Election 1944: Vice Presidency to the fore (7-26-44)

The Pittsburgh Press (July 26, 1944)


Background of news –
Vice Presidency to the fore

By Bertram Benedict

The vice-presidential nominations as both major party conventions this year attracted more than usual attention. The selection of Governor Bricker, one of the principal contenders for first place on the Republican ticket – and the only active one – following the refusal of Governor Warren to be considered, first focused attention on the Vice President in our government.

Then came the Democratic Convention, in which Vice President Wallace made a spirited bid for renomination, only to be rejected on the second ballot when the convention named Senator Truman (D-MO) – with the support of Southern delegations and the city bosses. Interest in the Democratic contest was high, too, because of the fact that President Roosevelt has already served more than 11 arduous years in the Presidency, and will be almost 67 years old by Jan. 20, 1949.

Under the original Constitution, the runner-up for the Presidency became Vice President. Any man who received the second largest number of votes for President would obviously be a person of parts. After a term or more as Vice President, he would have to be seriously considered for the Presidency itself when the incumbent President passed out of the picture.

Adams and Jefferson cited

And for a time that expectation was realized. The first Vice President, John Adams, was elected President when the first President retired. The second Vice President, Thomas Jefferson, became the third President. And although the next five Vice Presidents did not achieve the Presidency, each of them was quite a fellow:

  • Aaron Burr (ran a tie with Jefferson for the Presidency).
  • George Clinton (seven times Governor of New York).
  • Elbridge Gerry (commissioner to France; twice Governor of Massachusetts).
  • Daniel D. Tompkins (four times Governor of New York).
  • John C. Calhoun (Secretary of War; later Secretary of State).

Then came Martin Van Buren, elected President in 1836 on Jackson’s retirement, and so far, the last Vice President promoted to the Presidency except through the death of a President.

After Van Buren came a series of undistinguished Vice Presidents, nominated in most cases to heal party wounds or give geographical balance to the ticket.

Who today knows even the names of Richard M. Johnson, William R. King, George M. Dallas, Henry Wilson of New Hampshire, William A. Wheeler? Yet these were all Vice Presidents of the United States in the four decades after 1837. For that matter, how many of the voters who actually cast their ballots for him could recall today that Charles W. Bryan (brother of William Jennings Bryan) was the Democratic vice-presidential candidate in 1924?

Garner restores prestige

But with the John Nance Garner in 1933, the Vice Presidency resumed the role of important which it had played in the earlier days of the Republic. For years, Mr. Garner had been the Democratic leader of the House of Representatives and later Speaker, and as presiding officer of the Senate, he continued to be extremely potent in shaping legislation and putting it through, as long as he adhered to the New Deal.

After he broke with the Roosevelt program, Mr. Garner was potent in heading off or weakening certain New Deal measurers to which he was opposed, and he was a candidate for the presidential nomination against Mr. Roosevelt in 1940.

The defeated candidates for the Vice Presidency of late have also been men of stature. Senator Charles L. McNary (1940) was the Republican leader of the Senate, and Frank Knox (1936) later showed his abilities as Secretary of the Navy.