There have been 48 vice presidents of the United States since the nation began in 1789. In the beginning the vice president was the person who received the second-most votes for president in the Electoral College.
In the election of 1800, a tie in the college between Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr led to the selection in the House of Representatives, in which Jefferson won. That unforeseen and contentious situation soon led to the passage of the 12th Amendment, creating the current arrangement whereby electors cast separate ballots for the vice presidency.
Nine vice presidents have ascended to the presidency through either the death of the president or, in Gerald Ford’s case, resignation. The eight who succeeded due to the president’s death: John Tyler, Millard Fillmore, Andrew Johnson, Chester Arthur, Theodore Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson. Most historians agree that the impeached Andrew Johnson proved to be the worst in history, followed by Spiro Agnew, who resigned as a crook.
In the 2020 election, we have the current GOP vice president (Mike Pence) and a former two-term vice president (Joe Biden) on the ballot. As has become customary in the modern age, the vice president does more than merely preside over the Senate, as was the tradition during most of the nation’s history. Lincoln rarely consulted his vice-president — Hannibal Hamlin of Maine — and almost never invited him to Cabinet meetings. He looked upon Hamlin as more of a member of the legislative branch (presiding over the Senate), than as of the executive branch.
Fifty years ago this month, when asked what major idea of Vice President Nixon’s he had adopted, President Eisenhower said to reporters, “If you give me a week, I might think of one. I don’t remember.” In contrast, Lyndon Johnson, a master legislator, was given broad responsibilities by President Kennedy, including overseeing the NASA program.
Only eight men served two terms as vice president and they served under presidents Monroe, Wilson, Eisenhower, Reagan, Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama ( Biden).
I believe Mike Pence’s management of the coronavirus task force will be viewed by voters as a serious negative to his bid to continue in office. Pence recklessly refuses to wear a mask just like the president, and both fail to socially distance. The horrific death toll speaks for itself. His obsequious catering to President Trump reveals him to be weak. Persistent fawning and sycophantic flattering are hardly admirable traits to be found in a potential leader of the free world.
Of the vice presidents who assumed power at the death of a president, I would rate Theodore Roosevelt, a Republican, and Harry Truman, a Democrat, as among the finest presidents. They were exact opposites. Roosevelt came from wealth and Truman was an unsuccessful farmer and failed haberdasher. But both were personally brave: Roosevelt at San Juan Hill and Truman as a gunnery captain in World War I.
A president’s assassination brought Theodore Roosevelt to the White House. Truman became president with the death of Franklin Roosevelt, who had served only three months into his fourth term.
Biden reminds me of Truman. Truman had served in the Senate for 10 years and was highly regarded by men on both sides of the aisle. He had a reputation for being a man of his word, as does Biden. Biden served longer in the Senate than all but 17 others in its entire history. His long service on the judiciary and foreign relations committees make him well-equipped to be president. He is knowledgeable and, unlike the incumbent, is cautious and well-read. He trusts America’s intelligence agencies. He can be counted upon not to have a love affair with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and to restore the close relationship between the U.S. and its NATO allies. Foreign leaders know Biden and know that his word is his bond.
I spend much of my time writing books about Abraham Lincoln. He was called “Honest Abe” because everyone who ever interacted with him knew that his word could be trusted. Even Jefferson Davis, who led the Confederacy, trusted his word. At the height of the Civil War Lincoln spent his considerable energies to reunite the nation. His Second Inaugural Address spoke of “malice towards none - with charity for all …binding up the nation’s wounds.”
Now, more than ever, America needs to elect a president who has similar commitments to union and healing. There should be little doubt as to who will emulate the honorable behavior of Lincoln when in office.
Paul R. Dunn is author of “The Secret War Diaries of Abraham Lincoln – Including His Recurring Dreams.” He can be reached at email@example.com.