Multiple-Term Presidents Who Switched VPs

Why they did it and the impact

During the modern era, Americans are accustomed to seeing a U.S. president run with the same vice president when seeking re-election. This was not always the case, as many presidents were re-elected to subsequent terms with a different second-in-command. The reasons for the changes varied and sometimes had an effect on the nation's economic policies.

Key Takeaways

  • In the early days of the U.S., the candidate who received the second greatest number of electoral votes became vice president.
  • In some cases, the replacement of a vice president had an impact on economic and foreign policy.
  • Nine vice presidents have ascended to the White House due to the death or resignation of an incumbent president.
  • Franklin Roosevelt had three different vice presidents—a record.

Early Days of the Republic

The first president to have multiple vice presidents was Thomas Jefferson, who served two terms in office beginning in 1801. This was not Jefferson's preference, but the Constitution originally did not require separate votes for the two offices and specified that the candidate who received the second greatest number of electoral votes would become vice president. This led to the possibility of the president and vice president being from different political parties.

Jefferson sought the support of Northern states in the election of 1800 and recruited Aaron Burr of New York as his symbolic vice-presidential running mate. Jefferson and Burr both received 73 electoral votes and the House of Representatives elected Jefferson to the presidency over Burr. 

The Constitution was changed with the adoption of the 12th Amendment in 1804, which called for separate ballots for the two offices. Jefferson won re-election that same year with George Clinton as his official vice presidential running mate.

Jefferson's having a different vice president for his second term had little impact. Clinton was also from New York and that undoubtedly helped Jefferson with Northern voters. Jefferson's margin of victory was so large, the support seemed unnecessary.

Burr did find his place in history in 1804 when, while still serving as vice president, he killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel in New Jersey.

VP Vacancies

James Madison succeeded Jefferson as president and also had different vice presidents during his eight years in office. Clinton ran as the vice-presidential candidate in the election of 1808 and served until his death in 1812. At that time, there was no process specified in the Constitution to replace a vice president and the office sat empty for almost one year.

Madison won re-election in 1812 with Elbridge Gerry as his vice president. Gerry was from Massachusetts and was chosen by Madison to cement support from the North. The strategy was not successful; none of the 22 Massachusetts electors voted for Madison and only two voted for Gerry. Gerry also died in office, leaving the post vacant for several years.

A Trifecta of Vice Presidents

Franklin Roosevelt served as President for three consecutive terms and was elected for a fourth, but died shortly after his fourth term began. Roosevelt took office in 1933 and remained in the White House until his death in 1945. He had three different vice presidents during his time in office, a record that still stands.

Roosevelt's first vice president was John Nance Garner, who was elected along with Roosevelt in 1932 and 1936. Garner also sought the Democratic nomination as president in 1932 and threw his support and delegates behind Roosevelt in exchange for the vice presidency.

Roosevelt and Garner had good relations during their first term in office, but clashed over several major issues during the second term. Garner opposed Roosevelt's efforts to pack the Supreme Court with additional judges and also publicly opposed Roosevelt's pro-labor programs and other aspects of his New Deal agenda.

Henry Wallace was Roosevelt's second vice president, elected along with him in the election of 1940. Wallace served one term as vice president and was replaced by Roosevelt in the election of 1944 by Harry Truman. Roosevelt succumbed to pressure from some elements of the Democratic Party, which considered Wallace too liberal.

The decision by Roosevelt to replace Wallace with Truman had a major impact on the future course of U.S. economic and foreign policy.

Ahead of His Time?

Roosevelt died shortly after his fourth term began, elevating Truman to the White House. Wallace had been appointed Secretary of Commerce by Roosevelt and continued to serve in this capacity under President Truman.

After World War II ended, he opposed the hard-line foreign policy taken against the Soviet Union and was fired by Truman after making this opposition public. Wallace soon formed the Progressive Party and ran an unsuccessful campaign for the presidency in 1948.

1948 Election

Wallace's campaign opposed the Truman Doctrine, which called for an aggressive program to stop Soviet and communist expansion across the globe. The party platform also opposed the Marshall Plan and advocated spending the money on education, welfare, and other domestic programs.

Wallace's Progressive Party was ahead of its time on civil rights and advocated the end of segregation in the U.S. armed forces and federal employment. The platform also called for the passage of legislation to ban discrimination and support fair employment practices. On economic policy, the platform supported the establishment of a federal minimum wage, national health insurance, and scholarships to pay for higher education for Americans. Wallace was soundly defeated in the 1948 election and ended his career in politics.

If Wallace had run with Roosevelt in 1944 and ascended to the White House, he would have had nearly four years in office before facing the voters and would have been able to influence the foreign and economic policy of the United States. The Cold War began in earnest soon after World War II ended and a more lenient policy against the Soviet Union might have led to more influence and power by that nation. Also, an aggressive stance for equal rights for Black Americans in the late 1940s might have launched the civil rights era a decade earlier.

The Bottom Line

Garner said that the vice presidency is not "worth a warm bucket of spit" (or "piss," depending on the account) and most occupants of the office have agreed.  Despite this pessimistic view, nine vice presidents have ascended to the White House due to the death or resignation of a sitting president, making the selection of a running mate one of the most important decisions for a president.

Article Sources
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