Vice-Presidents of the United States

Ah, the occupants of an office which is only of importance upon the death of someone!  Many of the men who have occupied the office have left some pungent quotes about it.  Here are a few:

John Adams, first Vice-President:   “My country has in its wisdom contrived for me the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived.”

Theodore Roosevelt, twenty-sixth Vice-President:  “I would a great deal rather be anything, say professor of history, than vice president.”

Thomas Marshall, twenty-eighth Vice-President:  “Once there were two brothers. One ran away to sea; the other was elected vice president of the United States. And nothing was heard of either of them again”.

Charles Dawes, thirtieth Vice-President:  “This is a hell of a job. I can only do two things: one is to sit up here and listen to you birds talk….The other is to look at newspapers every morning to see how the president’s health is.”

John Nance Garner, thirty-second Vice-President:  “The vice-presidency is not worth a warm bucket of spit.”  (Cactus Jack probably used another term instead of “spit”, but this is a family blog.)

Harry Truman, thirty-fourth Vice-President:  “Look at all the Vice Presidents in history. Where are they? They were about as useful as a cow’s fifth teat.”

Lyndon B. Johnson, thirty-seventh Vice-President:  “Every time I came into John Kennedy’s presence I felt like a (expletive deleted) raven hovering over his shoulder.”

Hubert Humphrey, thirty-eight Vice-President:  “The President has only 190 million bosses. The Vice President has 190 million and one.”

Spiro Agnew, thirty-ninth Vice-President:  “A little over a week ago, I took a rather unusual step for a vice president…I said something.”

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  1. I always appreciate factual corrections Dale. Truman of course was the thirty-third president as well as being the thirty-fourth vice-president, and that threw me apparently I suppose. Additionally, there are fewer US vice-presidents more deserving of historical oblivion than Henry Wallace! The nation dodged a bullet in that FDR’s health held out just long enough to make certain that the Stalin sympathizing Wallace was back in private life by the time that FDR was wheeled off the stage. To be fair, shortly before Stalin died, Wallace did publicly recant his previous positive misconceptions about the Soviet Union, even writing a book about how wrong he had been, and reversed wheels politically, endorsing the re-election of Eisenhower in 1956.

  2. This also serves as a useful reminder that for all the attention we pay the Veep selection, the guy who gets the nod will be slightly less relevant than the head of HUD.

  3. Yes and no, Paul. Four of the nine quoted above became presidents, three of them in the most unfortunate way. It’s a reminder why the best teams pay a fortune to the backup quarterback that they hope never takes a snap.

  4. it is indeed rather a peculiarity of the Vice Presidency that the only regular constitutional action for which the Vice President is absolutely essential is opening the envelopes for Electoral College votes.

  5. Doesn’t the VP enjoy equally irrelevant status as President Pro Tem of the Senate unless he casts a tie-breaking vote?

    That might actually have impact sometimes. Algore cast the tie-breaking vote to tax elderly Social Security benefits who earn as little as $22,000 per year in 1993.

  6. WK — he’s actually the President of the Senate; the President Pro Tem is the guy who does the honors when the VP’s not there. In actual fact, neither has to do much — standard Senate practice is for the President Pro Tem to delegate the position to junior Senators so that they’ll get practice with the rules and procedures, and the only explicit constitutional power is the tie-breaking one. There have been VP’s who actually did a lot in the position — a lot of Senate procedure was developed under the influence of the early VP’s — and some important ties broken; but you’re certainly right that it’s mostly irrelevant — the Senate can perform almost all its business without him. (It’s also useful in that it makes it easier for the Office of the President to have an influence on legislation, though.)

    There have also been Vice Presidents who never attended a Cabinet meeting (that’s at the President’s discretion; the VP has no more a guaranteed right to attend than the First Lady). I always find it fascinating: it’s a government position whose only major function is to assist at making things run smoothly — organizing the Senate, serving as a back-up, making sure Electoral College certificates are in order, etc.

  7. Of course – my High School civics slipped for a bit. It is an interesting position, as long as you don’t actually call it yours.

  8. PZ: one irrelevant head of HUD, namely Andrew Cuomo, helped wreck the US economy.

    The duties of VP are to inquire daily as to the president’s health and to attend state funerals. They “robo-sign” electoral certificates.

  9. A little over a week ago, I took a rather unusual step for a vice-president – I said something.” – Spiro T Agnew.

    As I recall, Spiro T……WHO?? 😉 had quite a bit to say.

    The quote of his that really sticks in my mind was when he called the peace movement emblem an “Encircled crow’s foot.”

  10. An even more useless office, most (but not all) of the time, is the state-level counterpart of the Veep, the lieutenant governor or “lite guv”. Some states don’t even bother having one; they simply designate the secretary of state or some other official as the first in line of succession if something should happen to their governor. In the early 1980s one of Illinois’ lite guvs quit the job, claiming that he had (literally) nothing to do. (His boss was not in imminent danger of death, disability or indictment at the time either.)

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