Vice President of the United States

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Seal of the Vice President of the United States

Richard B. Cheney, 46th and current Vice President of the United States
Richard B. Cheney, 46th and current Vice President of the United States

The Vice President of the United States is the second-highest executive official of the United States government, the person who, in the words of Adlai Stevenson, is "a heartbeat from the presidency." As first in the presidential line of succession, the Vice President becomes the new President of the United States upon the death, resignation, or removal of the President, which has happened nine times.

Beyond this role, the only duty required by the U.S. Constitution is that the Vice President serve as the President of the Senate, and to break any tie votes in that chamber. The Vice President also serves on the board of the Smithsonian Institution. Since 1974, the official residence of the Vice President and his family has been Number One Observatory Circle, on the grounds of the United States Naval Observatory in Washington, DC. The government jargon that often acronymizes the President of the United States as POTUS similarly applies VPOTUS to the Vice President. More casually, the title is abbreviated Veep.

The current Vice President of the United States is Dick Cheney.


Constitutional requirements

John Adams, the first Vice President of the United States
John Adams, the first Vice President of the United States

To hold the office, the Vice President must satisfy the same constitutional qualifications as the President; that is, the Vice President must be a natural-born citizen of the United States, at least thirty-five years of age and a resident of the United States for 14 years.

Traditionally, the Vice President-Elect takes office just before the President-Elect. Unlike the President, the Constitution does not specify an oath of office for the Vice President. Several variants of the oath have been used since 1789; the current form, which is also recited by Senators, Representatives and other government officers, has been used since 1884:

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.


Aaron Burr, 3rd Vice President (1801-1805)
Aaron Burr, 3rd Vice President (1801-1805)

Under the original terms of the Constitution, the members of the U.S. Electoral College voted only for office of President rather than for both President and Vice President. The person receiving the greatest number of votes (provided that such a number was a majority of electors) would be President, while the individual who was in second place became Vice President. If no one received a majority of votes, then the U.S. House of Representatives would choose between the five highest vote-getters, with each state getting one vote. In such a case, the person who received the highest number of votes but was not chosen President would become Vice President. If there was ever a tie for second, then the U.S. Senate would choose the Vice President.

The original plan, however, did not forsee the development of political parties. In the election of 1796, for instance, Federalist John Adams came in first, and Democratic-Republican Thomas Jefferson came second. Thus, the President and Vice President were from different parties. An even greater problem occurred in the election of 1800, when Democratic-Republicans Jefferson and Aaron Burr tied the vote. While it was intended that Jefferson was the Presidential contender and Burr was the Vice Presidential one, the electors did not and could not differentiate between the two under the system of the time. After 35 unsuccessful votes in the U.S. House of Representatives, Thomas Jefferson finally won on the 36th ballot and Burr became Vice President.

John Tyler, the first to assume the Presidency following the death of the President
John Tyler, the first to assume the Presidency following the death of the President

The tumultuous affair led to the adoption of Amendment XII in 1804, which directed the electors to use separate ballots to vote for the President and Vice President. While this solved the problem at hand, it ultimately had the effect of lowering the prestige of the Vice Presidency, as the Vice President was no longer the second choice for President.

The Constitution also prohibits electors from voting for both a Presidential and Vice Presidential candidate from the same state as themselves. In theory, this might deny a Vice Presidential candidate with the most electoral votes the absolute majority required to secure election, even if the Presidential candidate is elected, and place the Vice Presidential election in the hands of the Senate. In practice, this requirement is easily circumvented by having the candidate for Vice President change the state of residency as was done by Dick Cheney who changed his legal residency from Texas to Wyoming in order to run for election as Vice President alongside George W. Bush.

Formally, the Vice Presidential candidate is nominated by the party convention. However, it has long been the custom that the Vice Presidential candidate has been effectively named by the Presidential candidate. Often, the Presidential candidate will name a Vice Presidential candidate to bring geographic or ideological balance to the ticket or to appeal to a particular constituency.

Role of the Vice President

John Nance Garner, 32nd Vice President (1933-1941), characterized his role as almost worthless.
John Nance Garner, 32nd Vice President (1933-1941), characterized his role as almost worthless.

President of the Senate

Main article: President of the Senate

As President of the Senate (Article I, Section 3), the Vice President oversees procedural matters and may cast a tie-breaking vote. There is a strong convention within the U.S. Senate that the Vice President not use his position as President of the Senate to influence the passage of legislation or act in a partisan manner, except in the case of breaking tie votes. In practice, the Vice President rarely presides over day-to-day matters in the Senate; in his place, the Senate chooses a President pro tempore (or "president for a time") to preside in the Vice President's absence.

One duty required of President of the Senate is presiding over the counting and presentation of the Presidential and Vice Presidential electoral votes by the U.S. Electoral College, in the presence of both houses of Congress, on January 6 of the year following a U.S. presidential election. In this capacity, only four Vice Presidents have been able to announce their own election to the Presidency: John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Martin Van Buren, and George H. W. Bush.

Though he was President of the Senate, Vice President John C. Calhoun believed he would have more power as a Senator. When he was elected to the Senate from his native South Carolina, he became the first Vice President to resign the office.

Growth of the office

For much of its existence, the office of Vice President was seen as a little more than a minor position. John Adams, the first Vice President, described it as "the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived." Even 150 years later, 32nd Vice President John Nance Garner famously described the office as "not worth a pitcher of warm piss" (at the time reported with the bowdlerization "spit"). Thomas R. Marshall, the 28th Vice President, lamented: "Once there were two brothers. One went away to sea; the other was elected Vice President of the United States. And nothing was heard of either of them again." The natural stepping stone to the Presidency was long considered to be the office of Secretary of State. It has only been fairly recently that this notion has reversed; indeed, the notion was still very much alive when Harry S. Truman became the Vice President for Franklin D. Roosevelt.

For many years, the Vice President was given few responsibilities. After John Adams attended a meeting of the President's Cabinet in 1791, no Vice President did so again until Thomas Marshall stood in for President Woodrow Wilson while he travelled to Europe in 1918 and 1919. Marshall's successor, Calvin Coolidge, was invited to meetings by President Warren G. Harding. The next Vice President, Charles G. Dawes, was not invited after declaring that "the precedent might prove injurious to the country." Vice President Charles Curtis was also precluded from attending by President Herbert Hoover.

In 1933, Roosevelt raised the stature of the office by renewing the practice of inviting the Vice President to cabinet meetings, which has been maintained by every President since. Still, Roosevelt kept his last Vice President Harry S. Truman uninformed on some national security issues. As a result, Truman was unaware of the top-secret Manhattan Project to develop nuclear weapons when he succeeded to the Presidency upon Roosevelt's death in 1945 while World War II was still raging. The necessity of keeping Vice Presidents informed on national security issues became clear, and Congress made the Vice President one of four statutory members of the National Security Council in 1949.

Harry S. Truman had been VP only a few months in 1945 when Franklin D. Roosevelt died and he became President
Harry S. Truman had been VP only a few months in 1945 when Franklin D. Roosevelt died and he became President

In October 1952, Presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson sought to magnify the importance of the number two position in the executive branch when he said, "The Republican Vice Presidential Candidate ... asks you to place him a heartbeat from the Presidency," referring to Dwight D. Eisenhower's vice presidential running mate, Richard Nixon.

Once elected, President Eisenhower raised the stature of the Vice Presidency further when he ordered Vice President Nixon to preside at Cabinet meetings in his absence.

Modern role

The formal powers and role of the Vice President are limited to the Presidency of the Senate, including a casting vote in the event of a deadlock. This was important in the first half of 2001, as the Senators were divided 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats and thus Dick Cheney's tie-breaking vote gave the Republicans the Senate majority.

Their other functions are as a drafter and spokesperson for the administration's policy, as an adviser to the President, and as a symbol of American concern or support. Their influence in this role depends almost entirely on the characteristics of the particular administration. Cheney, for instance, is widely regarded as one of George W. Bush's closest confidantes. Al Gore was an important advisor to President Bill Clinton on matters of foreign policy and the environment. Often, Vice Presidents will take harder-line stands on issues to ensure the support of the party's base while deflecting partisan criticism away from the President. They often meet heads of state or attend state funerals in other countries, at times when the administration wishes to demonstrate concern or support without having to actually send the President to do so.

Normally, candidates for President will name a candidate for Vice President when they are assured of the party's nomination. Since the Presidential candidate is now generally known before the party convention, this announcement is now typically made in the first day or so of the party convention. Generally, the choice of running mate is ultimately made by the Presidential candidate alone (although with considerable counsel from advisors) and often is done to create balance on a ticket. It is common for the Vice Presidential candidate to come from a different region of the country than the President or appeal to a slightly different ideological wing of the party. The 12th Amendment discourages the Vice President from legally residing in the same state as the President, as Electors must vote for at least one candidate not in the same state as themselves. However, the ease of changing one's state of residence (as Richard Cheney did in 2000) minimizes the effect of this provision.

In recent years, the Vice Presidency has frequently been used to launch bids for the Presidency. Of the 13 presidential elections from 1956 to 2004, 9 featured the incumbent President; the other 4 (1960, 1968, 1988, 2000) all featured the incumbent Vice President. Former Vice Presidents also ran, in 1984 (Walter Mondale), and in 1968 (Richard Nixon, against the incumbent Vice President Hubert Humphrey).

Succession and the 25th Amendment

The U.S. Constitution provides that should the President die or become disabled while in office, the "powers and duties" of the office are transferred to the Vice President. It remained unclear as to whether the Vice President actually became the new President or merely Acting President. This was first tested in 1841 with the death of President William Henry Harrison. Harrison's Vice President, John Tyler, asserted that he should gain the full Presidential office, powers, and title. Despite some strong calls against it, Tyler took the oath of office, becoming the tenth President. Tyler's claim was not challenged legally, and so the precedent of full succession was established.

Vice President Gerald Ford is sworn in by Chief Justice Warren Burger as the 38th President, following the resignation of President Nixon
Vice President Gerald Ford is sworn in by Chief Justice Warren Burger as the 38th President, following the resignation of President Nixon

The Constitution still left several questions unanswered, however. If the Vice President died in office, resigned, or succeeded to the Presidency, there was no process for selecting a replacement, so the office of Vice President remained vacant until the next Presidential election. Additionally, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963 led to the question of who has the power to declare that the President is unable to discharge his duties, should he become incapacitated. This led to the ratification of Amendment XXV to the U.S. Constitution in 1967.

Section 2 of the 25th Amendment provides that "Whenever there is a vacancy in the office of the Vice President, the President shall nominate a Vice President who shall take office upon confirmation by a majority vote of both Houses of Congress." Gerald Ford was the first Vice President selected by this method, after the resignation of Spiro Agnew in 1974; after succeeding to the Presidency, Ford nominated Nelson Rockefeller as Vice President.

Section 3 of the amendment provides means for the Vice President to become Acting President upon the temporary disability of the President. This provision has been invoked twice: on July 13, 1985 when Ronald Reagan underwent surgery to remove cancerous polyps from his colon, and again on June 29, 2002 when George W. Bush underwent a colonoscopy procedure requiring sedation.

Prior to this amendment, Vice President Richard Nixon replaced President Eisenhower on an informal basis three times for a period of weeks each time when Eisenhower was ill.

Vice Presidents of the United States

Prior to ratification of the 25th Amendment in 1967, no provision existed for filling a vacancy in the office of Vice President; as a result, the position was left vacant 16 times until the next ensuing election and inauguration. Since the adoption of the 25th Amendment, the office has been vacant twice while awaiting confirmation of the new Vice President by both houses of Congress.

# Name Home State Took Office Left Office Party President(s)
1 John Adams Massachusetts April 21, 17891 March 4, 1797 Federalist Washington
2 Thomas Jefferson Virginia March 4, 1797 March 4, 1801 Democratic-Republican J. Adams
3 Aaron Burr New York March 4, 1801 March 4, 1805 Democratic-Republican Jefferson
4 George Clinton New York March 4, 1805 April 20, 18122 Democratic-Republican Jefferson/Madison
Vacant April 20, 1812 March 4, 1813 Madison
5 Elbridge Gerry Massachusetts March 4, 1813 November 23, 18142 Democratic-Republican Madison
Vacant November 23, 1814 March 4, 1817 Madison
6 Daniel Tompkins New York March 4, 1817 March 4, 1825 Democratic-Republican Monroe
7 John Calhoun South Carolina March 4, 1825 December 28, 18323 Democratic-Republican J. Q. Adams/Jackson
Vacant December 28, 1832 March 4, 1833 Jackson
8 Martin Van Buren New York March 4, 1833 March 4, 1837 Democrat Jackson
9 Richard Johnson Kentucky March 4, 1837 March 4, 1841 Democrat Van Buren
10 John Tyler Virginia March 4, 1841 April 4, 18414 Whig W. Harrison
Vacant April 4, 1841 March 4, 1845 Tyler
11 George Dallas Pennsylvania March 4, 1845 March 4, 1849 Democrat Polk
12 Millard Fillmore New York March 4, 1849 July 9, 18504 Whig Taylor
Vacant July 9, 1850 March 24, 1853 Fillmore/Pierce
13 William King Alabama March 24, 18535 April 18, 18532 Democrat Pierce
Vacant April 18, 1853 March 4, 1857 Pierce
14 John Breckinridge Kentucky March 4, 1857 March 4, 1861 Democrat Buchanan
15 Hannibal Hamlin Maine March 4, 1861 March 4, 1865 Republican Lincoln
16 Andrew Johnson Tennessee March 4, 1865 April 15, 18654 Democrat Lincoln
Vacant April 15, 1865 March 4, 1869 Johnson
17 Schuyler Colfax Indiana March 4, 1869 March 4, 1873 Republican Grant
18 Henry Wilson Massachusetts March 4, 1873 November 22, 18752 Republican Grant
Vacant November 22, 1875 March 4, 1877 Grant
19 William Wheeler New York March 4, 1877 March 4, 1881 Republican Hayes
20 Chester Arthur New York March 4, 1881 September 19, 18814 Republican Garfield
Vacant September 19, 1881 March 4, 1885 Arthur
21 Thomas Hendricks Indiana March 4, 1885 November 25, 18852 Democrat Cleveland
Vacant November 25, 1885 March 4, 1889 Cleveland
22 Levi Morton New York March 4, 1889 March 4, 1893 Republican B. Harrison
23 Adlai E. Stevenson Illinois March 4, 1893 March 4, 1897 Democrat Cleveland
24 Garret Hobart New Jersey March 4, 1897 November 21, 18992 Republican McKinley
Vacant November 21, 1899 March 4, 1901 McKinley
25 Theodore Roosevelt New York March 4, 1901 September 14, 19014 Republican McKinley
Vacant September 14, 1901 March 4, 1905 T. Roosevelt
26 Charles Fairbanks Indiana March 4, 1905 March 4, 1909 Republican T. Roosevelt
27 James Sherman New York March 4, 1909 October 30, 19122 Republican Taft
Vacant October 30, 1912 March 4, 1913 Taft
28 Thomas Marshall Indiana March 4, 1913 March 4, 1921 Democrat Wilson
29 Calvin Coolidge Massachusetts March 4, 1921 August 2, 19234 Republican Harding
Vacant August 2, 1923 March 4, 1925 Coolidge
30 Charles Dawes Illinois March 4, 1925 March 4, 1929 Republican Coolidge
31 Charles Curtis Kansas March 4, 1929 March 4, 1933 Republican Hoover
32 John Garner Texas March 4, 1933 January 20, 1941 Democrat F. Roosevelt
33 Henry Wallace Iowa January 20, 1941 January 20, 1945 Democrat F. Roosevelt
34 Harry Truman Missouri January 20, 1945 April 12, 19454 Democrat F. Roosevelt
Vacant April 12, 1945 January 20, 1949 Truman
35 Alben Barkley Kentucky January 20, 1949 January 20, 1953 Democrat Truman
36 Richard Nixon California January 20, 1953 January 20, 1961 Republican Eisenhower
37 Lyndon Johnson Texas January 20, 1961 November 22, 19634 Democrat Kennedy
Vacant November 22, 1963 January 20, 1965 Johnson
38 Hubert Humphrey Minnesota January 20, 1965 January 20, 1969 Democrat Johnson
39 Spiro Agnew Maryland January 20, 1969 October 10, 19733 Republican Nixon
Vacant October 10, 1973 December 6, 1973 Nixon
40 Gerald Ford Michigan December 6, 19736 August 9, 19744 Republican Nixon
Vacant August 9, 1974 December 19, 1974 Ford
41 Nelson Rockefeller New York December 19, 19746 January 20, 1977 Republican Ford
42 Walter Mondale Minnesota January 20, 1977 January 20, 1981 Democrat Carter
43 George H. W. Bush Texas January 20, 19817 January 20, 1989 Republican Reagan
44 Dan Quayle Indiana January 20, 1989 January 20, 1993 Republican G. H. W. Bush
45 Al Gore Tennessee January 20, 1993 January 20, 2001 Democrat Clinton
46 Dick Cheney Wyoming January 20, 20017 Incumbent Republican G. W. Bush


1 Arriving in New York City before President-elect George Washington, Adams was sworn as Vice President nine days before the President.
2 Died in office
3 Resigned from office
4 Succeeded to Presidency upon death or resignation of President
5 On his deathbed when scheduled to be sworn in, King received special dispensation from Congress to be sworn in twenty days later, while attempting to recover in Havana, Cuba.
6 Became Vice President under provisions of 25th Amendment
7 Acted as President under provisions of 25th Amendment

Vice Presidential facts

Two served under two different Presidents

John C. Calhoun, seventh Vice President of the United States
John C. Calhoun, seventh Vice President of the United States

Seven died in office

Two resigned

Nine succeeded to the Presidency

  1. John Tyler became President when William Harrison died. Chose not to seek full term.
  2. Millard Fillmore became President when Zachary Taylor died. Chose not to seek full term. Four years later, ran and lost.
  3. Andrew Johnson became President when Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. Chose not to seek full term.
  4. Chester Arthur became President when James Garfield was assassinated. Sought a full term, but was not re-nominated.
  5. Theodore Roosevelt became President when William McKinley was assassinated; then was elected to full term. Didn't seek re-election. Four years later, ran and lost.
  6. Calvin Coolidge became President when Warren Harding died; then was elected to full term. Did not seek re-election.
  7. Harry Truman became President when Franklin Roosevelt died; then was elected to full term. Did not seek re-election.
  8. Lyndon Johnson became President when John Kennedy was assassinated; then was elected to full term. Did not seek re-election.
  9. Gerald Ford became President when Richard Nixon resigned; then lost election to full term.

Four sitting Vice Presidents were elected President

  1. John Adams (1789-1797) was elected President in 1796.
  2. Thomas Jefferson (1797-1801) was elected President in 1800.
  3. Martin Van Buren (1833-1837) was elected President in 1836.
  4. George H. W. Bush (1981-1989) was elected President in 1988.

One former Vice President was elected President

  1. Richard Nixon (1953-1961) was elected President in 1968.

Actually, as discussed above, nine Vice Presidents succeeded to the Presidency on the death of the President. This made them former Vice Presidents. Four of those nine were subsequently elected President. Furthermore, in 1804, President (and former Vice President) Thomas Jefferson was elected President. Nixon, however, is the only former Vice President elected President who was not already serving as President.

Two have been Acting President

  1. George H. W. Bush acted as President for Ronald Reagan on July 13, 1985.
  2. Dick Cheney acted as President for George W. Bush on June 29, 2002.

They officially acted as President due to presidential incapacity under the 25th Amendment:

Five former Vice Presidents are still alive

  1. Gerald Ford
  2. Walter Mondale
  3. George H. W. Bush
  4. Dan Quayle
  5. Al Gore

Three were named Johnson

  1. Richard Johnson
  2. Andrew Johnson
  3. Lyndon Johnson

Seven who served two terms

  1. John Adams
  2. Daniel Tompkins
  3. Thomas Marshall
  4. John Garner
  5. Richard Nixon
  6. George H.W. Bush
  7. Al Gore

Note on spelling

Vice President is often spelled either Vice-President or Vice president or Vice-president. Because the modern usage is Vice President, it will be used here for consistency.

See also

External links

Further reading

  • Tally, Steve (1992). Bland Ambition: From Adams to Quayle--The Cranks, Criminals, Tax Cheats, and Golfers Who Made It to Vice President, Harcourt. ISBN 0156131404

U.S. presidential elections

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1950–1999: 1952 | 1956 | 1960 | 1964 | 1968 | 1972 | 1976 | 1980 | 1984 | 1988 | 1992 | 1996
2000–2049: 2000 | 2004 | 2008

List of Presidents and Vice Presidents of the United States and Candidates

Presidential lists of order: Order of service | Order of birth | Order of death | Age when becoming president | Rank of longevity | Military rank | Rank of post-presidency length | Rank of term length | Height order | Historical rankings

Other presidential lists: Doctrines | Libraries | Nicknames | Pets | Residences | College education | Fictional | Genealogical relationship | Place of birth | Place of primary affiliation | Political affiliation | Political occupation | Previous occupation | Assassination attempts | Religious affiliation | Military service | Served one term | Served two or more terms

Vice Presidents: Time in office | Fictional

Candidates: Heights | Who lost their home state | Fictional | Republican nominees | Democratic nominees

Unsuccessful candidates: Military service | Who received at least one electoral vote

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