You Don't Truly Know these 10 Vice Presidents of the United States... Until Now
You Don’t Truly Know these 10 Vice Presidents of the United States… Until Now

You Don’t Truly Know these 10 Vice Presidents of the United States… Until Now

Larry Holzwarth - March 20, 2018

The first Vice President of the United States eventually became President. The second Vice President did the same. The third Vice President survived indictments for both murder and treason at different times, though not while serving in office. And so it goes. There have been more Vice Presidents, 48 as of this writing, than Presidents and with the exception of those who ascended to the Presidency or won it on their own, they are virtually forgotten. It has been throughout American history a thankless job, a more or less useless job, and until fairly recently a forgotten job.

The American Vice-President presides over the Senate but casts no vote there, except in the case of a tie, which throughout history have been rare. The only duties specified to the office by the Constitution are presiding over the Senate and supervising the counting of the votes of the Electoral College. There is no official residence which comes with the position by law, but since 1974 the Commanding Officer’s residence at the US naval Observatory has served the purpose. Prior to the passage of the 25th Amendment, which defines Presidential succession, the nation went through many lengthy periods with no Vice-President, and seemed to have no difficulty with the office empty.

You Don’t Truly Know these 10 Vice Presidents of the United States… Until Now
John Adams, the first Vice President, found little to do in the office, and no physical office in which to do it. Wikimedia

Regardless, some Vice-Presidents have made their mark on the nation, though most people today have never heard of them. Here are ten Vice-Presidents of the United States, largely forgotten to history.

You Don’t Truly Know these 10 Vice Presidents of the United States… Until Now
John C. Calhoun of South Carolina was Vice President under two different Presidents, and managed to alienate both. Wikimedia

John C. Calhoun

John Calhoun was a South Carolinian whose political skills were such that he served consecutive terms as Vice President under two Presidents of opposing political views, John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson. Calhoun was able to align himself with any political party, determined to represent his own views rather than those dictated by party leaders. He believed that the states had the right to overturn or “nullify” federal laws if the majority of the people within the state agreed, and his leadership on the issue of nullification led to the first of the secession crises which plagued the government in Washington during the antebellum years.

Although he was born and grew up in South Carolina, Calhoun was educated at Yale, and following his completion of a degree there he studied at Tapping Reeve, the first and then only school in the United States dedicated to earning a law degree (most states required the study of law under the tutelage of a practicing attorney, known as reading the law). He served in both the House and the Senate, and also as Secretary of War in the Monroe administration, where he was the first to suggest the relocation of the eastern Indian tribes to lands west of the Mississippi, where they would be able to preserve their way of life without impedance from encroaching white settlement.

In 1824 the Electoral College selected Calhoun as Vice President in a landslide, but failed to elect a President. The House of Representatives elected John Quincy Adams as President. As Vice President, Calhoun stood in opposition to the White House on many issues, including tariffs and federally subsidized roads, canals, and other projects. While serving as Adams’ Vice President Calhoun wrote to war hero and former Presidential candidate Andrew Jackson that he would support another Jacksonian candidacy in the election of 1828, should the General decide to launch one. It would prove to be a political mistake for Calhoun.

Jackson ran with Calhoun as his running mate, and won the Presidency. Surprisingly, Calhoun was not the first VP to serve under two Presidents, George Clinton had served under both Jefferson and Madison, but they were of similar political persuasion, where Jackson and the defeated John Quincy Adams were decidedly not. Calhoun organized the wives of Jackson’s cabinet members to ostracize Peggy Eaton, wife of John Eaton, Jackson’s Secretary of War, in what became known as the Petticoat Affair. Calhoun and others accused Eaton and his wife of having been involved in an adulterous affair prior to their marriage and the resulting scandal ended his relationship with the President.

Jackson responded to the affair by firing his entire cabinet, which destroyed any influence Calhoun had over the administration. Calhoun’s support of the principle of nullification placed him in an opposite position to the President, and when Martin Van Buren was elected Vice President, with Jackson as President, in 1832, Calhoun resigned rather than finish his term and returned to the Senate. He was one of two Vice Presidents to resign his office, the other being Spiro Agnew in 1973. Calhoun remained a potent political force for the remainder of his life, serving as Secretary of State and as a Senator from South Carolina, an unrepentant supporter of slavery being what he called, “…a positive good.”

You Don’t Truly Know these 10 Vice Presidents of the United States… Until Now
Richard Mentor Johnson called one of his slaves his common law wife, angering his fellow planters of Kentucky. Wikimedia

Richard M. Johnson

Richard Mentor Johnson of Kentucky holds the distinction of being the only Vice President of the United States thus far to have been elected through the vote of the United States Senate. Johnson was a veteran of the Indian wars, having served with the Kentucky militia during the War of 1812 and was reported to have killed the Shawnee Chieftain and warrior Tecumseh at the Battle of the Thames. Johnson had been a representative from Kentucky in the House before the war, and returned to his seat following the war, despite growing concerns of his constituents over his personal life. Johnson had a common law wife and children by her. That was not of much concern to his constituents, the fact that she was one-eighth black was.

In the parlance of the day his common law wife, Julia Chinn, was called an octaroon, and his relationship with her was considered to be interracial. Such a relationship was illegal in many southern states, but Johnson was open about it and ignored the comments of both his colleagues and his constituents. Johnson was unable to marry Chinn legally not only because she was considered to be black, but also because she was his slave, inherited by Johnson from his father. Johnson had two daughters with her (Johnson had another, illegitimate daughter which Julia helped raise) and they were raised as free women, but Johnson never manumitted his “bride”.

A wealthy planter, Johnson served in the House and the Senate, taking a seat in the upper chamber of Congress by an appointment of the Governor. While in the Senate Johnson initiated legislation which led to the charter of a District of Columbia school named Columbian College. Today it is known as George Washington University. As a Senator Johnson demonstrated an ability to award government contracts to family and friends, but his reputation did not suffer from his self-serving tendencies. Instead, when he ran for re-election and lost, it was because of the open nature of his relationship with Julia Chinn. Fellow wealthy planters were not concerned about the morality of the relationship but objected to its public appearance.

Johnson was returned to the House of Representatives by the voters of his district in 1829. He championed a bill which outlawed the imprisonment for debt, which was passed and signed by the President in 1832, eliminating debtor prisons in the United States. The following year his wife died, and although Johnson was personally devastated for a time, it removed what had been an obstacle for him in gaining support from political allies across the southern states. In the Presidential election of 1836, Andrew Jackson supported both Martin Van Buren as his successor, and Johnson as Vice President.

Johnson did not garner the necessary votes to win the Vice Presidency, nor did anyone else, and his election was placed in the hands of the Senate. He did not win in the Electoral College because 23 electors from Virginia – where he had carried the popular vote – refused to vote for him based on his long relationship with Julia Chinn. As a Vice President his performance was unremarkable, and he even took a leave of absence in 1837 to establish a tavern in Kentucky. After he left the office of the Vice President he made several attempts to return to Congress, finally succeeding in winning a seat in 1850, but he died before Congress convened the following year.

You Don’t Truly Know these 10 Vice Presidents of the United States… Until Now
The youngest man to be elected Vice President thus far, John Breckinridge was a capable military leader and politician. Library of Congress

John C. Breckinridge

John Cabell Breckinridge was born and raised in the Blue Grass region of central Kentucky. He was educated in law at both Centre College and Transylvania University and received his degree and his license to practice law in 1841. After first attempting to establish a legal practice in Illinois he journeyed to Iowa, where he developed a successful law office. On a visit back to Kentucky he met and soon married Mary Burch, and soon was practicing law first in Georgetown, and later Lexington, Kentucky. In 1847 he served in the Mexican War in a non-combat role, after which he returned to his Kentucky law practice and his first forays into politics.

Breckinridge’s first term in Congress was in 1851, and he was quickly one of the faction which opposed tariffs (which at the time was the federal government’s chief source of revenue as there was no income tax) and upheld slavery. Breckinridge remained in the House until 1855, gradually coming around to endorse the voluntary manumission of slaves and their colonization of Africa with federal support. He also supported the rights of the states to secede from the Union, but strongly opposed the act of secession as a means of resolving the conflict over slavery. Breckinridge, despite coming from slaveholding Kentucky, became a political ally of Stephen Douglas of Illinois.

In 1855 Breckinridge returned to Lexington and his law practice. Still involved with party politics, he attended the 1856 Democratic Convention which was held in nearby Cincinnati, and emerged as the party’s nominee for Vice President. James Buchanan was elected President that year, with Breckinridge his Vice President. In Washington, Breckinridge found little to do and his relationship with the President was strained as a result of pre-nomination political maneuvering by both men. In 1860 the Vice President chose to run for President, in an election which saw Abraham Lincoln elected to the Presidency, and Breckinridge was appointed to an empty Senate seat by the Governor of Kentucky.

Breckinridge was expelled from the Senate in December 1861, when it was learned that he had enlisted in the Confederate Army and had been indicted for treason. Breckinridge served in several of the major engagements of the ensuing Civil War, including at the Battle of Shiloh in Tennessee, where his performance earned him a promotion to Major General. He later fought in the Battles of Chickamauga, Jackson, and Chattanooga. He was transferred to the Eastern Theater and the Army of Northern Virginia, where he assumed the role formerly held by the late Stonewall Jackson. He was eventually brought to Richmond to serve as the Confederate Secretary of War in the waning days of the conflict.

Following the collapse of the Confederacy Breckinridge fled to Cuba, thence to England, where he was joined by his wife and family. The former Vice President toured Europe and Northern Africa before returning to the United States via Canada after President Andrew Johnson issued a blanked pardon to those whom had supported the Confederacy. Breckinridge returned to Lexington, refusing for the rest of his life to engage in politics or accept a government position, and invested in several ventures during the railroad boom which followed the Civil War. He died in 1875, probably of cirrhosis of the liver, after a lifetime in which he was often noted for his capacity for whiskey.

You Don’t Truly Know these 10 Vice Presidents of the United States… Until Now
Schuyler Colfax left the Vice Presidency scarred by scandal, by no means the only one to do so. Wikimedia

Schuyler Colfax

Schuyler Colfax was born into a prominent New York family whose patriarch had served as one of George Washington’s Life Guards during the American Revolutionary War, eventually rising to become a General of the New Jersey Militia. Colfax moved with his family to New Carlisle, Indiana in 1836, and eventually became the owner and publisher of the St. Joseph Valley Register, a newspaper through which he supported first the Whig and later the Republican political parties. In 1852, at the age of 29, he was a Whig candidate for Congress, but lost in the general election. In 1854 he ran again, this time as a member of the Indiana People’s Party, and won.

The Whig Party collapsed in the 1850s and in Congress Colfax aligned himself with the emerging Republican Party. Colfax served seven terms in Congress, eventually becoming Speaker of the House in 1863, at the height of the Civil War. He used his position as Speaker to help usher through the House the 13th Amendment to the Constitution in January 1865, which banished slavery in the United States. Colfax broke with tradition by having his named called and his vote of support of the amendment recorded, at a time when voting by the Speaker was unusual.

At the Republican National Convention in 1868 former General Ulysses S. Grant was nominated for President, and after five ballots Colfax was selected to be his running mate. The two were the youngest pair to win election to the offices of President and Vice President at the time of their inauguration, with Colfax a year younger than the 46 year old Grant. Despite their relative youth Colfax was of the opinion that Grant would only want to serve one term as President and announced that he would not run for Vice President in 1872. When it became apparent that Grant would seek a second term Colfax changed his mind, but by then other events had transpired which damaged his reputation and his candidacy.

In the summer of 1872, during the Presidential campaign, the Credit Mobilier scandal broke. Credit Mobilier was established by the Union Pacific Railroad to create the false image to the public that an independent agency was being paid to be the prime contractor and manager for the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad. Union Pacific paid Credit Mobilier to build the railroad, with money it received from the federal government. When Credit Mobilier was established several congressmen received stock and cash payments from the company, in exchange for favorable votes on items affecting the railroad.

One of the politicians who thus received what amounted to bribes from the Union Pacific was Schuyler Colfax. Why the railroad would bribe the Vice President, who had no vote in the Senate with the exception of breaking a tie, is unclear. It may have been that Colfax – who denied any wrongdoing – was aware of the scheme and was included for the sake of keeping him silent. He was definitely involved with the scheme when he was serving as Speaker of the House; he deposited $1,200 in his bank on the same day that the Congressman who was distributing the funds to the other members of the scheme made a note of having given Colfax that exact amount of money.

Colfax was removed from the ticket and replaced with another Congressmen who had taken part in the scheme, but with the foresight to claim that it was his wife who had made the transaction, without his knowledge. It was the end of Colfax’s political career. He attempted to recover his reputation on the lecture circuit, usually delivering his views on the life and activities of President Lincoln, and worked as a businessman, but never entered into the political arena by expressing his opinions on the issues of the day. He never admitted his role in the scandal which ended his career, and of the more than thirty Congressmen which participated in the Credit Mobilier scandal, only two were censured.

You Don’t Truly Know these 10 Vice Presidents of the United States… Until Now
Elbridge Gerry refused to sign the Constitution he helped create, but served under it as Vice President. WIkimedia

Elbridge Gerry

In the early days of the United States under the Constitution the public did not vote for Senators from their state. Senators were elected by the state legislatures and approved by the state’s governors. This indirect election of the Upper Chamber of Congress was largely due to the political motives and maneuvers of one of the lesser known of the Founders, Elbridge Gerry. Today his name is remembered for the word coined from it – gerrymandering – which refers to the redrawing of electoral districts to gain party advantage. Gerry was the first Vice President to die in office, and the only one of the Founding Fathers buried in Washington DC.

The term gerrymandering implies that Gerry was the developer of the process by which a political party can enhance its power. He was not. He was serving as governor of Massachusetts in 1812 when the legislature, then controlled by Republicans, redrew the electoral districts to enhance their ability to retain control of both state and federal offices, some of which resulted in highly contrived and odd shapes for many districts. Gerry was displeased with the results and despite finding it to be, “…highly disagreeable” he signed the legislation. A commentator later compared the shape of one district to a salamander, calling the new creature a gerrymander and the label stuck.

Although Gerry was instrumental in developing the Constitution during the Convention he refused to vote for it being presented to the people for ratification by the states, and argued strenuously against it in the public debate which followed. Gerry was disturbed by the centralized government which the Constitution created, and by the lack of the document’s definition of civil liberties. Gerry also wanted the President to be elected either by the governors of the states or their legislatures, not trusting the people to be able to make an informed choice.

Gerry made himself wealthy during the Revolutionary War, by trading with France and other nations for supplies sold to Congress for the use of the Continental Army. He also supported some privateering ventures. During his political career following the war and throughout the first decade of the nineteenth century he lost most of his wealth through the mismanagement of some of his ventures by hired assistants and friends. He lent money which was not repaid. Much of his wealth was in land in the west, still not generating income due to the Indian threat. When James Madison prepared to run for his second term as President, Gerry asked to be his running mate because he needed the money the job paid.

Gerry also knew that the job would not be too taxing on his by then fading health. He did not keep the Vice Presidency very long. In November 1814, he collapsed while visiting the Treasury Department and was taken to his residence a few blocks from the White House. He died there on November 23, 1814. Gerry was one of three members of the Constitutional Convention who did not vote for or sign the resulting document, the others being George Mason and Edmund Randolph. The Constitution contained no instructions on replacing a Vice President who died in office, and the office remained unfilled until the inauguration of James Monroe and Daniel Tompkins in 1817.

You Don’t Truly Know these 10 Vice Presidents of the United States… Until Now
An 1860 campaign button depicts Hannibal Hamlin, candidate for Vice President. Abraham Lincoln’s image was on the other side. Wikimedia

Hannibal Hamlin

Hannibal Hamlin would have been President of the United States had he not been dropped from the ticket as a political expediency in 1864. Hamlin was Abraham Lincoln’s first Vice President, an office which he held from March 1861 to March 1865. He was not personally close to the President while in office and maintained his own office spaces in the Capitol, which was the custom of the time. Hamlin was the first Vice President from the Republican Party although through most of his earlier political career he had been a Democrat. Lincoln and Hamlin had many differing political opinions, he was selected to the ticket because of sectional advantages rather than political reasons.

Hamlin was a New Englander from Maine who served in the House of Representatives and later the Senate, a vocal supporter of the attempts to limit the spread of slavery. When the Kansas – Nebraska Act of 1854 repealed the Missouri Compromise, Hamlin argued against the Act but failed to muster the votes to prevent its passage. During the 1856 Democratic National Convention the delegates passed a plank endorsing the Kansas – Nebraska Act, and Hamlin left the Democratic Party, formally joining the Republican Party, an act which drew national notice. In 1857 Hamlin was elected Governor of Maine after running as a Republican.

Up until the mid-to-late twentieth century the office of the Vice President was considered to be more of a legislative than executive position, since the only authority granted to it by the Constitution is that of presiding over the Senate. During the Lincoln Administration and those which preceded it the Vice President was not considered to be a member of the President’s cabinet and seldom if ever attended their meetings. Hamlin was not very influential within the Lincoln Administration though he did express his views supporting the President’s agenda and urged several appointments be made by the President. Hamlin was a member of the Maine Militia and when his company was called up he decided to serve in the summer of 1864, being mustered out in September of that year.

By then it was known that he would not be on the ticket with Lincoln in the Presidential election that year, being replaced by Andrew Johnson, selected in large part because he was a Democrat from the southern state of Tennessee. Ironically the former Democrat, Hamlin, was believed to be less effective in dealing with the Democrats in Congress than would be Johnson. As a Republican, Hamlin had found himself to be one of the so-called Radical Republicans (who would at a later date impeach Johnson) and Lincoln was by that time looking ahead to the process of reconstruction and rehabilitation of the South without slavery.

Hamlin was appointed to the highly lucrative position of Port Collector of Boston by President Johnson but he soon resigned, unhappy with Johnson’s positions regarding reconstruction. He returned to the Senate where he served two additional full terms before retiring from elected office. He then served for a little over a year as Ambassador to Spain. Hamlin was probably the most influential politician on the national stage to have ever come from the state of Maine. He died on the Fourth of July in the Tarratine Club in Bangor, Maine at the age of 81.

You Don’t Truly Know these 10 Vice Presidents of the United States… Until Now
Adlai Stevenson, now known as Adlai Stevenson I served as Vice President and founded an Illinois political dynasty. Library of Congress

Adlai Stevenson

Adlai Stevenson was a Kentucky born lawyer in Illinois, where in his youth he developed a friendship with Stephen Douglas and a contempt for Abraham Lincoln which never left him. Following the end of the Civil War he partnered with James Ewing, a cousin, in Bloomington where their law firm of Stevenson and Ewing grew into one of the largest and most successful firms in the city and later the state of Illinois. In 1875 and later in 1879 he won a seat in the House of Representatives as a Democrat, and gained some attention among the national party leaders. In between his stints in Congress he started a newspaper in Bloomington, the Daily Bulletin, which was pro-Democrat in its leanings.

During a vacation in Wisconsin Stevenson became friends with William Vilas, himself a close friend of Grover Cleveland. Cleveland was elected President in 1884 after a campaign in which Stevenson supported him both on the campaign trail and through his newspaper and was rewarded for his efforts by receiving the job of Assistant Postmaster General, a position of expansive power. The Post Office was one of the largest patronage job systems in the country, with postmasters throughout the United States hired by appointment of the Postmaster General in Washington.

Stevenson began an immediate campaign to fire postmasters around the country, replacing them with members of the Democratic Party. This type of hiring and firing had been going on in the United States since the beginning of the government and was not considered to be unfair or unethical at the time. Stevenson fired tens of thousands of postal workers and replaced them with Democrats, earning the ire of Congressional Republicans who could do little to stop him. After Cleveland lost his re-election bid in 1888, he nominated Stevenson to fill a seat on the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia and the Republican led Congress happily sat on the nomination until Cleveland left office and the appointment was replaced by the new President.

Cleveland was nominated to run for President in 1892, and Stevenson was nominated to be his Vice President on the first ballot. Cleveland did little public campaigning but Stevenson did much, traveling across the country in an active role expressing the ticket’s view of the future. When they entered office Stevenson returned to his distribution of patronage through the use of cabinet officers and civil service leaders. Although he frequently visited the White House as Vice President Stevenson did not have much political influence with the President.

Stevenson ran for Vice President again in 1900 as the running mate for William Jennings Bryan, which made him the first Vice President to run for the office with his former President’s opponent as his running mate. Stevenson was the father of Adlai Stevenson II, who ran twice for President of the United States, losing in each instance to Dwight Eisenhower. He later served as the US Ambassador to the United Nations during the Cuba Missile Crisis. He was also a Governor of Illinois, an office his father tried to win several times, including in his last campaign for office in 1908. Adlai Stevenson died in 1914, in Bloomington.

You Don’t Truly Know these 10 Vice Presidents of the United States… Until Now
John Nance Garner with FDR in 1936. By the end of Roosevelt’s second term their relations were not so jovial. Wikimedia

John Nance Garner

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected to the Presidency four times. He had three different Vice Presidents during his Presidency, the first being John Nance Garner. Garner is one of only two individuals who served as both the Speaker of the House of Representatives and Vice President of the United States, the other being Schuyler Colfax. Throughout the two terms he served as Vice President he stood in opposition to Roosevelt on several issues, that Roosevelt kept him on the ticket for the second term is an indication of the little power actually wielded by a sitting Vice President.

Garner was a Texan, first elected to Congress in 1902, remaining there until 1933, when he moved to the other side of the Capitol to preside over the Senate. Despite prohibition being in effect through much of his time in the House, he maintained a bar in his office which he called his “Board of Education” and members of the House from both sides of the aisle were welcomed as guests. Garner paid his wife as a member of his staff and she served as his personal secretary throughout his career in Congress. At the 1932 Democratic National Convention FDR was near the total number of votes needed for the nomination, and Garner, who had been considered for nomination, made a deal with the future President to get on the ticket.

During FDR’s second term Garner began to break ranks on a large number of issues. Likely Garner didn’t expect that FDR would attempt a third term as President and was positioning himself to be the Democratic nominee in 1940. He was sharply critical of the deficit spending which was being forced upon the government by many of the programs of the New Deal, which in his view was unsuccessful. When Roosevelt attempted to pack the Supreme Court by adding additional Judges, which he would then be able to appoint, Garner helped engineer the defeat of the bill in the Senate.

As the 1940 election neared it was evident that the Democratic nomination was Garner’s to lose, assuming the President did not run for a third term. Garner began campaigning for President that summer while Roosevelt remained quiet about his plans. When Roosevelt did announce his plans for a third term Garner continued to run, knowing that he was off FDR’s ticket and had nothing to lose. He based much of his campaigning on the unseemly idea of a President for life, as FDR appeared to consider himself in Garner’s view.

After losing the nomination to Roosevelt and serving the remainder of his term as Vice President Garner retired to Texas. He was 98 years old when he died in 1967, meaning that his life spanned from the first Johnson administration during Reconstruction to the second Johnson administration in the 1960s. He never sought another public office following his time as Vice President but he was consulted often by Democratic Presidents Truman, Kennedy, and fellow Texan Lyndon Johnson.

You Don’t Truly Know these 10 Vice Presidents of the United States… Until Now
Although an ardent New Dealer, Henry Wallace irritated FDR with his outspoken nature, and the latter replaced him with Harry Truman in 1944. United States Department of Agriculture

Henry Wallace

Henry Agard Wallace served as Franklin Roosevelt’s Secretary of Agriculture through the 1930s, during the challenging years of the Great Depression. Wallace’s father had served as Secretary of Agriculture in the early 1920s. Wallace was a Republican when FDR hired him, and remained a member of that party until 1936, when he was persuaded to join the Democratic Party. As Secretary of Agriculture Wallace pushed hard for higher prices for crops and developed the policy still extant of paying farmers not to plant certain crops, allowing their fields to be absent of husbandry as a means of keeping prices of certain commodities relatively stable.

Wallace supported the President’s New Deal, which was unpopular with less liberal Democrats, and when FDR selected him to be his running mate for the controversial third term campaign the choice was not a popular one. Wallace was known to hold somewhat unusual religious beliefs for rural America, and was controversial for his agriculture policies as well. He was roundly booed when his name was announced in the convention hall as a nominee, and FDR let it be known that if Wallace was not assigned to the ticket, he (FDR) would reject the nomination to run for the Presidency. Wallace eventually prevailed over William B. Bankhead, the Speaker of the House and father of actress Tallulah Bankhead.

Wallace was the only Vice President to have been elected without ever winning any other elected office at any level of government. His experience before Roosevelt selected him to run the Department of Agriculture had been as a farmer and the founder of the Hi-Bred Corn Company, developing new corn strains which were better resistant to diseases and blight. It made him a wealthy man. He also spent many years studying what would today be called New Age religious beliefs and practices, leading many of his critics to label him a mystic. Wallace came to believe that the rural life was a superior means of finding religious peace than that of urban dwellers.

As Vice President during the Second World War Wallace served on several of the boards established to support the war effort, and supported the idea of spreading the policies of the New Deal across the post-war world, when colonialism and empires would be abolished. This view was looked upon disparagingly by Winston Churchill and Charles DeGaulle, both of whom supported the idea of restoration of the British and French Colonies following the war. Wallace engaged in a long term battle with the Secretary of Commerce, and his influence with FDR waned by 1944.

At the Democratic Convention of 1944, when Roosevelt was nominated for a fourth term as President, Wallace was replaced on the ticket by Senator Harry Truman of Missouri. Wallace later served as Secretary of Commerce in the Truman Administration. To date, Wallace is the last former Vice President to serve as a member of a succeeding administration’s cabinet. Always outspoken and often involved in controversy, the modern office of the Vice President began with Wallace, who was always considered a member of the executive during his single term in office.

You Don’t Truly Know these 10 Vice Presidents of the United States… Until Now
Spiro Agnew spent his entire political career lining his pockets at the expense of taxpayers. Library of Congress

Spiro Agnew

Spiro Agnew was a Maryland politician who became one of the many criminals who populated the administration of President Richard Nixon in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Agnew was brought on the ticket at Nixon’s request, and served as Nixon’s attack dog on the press and on liberals he felt were too soft on law and order. Agnew had been active in Maryland politics since the mid-1950s, rising through the ranks of local elections until by the early 1960s he was the most influential Republican in the state. In 1966 Agnew ran for Governor of Maryland and won, taking office in early 1967.

As a county executive in Maryland in the 1950s and 1960s, Agnew developed a pattern of accepting bribes, kickbacks, and other gifts from contractors for state and county projects, money which went unreported on his income taxes. Kickbacks from one contractor, Lester Matz, were regularly paid at 5% of the contract’s value, and occurred while Agnew was a county executive, continuing while he was in office as governor. These payments were not revealed while Agnew was in office as governor, they were discovered during an investigation in 1973, but they demonstrate that throughout his political career Agnew was involved in criminal behavior.

When Nixon selected Agnew as his Vice President it was to be on a ticket which called itself the law and order candidacy. Agnew became the President’s fiercest advocate, attacking the media for being too liberal, the court’s for being soft on crime, and the draft protestors for being disloyal and supporters of communism. He held a special disdain for the students who protested against the war in Vietnam, calling them disloyal and cowardly. Agnew blamed the administrators and professors on college campuses for the protests, claiming that the schools were misleading their students.

Meanwhile Agnew appealed to what he and Nixon referred to as the Silent Majority for their support putting down the lawlessness, ending the war in Vietnam with honor, and leaning on the courts and police to rigorously enforce the law. In the 1972 campaign Nixon ordered Agnew to tone down his attacks on the media and focus on attacking their opponent, while Nixon himself avoided personal attacks. As Watergate began to unfold Agnew rose to defend the President. Soon after his re-election as Vice President he was forced to deny that he had been involved in kickbacks and bribes in Maryland.

The ensuing investigation soon unearthed evidence that Agnew had continued to receive bribes and kickbacks as Vice President, including a ten thousand dollar cash payment delivered to his office in the White House. After numerous denials he reached a plea agreement under which he was forced to resign the Vice Presidency. He was fined $10,000 and entered a plea of no contest to the charge of tax evasion. He also received 3 years of probation. He had to pay back taxes, but never made restitution to Maryland for the money he had taken from the taxpayers.

 

Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“John C. Calhoun and the Price of Union: A Biography”, by John Niven, 1988

“The Age of Jackson”, by Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr, 1945

“Proud Kentuckian: John C. Breckinridge 1821-1875”, by Frank H. Heck, 1976

“Schuyler Colfax Refuses”, The New York Times, April 7, 1882

“Life of Elbridge Gerry”, by James Austin, 1829

“Hannibal Hamlin of Maine”, by Harry Draper Hunt, 1969

“Stevenson, Adlai Ewing”, entry by Hugh Chisholm, Encyclopedia Brittannica, 11th edition

“Roosevelt, the Party Leader 1932-1945”, by Sean J. Savage, 1991

“A Heartbeat Away: The Investigation and Resignation of Vice President Spiro T. Agnew” by Richard M. Cohen and Jules Witcover, 1974

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