Source: Saturday Evening Post
Source type: magazine
Document type: editorial
Document title: “The Vice-Presidency”
Date of publication: 12 October 1901
Volume number: 174
Issue number: 15
|“The Vice-Presidency.” Saturday Evening Post 12 Oct. 1901 v174n15: p. 12.|
|vice presidents (fitness for office); presidential succession.|
|John Adams; Chester A. Arthur; George Clinton; Millard Fillmore; Thomas Jefferson; Andrew Johnson; Theodore Roosevelt; John Tyler.|
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 as likely.
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.