Second in command has always been the least important important role in any organization. History is littered with great people leading in the face of adversity and challenge, sometimes rising to the occasion but just as often failing. Their names are etched in history, but every one of these great people had to have someone there next to, or behind, them, to pick up the mantle if something, unfortunately, happened.
Abraham Lincoln had two vice presidents – Hannibal Hamlin and Andrew Johnson. One of those people, fortunately, did not set back the United States 100 years through his southern sympathies and post-Civil War reconstruction. Hannibal Hamlin, Lincoln’s first vice president, on the other hand, had this to say about holding the office-
There is a popular impression that the Vice President is in reality the second officer of the government not only in rank but in power and influence. This is a mistake. In the early days of the republic he was in some sort an heir apparent to the Presidency. But that is changed. He presides over the Senate–he has a casting vote in case of a tie–and he appoints his own private secretary. But this gives him no power to wield and no influence to exert. Every member who has a constituency, and every Senator who represents a state, counts for more in his own locality, and with the Executive who must needs, in wielding the functions of his office, gather around him, and retain by his favors, those who can vote in Congress and operate directly upon public sentiment in their houses.
So in honor of these people, I’ll be starting a new series here – The Vice Presidents. The series will not focus on the men who held the second-in-command office and then went on to become their own branch of government, but the men who served quietly and then, possibly through their own actions or through the choice of the American people, stopped. People like Elbridge Gerry, Schuyler Colfax and John Garner. They must have lived interesting lives and had ambitions, right?
So, The Vice Presidents. Coming soon.