THEODORE ROOSEVELT is the fifth Vice-President to succeed to the
Chief Magistracy by the death of the elected President. If he lives
to complete his term the Presidency will have been administered
by men attaining it through such substitution for nearly eighteen
out of the 116 years of our constitutional history. In other words,
there are fifteen chances out of a hundred that in any given time
the Government may be in the hands of a Vice-President.
In reality the chances are much greater.
No President died in office before 1841. Of the sixty-four years
from that time to 1905, Vice-Presidential administrations will have
covered nearly eighteen, or over 27 per cent. The proportion will
have been almost precisely the same for the forty years from 1865
to 1905, and will have been over 29 per cent. for the twenty-four
years beginning with 1881.
That is to say, when we elect a Vice-President
we ought to do so with an eye to the fact that there is at least
one chance in four that we are electing a President.
Under the system in vogue in the early
years of the Republic statesmen of Presidential grade were elected
to the Vice-Presidency. John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and George
Clinton were all Vice-Presidents. About the time when it began to
seem unnecessary to treat the Vice-Presidency seriously, and the
office began to be treated as a consolation prize for small-calibred
“favorite sons,” the Presidents began to die in office, and the
Vice-Presidency began to fulfill the great function which had been
designed for it by the framers of the Constitution.
Of the five Vice-Presidents who have
succeeded to the Presidency since 1840, Mr. Roosevelt is the only
one, with the possible exception of Fillmore, whose accession has
not caused a shock of surprise and disappointment. Mr. Roosevelt
is recognized on all sides as a man of Presidential calibre. He
was a leading candidate for the next nomination before the dreadful
event which prematurely placed the office in his hands. But Arthur,
although, as it turned out, he made an excellent President, would
never have been considered seriously for that position in advance,
and nobody would have thought of nominating Tyler or Johnson for
the second place if his accession to the first had been regarded
It is quite time that the good example
set by the nomination of Roosevelt should be generally followed.
If we are to have accidental Presidents a quarter of the time there
is no reason why they should be of inferior quality to those who
administer the Government for the other three quarters. Let us cease
to regard the Vice-Presidency as an office that anybody can consider
it beneath his dignity to fill. The greatest statesman we can produce
need not regard himself as belittled by accepting a place that has
been held by Adams and Jefferson, and that has given five out of
its last sixteen holders the control of the Government.