Vice Presidents: From Afterthought to Indispensable

With vice presidential picks in the news, you might be asking yourself: what, exactly, does the vice president do? For much of American history, the answer was “not much.” But since the end of World War II, the vice president’s job has evolved from constitutional afterthought to indispensable part of the executive branch. 

Trace the history of America’s vice presidents with this collection of articles about the country’s second banana. Whether or not Kamala Harris is sworn in as the 49th Vice President of the United States and the first woman to ever hold the office, or Mike Pence gets to keep living at the U.S. Naval Observatory (more on that below), being No. 2 has never been more important.

How U.S. Vice Presidents Went From Irrelevant to Influential

Erin Blakemore • National Geographic

Despite being a heartbeat from the presidency, this role was surprisingly ill-defined throughout much of the country’s history.

Inside Number One Observatory Circle

Brennan Weiss • Business Insider

Almost everyone knows the White House, but few people know that the vice president has an official residence of their own.

‘His Accidency’: The First President to Die in Office and the Constitutional Confusion That Followed

Ronald G. Shafer • The Washington Post

Was John Tyler really president after pneumonia claimed the life of William Henry Harrison? In 1841, the country wasn’t sure.

The Most Useless Veep in U.S. History

Gil Troy • The Daily Beast

A hoax about the president’s death led him to believe he was Commander-in-Chief—and it paralyzed him with fear.

The Vice President Who Wrote a Hit Song

Stacy Conradt • Mental Floss

To date, Charles Dawes is the only Vice President to have a song chart at #1, though he missed the whole thing.

How F.D.R.’s Death Changed the Vice-Presidency

Jeffrey Frank • The New Yorker

The possibility of a sudden succession now plays a larger part in the selection of Vice-Presidents, but not always.

The Vice Presidents That History Forgot

Tony Horwitz • Smithsonian Magazine

The U.S. vice presidency has been filled by a rogues gallery of mediocrities, criminals and even corpses.

A Brief History of Vice Presidents Bemoaning the Vice Presidency

Jaime Fuller • The Washington Post

John Adams, the first vice president: “I am Vice President. In this I am nothing, but I may be everything.”

Why the Vice Presidency Matters

Nicole Hemmer • The Atlantic

Choosing a running mate used to be more about campaigning than governing. But after Richard Nixon’s ruinous relationship with Spiro Agnew, the job has changed. Introducing the executive vice presidency.

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