A Book You Can Buy From Me
Book Title: Veeps: Profiles in Insignificance
Author: Bill Kelter with Wayne Shellabarger
Publisher: Top Shelf Productions
Length: 296 pages
If you don't like Joe Biden, consider the company he's joined...
These fun facts are taken from Veeps: Profiles in Insignificance, a new collection of fun facts collected by Bill Kelter and Wayne Shellabarger. The book contains two to six pages of fun facts about each of our first forty-six Vice-Presidents; this article contains just one fact each, plus bonus chapters about a few memorable vice-presidential candidates.
1. John Adams: Despite a distinguished career before and after his term as George Washington’s vice-president, during those years he was remembered mainly for proposing fancy titles for the President. Adams was plump, and another senator proposed giving him the appellation “His Rotundity.”
2. Thomas Jefferson: Became vice-president by finishing in second place to John Adams. His achievement during this time was A Manual of Parliamentary Practice, the official book of Senate etiquette.
3. Aaron Burr: When this lifelong malcontent and sore loser lost hope of becoming President in his own right, he was charged with treason, and acquitted, but he fled the United States anyway...to avoid creditors.
4. George Clinton: Jefferson’s second vice-president, and James Madison’s first one, died in office. How he was ever nominated or elected was unclear. He was described as “old, feeble & altogether uncapable of the duty of presiding in the Senate.”
5. Elbridge Gerry: As governor, he did not personally redraw the voting district map of Massachusetts to create the original “gerrymander.” His supporters did that. As vice-president, he was the second vice-president to die of old age during the Madison Administration.
6. Daniel Tompkins: Monroe’s vice-president was young enough to survive his term, but drank so heavily that he didn’t survive it long. He died “old” just short of age 51.
7. John C. Calhoun: The presidential election seemed to be a four-way race between William Crawford, Henry Clay, John Quincy Adams, and Andrew Jackson. Calhoun offered his support to both Adams and Jackson, in hopes that an electoral college run-off would allow him to finish ahead of both. Incredible in this day of party politics, Calhoun never got close to a majority of the presidential vote and was obliged to serve as vice-president to both of the successful contenders, in turn. (He is remembered for worse things than that. He was one of the tiny minority of American politicians who actually claimed to favor slavery.)
8. Martin Van Buren: As President he was remembered for “heartless injustice” toward the Cherokee Nation. As Vice-President he was remembered for shameless sycophancy, beginning when he befriended a profoundly unpopular woman, who was married to someone else.
9. Richard Johnson: President Van Buren was a small, plump, fussy man. Thinking the White House needed to retain some macho element, Andrew Jackson proposed a running mate for “Little Van” whose vulgarity went far beyond the usual definition of “redneck.” It wasn’t that his marriage to African-American slave Julia Chinn lacked legal recognition, so much as that, when Ms. Chinn died of cholera, Johnson ordered another slave woman to become his new common-law wife. When this woman maintained that she preferred her existing common-law husband, Johnson sold her down the river and bedded down with a third slave. To be fair, Johnson, a liquor seller, was probably drunk during at least some of these brutalities.
10. John Tyler: When notified that William Henry Harrison had died, making Tyler the first Vice-President actually to inherit the presidency, John Tyler was found on his hands and knees, playing marbles with his children.
11. George Dallas: Other places were named for Polk’s Vice-President, but historians suspect that the city in Texas may have been named for some other member of his family. George hadn’t even been elected to the Senate when Dallas, Texas, was founded and named.
12. Millard Fillmore: Reading the menu of Zachary Taylor’s final, fatal meal (iced milk, pickles, and cherries) has always seemed sufficient, to most people, to explain why Zachary Taylor died and allowed Fillmore to become our second accidental President. Conspiracy theorists continue to suspect that Fillmore added something nastier to the menu.
13. William King: Franklin Pierce’s Vice-President was definitely known to his contemporaries as “gay.” They meant that the 60-something Vice President clung to older, showier fashions than the rest of American manhood had adopted, but King did live with James Buchanan for several years.
14. John Breckinridge: As a younger, more attractive man of unquestioned heterosexuality, Breckinridge might have been remembered mainly for having been continuously and conspicuously snubbed by President Buchanan. Later, however, he joined the Confederacy and had to flee to Cuba.
15. Hannibal Hamlin: Lincoln’s first Vice-President wanted to serve in the Civil War but, having no particular skills or qualifications, spent his tour of duty mostly cooking for the Maine Coast Guard.
16. Andrew Johnson: Still fighting typhoid fever, Lincoln’s second Vice-President credited whiskey with allowing him to survive the inaugural events. Later, drinking whiskey at a hotel bar definitely helped Johnson escape his intended assassination by a fellow conspirator of John Wilkes Booth’s.
17. Schuyler Colfax: U.S. Grant’s first Vice-President was threatened with impeachment for his involvement with a railroad stock scandal.
18. Henry Wilson: Grant’s second Vice-President was involved in the railroad stock scandal too. (And we’re asked to believe Grant didn’t know.)
19. William Wheeler: Rutherford B. Hayes was elected by the inaugural college despite losing the popular vote. His running mate’s main achievement was being a party member who was not involved with the railroad stock scandal.
20. Chester A. Arthur: He was not charged with conspiracy in the murder of President Garfield because the disappointed office seeker who shot Garfield was blatantly insane.
21. Thomas Hendricks: He had tried, and failed, to run for President for seventeen years before Grover Cleveland accepted him as a running mate. He died just nine months after they were inugurated.
22. Levi Morton: He declined the chance to be Vice-President under James Garfield, then gave up hope of being elected President in his own right and became Vice-President under Benjamin Harrison.
23. Adlai Stevenson: Grover Cleveland’s second Vice-President was the grandfather of the Adlai Stevenson who lost to Dwight David Eisenhower.
24. Gus Hobart: He died less than halfway through William McKinley’s first term. Mrs. Hobart, however, remained a close friend, assistant, and sometimes deputy for the epileptic Ida McKinley.
25. Theodore Roosevelt: Despite his many successes, before and after, as boxer, rancher, writer, scientist, sheriff, police commissioner,governor, Army officer, and later President, TR described himself as “the poorest presiding officer the Senate has ever had.”
26. Charles Fairbanks: Although the city in Alaska was named for him, and he wanted more attention than that, trying to distract public attention from Teddy Roosevelt was a job only TR’s daughter Alice could ever do. Fairbanks was ridiculed for trying.
27. James Sherman: Dying (“old”) less than a week before Election Day, Vice-President Sherman was not replaced on the ticket. Though Taft lost the election anyway, over three million Americans were coerced into voting for the re-election of a dead man.
28. Thomas Marshall: Woodrow Wilson’s Vice-President complained bitterly of not having enough to do. After Wilson’s stroke, some thought Marshall qualified to step up and act as President, but Mrs. Wilson, unable to vote legally, took it out of the country by acting as President instead.
29. Calvin Coolidge: Warren G. Harding’s Vice-President seemed chosen to balance the ticket by not doing anything disgraceful.
30. Charles Dawes: Coolidge’s Vice-President was best known for having composed a tune that later became the top-pop song, “It’s All in the Game.”
31. Charles Curtis: No doubt encouraged by Will Rogers, Herbert Hoover’s Vice-President was the first politician to boast shamelessly about having one Native American great-grandparent.
32. John Garner: FDR’s first Vice-President died just short of age 99.
33. Henry Wallace: FDR’s second Vice-President was most easily discredited for his support of a wacky mystic’s “Great White Brotherhood,” but probably most unpopular because he encouraged farmers to “improve the market” by destroying crops.
34. Harry Truman: Picked to replace Wallace because FDR’s death was anticipated and nobody wanted Wallace as President, Truman’s position on World War II was actually similar to Pat Buchanan’s: “If we see that Germany is winning we ought to help Russia and if Russia is winning we ought to help Germany, and that way let them kill as many as possible.”
35. Alben Barkley: He became our first official “Veep” when he said that “Vice-President of the United States” was too long a title. The circumstances of his death were also memorable...enough that your parents or grandparents probably remember the story.
36. Richard Nixon: Believe it or not, he was young once, and what he did was serve as Vice-President under Eisenhower. When asked to describe the contributions Nixon had made to the Eisenhower Administration, thus boosting Nixon’s own campaign, Eisenhower said, “Give me a week, I might think of one.”
37. Lyndon Baines Johnson: His election to the Senate hinged on the mysterious last-minute appearance of precisely the 200 votes he had said he needed. A supporter doubted that these votes were fraudulent, on the grounds that LBJ “was much more devious than that.”
38. Hubert Humphrey: Though not necessarily in either Bill Clinton’s or Richard Nixon’s class when it came to tackiness, LBJ was no gentleman either, and liked to demonstrate his tackiness toward his Vice-President. He once ordered Humphrey, a short man, to put on large-sized cowboy gear and try to ride a large, nervous horse...on camera.
39. Spiro Agnew: He edged out Governors Reagan and Rockefeller, Mayor Lindsay, and Senator Howard Baker, for the vice-presidential nomination, because Nixon openly required a running mate who could be considered life insurance.
40. Gerald Ford: The other thing he had in common with Agnew was that both of them hit spectators with the ball while playing golf.
41. Nelson Rockefeller: Although serious right-wing conspiracy theorists claimed that he’d set both Agnew and Nixon up in order to have a chance at becoming Vice-President, Governor Rockefeller had turned down two chances to be nominated before he finally agreed to be Vice-President.
42. Walter Mondale: Kelter and Shellabarger characterize him as “benign, boring, unglamorous.” He hadn’t always been benign or boring, though. He had once proposed legislation that, if not soundly defeated, would have made day care mandatory for all toddlers at least after age two; the avowed purpose of this lunacy was to keep young children from being influenced by conservative parents.
43. George Bush: Despite his blond complexion and high voice, he was taller than Ronald Reagan, worked out harder, had a more heroic war record, and had worked for the CIA when Reagan was an actor and a young governor...but there was that silver foot in his mouth. Among other things he once told reporters and TV audiences that he and Reagan had had “sex...er...setbacks.”
44. J. Danforth Quayle: When suspected of participation in a golf-and-adultery spree, he was defended by his loyal wife thusly: “Anyone who knows Dan Quayle knows that he would rather play golf than have sex, any day.”
45. Albert Gore: Despite his adoption of a working-class accent and vague claims to have once worked on a farm in Tennessee, Gore was arguably a more “dynastic” candidate than W Bush. His father had been a senator before George Bush went into politics.
46. Richard Cheney: Why Kelter and Shellabarger assert that “his icy, silent glares and his snarling denunciations” exuded a “palpable, if unfounded, sense that he has either killed men with his bare hands or hired shadowy others to do it” is unclear to me; I always thought this Vice-President looked like a generic hypertensive geriatric patient. Let’s just say that those of us who didn’t hate him thought he was too old and ill to last eight years in office, but somehow he did.
This one's not a book review, but it is a book promotion. If you've enjoyed these fun facts, you'll want to buy a copy of Veeps and read the rest of the collection. You can buy it from me, to support this site and earn a chance to add a book to our Online Bookstore, for the standard price: $5 for the book, $5 covers shipping if you don't buy it in real life, and out of this price will come a $1 royalty payment to Bill Kelter. Click here if you want to make sure Kelter gets his share of the secondhand sale price.