It’s been said that the American vice president may be a heartbeat away from the most powerful office in the world. And on Aug. 11, 2020, California Sen. Kamala Harris made history after then presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden selected her as his running mate. Harris was the first woman of color, and third woman overall, to be nominated by a major political party as vice president. Today, she will become the first woman ever to hold the office of vice president.
In acknowledgment of this history-making event and Inauguration Day, 24/7 Tempo has compiled a list of the people who have served as vice president of the United States.
The job has held little respect since John Adams became the first VP in 1797. John Nance Garner, vice president under Franklin Roosevelt for eight years, famously disparaged the office when he said it “is not worth a bucket of warm spit.” Still, in recent years, the vice president has had more and more clout and responsibilities. Vice president Mike Pence has been responsible for the Trump administration’s national response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The office originally was occupied by the person defeated in the presidential election, but because of the enmity between President John Adams and Vice President Thomas Jefferson in the late 18th century, Congress ratified the 12th Amendment in 1804, mandating presidential and vice presidential candidates run on the same ticket.
Since then, vice presidential candidates have served as vote generators, a way to create geographical balance, provide experience or expertise in a particular area such as foreign policy, or go on the attack against the competing party. These are the presidents with the best and worst relationships with Congress.
Fourteen former vice presidents have become president, with more than half of them assuming the office after a chief executive had died. Three have received the Nobel Peace Prize, most recently Al Gore Jr. in 2007, though none got the award while in office. Two VPs have resigned and seven died while in office. Here is each president’s path to the Oval Office.
American presidencies have gone stretches without a vice president — once for 10 years — with little consequence. When Lyndon Johnson became president in 1963 following the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the vice presidency was vacant until 1965. To avoid this situation again, Congress ratified the 25th Amendment in 1967 to make clear that a vice president who replaces a president is officially the chief executive of the United States.
Harry Truman knew first hand of the danger of a vice president kept in the dark about the nation’s top secrets. Truman was vice president for only a few months when Franklin Roosevelt died in 1945, and he knew little about the development of an atomic bomb until after he became president. He resolved that no vice president should be kept out of the intelligence loop again. The National Security Act of 1947 gave the VP a place on the National Security Council.
More recent presidents have entrusted the nation’s No. 2 executive with more responsibilities. Richard Nixon represented Dwight D. Eisenhower on goodwill missions abroad; Bill Clinton entrusted Al Gore on policy regarding the environment; and Donald Trump put Mike Pence in charge of coordinating America’s response to the pandemic.