will be nominated again as the incumbent President’s running mate in a re-election campaign. However, Sherman’s renomination as President Taft’s running mate in 1912 was the first time an incumbent Vice President had been renominated since John C. Calhoun in 1828.
•The 1912 Presidential election, in which President Taft faced Democrat Woodrow Wilson and a third-party challenge by his former close friend and political mentor, Theodore Roosevelt, was heading towards a definite disappointment and certain defeat for the GOP ticket of incumbents Taft and Sherman, and the campaign waged by the Republican candidates was underwhelming at best. Because of the nasty split between the President and Roosevelt, Taft’s heart wasn’t in the campaign. Vice President Sherman’s heart wasn’t in the 1912 campaign, either, but for a very different reason — the 56-year-old Vice President was dying of Bright’s disease, a kidney ailment that was fatal at the time. Thirty years earlier, President Chester Arthur shot down rumors that he was ill during his Presidency, but he was suffering from Bright’s disease and died less than two years after leaving the White House. Vice President Sherman tried to help out with the 1912 campaign, but he was gravely ill and spent most of the time at his home in Utica. The Vice President died on October 30, 1912 — just six days before Election Day, meaning he remained on ballots as William Howard Taft’s running mate. Metaphorically, President Taft was a dead man walking on Election Day 1912, while his Vice President, Sherman, was literally a dead man. The Taft-Sherman ticket won two states on Election Day and earned eight Electoral votes. The Electoral votes for Vice President that would have gone to Sherman were given to prominent Republican and longtime Columbia University President Nicholas Murray Butler, a fellow New Yoker.
•Sherman was the 7th and most recent Vice President to die in office.
HENRY WILSON (1812-1875)
18th Vice President of the United States (1873-1875)
Full Name: Henry Wilson (Birth Name: Jeremiah Jones Colbath)
Born: February 16, 1812, Farmington, Strafford County, New Hampshire
College: Did not graduate from college
Career Before the Vice Presidency: Farm laborer, Farmington, New Hampshire (1822-1833); Shoemaker, Natick, Massachusetts (1833-1841); Member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives (1840-1844); Massachusetts State Senator (1844-1846); Publisher and Editor of the Boston Republican, Boston, Massachusetts (1848-1851); Massachusetts State Senator (1850-1852); Chairman of the Free Soil National Convention, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (1852); Unsuccessful Free Soil candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives from Massachusetts (1852); Delegate, Massachusetts State Constitutional Convention (1853); Unsuccessful Republican candidate for Governor of Massachusetts (1853); United States Senator (R-MA, January 31, 1855-March 4, 1873); Raised and commanded the 22nd Regiment of the Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry briefly during the Civil War (September 27, 1861-October 29, 1861)
Political Party as Vice President: Republican
State Represented as Vice President: Massachusetts
Term as Vice President: March 4, 1873-November 22, 1875 (Died in office)
Length of Vice Presidency: 2 years, 263 days
Age at Inauguration: 61 years, 16 days
Served: President Grant (2nd term)/22nd Administration/43rd Congress & 44th Congress
Post-Vice Presidential Career: None (Vice President Wilson died in office)
Died: November 22, 1875, Vice President’s Room, United States Capitol Building, Washington, D.C.
Age at Death: 63 years, 279 days
Cause of Death: Stroke
Buried: Old Dell Park Cemetery, Natick, Massachusetts
Random facts about Vice President Wilson:
•Henry Wilson was actually born into poverty as “Jeremiah Jones Colbath”. Even when trying to be respectful, the kindest words that could be used to describe his father were “shiftless” and “intemperate”. Mr. Colbath gave his son the name of a wealthy neighbor who had never married or had children of his own in hopes that the “honor” would result in the Colbath family inheriting the man’s money when he died. The future Vice President hated his name and had it changed to “Henry Wilson” when he was 20 years old; he chose that particular name after reading it in a book while he was apprenticed to a shoemaker.
•Since the plan to inherit a neighbor’s money by naming his son after him didn’t work, Wilson’s father apprenticed him to a cobbler when he was 10 years old. An “apprenticeship” sounds better than it was. Like Benjamin Franklin and Andrew Johnson, Wilson was a “bound apprentice” which was actually close to being an indentured servant; Mr. Colbath probably received the equivalent of a “finder’s fee” for committing his son to work in conditions only a little better than slavery. Wilson gained experience as a shoemaker, but was apprenticed to the cobbler for 11 years, meaning he spent more of his early life working for the shoemaker than living under his family’s roof. He was earned his freedom when he was 21 years old after over a decade of work.
•Wilson was supposed to be given rudimentary education during his bound apprenticeship, but received virtually no schooling. He largely taught himself how to read and devoured any book that he could find or borrow.
•At the beginning of his political career, Wilson was a member of the Whig Party, and was one of the architects of the Free Soil Party after the Mexican-American War. The Free Soil Party didn’t last long and Wilson briefly joined the American or Know-Nothing Party, but was turned off by their nativist advocacy and became a Republican for the rest of his life. From early in his career in public service, Wilson was a passionate opponent of slavery, unsurprising considering his own involuntary servitude while bound to a shoemaker.
•Like George Washington, Henry Wilson had to borrow money to get to his inauguration. Members of Congress had recently been granted a 50% raise, so Wilson, a Senator at the time, received $5,000 shortly before being elected Vice President. However, Wilson had been loosely (and innocently, it seems) connected to the Credit Mobilier scandal which had caused problems for quite a few Congressmen, and was probably the reason that Wilson’s Vice Presidential predecessor, Schuyler Colfax, decided to “retire” and leave a spot open on the ticket when Ulysses S. Grant sought re-election in 1872. To be extra careful, Wilson gave his $5,000 raise directly back to the U.S. Treasury. After the 1872 election, Wilson, now the Vice President-elect, told his close friend, Senator Charles Sumner, “I have not got enough money to be inaugurated on,” and borrowed $100.
•Vice President Wilson and his fellow Radical Republicans were worried that President Grant was positioning himself for a third term and dragging the Republican Party down due to scandals in his Administration and a reluctance to go further with the progressive reforms urged by the Radicals during Reconstruction. James Garfield, a fellow Radical Republican who was a member of the House of Representatives and would be elected President himself in 1880, wrote that Vice President Wilson thought “Grant is now more unpopular than Andrew Johnson was in his darkest days; that his appointments had been getting worse and worse; that he is still struggling for a third term; in short that he is a the millstone around the neck of our party that would sink it out of sight.”
•Many Republicans saw Wilson as a potential Presidential candidate in 1876 who could bring the needed reforms and would have the courage to push a progressive agenda. But Wilson’s health was rapidly declining. He suffered a stroke within two months of being inaugurated as Vice President, but in the spring of 1875, he spent six weeks touring the South and speaking to all types of people. Some thought it was a preview to a bid for the Presidency the next year, but his health began failing again in the fall. After bathing at the spa facilities in the basement of the Capitol building on November 10, 1875, Wilson had another stroke. He was carried to the Vice President’s Room upstairs, a large office near the Senate chamber, to recover, but died on November 22,1875. A bronze plaque in the Vice President’s Room honors Wilson and notes that it was where the 18th Vice President actually died.
•Wilson was the first Vice President to be honored by lying in state in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol building.
•Henry Wilson was the great-great uncle (or great-grand uncle) of 1988 Democratic Vice Presidential nominee and longtime Texas Senator Lloyd Bentsen.
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!
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.
Thank you. The problem with the Vice Presidents is that the position was nothing more than a backup heartbeat with so little Constitutional responsibility that few of them actually lived in Washington, those who did rarely presided over the Senate and didn’t have a place in the Executive Branch until the middle of the 20th Century. Even then, no Vice President had an office in the White House until Mondale in 1977 — nearly 200 years after John Adams was sworn in as the first Vice President. The Vice Presidency of the United States has existed for 225 years, and it was of such little importance for a major part of that history that it has been vacant for 37 years, 290 days of that 225 years — nearly 16% of the time!
In other words, there’s no way to rank the Vice Presidents because the job wasn’t really even a job for most of our history, for a big part of that time, nobody actually held the job, and, in my opinion, only 9 out of 47 Vice Presidents have either had some influence within the Administration they served in or had responsibilities as VP that might be considered notable —Hobart, Nixon, LBJ, Mondale, Bush 41, Quayle, Gore, Cheney, and Biden. And even then, Nixon, LBJ, Bush 41, and Quayle had limited roles, and all of those Vice Presidents, with the exception of Garret Hobart (who served as President McKinley’s VP from 1897 until dying in office in 1899) were born in the 20th Century or served after 1953.
I’m all for helping to advance some knowledge, but there’s nothing to be gained by ranking the VPs. However, I do get asked about the VPs a lot, so maybe I will just do short profiles on each of the Vice Presidents featuring information like each of the entries of the Presidential Rankings contained — biographical data, a short synopsis of who they were, what they did before being elected Vice President, and what they did afterward, if anything.
I don’t know if that sounds interesting to anyone else. Would anybody be interested in Vice Presidential Profiles?
I don’t believe that the 22nd Amendment contradicts the 12th Amendment at all. The 22nd Amendment instituted term limits while the 12th Amendment defined the eligibility requirements for the Presidency and the Vice Presidency, noting that “no person Constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice President of the United States.”
There are some who argue that the 22nd Amendment only means that someone who has served two-terms as President can’t be elected President, but that it doesn’t prohibit a former two-term President from assuming the Presidency another way, such as succession via the Vice Presidency. Perhaps the literal meaning of the 22nd Amendment can be interpreted as only restricting a former two-term President from being elected President again, but that doesn’t abrogate the 12th Amendment.
For someone who has served two-terms as President to even become Vice President and possibly succeed to the Presidency (as those who believe it is possible suggest), that former President would have to either be elected to the Vice Presidency or appointed to the Vice Presidency in the case of a vacancy in the office. Well, the 12th Amendment pretty clearly states (in my opinion) that anyone Constitutionally ineligible to be President (such as someone who has already served two terms) is ineligible to be Vice President. So, that person is prohibited from being elected Vice President, too.
So, what about a term-limited President being appointed to fill a vacancy in the Vice Presidency? First of all, that nominee would have to be confirmed by a majority vote in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, so that’s an obstacle for someone whose eligibility is supposedly up-in-the-air Constitutionally. Secondly, the last sentence of the 12th Amendment — the one dealing with this aspect of Presidential eligibility only says, "But no person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice-President of the United States."
Those who argue that the 22nd Amendment leaves an opening for a term-limited President to possibly become President through succession are relying on a strictly literal interpretation of the 22nd Amendment. If that is how they interpret the Constitution, the 12th Amendment would also have to be interpreted just as strictly, and it would not only restrict a term-limited President from being elected as Vice President, but it would prohibit that former President from becoming Vice President through any means that anybody could come up with. Take a look at that sentence from the 12th Amendment in boldface print above. If we use that strict interpretation of it and define it literally, word-for-word, it says nothing about “election” or “appointment” or “service”. It flat-out says, in language that has much more clarity than just about anything else in the Constitution, that nobody can be Vice President if they are ineligible to be President.
Listen, I’d love more than anything to see Bill Clinton back in the White House, and not just as First Gentleman, but I don’t see any possible way that the 12th Amendment or 22nd Amendment should or could be interpreted to allow a term-limited President to become Vice President in any manner whatsoever. Nothing in the 22nd Amendment abrogates the 12th, contradicts anything in the 12th, or gives any aspect of the 12th a new or different meaning.
Incidentally, if Hillary could appoint Bill as her Vice President, there would be a habitation clause issue that could either challenge their eligibility or cause easily avoidable problems in the Electoral College. Every Electoral vote counts and no candidate wants to risk giving up any more Electoral votes than they need to. If Hillary was allowed to name Bill as her running mate — and, again, she totally can’t, no matter what some people argue — electors from New York wouldn’t be able to cast Electoral ballots for both Hillary and Bill. The 12th Amendment prohibits Presidential electors to cast both of their votes (one for President and one for Vice President) for candidates who have the same state residency. While the electors of the other 49 states could cast both ballots for Hillary and Bill, the New York electors would have their votes disqualified for violating the 12th Amendment if they did so. No party, ticket, campaign, or candidate is going to risk losing a single Electoral vote, especially when it’s 100% unavoidable such as in this case, and New York has 29 Electoral votes in play during a Presidential election.
And, even if they overcame all of these Constitutional obstacles — which they couldn’t because I’m not the smartest guy in the world, I’ve never studied law, and I’m not exactly a Constitutional scholar, but even I am not confused by the wording or clarity of these guidelines — they have one more roadblock. In 1961, John F. Kennedy appointed his brother, Bobby Kennedy, to serve as his Attorney General and as a member of his Cabinet, which led to claims of nepotism. In 1967, a law was passed that states:
A public official may not appoint, employ, promote, advance, or advocate for appointment, employment, promotion, or advancement, in or to a civilian position in the agency in which he is serving or over which he exercises jurisdiction or control any individual who is a relative of the public official. An individual may not be appointed, employed, promoted, or advanced in or to a civilian position in an agency if such appointment, employment, promotion, or advancement has been advocated by a public official, serving in or exercising jurisdiction or control over the agency, who is a relative of the individual.
And defined a “relative” as:
“relative” means, with respect to a public official, an individual who is related to the public official as father, mother, son, daughter, brother, sister, uncle, aunt, first cousin, nephew, niece, husband, wife, father-in-law, mother-in-law, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, stepfather, stepmother, stepson, stepdaughter, stepbrother, stepsister, half brother, or half sister.
Now, this law is a bit more vague than the 12th Amendment and 22nd Amendment because it’s not clear whether “a public official” includes a major party nominee for the President who has not yet been elected or whether selecting a running mate would be considered appointing, employing, promoting, advancing, or advocating for appointment, employment, promoting, or advancement, but it sounds like it would be a struggle. And, guess what? Even if they still overcame all of the Constitutional questions and Electoral College issues and potential problems with the nepotism law, there would still be a Joint Session of Congress in which the Electoral College results would need to be certified and that would present yet another opportunity for their eligibility to be challenged, which I imagine it most certainly would be since, as I’ve mentioned a few times in this post, Bill Clinton would definitely be Constitutionally ineligible to be elected Vice President, be appointed Vice President, serve as President, or even sneak into the Vice President’s office sit down at the VP’s desk and pretend to be Vice President.
So, no, it couldn’t happen, and even if it could there would be so many potential roadblocks — not even Constitutionally, but just politically — that they would be dumb to even attempt it.
Because there is nothing in the Constitution that prohibits an incumbent Vice President from running for another office. Even if a Vice President ran for President and won, he or she wouldn’t have to resign to assume office because the terms of the President and Vice President run concurrently and he or she would be able to just step from one office into the other as the old term ends and the new term begins.
Another reason is that we need a Vice President and the actual day-to-day Constitutionally-required responsibilities of a VP aren’t so pressing that campaigning for office would be impossible. The VP is the President of the Senate but almost never actually presides over the Senate and is needed to cast tie-breaking votes in the Senate, something that also rarely happens. The resignation of the Vice President would force the President to appoint a new VP and once a nominee is fully vetted and decided upon, it requires confirmation by both chambers of Congress (usually following hearings) before the new VP could be sworn in. That would take up so much time and energy that it doesn’t really make sense for a Vice President to resign their office in order to run for President, especially when a campaign doesn’t seriously impede their Constitutional responsibilities.