Thomas E. Marshall, Vice-President under Wilson, summed up the historical fate of most Vice-Presidents in this joke he used to tell: There were two brothers. One was lost at sea and one became Vice-President. Neither were heard from again. That was certainly the case with Hannibal Hamlin, Lincoln’s first Vice-President. In an administration where almost everything has been examined endlessly by tens of thousands of historians with magnifying glasses, Hamlin is a complete void. At the time Hamlin knew that he simply did not count in the Administration, although Lincoln was cordial on the rare occasions they met. I am the fifth wheel of a coach is how Hamlin described his non-role in shaping the affairs of the nation during his term as Vice-President.
The most prominent politician from Maine, both before and after his term as Vice-President, perhaps Hamlin regretted his four years in political oblivion as Lincoln’s Veep.
Hamlin began his political career in 1836 when he won election to Maine’s house of representatives as a Democrat. Serving in the Federal House of Representatives in 1843-47. Appointed to serve out a term in the US Senate in 1848, Hamlin elected to a full term in his own right in 1851. In 1856 he became a national celebrity when he broke with the Democrat party over slavery, and joined the Republicans. Elected as a Republican as Governor of Maine in 1856 and serving briefly, he resigned to take up a seat next year as a Republican, being one of the few members of the Senate to serve in that body as both a Democrat and a Republican.
He was placed on the Presidential ticket for regional balance and for the fame he had won as a former Democrat who left the party over slavery, a natural vote getter among anti-slavery Democrats. Hamlin and Lincoln did not meet for the first time until after the election. During the campaign Democrats spread the rumor that Hamlin was a mulatto. Hamlin did have a swarthy complexion, but there was no truth in the allegation. The same charge was made against Lincoln, racism being a weapon wielded freely by Democrats in both 1861 and 1864.
Hamlin as Veep advocated Emancipation and the use of black troops. Less presciently, he also supported placing Fighting Joe Hooker in command of the Army of the Potomac. Hamlin was left off the ticket in 1864 in order to broaden the ticket. Hamlin was firmly associated now with the radical wing of the Republican Party, and Lincoln believed that a War Democrat would be a better choice in what was likely to be a close contest. Andrew Johnson thus ultimately became President and Hamlin missed his opportunity to be something other than an historical footnote. Continue reading
Ah, the occupants of an office which is only of importance upon the death of someone! Many of the men who have occupied the office have left some pungent quotes about it. Here are a few:
John Adams, first Vice-President: “My country has in its wisdom contrived for me the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived.”
Theodore Roosevelt, twenty-sixth Vice-President: “I would a great deal rather be anything, say professor of history, than vice president.”
Thomas Marshall, twenty-eighth Vice-President: “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”.
Charles Dawes, thirtieth Vice-President: “This is a hell of a job. I can only do two things: one is to sit up here and listen to you birds talk….The other is to look at newspapers every morning to see how the president’s health is.”
John Nance Garner, thirty-second Vice-President: “The vice-presidency is not worth a warm bucket of spit.” (Cactus Jack probably used another term instead of “spit”, but this is a family blog.) Continue reading
The other day Pat Archbold wrote a post lamenting that Condoleeza Rice may be positioning herself for a run at the Vice Presidential nomination. Though I agree with Patrick that she would be an unacceptable choice, it’s probably nothing to worry about. Frankly it just seemed as though the Washington Times was attempting to make a story out of nothing.
It did prompt me to think about the attention that gets paid to Vice Presidential selections. What I concluded was that this decision is generally inconsequential, and it’s foolish to determine one’s vote based on this selection. Continue reading