Vice Presidency of The United States - Growth of The Office

Growth of The Office

For more details on this topic, see Office of the Vice President of the United States.
My country has in its wisdom contrived for me the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived.

—John Adams, to his wife Abigail

For much of its existence, the office of Vice President was seen as little more than a minor position. Adams, the first Vice President, was the first of many who found the job frustrating and stupefying. Thomas R. Marshall, the 28th Vice President, lamented: "Once there were two brothers. One ran away to sea; the other was elected Vice President of the United States. And nothing was heard of either of them again." His successor, Calvin Coolidge, was so obscure that Major League Baseball sent him free passes that misspelled his name, and a fire marshal failed to recognize him when Coolidge's Washington residence was evacuated. When the Whig Party asked Daniel Webster to run for the Vice Presidency on Zachary Taylor's ticket, he replied "I do not propose to be buried until I am really dead and in my coffin." This was the second time Webster declined the office, which William Henry Harrison had first offered to him. Ironically, both of the Presidents making the offer to Webster died in office, meaning the three-time Presidential candidate could have become President if he had accepted either. Since Presidents rarely died in office, however, the better preparation for the Presidency was considered to be the office of Secretary of State, in which Webster served under Harrison, Tyler, and later, Taylor's successor, Fillmore.

For many years, the Vice President was given few responsibilities. Garret Hobart, the first Vice President under William McKinley, was one of the very few Vice Presidents at this time who played an important role in the administration. A close confidant and adviser of the President, Hobart was called "Assistant President." However, until 1919, Vice Presidents were not included in meetings of the President's Cabinet. This precedent was broken by President Woodrow Wilson when he asked Thomas R. Marshall to preside over Cabinet meetings while Wilson was in France negotiating the Treaty of Versailles. President Warren G. Harding also invited his Vice President, Calvin Coolidge, to meetings. The next Vice President, Charles G. Dawes, did not seek to attend Cabinet meetings under President Coolidge, 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, Franklin D. Roosevelt raised the stature of the office by renewing the practice of inviting the Vice President to cabinet meetings, which every President since has maintained. Roosevelt's first Vice President, John Nance Garner, broke with him at the start of the second term on the Court-packing issue and became Roosevelt's leading political enemy. Garner's successor, Henry Wallace, was given major responsibilities during the war, but he moved further to the left than the Democratic Party and the rest of the Roosevelt administration and was relieved of actual power. Roosevelt kept his last Vice President, Harry Truman, uninformed on all war and postwar issues, such as the atomic bomb, leading Truman to remark, wryly, that the job of the Vice President was to "go to weddings and funerals." Following Roosevelt's death and Truman's ascension to the presidency, the need to keep 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.

Richard Nixon reinvented the office of Vice President. He had the attention of the media and the Republican party, when Dwight Eisenhower ordered him to preside at Cabinet meetings in his absence. Nixon was also the first Vice President to assume temporary control of the executive branch, which he did after Eisenhower suffered a heart attack on September 24, 1955, ileitis in June 1956, and a stroke in November 1957. President Jimmy Carter was the first President to formally give his Vice President, Walter Mondale, an office in the West Wing of the White House.

Though Walter Mondale's tenure was the beginning of the modern day power of the Vice Presidency, the tenure of Dick Cheney saw a rapid growth in the office of the Vice President. Vice President Cheney held a tremendous amount of power and frequently made policy decisions on his own, without the knowledge of the President. After his tenure, and during the 2008 Presidential campaign, both Vice Presidential candidates, Sarah Palin, and Joe Biden, stated that the office had expanded too much under Cheney's tenure and both had planned to reduce the role to simply being an adviser to the President.

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