Friday, July 18, 2008

Obama/Gore 2008!!! Too Weird? Not Really

There's a movement to make former Vice President Al Gore the running mate of Barack Obama.

Seems a little crazy… a little weird too?

On the contrary, it wouldn't be the first time of double duty as vice president or as veep nominee.

There are actually three instances of something like this in our history.

New Yorker George Clinton (no relation to the 42nd president) served as the fourth vice president of the United States, first under Thomas Jefferson from 1805 to 1809, and then (without interruption) under James Madison from 1809 until his death of a heart attack in 1812, becoming the first vice president to die in office. Jefferson and Madison were close political allies and Clinton did not seek to succeed Jefferson as president. He was happy to continue to serve in the subservient role to the Virginians.

But there is another more interesting example of a vice president for two different presidents.

Calhoun Strandles Adams/Jackson Fued

John C. Calhoun of South Carolina was both the cranky John Quincy Adams' and the volcanic Andrew Jackson's vice president (1825 to 1832) through a quirk in the way we elect our top two executives.

The 1824 election of Adams is the only presidential election to be decided by the House of Representatives when no candidate received a majority in the Electoral College.

At that time, there were no clearly defined parties that nominated a ticket for president and vice president. The "Democratic-Republicans" had four presidential contestants who received various forms of "nomination" ranging from congressional caucus to state legislatures. In the presidential race, Tennessean Andrew Jackson received 99 of 261 electoral votes or 38% – 32 votes short of the number needed to win the presidency. Massachusetts’ John Quincy Adams came in second with 84 electoral votes, former Georgia senator and then-Secretary of the Treasury William Crawford got 41 votes and House Speaker Henry Clay from Kentucky scored 37 votes.

The Constitution requires the top three vote-getters to be considered by the House of Representatives in the event of the Electoral College fails to elect a president. The House elects the president by one vote per state delegation rather than each member getting a vote. As the fourth-place finisher in the Electoral College, Henry Clay was dropped off the ballot. However, he was the Speaker of the House and at the least, had great influence over the House vote. When the state delegations’ votes were counted, Adams had 13 state delegations, Jackson won seven and Crawford four.

Adams became president through what Jackson supporters called a "corrupt bargin" that was revealed, so goes the conspiracy theory, when Adams asked Clay to be his to Secretary of State.

[Note: The 1824 election represented the third presidency in a row where the winner was the serving Secretary of State (James Madison, James Monroe and then John Quincy Adams.) Back then, the Secretary of State post was viewed as the clearest path to the presidency.]

Back to Calhoun… so, the 1824 Electoral College struckout on settling on someone for the top job but was able to decide on a vice president. Calhoun wanted to be in the mix for president in 1824 but failed to secure his home state's nomination. Instead he ran for the second job and won in a landslide to become the seventh Vice President of the United States.

Vice President Calhoun was not party to any "corrupt bargain" and was politically allied to Andrew Jackson throughout the Adams Administration. He was rewarded for his loyalty by being retained as the Jacksonian vice presidential nominee for the election of 1828. The Jackson/Calhoun trounced Adams and a new political party was born, the Democrats.

The first Democratic administration's honeymoon didn’t last long. Calhoun identified himself more as a South Carolinian than as an American. His sectional biases created explosive friction between himself and the unionist Jackson. Calhoun decided after the Nullification Crisis of 1832 that he could best protect the interests of South Carolina as its senator and resigned as vice president.

The Last Bearded Vice President

The other double vice presidential precedent is Charles Fairbanks. He’s the only person to secure the bottom of the ticket nomination from his party for two different presidential nominees in non-consecutive elections.

The Indiana senator was added to Theodore Roosevelt’s ticket in 1904 to fill the vacant vice presidency (VP TR had succeeded the assassinated William McKinley in 1901.) But when the Rough Rider promised not to run for a “third” term in 1908, his loyal veep was passed over for the presidential nomination in favor Teddy’s handpicked-successor, Secretary of War William Howard Taft of Ohio. But Fairbanks wasn’t through with vice presidential politics. He was the Republican Party’s 1916 nominee under Charles Evans Hughes.

And he was that close to achieving the office again. A flip of 1,887 votes in California from Woodrow Wilson to Hughes would have made Fairbanks the VP again after an eight year hiatus.

I’m not sure what to make of this trivia but an Obama-Gore ticket would clearly not be unique.

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