Constitution Daily

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Last-minute vice presidential picks and switches

August 1, 2012 by Benjamin Brown


Vice President Joe Biden is all but assured to be Barack Obama’s running mate this fall—right? That hasn’t always been the case in the past, when presidential running mates were dumped before a re-election campaign.


In June 1804, the 12th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, providing for distinct votes to be cast for both president and vice president. This set up the running-mate system we have today.


Aaron Burr (Wikimedia Commons from the New York Historical Society)

Numerous incumbent vice presidents have been dropped from their president’s re-election ticket, like a veteran ballplayer being cut for a younger player.


As Biden waits for his formal nomination as Obama’s running mate for re-election, we take a look at vice presidents who didn’t make the cut.


1804: George Clinton for Aaron Burr


Burr! Talk about Aaron Burr getting the cold shoulder.


Four years earlier, Thomas Jefferson ran for president with Aaron Burr as his vice-presidential candidate. Since the 12th Amendment was not yet in place, Jefferson and Burr received the same number of votes for president. Seeing an opportunity to snag the presidency, Burr refused to step down and the election was thrown into the House of Representatives. Thanks to his rival, Alexander Hamilton, Jefferson emerged victorious. Jefferson held a great deal of animosity toward Vice President Burr throughout his term.


Earlier in 1804, Burr killed both Hamilton and his own political career in a duel. With Burr’s reputation tarnished, Jefferson chose Governor George Clinton of New York in his bid for re-election.


1812: Elbridge Gerry for George Clinton


A victorious running mate and the first vice president to serve under two different presidents (Thomas Jefferson and James Madison), George Clinton did not get to try for the hat trick. He died in April, becoming the first vice president to die in office.


Elbridge Gerry successfully ran alongside sitting president James Madison. Gerry died in November 1814, the second vice president to die in office.


1828: Richard Rush for John C. Calhoun


The Election of 1824 pitted John Quincy Adams against Andrew Jackson. It was generally understood that John C. Calhoun was running as the vice presidential candidate for both men.


Jackson won more electoral votes than anyone else, but not a majority. The election was thrown into the House of Representatives, where Adams and Speaker of the House Henry Clay fashioned what was called a “corrupt bargain,” handing Adams the presidency. Calhoun despised this deal and blocked Adams at every chance he got.


Four years later, Adams and Jackson had a rematch. Calhoun ran alongside Jackson exclusively this time. Adams accepted Richard Rush as his running mate in a losing effort.


1832: Martin Van Buren for John C. Calhoun


Calhoun just did not get along with his presidents, resulting in his dropping from another ticket—Andrew Jackson’s.


Jackson and Calhoun feuded constantly. First, Mrs. Calhoun and other cabinet wives scrutinized Peggy Eaton, wife of Secretary of War John Eaton, for having an affair with Eaton during her previous marriage. Jackson supported the Eatons and ordered the resignation of other cabinet officers. Second, Calhoun defended states’ rights with his “Fort Hill Letter,” explaining a state’s ability to nullify an act of Congress.


Martin Van Buren quickly became Jackson’s favorite while Calhoun fell out of favor.


1840: Van Buren Runs Alone


This goes to show two heads are better than one.


Van Buren and Richard Johnson were a winning pair in 1836, but Johnson was a disaster as vice president. He often used his power for his own interests and was a social embarrassment. He was not a gifted speaker: his speeches were incoherent and boring. During one speech, he even lifted up his shirt to show the crowd wounds he had received in battle.


Van Buren’s lack of a wingman cost him, falling to William Henry Harrison.


1864: Andrew Johnson for Hannibal Hamlin


In the midst of the Civil War, Lincoln ran for re-election under the National Union party. It was the name the Republicans had adopted to better include southern Democrats who had remained loyal to the Union. Looking toward reconciliation with the South, Lincoln chose war governor of Tennessee Andrew Johnson. Hamlin hailed from Maine and was an ardent abolitionist and ally of Northern radicals. Lincoln felt Johnson would better broaden his base of support.


1872: Henry Wilson for Schuyler Colfax


Schuyler Colfax, the vice president during Ulysses S. Grant’s first term, was rocked by the Crédit Mobilier scandal. He was accused of receiving company shares as bribes and was dropped from the ticket.


Ironically, Grant replaced Colfax with Henry Wilson, another name associated with the scandal. It was strongly suggested that Wilson had been offered bribes—and taken them—of shares. The Senate cleared Wilson, but his political career was damaged.


Regardless, Grant cruised to re-election with Wilson at his side.


1888: Alan G. Thurman for Thomas A. Hendricks


Grover Cleveland sought to defend the presidency with Alan G. Thurman after Vice President Thomas A. Hendricks died in office. The Cleveland-Thurman ticket was defeated by Benjamin Harrison.


1892: Whitelaw Reid for Levi P. Morton


Harrison ran for re-election against Cleveland in a rematch of 1888. During Harrison’s administration, Vice President Levi P. Morton did little to see the Lodge Bill through the Senate, which would have helped enforce voting rights of blacks in the South. Harrison blamed Morton for the bill’s defeat and replaced him on the ticket.


Cleveland reloaded by recruiting Adlai E. Stevenson as his running mate, winning back the presidency.


1900: Theodore Roosevelt for Garrett Hobart


As famous as Theodore Roosevelt was, William McKinley’s vice presidential pick Garrett Hobart was no slouch. Hobart took a more active role than his predecessors by ruling on disputes and trying to catalyze legislation in the Senate.


Unfortunately, Hobart succumbed to heart disease in 1899. The young, exuberant Theodore Roosevelt helped McKinley secure a second term.


1912: Nicolas Murray Butler for James S. Sherman


With Theodore Roosevelt’s blessing, Republican William Howard Taft and James S. Sherman won in 1908. But Roosevelt disagreed with a number of Taft’s policies. Eager to get his job back, Roosevelt formed the Bull Moose Party and ran for president.


Taft and Sherman braced for the campaign, but Sherman died of Bright’s disease a mere week before the election. Butler was the last-minute replacement.


Woodrow Wilson was elected thanks to the split in the Republican Party.


1940: Henry A. Wallace for John Nance Garner


Franklin D. Roosevelt sought an unprecedented third term against Wendell Willkie. Referring to FDR’s quest for a third term, an anti-FDR slogan was, “Washington wouldn’t, Grant couldn’t, and Roosevelt shouldn’t.” John Nance Garner, who served as vice president during FDR’s first and second terms, agreed.


Garner clashed with FDR on many New Deal issues and despised the idea of having anyone serve as president for a third term. FDR chose Henry A. Wallace and defeated Willkie.


1944: Harry Truman for Henry A. Wallace


Do I hear four terms for FDR?! Yes, but without Wallace.


Wallace was considered too liberal by many members of the Democratic Party. He was also accused of having Soviet sympathies.


FDR’s health was a concern, and many thought the running mate would be the next president.


Democrats turned to Missouri senator Harry Truman, who seemed reluctant to run for Vice President.


Truman was duped into accepting the nomination. Democratic bosses had Truman listen in on a phone call with FDR. Unknown to Truman, the phone call had been rehearsed in advance. FDR told party bosses that Truman would be breaking up the Democratic Party in the middle of WWII if he said no. Hearing this, a guilt-ridden Truman accepted.


Truman became president less than three months after being inaugurated as vice president.


1976: Bob Dole for Nelson Rockefeller


Gerald Ford ascended to the presidency after Richard Nixon resigned. He nominated Rockefeller as the new vice president. Ford thought Rockefeller’s experience would be valuable and would broaden his appeal in the 1976 election. Rockefeller withdrew himself from the 1976 ticket and Bob Dole was chosen. Ford lost to Jimmy Carter.


Benjamin Brown is a student of history and American studies at   Lafayette College and the assistant sports editor of the school   newspaper. He is also in the Public Programs department of the National   Constitution Center.


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