13 Things You Didn’t Know About the Vice Presidency
Sure, everybody's always talking about the presidents, but what about their second-in-command? We searched high and low to find the most interesting facts about the second highest office in the land.
They are American history’s second bananas, waiting in the wings.
They are the nation’s number-twos, often overlooked, inevitably under-appreciated. In 2020, with Kamala Harris making history as the first Black and Asian-American woman to be elected Vice President of the United States, the VP race has gotten a lot more attention than usual. And they are, of course, just a heartbeat away from the most powerful job in the free world—in fact, Harris’ running mate, Joe Biden, will be the oldest person to ever assume the presidency, at 78 years old. To learn more about her predecessors, the U.S. vice presidents, keep reading.
It started as a consolation prize
From 1788 to 1800, the presidential candidate who received the second most Electoral College votes was declared the vice president. See if you can answer these 11 U.S. trivia questions about presidents that everyone gets wrong.
Practice makes perfect
Fourteen vice presidents have become president (eight because the president died in office, and one because the president resigned). Of the five non-“accidental” presidents—John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Martin Van Buren, Richard Nixon, and George H. W. Bush—all but Nixon were elected immediately after their term as vice president. Check out these vintage photos of what inaugurations used to look like.
They weren’t officially the second in line until the 1960s
It’s hard to believe, but there was no official line of succession to the presidency until the 25th Amendment was passed in 1967. Prior to the amendment’s ratification, it was merely assumed that the vice president would assume the presidency if the president died or was removed from office. Here’s more U.S. trivia your history teacher never taught you.
Paul Ryan had a quirky summer gig
As a summer job in college, Paul Ryan, who was Mitt Romney’s vice presidential running mate in 2012, worked as a salesman for Oscar Mayer and drove the company’s Wienermobile. Think that’s unbelievable? Here are 24 wacky hidden talents of U.S. presidents.
Joe Biden earned the nickname “Amtrak Joe”
For more than 30 years as a senator, former Vice President Joe Biden commuted to work via Amtrak between Delaware and Washington, D.C. (about an 80-minute ride each way). As a result, he is friends with many Amtrak staff and would even host an annual Christmas dinner for Amtrak crew members. Learn what might happen if a president refuses to leave office.
One VP held his position for only a month
In 1841, Vice President John Tyler got the big job when William Henry Harrison died of complications from pneumonia only 32 days after taking office. Harrison’s death instigated a brief constitutional crisis (as mentioned, that amendment addressing presidential succession wouldn’t be passed for another 126 years), but it was decided that Tyler would assume the role of president. Check out these 50 astonishing facts about all 50 states.
John Adams had a ridiculous nickname
John Adams was the first vice president, serving under President George Washington (1789-1797). He was nicknamed “His Rotundity” because of his weight and arrogant attitude. Learn the answers to 19 questions about the American political system you’ve been too embarrassed to ask.
The VP used to pay for his own house
Vice presidents and their families now live in the Naval Observatory. Originally the VP lived in his own private home, but in 1977, Vice President Walter Mondale became the first vice president to live in a government-supplied home when he and his family moved into the newly renovated Observatory. Don’t miss these 12 fun facts about the White House.
The 1970s were tumultuous times
It took three vice presidents to complete the 1973 to 1977 vice presidential term. First, Spiro Agnew, President Nixon’s original VP, resigned following a criminal investigation. Nixon chose Gerald Ford as Agnew’s replacement, and Ford assumed the presidency after Nixon’s resignation. Finally, Nelson Rockefeller became vice president under Ford. Here are some vintage photos of what voting used to look like.
Some presidents were failed VP nominees
Two candidates unsuccessful in their campaigns for the vice presidency went on to become president: John Tyler and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Years before he became president, vice presidential candidate FDR and his running mate, Ohio Governor James Cox, were defeated by Warren G. Harding’s ticket in 1920. Few at the time doubted he would run for public office again. This is the reason we vote on a Tuesday in November.
They didn’t all finish their terms
John C. Calhoun was the first vice president to resign from office; he quit in 1832 to run for the Senate. It would be over 100 years until a second vice president would resign: Spiro Agnew left office in 1973 following accusations of bribery and extortion from his term as governor of Maryland. Don’t miss these other 15 fascinating facts you never learned about America.
Nixon dodged one scandal
Richard Nixon nearly lost his place on the Eisenhower ticket in 1952 amid concerns about a fund his backers had created to cover his political expenses. In a speech broadcast on still-novel “TV,” then-California Senator Nixon successfully defended himself. The address became known as the “Checkers speech” because Nixon assured listeners that he intended to keep one gift in question: a dog his children had named Checkers. These are the most famous pets to ever live in the White House.
The VP is “president” of the U.S. Senate
The vice president serves as the president, or presiding officer, of the U.S. Senate. The VP can only cast a vote in the Senate to break a tie. In honor of the role, the Senate halls contain busts of every vice president. Next, learn 45 astonishing facts you never knew about U.S. presidents.