10 Most Influential U.S. Vice Presidents in History
Even the greatest leaders at one point or another rely on other people for some sort of advice or assistance. It is for this reason that vice presidents are considered as one of the most important people in government. Since 1789, the United States has had a number of people of high repute who have served the nation diligently as vice presidents.
A number of them effectively discharged their duties as advisors to their respective presidents, while others filled in for their bosses whenever they were away. It came as no surprise when some of these glorious leaders moved from number two to occupy the position of “first gentleman” of the country.
In this article, we will like to present to you ten of America’s most influential vice presidents of all time. These individuals have succeeded in making the office the Vice President one of the most important positions in the country. This ranking is made in no particular order.
Gerald Rudolph Ford Jr. started his political career in the 1940s. He represented Michigan’s 5th electoral district in the United States House of Representatives between 1949 and 1973. A member of the Republican Party, Ford was appointed as the Vice President of the United States following the resignation of Spiro Agnew who had been accused of many acts of corruption.
Deputizing for President Richard Nixon, the Nebraska-born statesman had a brief spell in office. His tenure lasted from December 1973 to August 1974, which coincided with what was regarded as a critical period in the history of American politics. Gerald’s time in office was met with the infamous Watergate scandal.
Due to his popularity, he was more of a unifier. He had the ability to bring together people from both sides of the political coin. Faced with a number of negative publicity, Nixon relied on Ford to win back the confidence of the American people. He effectively fulfilled these tasks and has been regarded as one of the most intelligent people to assume the office of the Vice President.
Did you know?
- Gerald Ford was originally named Leslie Lynch King Jr.
- He had four children with Betty Bloomer.
- He joined the U.S Navy in 1942 and served until 1946.
- Ford read law at Yale University.
- A lover of sports, the former vice president played football during his days in college.
- He succeeded Richard Nixon as the President of the United States in 1973.
- He’s the first person in the history of the country not to be elected into the offices of both the vice-president and president.
Making onto our list is another Republican politician, Theodore Roosevelt. A graduate of Harvard University, Teddy, as he was best known, became the second gentleman of the United States in 1901 under the William McKinley-led regime.
Before rising to this office, Roosevelt served in a number of political positions. His first major political appointment was as a component of New York’s State Assembly. His anti-corruption stance during that period won him the trust of many New Yorkers.
Theodore served in other positions like the Commissioner of the Civil Service Commission, Vice Secretary of the United States Navy, and New York’s Governor before he was named the successor of Garret Hobart (America’s vice president from 1897 to 1899).
He initially showed no interest in occupying the position, but after a series of consultations he decided to go for the office. Many accounts have argued that the main reason why Teddy was selected to the office was to move him away from New York where he had created a strong bond with his people. At that time, the vice presidency was considered as a “dead office” and wasn’t considered so important.
Roosevelt, famous for his high energy, felt uncomfortable being confined to an office which offered very little challenges. To give more relevance to his office, he decided to get himself involved in a number of activities. Roosevelt’s decision to work beyond his assigned duties as vice president gave the office some relevance, bringing it into the limelight. He officially took office as President of the country after the assassination of McKinley in 1901.
Some facts you would like to know
- Teddy fought in the Spanish–American War as a member of the U.S. Army.
- He suffered from debilitating asthma when he was young.
- He was homeschooled before gaining admission to Harvard University.
- In 1882, the famous politician published a book titled “The Naval War of 1812”.
Lyndon Baines Johnson wasn’t very popular among the American people, but his efforts to popularize the office of the vice president cannot be overlooked. A controversial Democrat, Johnson was picked by John Fitzgerald Kennedy to serve as his vice in 1961.
Serving in the Senate for a number of years, LBJ, as he is sometimes referred to, was determined to increase the responsibilities of his newly-assigned office which was traditionally regarded ineffective. His first attempt to make the office popular was to take over the job of the Senate’s majority leader. His request was fiercely opposed by the Democrats.
Again, Johnson wrote to Kennedy to grant him the authority to supervise over national security matters. As part of his requests, he also asked for an executive instrument which would require government organizations to fully cooperate with the office of the vice president. He was nonetheless given the power to review policies of national securities.
Unlike his predecessors, Johnson was well-informed about the works of his government. He was also present at National Security Council and Cabinet meetings. Johnson also served as the head of some working groups including the National Aeronautics and Space Council, the President’s Ad Hoc Committee for Science, and the President’s Committee on Equal Employment Opportunities.
With all these, it is fair to say that Johnson redefined the role of the vice president in the United States.
Some things you should know about Lyndon Johnson
- The former vice president was born in Stonewall in Texas.
- He was married to Claudia Taylor (nicknamed Lady Bird) with whom he had two daughters, named Luci Baines Johnson, and Lynda Bird Johnson.
- Johnson became the United States’ 36th President in 1963.
- He reached the rank of a Commander before leaving the U.S. Navy.
In 1789, John Adams became America’s first vice president. Adams was a leader of the great Revolution which led to the independence of the country. As a founding father, he contested in the United States’ maiden presidential election, but lost to George Washington. Placing second, Adams became Washington’s second-in-command.
Though his role in governance was insignificant, he has been credited for establishing that office. He was rarely consulted by the President, and attended only a handful of cabinet meetings. However, he left a mark when he was made the president of the Senate as part of his duties as the VP. With this role, he was able to influence a number of policies. He supported most of Washington’s policies, making the latter one of the most successful Presidents of the United States.
He began his tenure in office with high energy, but later came to the realization that his new role didn’t suit his character. He replaced George Washington as president in 1797.
Interesting facts about John Adams
- Between 1775 and 1777, he worked with the Massachusetts Superior Court of Judicature as the Chief Justice.
- He was also the first person to serve as the head of the United States Marine Committee.
- Until 1788, he worked as the nation’s top diplomat to Great Britain.
- He was married to Abigail Adams, who served as his most-trusted advisor.
Kamala Devi Harris
Following America’s first vice president on our list is our country’s first female veep, Kamala Devi Harris. She was sworn into office as the Vice President of the United States on January 20 of 2021. With her inauguration, she became the first female as well as the first African American to occupy that office. She also became the first American VP with an Asian heritage.
A trained attorney, Harris started her early career in her native California. In 2011, she was appointed as the Attorney General of the state. After leaving office in 2017, she was voted into the Senate. On August 11 of 2020, Joe Biden, who was then contesting for the country’s highest office on the ticket of the Democratic Party, introduced Harris as his running mate for the 2020 elections. Biden and Harris won the elections, becoming president and vice president respectively.
In her new role, she has addressed many challenges facing the country, including illegal migration. Serving as the Senate President, she has been involved in many tie-breaking votes in the House. Her decisive vote played a role in the passage of the American Rescue Plan in 2021. The package was expected to facilitate the country’s recovery from the economic mess caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
- She’s an alumnus of the University of California in Hastings, as well as Howard University.
- Harris considered contesting for the Democrats flagbearer position ahead of the 2020 elections, but withdrew due to insufficient funds.
Read More: 10 Major Achievements of Kamala Harris
Born in Washington, D.C., Albert Arnold Gore Jr. discharged his vice-presidential duties with distinction. He served in the army and worked as a journalist before embarking on his political career. In 1977, he was voted into the United States House of Representatives as a rep from Tennessee. He went on to represent the state in the Senate in 1985.
Al Gore, as he’s affectionately known, became President Bill Clinton’s lieutenant in 1993 and served until 2001. He was considered to be at the heart of many initiatives which made Clinton’s tenure as president very successful.
As the VP, he introduced many policies which sought to protect the environment. His ‘GLOBE program’, which was launched during the 1994 edition of the Earth Day helped to educate people on the environment. He also used information technology as a tool to improve the economic conditions of the country.
Gore has been honored with a number of awards including a Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 and has been widely regarded as arguably the most influential Vice President the country has ever seen.
Things you might not know about Al Gore
- His 2006 book titled “An Inconvenient Truth” earned him a Grammy Award in 2009.
- He came second in Time magazine’s “Person of the Year” ranking in 2007.
- Gore was the founder of the now-defunct TV channel, Current TV.
Thomas Jefferson’s fight for individual rights and democracy has earned him a place in our list of America’s most influential VPs. After losing the presidential election to John Adams in 1796, Jefferson, who has been considered as one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, settled for the position of vice president.
He assumed a more passive role in government since the office was considered irrelevant at that time. He was very critical of Adam’s administration and, together with James Madison, authored the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions. With the paper, the government was banned from exercising powers which were not given to them by the state.
Jefferson later contested Adam for the presidency which he eventually won. He was sworn-in as the United States’ 3rd President in 1801.
- Jefferson was one of the authors of the “United States Declaration of Independence”.
- His marriage to Martha Wayles produced six children which included Martha Jefferson Randolph.
- He was also the founder of the University of Virginia.
Richard Nixon’s anti-communism stance made him the perfect running mate for Dwight D. Eisenhower. Faced with accusations of improprieties in relation to a fund meant for his political expenses, Nixon was nearly forced to step down as the vice-presidential candidate. He however defended himself and reaffirmed his desire to occupy the position in his famous ‘Checkers speech’ in 1952.
When Eisenhower got elected into office as president of the United States in 1953, Nixon automatically became the 36th person to take charge of the Office of The Vice President of the United States.
Nixon was given more administrative responsibilities than any of his predecessors. In his first year in office, he toured the Far East and helped to strengthen the relationship between the United States and the sub region. During his time in office, he presided over many National Security Council and Cabinet meetings. In 1957, he helped to get the Civil Rights Act to congress which was later passed and signed into law by Eisenhower.
Despite the numerous controversies surrounding him, Nixon’s achievements as vice president of the United States cannot be overlooked.
Other facts about Richard Nixon that you might not know
- In 1969, he succeeded Lyndon Johnson as the President of the United States.
- Growing up, his dream was to become an FBI agent.
- He had his law training at Duke University.
- In high school, Nixon was a debater.
This list will be considered incomplete without making mention of John Breckinridge. In 1857, at age 36, Breckinridge became the youngest person to occupy the position of Vice President of the United States. He served from 1857 to 1861 under the James Buchanan-led administration. His selection as Buchanan’s running-mate was seen as a tool to unify the Democratic Party. Breckinridge was very instrumental in the party’s success at the 1857 elections.
Breckinridge’s relationship with Buchanan was not too healthy, with the two clashing over a number of issues. As the vice president, Breckinridge’s input was rarely considered when it came to decision making.
As the president of the Senate, Breckinridge was respected for his impartial and graceful rulings. He was also mandated to deliver the final speech at the Old Senate Chamber.
- After leaving office, he was voted into the Senate.
- He was sacked from the Senate after he associated himself with the Confederate Army.
Last but not the least on our list is Walter Mondale. The Minnesota-born politician revolutionized the office of the vice president during his tenure, one which lasted from 1977 to 1981. The former Minnesota Senator was picked by Jimmy Carter as a running mate ahead of the presidential elections in 1976.
Mondale’s energetic campaign helped the team to win the elections, making him the 42nd vice-president of the United States. His primary task was to spread the government’s foreign policies within and outside the country.
While in office, Mondale served as advisor to the President making him one of the most important people in Carter’s regime. An office was established within the White House for him, making him the country’s first VP to work from the official work place and residence of government. His weekly lunch with his boss has gradually become a tradition in the White House.
With these changes, many political analysts have praised Mondale as a game-changer in the operations of the White House.
Interesting facts about Walter Mondale
- He had three children with his wife Joan Adams.
- Between 1993 and 1996, he served as the leader of America’s mission in Japan.
- Mondale was the Democratic presidential candidate in the 1984 elections.