[Senate Document 104-26]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office]

104th Congress, 2nd Session . . . . . . . . . . . Senate Document 104-26


              President Gerald R. Ford congratulating Vice 
            President Nelson Rockefeller after his swearing 
                         in on December 19, 1974

                             Vice Presidents

                          of the United States


                            Mark O. Hatfield
                          United States Senator

                            Donald A. Ritchie
                      Jo Anne McCormick Quatannens
                            Richard A. Baker
                             William T. Hull
                      U.S. Senate Historical Office

                                Edited by
                               Wendy Wolff
                      U.S. Senate Historical Office

                     U.S. Government Printing Office

104th Congress, 2d Session
S. Con. Res. 34

Senate Document 104-26
U.S. Government Printing Office
Washington: 1997

Supt. of Docs. No.: 052-071-01227-3

Much of the material in this volume is protected by copyright. 
Photographs have been used with the consent of their respective owners. 
No republication of copyrighted material may be made without permission 
in writing from the copyright holder.

Cover illustration: Vice President Henry A. Wallace (center); Senator 
Harry S. Truman (right), who had recently won the Democratic nomination 
for vice president; and Senate Majority Leader Alben W. Barkley (left) 
in August 1944.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Vice Presidents of the United States, 1789-1993 / Mark O. Hatfield . . .
      [et al.] ; edited by Wendy Wolff.
            p. cm.
      Includes bibliographical references and index.
      1. Vice-Presidents--United States--Biography. I. Hatfield, Mark O.,
1922- . II. Wolff, Wendy.
E176.49.V53  1997
973' .09'9
[B]--DC21                                            96-51492

For sale by the U.S. Government Printing Office, Superintendent of 
Documents, Mail Stop; SSOP, Washington, DC 20402-9328

                           To Gerald W. Frank

        An exemplary citizen and leader in many civic causes.
        A longtime friend, chief of staff, and confidant.


        Alphabetical List of Vice Presidents......................    ix
        Introduction..............................................    xi
     1  John Adams
        (George Washington, 1789-1797)............................     1
     2  Thomas Jefferson
        (John Adams, 1797-1801)...................................    15
     3  Aaron Burr
        (Thomas Jefferson, 1801-1805).............................    29
     4  George Clinton (died in office, April 12, 1812)
        (Thomas Jefferson, 1805-1809; James Madison, 1809-1812)...    47
     5  Elbridge Gerry (died in office November 23, 1814)
        (James Madison, 1813-1814)................................    61
     6  Daniel D. Tompkins
        (James Monroe, 1817-1825).................................    71
     7  John Caldwell Calhoun (resigned December 28, 1832)
        (John Quincy Adams, 1825-1829; Andrew Jackson, 1829-1832).    81
     8  Martin Van Buren
        (Andrew Jackson, 1833-1837)...............................   103
     9  Richard Mentor Johnson
        (Martin Van Buren, 1837-1841).............................   119
    10  John Tyler (succeeded to presidency, April 6, 1841)
        (William Henry Harrison, 1841)............................   135
    11  George Mifflin Dallas
        (James K. Polk, 1845-1849)................................   149
    12  Millard Fillmore (succeeded to presidency, July 10, 1850)
        (Zachary Taylor, 1849-1850)...............................   165
    13  William Rufus King (died April 18, 1853)
        (Franklin Pierce, 1853)...................................   179
    14  John Cabell Breckinridge
        (James Buchanan, 1857-1861)...............................   191
    15  Hannibal Hamlin
        (Abraham Lincoln, 1861-1865)..............................   201
    16  Andrew Johnson (succeeded to presidency, April 15, 1865)
        (Abraham Lincoln, 1865)...................................   211
    17  Schuyler Colfax
        (Ulysses S. Grant, 1869-1873).............................   221
    18  Henry Wilson (died in office, November 22, 1875)
        (Ulysses S. Grant, 1873-1875).............................   231
    19  William Almon Wheeler
        (Rutherford B. Hayes, 1877-1881)..........................   241
    20  Chester Alan Arthur (succeeded to presidency, September 
            20, 1881)
        (James A. Garfield, 1881).................................   249
    21  Thomas Andrews Hendricks (died in office, November 25, 
        (Grover Cleveland, 1885)..................................   259
    22  Levi Parsons Morton
        (Benjamin Harrison, 1889-1893)............................   267
    23  Adlai Ewing Stevenson
        (Grover Cleveland, 1893-1897).............................   277
    24  Garret Augustus Hobart (died in office, November 21, 1899)
        (William McKinley, 1897-1899).............................   287
    25  Theodore Roosevelt (succeeded to presidency, September 14, 
        (William McKinley, 1901)..................................   295
    26  Charles Warren Fairbanks
        (Theodore Roosevelt, 1905-1909)...........................   311
    27  James Schoolcraft Sherman (died in office, October 30, 
        (William H. Taft, 1909-1912)..............................   323
    28  Thomas Riley Marshall
        (Woodrow Wilson, 1913-1921)...............................   335
    29  Calvin Coolidge (succeeded to presidency, August 3, 1923)
        (Warren G. Harding, 1921-1923)............................   345
    30  Charles Gates Dawes
        (Calvin Coolidge, 1925-1929)..............................   357
    31  Charles Curtis
        (Herbert C. Hoover, 1929-1933)............................   371
    32  John Nance Garner
        (Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1933-1941)........................   383
    33  Henry Agard Wallace
        (Frankin D. Roosevelt, 1941-1945).........................   397
    34  Harry S. Truman (succeeded to presidency, April 12, 1945)
        (Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1945).............................   409
    35  Alben W. Barkley
        (Harry S. Truman, 1949-1953)..............................   421
    36  Richard Milhous Nixon
        (Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1953-1961).........................   431
    37  Lyndon Baines Johnson (succeeded to presidency, November 
            22, 1963)
        (John F. Kennedy, 1961-1963)..............................   451
    38  Hubert Horatio Humphrey
        (Lyndon B. Johnson, 1965-1969)............................   463
    39  Spiro Theodore Agnew (resigned October 10, 1973)
        (Richard M. Nixon, 1969-1973).............................   479
    40  Gerald Rudolph Ford (succeeded to presidency, August 9, 
        (Richard M. Nixon, 1973-1974).............................   491
    41  Nelson Aldrich Rockefeller
        (Gerald R. Ford, 1974-1977)...............................   503
    42  Walter Frederick Mondale
        (James E. (Jimmy) Carter, 1977-1981)......................   515
    43  George H.W. Bush
        (Ronald Reagan, 1981-1989)................................   527
    44  J. Danforth Quayle
        (George H.W. Bush, 1989-1993).............................   541
        Appendix: Major Party Presidential and Vice-Presidential 
            Candidates, 1788-1992.................................   555
        Bibliography..............................................   559
        Credits for illustrations.................................   571
        Index.....................................................   573

                             VICE PRESIDENTS


                             Vice President
Chapter                Page   
Adams, John                                                             1..........................            1
Agnew, Spiro Theodore                                                  39..........................          479
Arthur, Chester Alan                                                   20..........................          249
Barkley, Alben W.                                                      35..........................          421
Breckinridge, John Cabell                                              14..........................          191
Burr, Aaron                                                             3..........................           29
Bush, George H. W.                                                     43..........................          527
Calhoun, John Caldwell                                                  7..........................           81
Clinton, George                                                         4..........................           47
Colfax, Schuyler                                                       17..........................          221
Coolidge, Calvin                                                       29..........................          345
Curtis, Charles                                                        31..........................          371
Dallas, George Mifflin                                                 11..........................          149
Dawes, Charles Gates                                                   30..........................          357
Fairbanks, Charles Warren                                              26..........................          311
Fillmore, Millard                                                      12..........................          165
Ford, Gerald Rudolph                                                   40..........................          491
Garner, John Nance                                                     32..........................          383
Gerry, Elbridge                                                         5..........................           61
Hamlin, Hannibal                                                       15..........................          201
Hendricks, Thomas Andrews                                              21..........................          259
Hobart, Garret Augustus                                                24..........................          287
Humphrey, Hubert Horatio                                               38..........................          463
Jefferson, Thomas                                                       2..........................           15
Johnson, Andrew                                                        16..........................          211
Johnson, Lyndon Baines                                                 37..........................          451
Johnson, Richard Mentor                                                 9..........................          119
King, William Rufus                                                    13..........................          179
Marshall, Thomas Riley                                                 28..........................          335
Mondale, Walter Frederick                                              42..........................          515
Morton, Levi Parsons                                                   22..........................          267
Nixon, Richard Milhous                                                 36..........................          431
Quayle, J. Danforth                                                    44..........................          541
Rockefeller, Nelson Aldrich                                            41..........................          503
Roosevelt, Theodore                                                    25..........................          295
Sherman, James Schoolcraft                                             27..........................          323
Stevenson, Adlai Ewing                                                 23..........................          277
Tompkins, Daniel D.                                                     6..........................           71
Truman, Harry S.                                                       34..........................          409
Tyler, John                                                            10..........................          135
Van Buren, Martin                                                       8..........................          103
Wallace, Henry Agard                                                   33..........................          397
Wheeler, William Almon                                                 19..........................          241
Wilson, Henry                                                          18..........................          231


      Holding the least understood, most ridiculed, and most often 
    ignored constitutional office in the federal government, 
    American vice presidents have included some remarkable 
    individuals. Fourteen of the forty-four former vice presidents 
    became president of the United States--more than half of them 
    after a president had died. One defeated the sitting president 
    with whom he served. One murdered a man and became a fugitive. 
    One joined the Confederate army and led an invasion of 
    Washington, D.C. One was the wealthiest banker of his era. One 
    received the Nobel Peace Prize and composed a popular melody. 
    One served as a corporal in the Coast Guard while vice 
    president. One had cities in Oregon and Texas named after him. 
    Two resigned the office. Two were never elected by the people. 
    One was the target of a failed assassination plot. One was 
    mobbed in his car while on a goodwill mission. Seven died in 
    office--one in his room in the U.S. Capitol and two fatally 
    stricken while on their way to preside over the Senate. And 
    one piano-playing vice president suffered political 
    repercussions from a photograph showing him playing that 
    instrument while famous movie actress Lauren Bacall posed 
    seductively on top of it.
      I have encountered these and many other stories over the 
    past four years in the course of my inquiry into the history 
    of the American vice-presidency. As is apparent from such 
    examples, the men who served as vice president of the United 
    States varied greatly in their talents and aptitude for the 
    post. What they generally had in common was political ambition 
    and experience in public office. Most hoped the position would 
    prove a stepping stone to the presidency, but some--old and 
    tired near the close of their careers--simply hoped that it 
    would offer a quiet refuge from political pressures and 
      The stories of these diverse individuals attempt to sketch 
    the development of the vice presidency itself--that colorful, 
    important, and routinely disparaged American political 

               I. Constitutional Origins and Structural Changes

            Electoral system
      Our Constitution's framers created the vice-presidency 
    almost as an afterthought. In setting up a system for electing 
    presidents, they devised an electoral college and provided 
    that each of its members was to vote for two persons, ``of 
    whom one at least shall not be an Inhabitant of the same State 
    with themselves.'' In those days when loyalty to one's state 
    was stronger than to the new nation, the framers recognized 
    that individual electors might be inclined to choose a leader 
    from their own immediate political circle, creating the danger 
    of a crippling deadlock, as no one candidate would win a 
    plurality of all votes cast. By being required to select one 
    candidate from outside their own states, electors would be 
    compelled to look for individuals of national stature. Under 
    the system the framers created, the candidate receiving the 
    most electoral votes would be president. The one coming in 
    second would be vice president.
      In the election of 1800, however, the constitutional system 
    for electing presidents broke down, as both Jefferson and 
    Aaron Burr received the same number of electoral votes. This 
    impasse threw the contest into the House of Representatives, 
    where for thirty-five separate ballots, neither candidate was 
    able to gain a majority. When the stalemate was finally 
    broken, the House elected Jefferson president, thus making 
    Aaron Burr our third vice president. Within four years of this 
    deadlocked election, Congress had passed, and the necessary 
    number of states had ratified, the Twelfth Amendment to the 
    Constitution, instituting the present system wherein electors 
    cast separate ballots for president and for vice president.
            Presidential succession
      Although the office of vice president did not exist under 
    the Continental congresses or the Articles of Confederation, 
    the concept of a concurrently elected successor to the 
    executive was not without precedent for the framers of the 
    Constitution in 1787. Prior to the Revolution, lieutenant 
    governors presided over the governors' councils of the royal 
    colonies--which, in their legislative capacities, functioned 
    as upper houses. John Adams was certainly familiar with this 
    arrangement, since the lieutenant governor presided over the 
    upper house in his own state of Massachusetts. After the 
    states declared their independence, they adopted new 
    constitutions, retaining, in some instances, earlier forms 
    recast to meet current needs. As Alexander Hamilton noted in 
    The Federalist No. 68, New York's 1777 constitution provided 
    for ``a Lieutenant Governor chosen by the people at large, who 
    presides in the senate, and is the constitutional substitute 
    for the Governor in casualties similar to those, which would 
    authorise the vice-president to exercise the authorities and 
    discharge the duties of the president.'' The Constitution 
    established the office of vice president primarily to provide 
    a successor in the event of the president's death, disability, 
    or resignation.
      The document, however, was vague about the way the 
    presidential succession would work, stating only that, in 
    cases of presidential death or disability, the ``Powers and 
    Duties of the said Office . . . shall devolve on the Vice 
    President'' (Article II, section 1). What did ``devolve'' 
    mean? Would the vice president become acting president until 
    another was chosen, or would he become president in his own 
    right? A half-century would pass before the nation would have 
    to address that murky constitutional language. Although the 
    Constitution's framers kept their intentions about 
    presidential succession shrouded in ambiguity, they left no 
    doubt about vice-presidential succession. There was to be 
    none. ``[I]n the absence of the Vice President, or when he 
    shall exercise the Office of the President of the United 
    States'' the Senate would simply choose a president pro 
      The framers' failure to provide a method for filling a vice-
    presidential vacancy continued to plague the nation. In 1792 
    Congress made a first stab at addressing the problem by 
    adopting the Presidential Succession Act, providing that, if a 
    president should die when there was no vice president, the 
    Senate president pro tempore and the Speaker of the House of 
    Representatives, in that order, would succeed to the office. 
    In 1886, responding to a concern that few presidents pro 
    tempore had executive branch experience, Congress altered the 
    line of succession to substitute for the congressional 
    officials cabinet officers in order of rank, starting with the 
    secretary of state. In 1947, after the vice-presidency had 
    been vacant for most of a presidential term, Congress again 
    changed the line of succession. Concerned that cabinet 
    officers had not been elected, it named the House Speaker as 
    the first official to succeed if a president died during a 
    vacancy in the vice-presidency, followed by the president pro 
      Finally, after the death of President John F. Kennedy in 
    1963 and the resulting vice-presidential vacancy, Congress 
    debated what became the second constitutional amendment 
    related to the structure of the vice-presidency. In 1967, the 
    Twenty-fifth Amendment, addressing presidential vacancy and 
    disability, became part of our Constitution. The absence of 
    any provision for filling a vice-presidential vacancy had 
    become intolerable in the nuclear age. Added impetus for the 
    change came from a growing public concern at the time about 
    the advanced ages of President pro tempore Carl Hayden, who 
    was eighty, and House Speaker John W. McCormack, who was 
    seventy-six. The amendment states that the president may 
    appoint a vice president to fill a vacancy in that office, 
    subject to approval by both houses of Congress. Before a 
    decade had passed, the provision was used twice, first in 1973 
    when President Nixon appointed Gerald R. Ford to replace Spiro 
    Agnew, who had resigned, and again in 1974, with the 
    appointment of Nelson Rockefeller after Nixon himself resigned 
    and Ford became president. The amendment also sets forth very 
    specifically the steps that would permit the vice president to 
    serve as acting president if a president becomes ``unable to 
    discharge the powers and duties of his office.'' Each of these 
    changes further reflected the increased importance of the 
            Vice-presidential duties
      The framers also devoted scant attention to the vice 
    president's duties, providing only that he ``shall be 
    President of the Senate, but shall have no Vote, unless they 
    be evenly divided'' (Article I, section 3). In practice, the 
    number of times vice presidents have exercised this right has 
    varied greatly. More than half the total number of 233 tie-
    breaking votes occurred before 1850, with John Adams holding 
    the record at 29 votes, followed closely by John C. Calhoun 
    with 28. Since the 1870s, no vice president has cast as many 
    as 10 tie-breaking votes. While vice presidents have used 
    their votes chiefly on legislative issues, they have also 
    broken ties on the election of Senate officers, as well as on 
    the appointment of committees in 1881 when the parties were 
    evenly represented in the Senate.
      The vice president's other constitutionally mandated duty 
    was to receive from the states the tally of electoral ballots 
    cast for president and vice president and to open the 
    certificates ``in the Presence of the Senate and House of 
    Representatives,'' so that the total votes could be counted 
    (Article II, section 1). Only a few happy vice presidents--
    John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Martin Van Buren, and George 
    Bush--had the pleasure of announcing their own election as 
    president. Many more were chagrined to announce the choice of 
    some rival for the office.
      Several framers ultimately refused to sign the Constitution, 
    in part because they viewed the vice president's legislative 
    role as a violation of the separation of powers doctrine. 
    Elbridge Gerry, who would later serve as vice president, 
    declared that the framers ``might as well put the President 
    himself as head of the legislature.'' Others thought the 
    office unnecessary but agreed with Connecticut delegate Roger 
    Sherman that ``if the vice-President were not to be President 
    of the Senate, he would be without employment, and some member 
    [of the Senate, acting as presiding officer] must be deprived 
    of his vote.''
      Under the original code of Senate rules, the presiding 
    officer exercised great power over the conduct of the body's 
    proceedings. Rule XVI provided that ``every question of order 
    shall be decided by the President [of the Senate], without 
    debate; but if there be a doubt in his mind, he may call for a 
    sense of the Senate.'' Thus, contrary to later practice, the 
    presiding officer was the sole judge of proper procedure and 
    his rulings could not be turned aside by the full Senate 
    without his assent.
      The first two vice presidents, Adams and Jefferson, did much 
    to shape the nature of the office, setting precedents that 
    were followed by others. During most of the nineteenth 
    century, the degree of influence and the role played within 
    the Senate depended chiefly on the personality and 
    inclinations of the individual involved. Some had great 
    parliamentary skill and presided well, while others found the 
    task boring, were incapable of maintaining order, or chose to 
    spend most of their time away from Washington, leaving the 
    duty to a president pro tempore. Some made an effort to 
    preside fairly, while others used their position to promote 
    the political agenda of the administration.
      During the twentieth century, the role of the vice president 
    has evolved into more of an executive branch position. Now, 
    the vice president is usually seen as an integral part of a 
    president's administration and presides over the Senate only 
    on ceremonial occasions or when a tie-breaking vote may be 
    needed. Yet, even though the nature of the job has changed, it 
    is still greatly affected by the personality and skills of the 
    individual incumbent.

                              II. The Individuals

            Political Experience
      Most of our former vice presidents have brought to that 
    office significant public service experience. Thirty-one of 
    the forty-four served in Congress, and fifteen had been state 
    or territorial governors. Five--Schuyler Colfax, Charles 
    Curtis, John Garner, Alben Barkley, and Lyndon Johnson--gave 
    up powerful congressional leadership posts to run for that 
    much-derided office. Another, House Minority Leader Gerald 
    Ford, observed that he had been trying for twenty-five years 
    to become Speaker of the House. ``Suddenly, I am a candidate 
    for the President of the Senate, where I can hardly ever vote, 
    and where I will never get a chance to speak.''
      Nineteen former vice presidents came to their role as 
    president of the Senate already familiar with the body, having 
    served as U.S. senators. Several vice presidents later 
    returned to serve again in the Senate, among them former 
    President Andrew Johnson. Nine vice presidents won 
    renomination and election to a second term. Two of these, 
    George Clinton and John C. Calhoun, held the office under two 
    different presidents.
      Of the fourteen vice presidents who fulfilled their ambition 
    by achieving the presidency, eight succeeded to the office on 
    the death of a president. Three of these and six other former 
    vice presidents were later elected president. Four former vice 
    presidents ran unsuccessfully for president. Two unlucky vice 
    presidents, Hannibal Hamlin and Henry Wallace, were dropped 
    from the ticket after their first term, only to see their 
    successors become president months after taking office, when 
    the assassination of Abraham Lincoln made Andrew Johnson 
    president and the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt raised Harry 
    Truman to the presidency. Similarly, when Spiro Agnew 
    resigned, he was replaced under the Twenty-fifth Amendment by 
    Gerald R. Ford, who became president when Richard M. Nixon 
    resigned less than a year later.
      The vice-presidency was generally held by men of mature 
    years--thirty-two of them were in their fifties or sixties 
    when they took office--but ten were in their forties, and the 
    youngest, John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky, was thirty-six at 
    the beginning of his term. At seventy-two, Alben Barkley, 
    another Kentuckian, was the oldest when his term began.
            The earliest vice presidents: Adams and Jefferson
      The nation's first vice presidents were men of extraordinary 
    ability. Both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson gained the 
    office as runners-up in presidential contests, with the 
    support of those who believed they were amply qualified to 
    hold the top office. Each recognized, in assuming this new and 
    as yet loosely defined position, that his actions would set 
    precedents for future vice presidents. But one precedent 
    established by Adams and Jefferson would not be repeated for 
    over three decades; although both men won election as 
    president immediately following their terms as vice president, 
    no sitting vice president would repeat this pattern until 
    1836, when Martin Van Buren succeeded Andrew Jackson. (The gap 
    thereafter was even longer. More than 150 years elapsed before 
    George Bush won the presidency in 1988 at the conclusion of 
    his eight years as Ronald Reagan's vice president.)
      During his two vice-presidential terms, Adams maintained a 
    cordial, but distant, relationship with the president, who 
    sought his advice only occasionally. In the Senate, Adams 
    played a more active role, particularly during his first term. 
    On at least one occasion, he persuaded senators to vote 
    against legislation he opposed, and he frequently lectured the 
    body on procedural and policy matters. He supported 
    Washington's policies by casting the twenty-nine tie-breaking 
    votes that no successor has equalled.
      Thomas Jefferson, learning in 1797 that he had been elected 
    vice president, and always happy to return to his beloved 
    Monticello, expressed his pleasure. ``A more tranquil and 
    unoffending station could not have been found for me. It will 
    give me philosophical evenings in the winter [while at the 
    Senate] and rural days in the summer [at Monticello].'' Unlike 
    Adams, who shared the political beliefs of the president with 
    whom he served, Jefferson and his president belonged to 
    different political parties. Although two later vice 
    presidents, George Clinton and John C. Calhoun, joined with 
    anti-administration forces in their efforts to prevent the 
    reelection of the presidents with whom they served, 
    Jefferson's situation would prove to be unique in all the 
    nation's history. No one expected Jefferson to be President 
    Adams' principal assistant. Instead he devoted his four-year 
    term to preparing himself for the next presidential election 
    and to drafting a guidebook on legislative procedure. 
    Jefferson hoped that his Manual of Parliamentary Practice 
    would allow him and his successors to preside over the Senate 
    with fairness, intelligence, and consistency. That classic 
    guide has retained its usefulness to both the Senate and the 
    House of Representatives through the intervening two 
            Nineteenth-century vice presidents
      Adoption of the Twelfth Amendment, together with the 
    strategy employed by the Republicans in their successful 
    effort to capture the presidency in 1800--and to retain it for 
    the next quarter century--proved to have a serious impact on 
    the overall quality of individuals drawn to the vice-
      Aaron Burr, whose refusal to defer to Jefferson had 
    precipitated the electoral crisis of 1800, became one of the 
    most maligned and mistrusted figures of his era and, without 
    question, the most controversial vice president of the early 
    republic. He was also a man of extraordinary ability, and a 
    key player in New York politics--a consideration of overriding 
    importance for Republicans, given the fact that New York's 
    electoral votes accounted for over 15 percent of the total 
    needed to achieve an electoral majority. Burr was the first of 
    a series of vice presidents who hailed from the northern 
    states, chosen more for their ability to bring geographical 
    balance to presidential tickets headed by Virginia Republicans 
    than for their capacity to serve as president. During the 
    quarter century that the ``Virginia dynasty'' presidents 
    (Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe) held sway, the 
    vice-presidency was the province of men widely regarded as 
    party hacks or men in the twilight of illustrious careers. 
    Much of the scholarship on the vice-presidency makes but 
    passing mention of these individuals, or focuses on their 
    obvious shortcomings. But these vice presidents (Burr, George 
    Clinton, Elbridge Gerry, and Daniel D. Tompkins)--all of them 
    New Yorkers, with the single exception of Elbridge Gerry, a 
    Massachusetts man--helped cement the ``Virginia-New York'' 
    alliance that enabled the Republicans to control the 
    presidency for six consecutive terms. Their ties to local and 
    state party organizations, which they maintained during their 
    vice-presidential terms, helped ensure the continued 
    allegiance of northern Republicans. For the most part, these 
    vice presidents presided over the Senate with an easy or 
    indifferent hand, while a series of presidents pro tempore 
    attended to administrative matters at the beginning and end of 
    each legislative session.
      John C. Calhoun's vice-presidency stands in vivid contrast 
    to the experience of his immediate predecessors. He accepted 
    the second office, under John Quincy Adams, after his 1824 
    presidential bid failed, offering himself as Andrew Jackson's 
    running mate four years later in hopes of eventually 
    succeeding Jackson. A man of formidable intellect and energy, 
    Calhoun approached his legislative duties with a gravity, 
    dedication, and concern for maintaining order not seen since 
    the time of Adams and Jefferson. A scrupulous guardian of the 
    Senate's written rules, he disdained its unwritten customs and 
    practices. After a quarter century of ineffective or 
    incapacitated vice presidents, the Senate chafed under 
    Calhoun's tutelage and began a lengthy examination of the role 
    of its presiding officer. Calhoun's endorsement of 
    nullification effectively killed his chances of becoming 
    president. In 1836, his successor and rival, Martin Van Buren, 
    became the first vice president since Jefferson to win the 
      Richard Mentor Johnson, Martin Van Buren's vice president, 
    came to the office along a unique path not yet followed by any 
    subsequent vice president. The Twelfth Amendment provides that 
    if no vice-presidential candidate receives a majority, the 
    Senate shall decide between the two highest vote getters. A 
    controversial figure who had openly acknowledged his slave 
    mistress and mulatto daughters and devoted himself more to the 
    customers of his tavern than to his Senate duties, Johnson 
    received one electoral vote less than the majority needed to 
    elect. The Senate therefore met on February 8, 1837, and 
    elected Johnson by a vote of 33 to 16 over the runner-up.
      Johnson's successor, John Tyler, wrote an important chapter 
    in American presidential and vice-presidential history in 1841 
    when William Henry Harrison became the first president to die 
    in office. Interpreting the Constitution in a way that might 
    have surprised its framers, Vice President Tyler refused to 
    consider himself as acting president. What ``devolved'' on him 
    at Harrison's death were not the ``powers and duties'' of the 
    presidential office, he contended, but the office itself. 
    Tyler boldly claimed the presidency, its full $25,000 salary 
    (vice presidents were paid 20 percent of that amount--$5,000), 
    and all its prerogatives. Congressional leaders and members of 
    Harrison's cabinet who were inclined to challenge Tyler 
    eventually set aside their concerns in the face of the 
    accomplished fact. Nine years later, when Vice President 
    Millard Fillmore succeeded to the presidency after Zachary 
    Taylor's death, no serious question was raised about the 
    propriety of such a move.
      During the nineteenth century, the vice-presidency remained 
    essentially a legislative position. Those who held it rarely 
    attended cabinet meetings or otherwise involved themselves in 
    executive branch business. Their usefulness to the president 
    generally ended with the election. While those who had served 
    in Congress might offer helpful political information and 
    connections to a presidential candidate, or might attract 
    electoral votes in marginal states, their status and value 
    evaporated after inauguration day. In fact, as political 
    circumstances altered during their first term, some presidents 
    began considering a new running mate for the reelection 
    campaign. Abraham Lincoln, for example, had no need of Vice 
    President Hannibal Hamlin of Maine for a second term, since 
    his state was certain to vote to reelect Lincoln in 1864. 
    Success being less assured in the border state of Tennessee, 
    party leaders chose Senator Andrew Johnson to replace Hamlin 
    in the second position.
      Relegated to presiding over the Senate, a few nineteenth-
    century vice presidents took that task seriously. Men such as 
    George Dallas, Levi Morton, and Garret Hobart studied the 
    Senate's rules and precedents and presided most effectively. 
    Others, such as Henry Wilson--Grant's second vice president--
    spent their time as they pleased. As vice president, Wilson 
    wrote a three-volume history of slavery before dying in his 
    Capitol office.
      The vice-presidency in the nineteenth century seldom led to 
    the White House, because vice presidents of the era were 
    rarely men of presidential stature. Of the twenty-one 
    individuals who held that office from 1805 to 1899, only 
    Martin Van Buren managed to be elected president. Four others 
    achieved the presidency only because the incumbent died, and 
    none of those four accidental presidents subsequently won 
    election in his own right.
            Twentieth-century vice presidents
      The twentieth century opened without a vice president. Vice 
    President Garret Augustus Hobart had died in November 1899, 
    leaving the office vacant, as it had been on ten previous 
    occasions for periods ranging from a few months to nearly four 
    years. The nation had gotten along just fine. No one much 
      People noticed the next vice president. Cowboy, scholar, 
    naturalist, impetuous enthusiast for numerous ideas and 
    causes, Theodore Roosevelt owed his nomination to the desire 
    of New York state political bosses to get him out of the 
    state's politics. The former Rough Rider held presidential 
    ambitions and worried that the job could be ``a steppingstone 
    to . . . oblivion.'' He also felt that he lacked the financial 
    resources needed to entertain on the grand scale expected of 
    his immediate predecessors. Roosevelt argued in vain that the 
    party should find someone else, but Republican leaders wanted 
    him, believing he would bring a new kind of glamour and 
    excitement to President McKinley's candidacy. When his 
    magnetic presence at the national convention fired the 
    enthusiasm of his partisans, the nomination was his. Roosevelt 
    then defied conventional practice by waging an active national 
    campaign for the ticket, publicizing the Republican cause in a 
    way that President McKinley could not. Had not an assassin's 
    bullet in September 1901 propelled Roosevelt to the White 
    House, his impact on the vice-presidency during a four-year 
    term would most likely have been profound. In 1904, Theodore 
    Roosevelt became the first vice president who succeeded to the 
    presidency to be elected president in his own right.
      For the next forty years, the role of the office grew slowly 
    but perceptibly. Party leaders rather than presidential 
    candidates continued to make vice-presidential selections to 
    balance the ticket, often choosing someone from a different 
    party faction who was not personally close to the presidential 
    nominee. In fact, Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, William 
    Howard Taft, and Herbert Hoover protested the individuals 
    selected to be their running mates. The feeling was often 
    mutual. When Charles Curtis gave the customary vice-
    presidential inaugural address in the Senate chamber, he 
    omitted any reference to his running mate, President Hoover. A 
    few minutes later, Hoover returned the favor by neglecting to 
    mention Curtis in his official remarks on the Capitol's east 
      The principal twentieth-century growth in the vice 
    president's role occurred when the national government assumed 
    a greater presence in American life, beginning with the New 
    Deal era and extending through the cold war years. That era 
    brought to the vice-presidency such major political leaders as 
    House Speaker John ``Cactus Jack'' Garner and Senate Majority 
    Leaders Alben Barkley and Lyndon Johnson. This distinguished 
    cast of elected vice presidents also included Senators Harry 
    Truman, Richard Nixon, Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale, and Al 
    Gore (who is serving as vice president at this writing and is 
    therefore not included in this book). The group also includes 
    George Bush, whose previous experience ranged from the House 
    of Representatives to the Central Intelligence Agency. With 
    the exception of Garner and possibly Truman, these men were 
    selected not by party wheelhorses but by the presidential 
    candidates themselves. Competence and compatibility became the 
    most sought-after qualities in a running mate. These 
    characteristics were especially evident in the Truman-Barkley 
    and Clinton-Gore tickets, both of which set aside the 
    traditional selection considerations of geographical and 
    ideological balance.
      During the twentieth century, the focus of the vice-
    presidency has shifted dramatically from being mainly a 
    legislative position to a predominately executive post. As 
    modern-era presidents began playing an increasing role as 
    legislative agenda setters, their vice presidents regularly 
    attended cabinet meetings and received executive assignments. 
    Vice presidents represented their presidents' administrations 
    on Capitol Hill, served on the National Security Council, 
    chaired special commissions, acted as high level 
    representatives of the government to foreign heads of state, 
    and assumed countless other chores--great and trivial--at the 
    president's direction. Beginning with Richard Nixon, they have 
    occupied spacious quarters in the Executive Office Building 
    and assembled staffs of specialists to extend their reach and 
    influence. From fewer than 20 staff members at the end of 
    Nixon's vice-presidency, the number increased to 60 during the 
    1970s, with the addition of not only political and support 
    staff but advisers on domestic policy and national security. 
    Walter Mondale expanded the vice president's role as 
    presidential adviser, establishing the tradition of weekly 
    lunches with the president, and subsequent vice presidents 
    have continued to be active participants in their 
      Expansion of the office did not come without a cost, 
    however. In assuming substantive policy responsibilities, vice 
    presidents often ran afoul of cabinet secretaries whose 
    territories they invaded. As administration lobbyists, they 
    also irritated members of Congress. My favorite example of 
    this problem occurred in 1969. President Nixon had pledged to 
    give his vice president a significant policy-making role and--
    for the first time--an office in the White House itself. Spiro 
    Agnew was determined to make the most of that role and to 
    expand his legislative functions as well. Since he lacked 
    previous legislative experience, he had the Senate 
    parliamentarian tutor him on the intricacies of Senate floor 
    procedure. Soon he began to inject himself into the course of 
    Senate proceedings, contrary to the well-worn practice that 
    constrained his predecessors. During the debate over the Anti-
    Ballistic-Missile Treaty, Agnew approached Idaho Republican 
    Senator Len Jordan and asked how he was going to vote. ``You 
    can't tell me how to vote!'' said the shocked senator. ``You 
    can't twist my arm!'' At the next regular luncheon of 
    Republican senators, Jordan accused Agnew of breaking the 
    separation of powers by lobbying on the Senate floor, and 
    announced the ``Jordan Rule.'' Under his rule, if the vice 
    president tried to lobby him on anything, the senator would 
    automatically vote the other way. Agnew concluded from this 
    experience, ``after trying for a while to get along with the 
    Senate, I decided I would go down to the other end of 
    Pennsylvania Avenue and try playing the executive game.''
      In 1886 the Senate initiated the practice of honoring former 
    vice presidents by acquiring marble busts of those who had 
    held the office, with the expenses paid from the contingent 
    fund of the Senate. The previous year, in 1885, the Senate had 
    placed in the Vice President's Room a bust of Henry Wilson, 
    who had died in that room a decade earlier. Under the 1886 
    resolution, busts of former vice presidents, beginning with 
    those of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, were placed in the 
    niches around the gallery level of the Senate chamber. Once 
    those twenty spaces were filled, the Senate adopted an amended 
    resolution in 1898 to place future vice-presidential busts 
    elsewhere in the Senate wing of the Capitol. The practice 
    continues today.

                    III. Goals and Execution of the Project

      During the commemoration of the bicentennials of the U.S. 
    Constitution and the U.S. Congress in the late 1980s, I 
    realized that the vice-presidency and those who have held the 
    office were largely neglected in the various two-hundred-year 
    celebrations. Clearly, there was a need to look more closely 
    at both the institution and the individuals. Although the 
    debate over the Twenty-fifth Amendment in the 1960s had 
    inspired a number of books on the history and operations of 
    the vice-presidency, most of those works were narrowly drawn, 
    serving only to make a case for or against the amendment. The 
    ones that took a biographical approach focused on just the 
    most ``significant'' vice presidents.
      Yet, obscure as many of those who have held this office may 
    be today, most were active in public service at both the state 
    and federal levels, often reaching the vice-presidency after 
    long and valuable careers in both Congress and the executive 
    branch. Studying the lives of even the men of less than 
    presidential stature and the reasons they were selected for 
    the post--as well as the reasons they failed to reach the 
    White House--provides useful insights into the history of our 
    nation's political process. Examining the successive stories 
    of the former vice presidents in chronological order 
    illuminates the way in which their strengths and personalities 
    helped to shape the evolution of this office that was so 
    vaguely defined by the framers. The changes in the vice-
    presidency, in turn, shed light on the nation's political 
    development; for example, the growing importance of the office 
    in the decades since World War II mirrors the expansion of the 
    role of the federal government during that period.
      Having conceived the idea for this project, I met in the 
    summer of 1991 with the director of the Senate Historical 
    Office. We discussed a plan that would focus on the role of 
    all our former vice presidents within the institutional 
    context of the United States Senate. We agreed that the 
    resulting book should include for each vice president: brief 
    biographical background, the circumstances surrounding his 
    selection, a summary of the major issues confronting the 
    nation during his service, the nature of his relations with 
    the president, his broader national and international role, 
    and his contributions to the office and the nation. Such a 
    study had never before been undertaken. In the course of our 
    work, we conducted a major search for source materials and 
    consulted all significant book- and article-length biographies 
    of these forty-four men, as well as appropriate Senate 
      When I proposed this book to Dr. Richard A. Baker, the 
    Senate historian, he expressed great interest, sharing my view 
    that this topic had received too little attention. The staff 
    of the Senate Historical Office prepared the forty-four 
    chapters discussing each of the former vice presidents, under 
    the direction of Secretary of the Senate Kelly D. Johnston and 
    his predecessors, Walter J. Stewart, Martha Pope, and Sheila 
    Burke. I carefully reviewed and critiqued each of these 
    chapters in draft and have reviewed them again in proofs. I 
    believe that, collectively, these essays make the case that 
    the institution of the vice-presidency and those who have held 
    the office have made a substantial contribution to our nation.
      I would particularly like to thank Dr. Baker for his crucial 
    role in shaping the concept and content of this book. He and 
    his colleagues, Dr. Donald A. Ritchie and Dr. Jo Anne 
    McCormick Quatannens, wrote the bulk of the chapters, drawing 
    upon their deep understanding of the nation's political 
    history, as well as the extensive professional expertise that 
    each has in a particular period of the Senate's history. 
    Others who participated by writing one or more chapters were 
    Mark Clifford, Richard Hill, Jonathan Marcus, and the late 
    William T. Hull. Mr. Hull, a gifted historian whose promising 
    career was tragically cut short by cancer in the fall of 1995, 
    contributed the chapters on Theodore Roosevelt, Charles 
    Fairbanks, and Richard Nixon, as well as offering insights 
    into his particular interest, the Republican party in the 
    period between the New Deal and the Eisenhower administration.
      Others in the Senate Historical Office who contributed to 
    this project were Wendy Wolff, who prepared the appendix and 
    index and edited the text for publication, and Matthew T. 
    Cook, who researched and assisted me in selecting the 
      As one who has greatly enjoyed and profited from the study 
    of American presidential history, I relish this project and 
    trust that it will add new color to the rich mosaic of our 
    nation's political development. Statesmen and murderers; 
    scholars and scoundrels; piano players and composers; military 
    heroes and invading generals--what a fascinating lot!

                                                  Mark O. Hatfield

                                Chapter 1

                               JOHN ADAMS


                               JOHN ADAMS
                               JOHN ADAMS

                                Chapter 1

                               JOHN ADAMS

                      1st Vice President: 1789-1797

          It is not for me to interrupt your deliberations by any 
      general observations on the state of the nation, or by 
      recommending, or proposing any particular measures.
                                                  --John Adams
    On April 21, 1789, John Adams, the first vice president of the 
United States, began his duties as president of the Senate.
    Adams' role in the administration of George Washington was sharply 
constrained by the constitutional limits on the vice-presidency and his 
own reluctance to encroach upon executive prerogative. He enjoyed a 
cordial but distant relationship with President Washington, who sought 
his advice on occasion but relied primarily on the cabinet. Adams played 
a more active role in the Senate, however, particularly during his first 
    As president of the Senate, Adams cast twenty-nine tie-breaking 
votes--a record that no successor has ever threatened.1 His 
votes protected the president's sole authority over the removal of 
appointees, influenced the location of the national capital, and 
prevented war with Great Britain. On at least one occasion he persuaded 
senators to vote against legislation that he opposed, and he frequently 
lectured the Senate on procedural and policy matters. Adams' political 
views and his active role in the Senate made him a natural target for 
critics of the Washington administration. Toward the end of his first 
term, he began to exercise more restraint in the hope of realizing the 
goal shared by many of his successors: election in his own right as 
president of the United States.

                  A Family Tradition of Public Service

    John Adams was born in Braintree, Massachusetts, on October 19, 
1735, into a family with an established tradition of public service. As 
a child, he attended town meetings with his father, who was at various 
times a militia officer, a deacon and tithe collector of the local 
congregation, and selectman for the town of Braintree. Determined that 
his namesake attend Harvard College, the elder Adams sent young John to 
a local ``dame'' school and later to Joseph Cleverly's Latin school. 
Adams was an indifferent student until the age of fourteen, when he 
withdrew from the Latin school to prepare for college with a private 
tutor, ``Mr. Marsh.'' 2 Adams entered Harvard College in 
1751, and plunged into a rigorous course of study. After his graduation 
in 1755, he accepted a position as Latin master of the Worcester, 
Massachusetts, Grammar School. The following year, finding himself 
``irresistibly impelled'' toward a legal career, Adams apprenticed 
himself to James Putnam, a local attorney. He continued to teach school 
while reading law at night until his admission to the Boston Superior 
Court bar on November 6, 1758.3
    His legal studies completed, Adams returned to Braintree to 
establish his legal practice, which grew slowly. In the spring of 1761, 
on the death of his father, Adams inherited the family farm--a bequest 
that enabled him, as a ``freeholder''

with a tangible interest in the community, to take an active part in 
town meetings. He served on several local committees and led a crusade 
to require professional certification of practitioners before the local 
courts. In February 1761, on one of his regular trips to Boston to 
attend the Court of Common Pleas, Adams observed James Otis' arguments 
against the writs of assistance before the Massachusetts Supreme Court. 
Adams recalled in later years that Otis' impassioned oratory against 
these general search and seizure warrants convinced Adams that England 
and the colonies had been ``brought to a Collision,'' and left him 
``ready to take arms'' against the writs. However, Adams' political 
career remained limited to local concerns for several more years until 
1765, when he played a crucial role in formulating Massachusetts' 
response to the Stamp Act.4

                        A Lawyer and a Legislator

    As a member of the town meeting, Adams drafted instructions for the 
Braintree delegate to the Massachusetts provincial assembly, known as 
the General Court, which met in October 1765 to formulate the colony's 
response to the Stamp Act. Adams' rationale, that the colonies could not 
be taxed by a parliament in which they were not represented, and that 
the stamp tax was ``inconsistent with the spirit of the common law and 
of the essential fundamental principles of the British constitution,'' 
soon appeared in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston News Letter. His 
cousin, Samuel Adams, incorporated John's argument in the instructions 
that he drafted for the Boston delegates, and other towns adopted the 
same stance.5
    With the repeal of the Stamp Act, Adams focused his energies on 
building his law practice and attending to the demands of the growing 
family that followed from his marriage to Abigail Smith in 1764. Finding 
few opportunities for a struggling young attorney in Braintree, the 
young family moved in 1768 to Boston, where John's practice flourished. 
Adams soon found himself an active participant in the local resistance 
to British authority as a consequence of his defense of John Hancock 
before the vice admiralty court for customs duty violations. He argued 
in Hancock's defense that the Parliament could not tax the colonies 
without their express consent and added the charge, soon to become a 
part of the revolutionary rhetoric, that the vice-admiralty courts 
violated the colonists' rights as Englishmen to trial by jury. Although 
the crown eventually withdrew the charges against Hancock, Adams 
continued his assault on the vice-admiralty courts in the instructions 
he wrote for the Boston general court representatives in 1768 and 
    Adams subsequently agreed to defend the British soldiers who fired 
upon the Boston mob during the spring of 1770. His able and 
dispassionate argument on behalf of the defendants in the Boston 
massacre case won his clients' acquittal, as well as his election to a 
brief term in the Massachusetts assembly, where he was one of Governor 
Thomas Hutchinson's most vocal opponents. The enmity was mutual; when 
the general court elected Adams to the Massachusetts council, or upper 
house, in 1773, the governor denied Adams his seat. The general court 
reelected Adams the following year, but Hutchinson's successor, Thomas 
Gage, again prevented him from serving on the council. The general court 
subsequently elected Adams to the first and second Continental 
congresses. Although initially reluctant to press for immediate armed 
resistance, Adams consistently denied Parliament's right to regulate the 
internal affairs of the colonies, a position he elaborated in a series 
of thirteen newspaper essays published under the name ``Novanglus'' 
during the winter and spring of 1775. Like Adams' other political 
writings, the Novanglus essays set forth his tenets in rambling and 
disjointed fashion, but their primary focus--the fundamental rights of 
the colonists--was clear.7

                      An Architect of Independence

    An avowed supporter of independence in the second Continental 
Congress, Adams was a member of the committee that prepared the 
Declaration of Independence. Although Thomas Jefferson of Virginia 
composed the committee draft, Adams' contribution was no less important. 
As Jefferson later acknowledged, Adams was the Declaration's ``pillar of 
support on the floor of Congress, its ablest advocate and defender.'' 
New Jersey delegate Richard Stockton and others styled Adams ``the 
`Atlas' of independence.'' 8 Adams further served the cause 
of independence as chairman of the Board of War and Ordnance. Congress 
assigned to the board the onerous tasks of recruiting, provisioning, and 
dispatching a continental army; as chairman, Adams coordinated this 
Herculean effort until the winter of 1777, when Congress appointed him 
to replace Silas Deane as commissioner to the Court of 
    Adams served as commissioner until the spring of 1779. On his return 
to Massachusetts, he represented Braintree in the state constitutional 
convention. The convention asked him to draft a model constitution, 
which it adopted with amendments in 1780. Adams' model provided for the 
three branches of government--executive, legislative, and judicial--that 
were ultimately incorporated into the United States Constitution, and it 
vested strong powers in the executive. ``His Excellency,'' as the 
governor was to be addressed, was given an absolute veto over the 
legislature and sole power to appoint officers of the 
militia.10 Throughout his life, Adams was an advocate of a 
strong executive. He believed that only a stable government could 
preserve social order and protect the liberties of the people. His 
studies of classical antiquity convinced him that republican government 
was inherently vulnerable to corruption and inevitably harbored ``a 
never-failing passion for tyranny'' unless balanced by a stabilizing 
force.11 In 1780, Adams considered a strong executive 
sufficient to achieve this end. In later years, he grew so fearful of 
the ``corruption'' he discerned in popular elections that he suggested 
more drastic alternatives--a hereditary senate and a hereditary 
executive--which his opponents saw as evidence of his antidemocratic, 
``monarchist'' intent.
    Before the Massachusetts convention began its deliberations over 
Adams' draft, Congress appointed him minister plenipotentiary to 
negotiate peace and commerce treaties with Great Britain and 
subsequently authorized him to negotiate an alliance with the 
Netherlands, as well. Although Adams' attempts to negotiate treaties 
with the British proved unavailing, in 1782 he finally persuaded the 
Netherlands to recognize American independence--``the happiest event and 
the greatest action of my life, past or future.'' 12 Adams 
remained abroad as a member of the peace commission and ambassador to 
the Court of St. James until 1788. On his return to the United States, 
he found to his surprise that he was widely mentioned as a possible 
candidate for the office of vice president of the United 

                              1788 Election

    Although George Washington was the inevitable and unanimous choice 
for president, there were several contenders for the second office. At 
the time of the first federal elections, political sentiment was divided 
between the ``Federalists,'' who supported a strong central government 
and toward that end had worked to secure the ratification of the 
Constitution, and the ``Antifederalist'' advocates of a more limited 
national government. Adams was the leading Federalist candidate for vice 
president. The New England Federalists strongly supported him, and he 
also commanded the allegiance of a few key Antifederalists, including 
Arthur Lee and Richard Henry Lee of Virginia. Benjamin Rush and William 
Maclay of Pennsylvania also backed Adams, hinting that he could assure 
his election by supporting their efforts to locate the national capital 
in Philadelphia. Other contenders were John Hancock of Massachusetts, 
whose support for the new Constitution was predicated on his assumption 
that he would assume the second office, and George Clinton, a New York 
Antifederalist who later served as vice president under Thomas Jefferson 
and James Madison.14
    As much as he coveted the vice-presidency, Adams did not actively 
campaign for the office, refusing the deal proffered by Rush and Maclay. 
Maclay later explained that the Pennsylvanians played to Adams' 
``Vanity, and hoped by laying hold of it to render him Useful.'' They 
failed to take into account the strong Puritan sense of moral rectitude 
that prevented Adams from striking such a bargain, even to achieve an 
office to which he clearly felt entitled. Maclay, who served in the 
Senate for the first two years of Adams' initial vice-presidential term, 
never forgave Adams and petulantly noted in his diary that the vice 
president's ``Pride Obstinacy And Folly'' were ``equal to his Vanity.'' 
    The principal threat to Adams came from Federalist leader Alexander 
Hamilton, who perceived in the New Englander's popularity and 
uncompromising nature a threat to his own career aspirations. Acting 
secretly at Hamilton's behest, General Henry Knox tried but failed to 
persuade Adams that he was too prominent a figure in his own right to 
serve as Washington's subordinate. When Hamilton realized that Adams 
commanded the overwhelming support of the New England Federalists and 
could not be dissuaded, he grudgingly backed his rival but resolved that 
Adams would not enjoy an overwhelming electoral victory.16
    Hamilton exploited to his advantage the constitutional provision 
governing the election of the president and vice president. Article II, 
section 1 of the Constitution authorized each presidential elector to 
cast votes ``for two Persons, of whom one at least shall not be an 
Inhabitant of the same State with themselves.'' The candidate with the 
greatest number of electoral votes would become president and the 
candidate with the next-highest number would become vice president. The 
Constitution's framers created the vice-presidency, in part, to keep 
presidential electors from voting only for state or regional favorites, 
thus ensuring deadlocks with no candidate receiving a majority vote. By 
giving each presidential elector two ballots, the framers made it 
possible to vote for a favorite-son candidate as well as for a more 
nationally acceptable individual. In the event that no candidate 
received a majority, as some expected would be the case after George 
Washington passed from the national stage, the House of Representatives 
would decide the election from among the five largest vote getters, with 
each state casting one vote.
    The framers, however, had not foreseen the potential complications 
inherent in this ``double-balloting'' scheme. Hamilton realized that if 
each Federalist elector cast one vote for Washington and one for Adams, 
the resulting tied vote would throw the election into the House of 
Representatives. Hamilton persuaded several electors to withhold their 
votes from Adams, ostensibly to ensure Washington a unanimous electoral 
victory. Adams was bitterly disappointed when he learned that he had 
received only thirty-four electoral votes to Washington's sixty-nine, 
and called his election, ``in the scurvy manner in which it was done, a 
curse rather than a blessing.'' 17
    Hamilton's duplicity had a more lasting effect on the new vice 
president's political fortunes: the election confirmed his fear that 
popular elections in ``a populous, oppulent, and commercial nation'' 
would eventually lead to ``corruption Sedition and civil war.'' The 
remedies he suggested--a hereditary senate and an executive appointed 
for life 18--prompted charges by his opponents that the vice 
president was the ``monarchist'' enemy of republican government and 
popular liberties.

                        The First Vice President

    Adams took office as vice president on April 21, 1789.19 
Apart from his legislative and ceremonial responsibilities, he did not 
assume an active role in the Washington administration. Although 
relations between the two men were cordial, if somewhat restrained, a 
combination of personality, circumstance, and principle limited Adams' 
influence. Adams attended few cabinet meetings, and the president sought 
his counsel only infrequently.20 Hesitant to take any action 
that might be construed as usurping the president's prerogative, he 
generally forwarded applications for offices in the new government to 
Washington. As president of the Senate, Adams had no reservations about 
recommending his friend Samuel Allyne Otis for the position of secretary 
of the Senate, but declined to assist Otis' brother-in-law, General 
Joseph Warren, and Abigail's brother-in-law, Richard Cranch, in 
obtaining much-needed sinecures. Adams was similarly hesitant when 
Washington solicited his advice regarding Supreme Court 
    Although Washington rarely consulted Adams on domestic or foreign 
policy matters, the two men, according to Adams' most recent biographer, 
John Ferling, ``jointly executed many more of the executive branch's 
ceremonial undertakings than would be likely for a contemporary 
president and vice-president.'' 22 Washington invited the 
vice president to accompany him on his fall 1789 tour of New England--an 
invitation that Adams declined, although he met the president in 
Boston--and to several official dinners. The Washingtons routinely 
extended their hospitality to John, and to Abigail when she was in the 
capital, and Adams frequently accompanied the president to the 
    For his own part, Adams professed a narrow interpretation of the 
vice president's role in the new government. Shortly after taking 
office, he wrote to his friend and supporter Benjamin Lincoln, ``The 
Constitution has instituted two great offices . . . and the nation at 
large has created two officers: one who is the first of the two . . . is 
placed at the Head of the Executive, the other at the Head of the 
Legislative.'' The following year, he informed another correspondent 
that the office of vice president ``is totally detached from the 
executive authority and confined to the legislative.''24
    But Adams never really considered himself ``totally detached'' from 
the executive branch, as the Senate discovered when he began signing 
legislative documents as ``John Adams, Vice President of the United 
States.'' Speaking for a majority of the senators, William Maclay of 
Pennsylvania quickly called Adams to account. ``[A]s President of the 
Senate only can [y]ou sign or authenticate any Act of that body,'' he 
lectured the vice president. Uneasy as some senators were at the 
prospect of having a member of the executive branch preside over their 
deliberations, they would permit Adams to certify legislation as 
president of the Senate, but not as vice president. Never one to 
acquiesce cheerfully when he believed that important principles were at 
stake, Adams struck an awkward compromise, signing Senate documents as 
``John Adams, Vice President of the United States and President of the 
Senate.'' 25
    To the extent that Adams remained aloof from the administration, his 
stance was as much the result of personality and prudence as of 
principle. He held the president in high personal esteem and generally 
deferred to the more forceful Washington as a matter of 
course.26 Also, as his biographer Page Smith has explained, 
the vice president always feared that he would become a ``scapegoat for 
all of Washington's unpopular decisions.'' During the furor over 
Washington's 1793 proclamation of American neutrality, a weary Adams 
confided to his wife that he had ``held the office of Libellee General 
long enough.'' 27
    In the Senate, Adams brought energy and dedication to the presiding 
officer's chair, but found the task ``not quite adapted to my 
character.'' 28 Addressing the Senate for the first time on 
April 21, 1789, he offered the caveat that although ``not wholly without 
experience in public assemblies,'' he was ``more accustomed to take a 
share in their debates, than to preside in their deliberations.'' 
Notwithstanding his lack of experience as a presiding officer, Adams had 
definite notions regarding the limitations of his office. ``It is not 
for me,'' he assured the Senate, ``to interrupt your deliberations by 
any general observations on the state of the nation, or by recommending, 
or proposing any particular measures.'' 29

                         President of the Senate

    Adams' resolve was short-lived. His first incursion into the 
legislative realm occurred shortly after he assumed office, during the 
Senate debates over titles for the president and executive officers of 
the new government. Although the House of Representatives agreed in 
short order that the president should be addressed simply as ``George 
Washington, President of the United States,'' the Senate debated the 
issue at some length. Adams repeatedly lectured the Senate that titles 
were necessary to ensure proper respect for the new government and its 
officers. Pennsylvania Senator William Maclay complained that when the 
Senate considered the matter on May 8, 1789, the vice president 
``repeatedly helped the speakers for Titles.'' The following day, Adams 
``harangued'' the Senate for forty minutes. ``What will the common 
people of foreign countries, what will the sailors and soldiers say,'' 
he argued, ``George Washington president of the United States, they will 
despise him to all eternity.'' The Senate ultimately deferred to the 
House on the question of titles, but not before Adams incurred the 
lasting enmity of the Antifederalists, who saw in his support for titles 
and ceremony distressing evidence of his ``monarchist'' 
    Adams was more successful in preventing the Senate from asserting a 
role in the removal of presidential appointees. In the July 14, 1789, 
debates over the organization of executive departments, several senators 
agreed with William Maclay that removals of cabinet officers by the 
president, as well as appointments, should be subject to the advice and 
consent of the Senate. Adams and his Federalist allies viewed the 
proposal as an attempt by Antifederalists to enhance the Senate's powers 
at the expense of the executive. After a series of meetings with 
individual senators, Adams finally convinced Tristram Dalton of 
Massachusetts to withdraw his support for Maclay's proposal. Richard 
Bassett of Delaware followed suit. When the Senate decided the question 
on July 18 in a 9-to-9 vote, Adams performed his sole legislative 
function by casting a tie-breaking vote against Maclay's 
proposal.31 His action was purely symbolic in this instance, 
however, as a tie vote automatically defeats a measure.
    During the protracted debates over the Residence bill to determine 
the location of the capital, Adams thwarted another initiative dear to 
Maclay's heart: a provision to establish the permanent capital ``along 
the banks of the Susquehannah'' in convenient proximity to the 
Pennsylvania senator's extensive landholdings. The disgruntled 
speculator attributed his defeat to the vice president's tie-breaking 
votes and the ``barefaced partiality'' of Adams' rulings from the chair. 
Maclay was enraged that Adams allowed frequent delays in the September 
24, 1789, debates, which permitted Pennsylvania Senator Robert Morris, 
whose sympathies lay with Philadelphia, to lobby other senators against 
the Susquehannah site. After Morris' motion to strike the provision 
failed, Adams granted his motion to reconsider over Maclay's strenuous 
objection that ``no business ever could have a decision, if minority 
members, were permitted to move reconsiderations under every pretense of 
new argument.'' Adams ultimately cast the deciding vote in favor of 
Morris' motion.32
     The vice president's frequent and pedantic lectures from the chair 
earned him the resentment of other senators, as well. Shortly after the 
second session of the First Congress convened in January 1790, John 
Trumbull warned his friend that he faced growing opposition in the 
Senate, particularly among the southern senators. Adams' enemies 
resented his propensity for joining in Senate debates and suspected him 
of ``monarchist'' sentiments. Trumbull cautioned that ``he who mingles 
in debate subjects himself to frequent retorts from his opposers, places 
himself on the same ground with his inferiors in rank, appears too much 
like the leader of a party, and renders it more difficult for him to 
support the dignity of the chair and preserve order and regularity in 
the debate.'' Although Adams denied that he had ever exceeded the limits 
of his authority in the Senate, he must have seen the truth in 
Trumbull's observations, for he assured his confidant that he had ``no 
desire ever to open my mouth again upon any question.'' Acutely aware of 
the controversy over his views and behavior, Adams became less an active 
participant and more an impartial moderator of Senate 
    Although stung by Trumbull's comments and the censure of less 
tactful critics, Adams continued to devote a considerable portion of his 
time and energy to presiding over the Senate; Abigail Adams observed 
that her husband's schedule ``five hours constant sitting in a day for 
six months together (for he cannot leave his Chair) is pretty tight 
service.'' 34
    In the absence of a manual governing Senate debates, Adams looked to 
British parliamentary procedures for guidance in deciding questions of 
order.35 Despite complaints by some senators that Adams 
demonstrated inconsistency in his rulings, Delaware Senator George Read 
in 1792 praised his ``attentive, upright, fair, and unexceptionable'' 
performance as presiding officer, and his ``uncommonly exact'' 
attendance in the Senate.36
    Still, as a national figure and Washington's probable successor, 
Adams remained controversial, particularly as legislative political 
parties emerged in the 1790s. Although sectional differences had in 
large part shaped the debates of the First Congress, two distinct 
parties began to develop during the Second Congress in 1791 to 1793. The 
Federalists, adopting the name earlier used by supporters of the 
Constitution, were the conservative, prosperous advocates of a strong 
central government. They supported Treasury Secretary Alexander 
Hamilton's proposals to assume and fund the states' revolutionary debts, 
encourage manufactures, and establish a Bank of the United States. 
Hamilton's fiscal program appealed to the mercantile, financial, and 
artisan segments of the population but sparked the growth of an 
agrarian-based opposition party--initially known as Antifederalists and 
later as ``Republicans''--led by Secretary of State Thomas 
Jefferson.37 Adams supported Hamilton's fiscal proposals and, 
with the Federalists still firmly in command of the Senate and the 
controversy over public finance largely confined to the House of 
Representatives, 38 he emerged unscathed from the partisan 
battles over fiscal policy.
    The outbreak of the French Revolution prompted a more divisive 
debate. Republicans greeted the overthrow of the French monarchy with 
enthusiasm while the Federalists heard in the revolutionaries' 
egalitarian rhetoric a threat to the order and stability of Europe and 
America. France's 1793 declaration of war on Great Britain further 
polarized the argument, with the Republicans celebrating each British 
defeat, the Federalists dreading the consequences of a French victory, 
and both belligerents preying on American shipping at will. While 
Washington attempted to hold the United States to a neutral course, his 
vice president--who considered political parties ``the greatest 
political evil under our Constitution,'' and whose greatest fear was ``a 
division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its 
leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other''--became, 
as he had anticipated, the target of concerted Republican 
    Adams articulated his thoughts on the French Revolution and its 
implications for the United States in a series of newspaper essays, the 
Discourses on Davila. He predicted that the revolution, having abolished 
the aristocratic institutions necessary to preserve stability and order, 
was doomed to failure. He warned that the United States would share a 
similar fate if it failed to honor and encourage with titles and 
appropriate ceremony its own ``natural aristocracy'' of talented and 
propertied public men. Adams even went so far as to predict that a 
hereditary American aristocracy would be necessary in the event that the 
``natural'' variety failed to emerge. The Davila essays were consistent 
with Adams' longstanding belief that a strong stabilizing force--a 
strong executive, a hereditary senate, or a natural aristocracy--was an 
essential bulwark of popular liberties. They also reflected his recent 
humiliation at the hands of Alexander Hamilton. Still smarting from his 
low electoral count in the 1788 presidential election, Adams observed in 
the thirty-second essay that ``hereditary succession was attended with 
fewer evils than frequent elections.'' As Peter Shaw has noted in his 
study of Adams' character, ``it would be difficult to imagine . . . a 
more impolitic act.'' The Discourses on Davila, together with Adams' 
earlier support for titles and ceremony, convinced his Republican 
opponents that he was an enemy of republican government. Rumors that 
Washington would resign his office once the government was established 
on a secure footing, and his near death from influenza in the spring of 
1790, added to the Republicans' anxiety. In response, they mounted an 
intense but unsuccessful campaign to unseat Adams in the 1792 
presidential election.40

                               Second Term

    Persuaded by Hamilton, Jefferson, and Madison to run for a second 
term, George Washington was again the obvious and unanimous choice for 
president. Adams was still the preferred vice-presidential candidate of 
the New England Federalists, but he faced a serious challenge from 
Republican candidate George Clinton of New York. Although many of his 
earlier supporters, including Benjamin Rush, joined the opposition in 
support of Clinton, Adams won reelection with 77 electoral votes to 50 
for Clinton.41 On March 4, 1793, in the Senate chamber, 
Washington took the oath of office for a second time. Adams, as always, 
followed Washington's example but waited until the Third Congress 
convened on December 2, 1793, to take his second oath of office. No one, 
apparently, gave much thought to the question of whether or not the 
nation had a vice president--and a successor to Washington, should he 
die in office or become incapacitated--during the nine-month interval 
between these two inaugurations.42
     Early in Adams' second vice-presidential term, France declared war 
on Great Britain. Washington's cabinet supported the president's policy 
of neutrality, but its members disagreed over the implementation of that 
policy. Hamilton urged the president to issue an immediate proclamation 
of American neutrality; Jefferson warned that only Congress could issue 
such a declaration and counseled that delaying the proclamation would 
force concessions from France and England. Recognizing the United 
States' commercial dependence on Great Britain, Hamilton proposed that 
the nation conditionally suspend the treaties that granted France access 
to U. S. ports and guaranteed French possession of the West Indies. 
Secretary of State Jefferson insisted that the United States honor its 
treaty obligations. The secretaries similarly disagreed over extending 
recognition to the emissary of the French republic, ``Citizen'' Edmond 
    Adams considered absolute neutrality the only prudent course. As a 
Federalist, he was no supporter of France, but his reluctance to offend 
a former ally led him to take a more cautious stance than Hamilton. 
Although Washington sought his advice, Adams scrupulously avoided public 
comment; he had ``no constitutional vote'' in the matter and no 
intention of ``taking any side in it or having my name or opinion quoted 
about it.'' 43 After the president decided to recognize 
Genet, Adams reluctantly received the controversial Frenchman but 
predicted that ``a little more of this indelicacy and indecency may 
involve us in a war with all the world.'' 44
    Although Adams, as vice president, had ``no constitutional vote'' in 
the administration's foreign policy, he cast two important tie-breaking 
foreign policy votes in the Senate, where Republican gains in the 1792 
elections had eroded the Federalist majority. In both cases, Adams voted 
to prevent war with Great Britain and its allies. On March 12, 1794, he 
voted in favor of an embargo on the domestic sale of vessels and goods 
seized from friendly nations. The following month, he voted against a 
bill to suspend American trade with Great Britain.45 Despite 
these votes, Adams made every effort to stay aloof from the bitter 
controversy over foreign policy, remaining silent during the Senate's 
1795 debates over the controversial Jay Treaty. Privately, Adams 
considered the Jay Treaty essential to avert war with Great Britain, but 
the Federalists still commanded sufficient votes to ratify the treaty 
without the vice president's assistance.46

                              1796 Election

    The popular outcry against the Jay Treaty strengthened Washington's 
resolve to retire at the end of his second term, and he announced his 
intentions in September 1796. Although the majority of the Federalists 
considered Adams the logical choice to succeed Washington, Hamilton 
preferred their more pliant vice-presidential candidate, former minister 
to Great Britain Thomas Pinckney. The Republican candidates were Thomas 
Jefferson and Aaron Burr. Once again Hamilton proved a greater threat to 
Adams than the opposition candidates. The Federalists lost the vice-
presidency because of Hamilton's scheming and came dangerously close to 
losing the presidency as well. Repeating the tactics he had used to 
diminish Adams' electoral count in the 1788 election, Hamilton tried to 
persuade South Carolina's Federalist electors to withhold enough votes 
from Adams to ensure Thomas Pinckney's election to the presidency. This 
time, however, the New England Federalist electors learned of Hamilton's 
plot and withheld sufficient votes from Pinckney to compensate for the 
lost South Carolina votes. These intrigues resulted in the election of a 
president and vice president from opposing parties, with president-elect 
Adams receiving 71 electoral votes to 68 for Thomas 
    Vice president Adams addressed the Senate for the last time on 
February 15, 1797. He thanked current and former members for the 
``candor and favor'' they had extended to him during his eight years as 
presiding officer. Despite the frustrations and difficulties he had 
experienced as vice president, Adams left the presiding officer's chair 
with a genuine regard for the Senate that was in large part mutual. He 
expressed gratitude to the body for the ``uniform politeness'' accorded 
him ``from every quarter,'' and declared that he had ``never had the 
smallest misunderstanding with any member of the Senate.'' 
Notwithstanding his earlier pronouncements in favor of a hereditary 
Senate, Adams assured the members that the ``eloquence, patriotism, and 
independence'' that he had witnessed had convinced him that ``no council 
more permanent than this . . . will be necessary, to defend the rights, 
liberties, and properties of the people, and to protect the Constitution 
of the United States.'' The Senate's February 22 message expressing 
``gratitude and affection'' and praising his ``abilities and undeviating 
impartiality'' evoked a frank and emotional response from Adams the 
following day. The Senate's ``generous approbation'' of his 
``undeviating impartiality'' had served to ``soften asperities, and 
conciliate animosities, wherever such may unhappily exist,'' for which 
the departing vice president offered his ``sincere thanks.'' 


    Adams served as president from 1797 to 1801. He failed to win a 
second term due to the popular outcry against the repressive Alien and 
Sedition Acts, which he had reluctantly approved as necessary wartime 
measures, as well as the rupture in the Federalist party over the end of 
hostilities with France. Hamilton was determined to defeat Adams after 
the president responded favorably to French overtures for peace in 1799, 
and he was further outraged when Adams purged two of his sympathizers 
from the cabinet in May 1800. In a letter to Federalist leaders, 
Hamilton detailed his charges that Adams' ``ungovernable indiscretion'' 
and ``distempered jealousy'' made him unfit for office. With the 
Federalist party split between the Hamilton and Adams factions, Adams 
lost the election. After thirty-five ballots, the House of 
Representatives broke the tied vote between Republican presidential 
candidate Thomas Jefferson and vice-presidential candidate Aaron Burr in 
Jefferson's favor.49
    Adams spent the remainder of his life in retirement at his farm in 
Quincy, Massachusetts. In an attempt to vindicate himself from past 
charges that he was an enemy of American liberties, Adams in 1804 began 
his Autobiography, which he never finished. He also wrote voluminous 
letters to friends and former colleagues toward the same end. In 1811, 
Adams resumed his friendship with Jefferson, and the two old patriots 
began a lively correspondence that continued for fifteen years. Although 
largely content to observe political events from the seclusion of Quincy 
and to follow the promising career of his eldest son, John Quincy, Adams 
briefly resumed his own public career in 1820, when he represented the 
town of Quincy in the Massachusetts constitutional convention. Adams 
died at Quincy on July 4, 1826, the fiftieth anniversary of American 
                               JOHN ADAMS


    1 Linda Dudik Guerrero, in her study of Adams' vice 
presidency, found that Adams cast ``at least'' thirty-one votes, a 
figure accepted by Adams' most recent biographer. The Senate Historical 
Office has been able to verify only twenty-nine tie-breaking votes by 
Adams--still a record, although George Dallas claimed that he cast 
thirty tie-breaking votes during his vice-presidency (See Chapter 11, 
page 158 and note 35). Linda Dudik Guerrero, John Adams' Vice 
Presidency, 1789-1797: The Neglected Man in the Forgotten Office (New 
York, 1982), p. 128; U.S., Congress, Senate, The Senate 1789-1989, by 
Robert C. Byrd, S. Doc. 100-20, 100th Cong., 1st sess., vol. 4, 
Historical Statistics, 1789-1992, 1993, p. 640; John Ferling, John 
Adams: A Life (Knoxville, 1992), p. 311.
    2 Peter Shaw, The Character of John Adams (Chapel Hill, 
1976), pp.1-6; Page Smith, John Adams (Westport, CT, 1969, reprint of 
1962-1963 ed.), 1:1-14.
    3 Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, ed. L.H. 
Butterfield, The Adams Papers, Series I (Cambridge, 1962), pp. 263-64; 
Smith, 1:27-43.
    4 Shaw, pp. 43-46; Smith, 1:54-80; Theodore Draper, A 
Struggle for Power: The American Revolution (New York, 1996), pp. 184-
    5 Smith, 1:80-81.
    6 Shaw, p. 57; Smith, 1:94-104.
    7 Shaw, pp. 58-85; Smith, 1:121-26.
    8 Shaw, pp. 94-98; Ferling, pp. 149-50.
    9 Shaw, pp. 106-7; Smith, 1:266-67, 285-350.
    10 Shaw, pp. 128-30; Smith, 1:438-44.
    11 Shaw, pp. 218-22.
    12 Ibid., pp. 131-63; Smith, 1:444-535.
    13 Shaw, pp. 157-225.
    14 Kenneth R. Bowling and Helen E. Veit, eds., The Diary 
of William Maclay and Other Notes On Senate Debates, Documentary History 
of the First Federal Congress of the United States of America, vol. 9 
(Baltimore, 1988), pp. 85-86; Smith, 2:734-37.
    15 Diary of William Maclay, pp. 85-86; Shaw, p. 225, 
Smith, 2:737-39.
    16 Smith, 2:739-41.
    17 Ibid., 2:739-42.
    18 Shaw, pp. 231-32.
    19 Linda Grant De Pauw, Charlene Bangs Bickford, and 
LaVonne Marlene Siegel, eds., Senate Legislative Journal, Documentary 
History of the First Federal Congress of the United States of America, 
vol. 1 (Baltimore, 1972), pp. 21-23.
    20 Shaw, p. 226; Guerrero, pp. 169-83.
    21 John R. Howe, Jr., The Changing Political Thought of 
John Adams (Princeton, 1966), pp. 212-13; Shaw, p. 288; Smith, 2:761-63; 
``Biographical Sketches of the Twenty-Two Secretaries of the United 
States Senate,'' undated report prepared by the U.S. Senate Historical 
Office. In 1789, Adams asked Washington to appoint his improvident son-
in-law, Colonel William Smith, federal marshal for New York--a request 
that the president obliged. In 1791, Adams sought Smith's appointment as 
minister to Great Britain. Although the president did not send Smith to 
the Court of St. James, he subsequently named Smith supervisor of 
revenue for New York. Adams' concern for his daughter ``Nabby'' and her 
children prompted these rare departures from his customary practice. 
Ferling, pp. 323-24; Guerrero, p. 82, fn. 41.
    22 Ferling, p. 310.
    23 Ibid.; Guerrero, pp. 166-69.
    24 John Adams to Lincoln, May 26, 1789, and John Adams to 
Hurd, April 5, 1790, quoted in Guerrero, p. 185.
    25 David P. Currie, ``The Constitution in Congress: The 
First Congress and the Structure of Government, 1789-1791,'' University 
of Chicago Law School Roundtable 2 (1995): 161.
    26 Howe, p. 212; Ferling, p. 310.
    27 Smith, 2:763, 842-43.
    28 Ibid., 2:769.
    29 Senate Legislative Journal, pp. 21-23.
    30 Senate Legislative Journal, pp. 44-45; Howe, 176-79; 
Diary of William Maclay, pp. 27-32; Shaw, pp. 227-30.
    31 Senate Legislative Journal, pp. 83-87; Smith, 2:774-
76; Diary of William Maclay, pp. 109-19.
    32 Diary of William Maclay, pp. 132-35, 152-64.
    33 Smith, 2:788-91.
    34 Quoted in U.S., Congress, Senate, The United States 
Senate, 1787-1801: A Dissertation on the First Fourteen Years of the 
Upper Legislative Body, by Roy Swanstrom, S. Doc. 100-31, 100th Cong., 
1st sess., 1988, p. 254.
    35 Richard Allan Baker, ``The Senate of the United 
States: `Supreme Executive Council of the Nation,' 1787-1800,'' in The 
Congress of the United States, 1789-1989, vol. 1, ed. Joel Silbey 
(Brooklyn, NY, 1991), p. 148, originally published in Prologue 21 
(Winter 1989): 299-313; Diary of William Maclay, p. 36.
    36 George Read to Gunning Bedford, quoted in Swanstrom, 
p. 254.
    37 John C. Miller, The Federalist Era, 1789-1801 (New 
York, 1963; reprint of 1960 ed.), pp. 99-125.
    38 Howe, p. 197; Swanstrom, pp. 274-76.
    39 Howe, 193-97; Miller, pp. 126-54.
    40 Howe, pp. 133-49; Shaw, pp. 229-37; Smith, 2:794, 826-
    41 Miller, p. 96; Smith, 2:826-33.
    42 Stephen W. Stathis and Ronald C. Moe, ``America's 
Other Inauguration,'' Presidential Studies Quarterly 10 (Fall 1980): 
    43 Miller, pp. 128-30; Smith, 2:838-44.
    44 Smith, 2:845.
    45 Miller, p. 154; Smith, 2:853; U.S., Congress, Senate, 
Annals of Congress, 3d Cong., 1st sess., pp. 66, 90.
    46 Smith, 2:873-75; Swanstrom, pp. 120-23.
    47 Miller, pp. 198-202; Smith, 2:898-910.
    48 U.S., Congress, Senate, Annals of Congress, 4th Cong., 
2d sess., pp. 1549-58.
    49 Miller, pp. 251-77; Smith, 2:1056-62.
    50 Smith, 2:1067-1138.

                                Chapter 2

                            THOMAS JEFFERSON


                            THOMAS JEFFERSON
                            THOMAS JEFFERSON

                                Chapter 2

                            THOMAS JEFFERSON

                      2nd Vice President: 1797-1801

          . . . a more tranquil & unoffending station could not 
      have been found for me. . . . It will give me philosophical 
      evenings in the winter, & rural days in the summer.
        --Thomas Jefferson to Benjamin Rush, January 22, 1797 
    Thomas Jefferson entered an ill-defined vice-presidency on March 4, 
1797. For guidance on how to conduct himself, he had to rely on a brief 
reference in the U.S. Constitution, the eight-year experience of John 
Adams, and his own common sense. Of a profoundly different political and 
personal temperament from his predecessor, Jefferson knew his 
performance in that relatively new office would influence its operations 
well into the future. Unlike Adams, who shared the political beliefs of 
the president with whom he served, Jefferson and his president belonged 
to different political parties--a situation that would prove to be 
unique in all the nation's history. No one who knew the two men expected 
that Vice President Jefferson would be inclined to serve as President 
Adams' principal assistant. More likely, he would confine his duties to 
presiding over the Senate and offering leadership to his anti-
administration Republican party in quiet preparation for the election of 

                         Scholar and Legislator

    Thomas Jefferson was born on April 13, 1743, in what is now 
Albemarle County, Virginia. He was the third child of Peter Jefferson, a 
surveyor, and Jane Randolph, daughter of a distinguished Virginia 
family. Classical languages formed the base of his early formal 
education. A thorough and diligent student, inspired by the 
Enlightenment's belief in the power of reason to govern human behavior, 
Jefferson graduated from the College of William and Mary after only two 
years, at the age of nineteen. Dr. William Small, the chair of 
mathematics at the college, helped cultivate Jefferson's intellectual 
interests, especially in science. In addition to his academic pursuits, 
young Thomas excelled as a horseman and violinist. He studied law under 
George Wythe, Virginia's most eminent legal scholar of that era. 
Admitted to the Virginia bar in 1767, Jefferson maintained a successful 
practice until abandoning the legal profession at the start of the 
American Revolution.3
    Jefferson's political career began in May 1769 when he became a 
member of the Virginia house of burgesses. He served there until the 
body was dissolved in 1775. While not considered an effective public 
speaker, Jefferson gained a reputation as a gifted writer. Unable to 
attend the Virginia convention of 1774, he sent instructions for the 
Virginia delegates to the first Continental Congress. These proposals, 
eventually published as A Summary View of the Rights of British America, 
asserted that the American colonies' only legitimate political 
connection to Great Britain was through the king, to whom they had 
submitted voluntarily, and not to Parliament.
    In 1775, the thirty-two-year-old Jefferson gained a seat in the 
Continental Congress, where he was appointed to a committee to draft a 
declaration of independence from the mother country. He became the 
declaration's principal author and later counted it, along with 
establishment of the University of Virginia and creation of the Virginia 
statute for Religious Freedom, among his three proudest lifetime 
accomplishments. The Declaration of Independence and the Summary View 
ensured Jefferson's standing in the mid-1770s as the American 
Revolution's most significant literary theorist.
    After spending less than a year in the Continental Congress, 
Jefferson resigned that post and entered the Virginia house of 
delegates. While he produced an admirable legislative record during his 
service from October 1776 to June 1779, his tenure as Virginia's 
governor from 1779 to mid-1781 was less successful. Although the 
Virginia assembly had made sizeable contributions to the Continental 
effort, it failed to make adequate provision for local defenses, and the 
state offered only token resistance to the British invasion in early 
1781. Jefferson narrowly escaped capture, fleeing on horseback as Lt. 
Col. Banastre Tarleton's forces ascended Carter's Mountain toward 
Monticello, two days after his gubernatorial term expired but before the 
Virginia legislature could designate a successor. Jefferson had already 
decided not to seek reelection to a third term, but his perceived 
abdication at this critical juncture earned him considerable scorn. The 
Virginia house of delegates immediately ordered an investigation of his 
conduct, only to join with the state Senate in exonerating the former 
governor after he appeared before both houses six months later to 
explain his actions. Deeply mortified by the public scrutiny and 
increasingly alarmed by his wife's serious illness, Jefferson retreated 
to Monticello.4
    In what proved to be a temporary retirement from public life, 
Jefferson turned his attention to farming and scientific endeavors--
pursuits that he found more enjoyable. During this time, he organized 
and published his Notes on the State of Virginia, which his preeminent 
biographer, Dumas Malone, believed ``laid the foundations of Jefferson's 
high contemporary reputation as a universal scholar and of his enduring 
fame as a pioneer American scientist.'' 5
    On the death of his wife Martha in September 1782, Jefferson 
returned to public life. In June of the following year he became a 
delegate to the Congress under the Articles of Confederation and served 
on several major committees. During his service, he prepared various 
influential committee papers, including a report of March 22, 1784, 
calling for prohibition of slavery in the western territory after the 
year 1800. The report also declared illegal any western regional 
secession. Although Congress did not adopt the report as presented, 
Jefferson's language subsequently influenced the drafting of the 1787 
Northwest Ordinance with its highly significant slavery restrictions.

                        Diplomacy and the Cabinet

    Jefferson prepared a report in December 1783 on the procedure for 
negotiating commercial treaties. His recommendations became general 
practice, and in May 1784 Congress appointed him to assist Benjamin 
Franklin in arranging commercial agreements with France. Within a year 
he succeeded Franklin as minister to that country. While Jefferson would 
later make light of his accomplishments during his ministerial tenure, 
he proved to be a talented diplomat. Following his own pro-French 
leanings, and his belief that France could serve to counter Britain's 
threat to American interests, Jefferson worked hard for improved 
    On returning home in December 1789, Jefferson accepted President 
George Washington's appointment to be the nation's first secretary of 
state. Progressively harsher disputes with Treasury Secretary Alexander 
Hamilton troubled his tenure in that office. Their differences extended 
from financial policy to foreign affairs and grew out of fundamentally 
conflicting interpretations of the Constitution and the scope of federal 
    The rise of two rudimentary political groupings during the early 
1790s reflected Hamilton's and Jefferson's differing philosophical 
views. Formed generally along sectional lines, these early parties were 
known as Federalists (with strong support in the North and East) and 
Republicans (with a southern base). In later years the Republicans would 
come to be called ``Democrats,'' but in the 1790s, that term carried a 
negative connotation associated with mob rule.6
    In May 1790, Pennsylvania Senator William Maclay, with his 
customarily acerbic pen, recorded the following physical description of 
the secretary of state:
        When I came to the Hall Jefferson and the rest of the Committee 
    were there. Jefferson is a slender Man [and] has rather the Air of 
    Stiffness in his Manner. His cloaths seem too small for him. He sits 
    in a lounging Manner on One hip, commonly, and with one of his 
    shoulders elevated much above the other. His face has a scrany 
    aspect. His Whole figure has a loose shackling Air. He had a 
    rambling Vacant look & nothing of that firm collected deportment 
    which I expected would dignify the presence of a Secretary or 
    Minister. I looked for gravity, but a laxity of Manner, seemed shed 
    about him. He spoke almost without ceasing, but even his discourse 
    partook of his personal demeanor. It was lax & rambling and Yet he 
    scattered information wherever he went, and some even brilliant 
    sentiments sparkled from him.7
    Worn out from his battles with Hamilton, Jefferson resigned as 
secretary of state at the end of 1793 and handed leadership of the 
emerging Republican party to his fellow Virginian James Madison. For the 
next three years, Madison worked to strengthen the party in Congress, 
transforming it from a reactive faction to a positive political force 
with its own distinctive programs and, by April 1796, a congressional 
party caucus to establish legislative priorities.8

                            The 1796 Election

    When President Washington announced in September 1796 that he would 
not run for a third term, a caucus of Federalists in Congress selected 
Vice President Adams as their presidential candidate. Congressional 
Republicans turned to Jefferson as the only person capable of defeating 
Adams, who enjoyed a strong following in New England and was closely 
associated with the success of the American Revolution.9 
Jefferson had told friends in 1793 that his ``retirement from office had 
meant from all office, high or low, without exception.'' 10 
While he continued to hold those views in 1796, he reluctantly allowed 
Republican leader Madison to advance his candidacy--in part to block the 
ambitions of his archrival, Alexander Hamilton. Jefferson confided to 
Madison that he hoped he would receive either the second- or third-
largest number of electoral votes. A third-place finish would allow him 
to remain home the entire year, while a second-place result--making him 
the vice president--would permit him to stay home two-thirds of the 
year.11 Jefferson made no effort to influence the outcome. He 
believed that Madison, as an active party leader, would have been a more 
suitable candidate. But even though Jefferson had left the political 
stage more than two years earlier, he remained the symbol of Republican 
values--in no small part due to Hamilton's unremitting attacks.
    In devising the constitutional system that obligated each 
presidential elector to cast two ballots, the framers intended to 
produce a winning candidate for president who enjoyed a broad national 
consensus and, in second place, a vice president with at least strong 
regional support. They assumed that electors would give one vote to a 
home state favorite, reserving the second for a person of national 
reputation, but this view failed to anticipate the development of 
political parties. Thus the framers apparently gave little consideration 
to the potential for competing slates of candidates--seen for the first 
time in the 1796 presidential contest.
    As part of a strategy to erode Jefferson's southern support, the 
Federalists selected as Adams' running mate Thomas Pinckney of South 
Carolina, author of the popular 1795 treaty with Spain.12 
Hamilton, Adams' bitter rival within the Federalist party, encouraged 
Federalist electors in the North to give both their votes to Adams and 
Pinckney. On the safe assumption that Pinckney would draw more votes 
than Adams from the other regions, and recognizing that Jefferson lacked 
support north and east of the Delaware River, Hamilton mistakenly 
concluded this tactic would assure Pinckney's election.13 
Adams' supporters countered Hamilton's plan by convincing a number of 
their party's electors to vote for someone other than Pinckney. As a 
result, Adams won the presidency with 71 of a possible 138 electoral 
votes. But Jefferson with 68 votes, rather than Pinckney with 59 votes, 
became vice president. Aaron Burr, the Republican vice-presidential 
contender, received only 30 votes, while 48 other votes were scattered 
among nine minor candidates.14 This election produced the 
first and only mixed-party presidential team in the nation's history.
    Not looking forward to reentering the political fray and feeling 
unprepared to assume presidential responsibilities for foreign policy at 
a time when relations with European nations were strained, Jefferson may 
have been the only person in the history of American politics to 
celebrate the fact that he lost a presidential election. He preferred 
the quietness of the vice-presidency. He wrote Benjamin Rush, ``a more 
tranquil & unoffending station could not have been found for me.'' And 
he told James Madison, ``I think they [foreign affairs] never wore so 
gloomy an aspect since the year 83. Let those come to the helm who think 
they can steer clear of the difficulties. I have no confidence in myself 
for the undertaking.'' 15 In a classic assessment of the 
presidency's thankless nature, Jefferson wrote Edward Rutledge, ``I know 
well that no man will ever bring out of that office the reputation which 
carries him into it. The honey moon would be as short in that case as in 
any other, & its moments of extasy would be ransomed by years of torment 
& hatred.'' 16

                             Vice President

    On February 8, 1797, Vice President Adams, as one of his final 
official duties, presided over a joint session of Congress in the Senate 
chamber to tally electoral votes for the nation's two highest offices. 
To his obvious satisfaction, he announced his own victory for the first 
office and that of Thomas Jefferson for the second.17 When 
the confirming news of his election reached Jefferson in Virginia, he 
initially hoped to avoid the trip to Philadelphia by seeking a senator 
who would administer the oath of office at his home.18 But 
rumors were beginning to spread that Jefferson considered the vice-
presidency beneath his dignity. To quash that mistaken notion, the 
Virginian decided to attend the inauguration; but he requested that 
local officials downplay his arrival at the capital. Despite these 
wishes, an artillery company and a sixteen-gun salute greeted Jefferson 
on March 2 at the completion of his arduous ten-day journey by horseback 
and stage coach. He stayed the first night with James Madison and then 
moved to a nearby hotel for the remainder of his week-and-a-half visit.
    The Senate convened at 10 a.m. on Saturday, March 4, in its ornate 
chamber on the second floor of Congress Hall at the corner of Sixth and 
Chestnut Streets. As the first order of business, Senate President Pro 
Tempore William Bingham administered the brief oath to the new vice 
president. Over six feet tall, with reddish hair and hazel eyes, and 
attired in a single-breasted long blue frock coat, Jefferson established 
a commanding presence as he in turn swore in the eight newly elected 
members among the twenty-seven senators who were present that day. He 
then read a brief inaugural address.
    In that address Jefferson apologized in advance for any shortcomings 
members might perceive in the conduct of his duties. Anticipating the 
role that would most define his vice-presidential legacy, Jefferson 
promised that he would approach his duties as presiding officer with 
``more confidence because it will depend on my will and not my 
capacity.'' He continued:
        The rules which are to govern the proceedings of this House, so 
    far as they shall depend on me for their application, shall be 
    applied with the most rigorous and inflexible impartiality, 
    regarding neither persons, their views, nor principles, and seeing 
    only the abstract proposition subject to my decision. If in forming 
    that decision, I concur with some and differ from others, as must of 
    necessity happen, I shall rely on the liberality and candor of those 
    from whom I differ, to believe that I do it on pure motives.
    Having devoted half of his less than three-minute speech to his role 
as presiding officer, Jefferson briefly referred to the Constitution and 
its defense. But he quickly returned to his own more limited station, 
supposing that ``these declarations [are] not pertinent to the occasion 
of entering into an office whose primary business is merely to preside 
over the forms of this House.'' 19 Concluding his remarks, 
Jefferson led the Senate downstairs to the House of Representatives' 
chamber to attend President-elect Adams' inaugural address and 
subsequent oath-taking.
    Three potential roles awaited the new vice president in his as yet 
only marginally defined office. He could serve as an assistant to the 
president; he could concentrate on his constitutional duties as the 
Senate's presiding officer; or he could become an active leader of the 
Republican party. Jefferson had no interest in being an assistant to the 
chief executive. He told Elbridge Gerry that he considered his office 
``constitutionally confined to legislative functions,'' 20 
and he hoped those functions would not keep him away from his cherished 
Monticello. In any event, the job provided a comfortable and needed 
regular salary--$5,000 paid in quarterly installments.21
    Adams and Jefferson started off cordially. The Virginian, having 
enjoyed Adams' friendship in the second Continental Congress and while 
in retirement at Monticello, set out to forge a good public relationship 
with him as his vice president. Although he realized that they would 
probably disagree on many issues, Jefferson deeply respected Adams' 
prior service to the nation.22
    On the eve of their inaugurations, Adams and Jefferson met briefly 
to discuss the possibility of sending Jefferson to France as part of a 
three-member delegation to calm the increasingly turbulent relations 
between the two countries. When the two men concluded that this would be 
an improper role for the vice president, they agreed on substituting 
Jefferson's political ally, James Madison. The bond between president 
and vice president seemed--for the moment--particularly close.
    Several days after the inauguration, Jefferson encountered the 
president at a dinner party. He took the opportunity to report that 
Madison was not interested in the diplomatic mission to France. Adams 
replied that, in any event, he would not have been able to select 
Madison because of pressure from within his cabinet to appoint a 
Federalist. This confirmed Jefferson's view that the new president 
lacked his own political compass and was too easily swayed by partisan 
advisers. Thereafter, Adams never consulted Jefferson on an issue of 
national significance.23 For his part, the vice president 
turned exclusively to his political role as leader of the Republicans 
and to his governmental duty as the Senate's presiding officer.
    While in Philadelphia to commence his vice-presidential duties, 
Jefferson acceded to a second leadership position--the presidency of the 
American Philosophical Society. Conveniently located near Congress Hall, 
this august scientific and philosophical body counted among its previous 
leaders Benjamin Franklin and mathematician David Rittenhouse. Jefferson 
attained the post on the strength of his Notes on the State of Virginia 
(first English edition, 1787), which secured his reputation as a 
preeminent scholar and scientist and is today considered ``the most 
important scientific work published in America in the eighteenth 
century.'' 24 Within days of his inaugural address to the 
Senate, Jefferson delivered his presidential address to the society--a 
task that he found considerably more gratifying. His subject: the 
recently discovered fossil remains of a large animal, found in western 
Virginia, that he called the ``Megalonyx'' or ``Great Claw.'' 
25 Jefferson would preside over the society until 1815. He 
considered his contributions to its proceedings among his proudest 

                           A Republican Leader

    After his inauguration, Jefferson had written to Aaron Burr (the 
former New York senator and intended vice-presidential candidate on the 
Republican ticket) to complain about the partisan direction of the new 
Federalist administration and seek his aid in building Republican 
support in the northeast. This move signalled Jefferson's intention to 
play an active political role during his vice-presidency. With James 
Madison retired from the House of Representatives and the new House 
leader, Albert Gallatin, preoccupied with the nation's financial 
problems, Jefferson stood as the country's preeminent Republican leader. 
Considering himself separate from the executive branch, he felt free to 
criticize the Adams administration. Yet, to avoid public controversy, he 
limited his criticism to private communications with political allies, 
particularly after the distortion of a letter he had written in April 
1796 to the Italian intellectual Philip Mazzei.
    In that letter, composed as Federalists and Republicans battled over 
the pro-British Jay Treaty, Jefferson had complained about the 
Federalists as ``an Anglican monarchical, and aristocratical party'' 
whose intention was to impose the substance of British government, as 
well as its forms, on the United States. Federalists in high government 
posts were ``timid men who prefer the calm of despotism to the 
boisterous sea of liberty.'' 26 A translated version of his 
strongly worded communication appeared in several European newspapers 
and in a May 1797 edition of the New York Minerva. Liberties taken in 
translation served only to increase the letter's tone of partisan 
intemperance. Federalists offered the letter as evidence of the vice 
president's demagoguery, and the affair increased animosity between the 
political parties. Unhappy with the consequences of the Mazzei letter, 
Jefferson cautioned all future correspondents to ``[t]ake care that 
nothing from my letters gets into the newspapers.'' 27
    Although Jefferson greatly respected the institution of the Senate, 
he had little affection for the Federalist senators over whom he 
presided. The Federalists enjoyed a 22-to-10 majority in 1797 and 
Jefferson expected the worst. Fearing that the majority might routinely 
employ the Senate's power to try impeachments to quiet senators who 
harbored contrary views, Jefferson took more than a passing interest in 
the impeachment proceedings against his fellow Republican, former 
Tennessee senator William Blount, whose trial he presided over in 
December 1798. Almost a year earlier, as the Senate worked to establish 
rules and procedures for the first impeachment trial, the vice president 
had secretly reinforced Virginia Senator Henry Tazewell's argument that 
Blount had a Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial, providing precedents 
he extracted from the parliamentary writings of William Blackstone and 
Richard Woddeson. ``The object in supporting this engraftment into 
impeachments,'' he wrote Tazewell on January 27, 1798, ``is to lessen 
the dangers of the court of impeachment under its present form & to 
induce dispositions in all parties in favor of a better constituted 
court of impeachment, which I own I consider as an useful thing, if so 
composed as to be clear of the spirit of faction.'' Anxious to conceal 
his role in the Republican effort to circumscribe the impeachment power, 
he cautioned Tazewell, ``Do not let the enclosed paper be seen in my 
handwriting.'' 28 A month later, after Tazewell's effort 
failed, Jefferson confided to Madison that the Federalists ``consider 
themselves as the bulwarks of the government, and will be rendering that 
the more secure, in proportion as they can assume greater powers.'' 

                         Alien and Sedition Acts

    Deteriorating relations with France preoccupied the government 
during Jefferson's vice-presidency and fostered anti-French sentiment at 
home. No one event caused the conflict, but a decree of the ruling 
Directory and a series of French proposals fueled the spreading fire. 
The decree declared that neutral ships with English merchandise or 
commodities could be seized. Congress, in turn, sought to protect 
American commerce by authorizing the arming of private vessels.
    In what proved to be a futile attempt to improve relations, 
President Adams sent three envoys to France. When they reached Paris in 
October 1797, however, the French government refused to receive them 
until they satisfied requirements that the Americans considered 
insulting. Minor French officials--publicly labeled ``X, Y, and Z''--met 
with the envoys and presented proposals that included a request for a 
$12 million loan and a $250,000 bribe in exchange for recognition of the 
United States and the establishment of formal ties. Despite his 
sympathies for France, Jefferson viewed the proposals as a supreme 
insult, yet he understood that a war could undermine the nation's newly 
set constitutional foundations and strengthen the pro-British Federalist 
    The publication in April 1798 of what became known as the ``XYZ 
papers'' produced widespread anger and created a frenzied atmosphere in 
which overzealous patriotism flourished. In an effort to restore their 
party's popularity, Federalist legislators--recently the targets of 
public scorn for their support of the unpopular Jay treaty with 
England--seized on the anti-French hostility that the XYZ affair had 
generated. Federalists in Congress, their numbers expanded in response 
to public anger against France, quickly passed a series of tough 
measures to set the nation on a war footing. Most notorious of these 
statutes were the Sedition Act, the Naturalization Act, and the Alien 
Act, all viewed by their Republican opponents as distinctly partisan 
measures to curtail individual rights.30
    The Senate approved the Sedition Act on July 4, 1798, in the final 
days of the Fifth Congress after Jefferson had left for Virginia. The 
statute curtailed the rights of Americans to criticize their government 
and provided punishment for any person writing, uttering, or publishing 
``any false, scandalous and malicious writing'' against the president or 
Congress with the intent of inflaming public passions against 
them.31 The Federalists immediately invoked the law's 
provisions to suppress Republican criticism.
    The Naturalization Act was also a decidedly partisan measure in that 
it targeted immigrants, who tended to support the Republican party, by 
lengthening the residency requirements for U.S. citizenship from five to 
fourteen years.32 Finally, President Adams, on June 25, 1798, 
signed a third repressive law passed by the Federalist Congress. The 
Alien Act, which Jefferson called ``a most detestable thing,'' 
authorized the president, acting unilaterally, to deport any noncitizen 
whom he viewed as ``dangerous to the peace and safety of the United 
States.'' 33 Adams never exercised this power, but the Act 
inflamed the dispute over the scope of presidential power in the young 
    Jefferson recognized that these measures raised fundamental 
questions regarding the division of sovereignty between the national and 
state governments and the means for settling disputes between the two 
levels of government. As vice president and head of the party that this 
legislation was designed to restrain, Jefferson found himself powerless 
at the national level to combat these measures that he believed were 
``so palpably in the teeth of the Constitution as to shew they mean to 
pay no respect to it.'' 34
    Looking to the states to provide an arena for constructive action, 
Jefferson drafted a set of resolutions assailing these acts as 
unconstitutional violations of human rights.35 He sent them 
to Wilson Nicholas, a member of the Virginia assembly, with a request 
that he arrange for their introduction in the North Carolina 
legislature. By chance, Nicholas encountered John Breckinridge, a member 
of the Kentucky house of representatives, many of whose members strongly 
opposed these repressive laws. Breckinridge agreed to introduce 
Jefferson's resolutions in his legislature while keeping their author's 
identity secret.
    The first sentence of Jefferson's ``Kentucky Resolutions'' asserted:
        That the several states composing the United States of America 
    are not united on the principle of unlimited submission to their 
    general government, but that, by a compact under the style and title 
    of a Constitution for the United States, and of amendments thereto, 
    they constituted a general government for special purposes,--
    delegated to that government certain definite powers, reserving, 
    each State to itself, the residuary mass of right to their own self-
    government; and that whensoever the general government assumes 
    undelegated powers, its acts are unauthoritative, void, and of no 
    Although the vice president had no desire to subvert the Union, his 
suggestion that any state had the power to nullify a federal law if it 
determined the legislation to be unconstitutional harbored grave 
consequences for the nation's stability. He also argued that the federal 
judiciary should not decide issues of constitutionality because it was a 
partisan arm of the federal government. Jefferson did not specifically 
call for the nullification of the Alien and Sedition acts, but he did 
use the word ``nullify,'' which was subsequently dropped from the 
version of the resolution that the Kentucky legislature adopted in 
November 1798.
    The Virginia legislature passed similar measures prepared in a less 
strident form by James Madison who, like Jefferson, found the Sedition 
and Alien laws to be constitutionally flawed and dangerous to individual 
freedom. To Jefferson's chagrin, no other states joined in this action, 
as most legislatures thought Jefferson's ideas too extreme. The 
resolutions as passed in Kentucky and Virginia simply called on states 
to seek repeal of the odious statutes through their representatives at 
the next session of Congress.37 The Kentucky legislature 
passed additional resolutions in 1799--specifically calling for 
nullification of objectionable laws. Although Jefferson sympathized with 
their aim, he had no part in their drafting. Congress did not renew the 
Alien and Sedition acts in 1801 when they expired.
    Thomas Jefferson's involvement with the Kentucky Resolutions 
reflected his passion for protecting civil liberties from repressive 
measures by omnipotent government. He favored a governmental system that 
would resist tyranny and corruption. He found republicanism to be 
closest to his ideal of a balanced and strong yet nonintrusive form of 
government. ``The legitimate powers of government,'' he wrote, ``extend 
to such acts only as are injurious to others.'' 38 Yet his 
philosophy did allow for a distinction between the relative powers of 
the state and federal governments.
    Conditioned by his overriding fear of centralized power, Jefferson 
argued that the federal government could not infringe on the freedom of 
the press. He vehemently opposed the Sedition Act, but he believed the 
states had the right to restrict the press to some degree. The 
possibility that states might abuse this power did not concern 
Jefferson. On the contrary, he saw the states as the bulwarks of 
freedom, as his involvement with the Kentucky Resolutions demonstrated. 
Years later, he would write, ``the true barriers of our liberty in this 
country are our State governments; and the wisest conservative power 
ever contrived by man, is that of which our Revolution and present 
government found us possessed.'' 39
    Jefferson sought to enhance the authority of the states only to 
further the cause of individual rights. But when a foreign nation posed 
a threat to the country, Jefferson was quick to underscore the 
importance of the Union, which he described as ``the last anchor of our 
hope.'' Though he would eschew war at all costs, Jefferson believed the 
states had an obligation to support the Union, even if it blundered into 

                           Jefferson's Manual

    Thomas Jefferson's Manual of Parliamentary Practice is, without 
question, the distinguishing feature of his vice-presidency. The single 
greatest contribution to the Senate by any person to serve as vice 
president, it is as relevant to the Senate of the late twentieth century 
as it was to the Senate of the late eighteenth century. Reflecting the 
Manual's continuing value, the Senate in 1993 provided for its 
publication in a special edition to commemorate the 250th anniversary of 
Jefferson's birth.
    Jefferson had conceived the idea of a parliamentary manual as he 
prepared to assume the duties of the vice-presidency early in 1797. John 
Adams offered an inadequate model for the role of presiding officer, for 
he had earned a reputation for officious behavior in the Senate 
president's chair. To avoid the criticism that attended Adams' 
performance, Jefferson believed the Senate's presiding officer needed to 
follow ``some known system of rules, that he may neither leave himself 
free to indulge caprice or passion, nor open to the imputation of 
them.'' 40 The lack of carefully delineated rules, he feared, 
would make the Senate prone to the extremes of chaos and tyranny. He was 
particularly concerned about the operation of Senate Rule 16, which 
provided that the presiding officer was to be solely responsible for 
deciding all questions of order, ``without debate and without appeal.'' 
    Before leaving Virginia to take up his new duties, Jefferson had 
contacted his old mentor, George Wythe. Acknowledging that he had not 
concerned himself about legislative matters for many years, Jefferson 
asked Wythe to help refresh his memory by loaning him notes on 
parliamentary procedure that Wythe had made years earlier. To 
Jefferson's disappointment, the eminent jurist reported that he had lost 
track of his notes and that his memory no longer served him well. 
Jefferson then consulted his ``Parliamentary Pocketbook,'' which 
included notes on parliamentary procedure he had taken when he studied 
under Wythe and during his service as a member of the Virginia house of 
burgesses. Although he considered these notes his ``pillar,'' he 
realized they would be of little direct assistance in resolving Senate 
procedural disputes.
    The new vice president admired the British House of Commons' rules 
of procedure because, in the words of a former Speaker, they provided 
``a shelter and protection to the minority, against the attempts of 
power.'' 42 ``Its rules are probably as wisely constructed 
for governing the debates of a deliberative body, and obtaining its true 
sense, as any which can become known to us.'' 43 A Senate in 
which the Federalists had a two-to-one majority over the Republicans 
accentuated Jefferson's fears and made him particularly sensitive to the 
preservation of minority rights. Distrusting the process in which small 
committees under majority party control made key decisions, the vice 
president wished to protect minority interests by emphasizing those 
procedures that permitted each senator to have a say in important 
    Jefferson compiled his Manual of Parliamentary Practice during the 
course of his four-year vice-presidency. He designed it to contain 
guidance for the Senate drawn from ``the precepts of the Constitution, 
the regulations of the Senate, and where these are silent, the rules of 
Parliament.'' To broaden his understanding of legislative procedure, 
Jefferson studied noteworthy works on the British Parliament such as 
John Hatsell's three-volume Precedents of Proceedings in the House of 
Commons (1785), Anchitell Grey's ten-volume edition of Debates in the 
House of Commons (1769), and Richard Wooddeson's three-volume A 
Systematical View of the Laws of England (1792, 1794). The resulting 
Manual, loaded with references to these British parliamentary 
authorities, contained fifty-three sections devoted to such topics as 
privileges, petitions, motions, resolutions, bills, treaties, 
conferences, and impeachments.
    Jefferson's Manual was first published in 1801, shortly after he 
became president. A second edition followed in 1812, and in 1837 the 
House of Representatives established that the rules listed in the Manual 
would ``govern the House in all cases to which they are applicable and 
in which they are not inconsistent with the standing rules and orders of 
the House and the joint rules of the Senate.'' 44 Although 
the Manual has not been treated as ``a direct authority on parliamentary 
procedure in the Senate,'' 45 it is the Senate that today 
more closely captures Jefferson's ideal of a genuinely deliberative 
body. His emphasis on order and decorum changed the way the Senate of 
his day operated. In the assessment of Dumas Malone, Jefferson 
``exercised his limited functions [as presiding officer] with greater 
care than his predecessor and left every successor his debtor.'' 


    On February 17, 1801, after thirty-six ballots, the House of 
Representatives elected Thomas Jefferson president of the United 
States.47 Following the precedent that Vice President Adams 
set in February 1797, Jefferson delivered a brief farewell address to 
the Senate on February 28, 1801. He thanked members for their indulgence 
of his weaknesses.
        In the discharge of my functions here, it has been my 
    conscientious endeavor to observe impartial justice without regard 
    to persons or subjects; and if I have failed of impressing this on 
    the mind of the Senate, it will be to me a circumstance of the 
    deepest regret. . . . I owe to truth and justice, at the same time, 
    to declare, that the habits of order and decorum, which so strongly 
    characterize the proceedings of the Senate, have rendered the 
    umpirage of their President an office of little difficulty; that, in 
    times and on questions which have severely tried the sensibilities 
    of the House, calm and temperate discussion has rarely been 
    disturbed by departures from order.48
    After completing these remarks, Jefferson followed another Adams 
precedent by stepping aside a few days prior to the end of the session. 
This action allowed the Senate to appoint a president pro tempore, a 
post filled only when the vice president was absent from the capital. 
Next to the vice president in the line of presidential succession at 
that time, the president pro tempore would serve until the swearing in 
of a new vice president at the start of the next session.
    On March 4, 1801, Jefferson took the oath of office as president of 
the United States, thereby successfully accomplishing the nation's first 
transfer of presidential power between the two major political parties. 
He served two terms as president, retiring at last from public life in 
1809. He renewed his friendship with John Adams, and the two men 
corresponded regularly until their deaths--both dying on July 4, 1826, 
the fiftieth anniversary of Jefferson's Declaration of Independence.

                        Jefferson's Contributions

    Thomas Jefferson infused the vice-presidency with his genius through 
the contribution of his Manual of Parliamentary Practice--a magisterial 
guide to legislative procedure that has retained its broad utility 
through two centuries. He also contributed to the office his example of 
skillful behind-the-scenes legislative leadership, and he offered a 
philosophical compass on the issues of constitutionalism and individual 
rights. Biographer Dumas Malone provides a final analysis of Jefferson's 
style as party leader during his vice-presidential tenure:
        His popular success was due in considerable part to his 
    identification of himself with causes for which time was fighting--
    notably the broadening of the political base--and to his remarkable 
    sensitivity to fluctuations in public opinion. As a practical 
    politician, he worked through other men, whom he energized and who 
    gave him to an extraordinary degree their devoted cooperation. His 
    leadership was due not to self-assertiveness and imperiousness of 
    will but to the fact that circumstances had made him a symbolic 
    figure and that to an acute intelligence and unceasing industry he 
    joined a dauntless and contagious faith. 48
                            THOMAS JEFFERSON


    1 Paul Leicester Ford, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson 
(New York, 1892-1899), vol. 7, p. 114.
    2 Biographical accounts of Jefferson's life are plentiful 
and rich. The definitive modern study is Dumas Malone, Jefferson and His 
Time, 6 vols. (Boston, 1948-1981). The volume in that series that covers 
the years of his vice-presidency is Jefferson and the Ordeal of Liberty 
(Boston, 1962). A first-rate single-volume biography is Noble E. 
Cunningham, Jr., In Pursuit of Reason: The Life of Thomas Jefferson 
(Baton Rouge, 1987). For the period of Jefferson's vice-presidency, see 
Noble E. Cunningham, Jr., The Jeffersonian Republicans: The Formation of 
Party Organization, 1789-1801 (Chapel Hill, 1957). For a series of 
twenty-five excellent essays that focus on each of Jefferson's 
``extraordinary collection of talents,'' see Merrill D. Peterson, ed., 
Thomas Jefferson: A Reference Biography (New York, 1986). This work also 
contains a comprehensive bibliography. There are several major 
collections of Jefferson's writings, including Paul Leicester Ford, The 
Writings of Thomas Jefferson, 10 vols. (New York, 1892-1899) and the 
more comprehensive, but as yet incomplete, Julian P. Boyd, et al., eds., 
The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (1950-). The latter work has appeared to 
date only to the mid-1790s and thus is of no assistance for the vice-
presidential period. One volume associated with this massive project, 
however, is of direct value; appearing as part of the project's ``Second 
Series'' is Wilbur Samuel Howell, ed.,  Jefferson's Parliamentary 
Writings: `Parliamentary Pocket-Book' and A Manual of Parliamentary 
Practice (Princeton, 1988).
    3 For a thorough study of Jefferson's early years see 
Marie Kimball, Jefferson: The Road to Glory, 1743 to 1776 (New York, 
1943) and Dumas Malone, Jefferson the Virginian (Boston, 1948).
    4 Cunningham, In Pursuit of Reason, pp. 64-75.
    5 Dumas Malone, ``The Life of Thomas Jefferson,'' in 
Peterson, ed., p. 7.
    6 Noble E. Cunningham, Jr., ``The Jeffersonian Republican 
Party,'' in History of U.S. Political Parties, ed. Arthur M. 
Schlesinger, Jr. (New York, 1973), 1:240.
    7 Kenneth R. Bowling and Helen E. Veit, eds., The Diary 
of William Maclay and Other Notes on Senate Debates, Documentary History 
of the First Federal Congress of the United States of America, vol. 9 
(Baltimore, 1988), p. 275.
    8 Cunningham, ``The Jeffersonian Republican Party,'' pp. 
    9 Malone, Jefferson and the Ordeal of Liberty, pp. 274-
    10 Quoted in Cunningham, ``The Jeffersonian Republican 
Party,'' p. 249.
    11 Malone, Jefferson and the Ordeal of Liberty, p. 291.
    12 Ibid., p. 274.
    13 Ibid., p. 278.
    14 Congressional Quarterly's Guide to U.S. Elections, 3d 
ed. (Washington, 1994), p. 361.
    15 Jefferson to Rush, January 22, 1797, in Ford, 7:114; 
Malone, Jefferson and the Ordeal of Liberty, p. 292.
    16 Ford, 7:93-94.
    17 Only two other vice presidents subsequently shared 
Adams' pleasant task: Martin Van Buren in 1837 and George Bush in 1989.
    18 Malone, Jefferson and the Ordeal of Liberty, p. 295.
    19 U.S., Congress, Annals of Congress, March 4, 1797, pp. 
    20 Jefferson to Gerry, May 13, 1797, in Ford, 7:120.
    21 Malone, Jefferson and the Ordeal of Liberty, p. 300.
    22 Ibid., p. 293; Cunningham, In Pursuit of Reason, pp. 
206-7; John Ferling, John Adams: A Life (Knoxville, 1992), pp. 332-34.
    23 Malone, Jefferson and the Ordeal of Liberty, p. 299.
    24 Silvio A. Bedini, ``Man of Science,'' in Peterson, 
ed., p. 257.
    25 Cunningham, In Pursuit of Reason, 206-7; Malone, 
Jefferson and the Ordeal of Liberty, chapter XXII; Bedini, in Peterson, 
ed., pp. 253-76.
    26 Ford, 7: 76; Cunningham, The Jeffersonian Republicans, 
p. 119.
    27 Jefferson to Colonel Bell, May 18, 1797, in Andrew A. 
Lipscomb and Albert Ellery Bergh, ed., The Writings of Thomas Jefferson 
(Washington, 1903), 9:387; Cunningham, The Jeffersonian Republicans, pp. 
    28 Thomas Jefferson to Henry Tazewell, January 27, 1798, 
in Ford, 7:194-95.
    29 Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, February 22, 1798, 
in Ford, 7:206-8.
    30 Malone, Jefferson and the Ordeal of Liberty, chapter 
    31 1 Stat. 596-597.
    32 1 Stat. 566-569.
    33 1 Stat. 570-572.
    34 Jefferson to James Madison, June 7, 1798, in Ford, 
    35 This issue is treated in full detail in Malone, 
Jefferson and the Ordeal of Liberty, chapter XXV.
    36 Ford, 8:458-61.
    37 Cunningham, In Pursuit of Reason, pp. 217-18.
    38 Quoted in Malone, Jefferson and the Ordeal of Liberty, 
p. 393.
    39 Jefferson to Destutt de Tracy, January 16, 1888, in 
Ford, 9:308-10; Malone, Jefferson and the Ordeal of Liberty, p. 394.
    40 Thomas Jefferson, A Manual of Parliamentary Practice 
for the Use of the Senate of the United States, in The Papers of Thomas 
Jefferson, Second Series, Jefferson's Parliamentary Writings, Wilbur 
Samuel Howell, ed., p. 355. Howell has produced the definitive scholarly 
edition of Jefferson's Manual (pp. 339-444).
    41 U.S., Congress, Senate, History of the Committee on 
Rules and Administration, United States Senate, S. Doc. 96-27, 96th 
Cong., 1st sess., p. 6.
    42 Speaker Arthur Onslow quoted in Section I of 
Jefferson's Manual of Parliamentary Practice, Howell ed., p. 357.
    43 Howell, ed., p. 355.
    44 The Senate has regularly published that work as a 
companion to the body's formal rules. The Manual was included as a 
section within the Senate Manual from 1886 to 1975 and was republished 
in 1993, on the occasion of the 250th anniversary of Jefferson's birth, 
in the original 1801 edition. Some practices discussed in Jefferson's 
Manual set core precedents that the Senate has followed ever since, 
although the work is not considered a direct authority on procedure. The 
Manual's influence quickly extended beyond domestic legislatures, as 
editors translated the work into other languages. At least 143 editions 
have been printed. The work has abetted self-government in countries as 
far away as the Philippines, where over one-hundred years later it was 
adopted as a supplementary guide in that nation's senate and house of 
    45 U.S., Congress, Senate, Riddick's Senate Procedure: 
Precedents and Practices, by Floyd M. Riddick and Alan S. Frumin, S. 
Doc. 101-28, 101st Cong., 1st sess., p. 754.
    46 Malone, Jefferson and the Ordeal of Liberty, pp. 452-
    47 A description of this election and the resulting 
Twelfth Amendment to the Constitution appears in Chapter 3 of this 
volume, ``Aaron Burr.''
    48 Annals of Congress, 6th Cong., 1st sess., pp. 753-54.
    48 Malone, ``The Life of Thomas Jefferson,'' in Peterson, 
ed., p. 15.

                                Chapter 3

                               AARON BURR


                               AARON BURR
                               AARON BURR

                                Chapter 3

                               AARON BURR

                      3rd Vice President: 1801-1805

          Was there in Greece or Rome a man of virtue and 
      independence, and supposed to possess great talents, who was 
      not the subject of vindictive and unrelenting persecution?
            --Aaron Burr to Theodosia Burr Alston 1
          I never, indeed thought him an honest, frank-dealing 
      man, but considered him as a crooked gun, or other perverted 
      machine, whose aim or stroke you could never be sure of.
                               --Thomas Jefferson 2
          Col. Burr . . . [is] Not by any means a model man . . . 
      but not so bad as it is the fashion to paint him.
                              --George W. Johnson 3
    Congressional Republicans were in a festive mood on January 24, 
1804, as they gathered at Stelle's Hotel on Capitol Hill for a banquet 
celebrating the transfer of the Louisiana Territory to the United 
States. The festivities began at noon with the discharge of ``three 
pieces of cannon.'' President Thomas Jefferson and Vice President Aaron 
Burr were among the honored guests; they departed after the banquet, but 
the revelry continued until nightfall. ``A number of the guests drank so 
many toasts that in the night they returned to their houses without 
their hats,'' one contemporary reported. But when one celebrant offered 
a toast to Vice President Burr, the effect was pronounced and chilling: 
``few cheered him,'' the chronicler observed, ``& many declined drinking 
it.'' 4
    None of Aaron Burr's contemporaries knew quite what to make of this 
complex and fascinating individual. As Senator Robert C. Byrd observed 
in his November 13, 1987, address on the life and career of this 
controversial vice president, ``there is much that we will never know 
about the man.'' Much of Burr's early correspondence, entrusted to his 
daughter for safekeeping, was lost in 1812, when the ship carrying 
Theodosia Burr Alston from South Carolina to New York for a long-awaited 
reunion with her father disappeared off the North Carolina 
    Burr was one of the most maligned and mistrusted public figures of 
his era--and, without question, the most controversial vice president of 
the early republic--but he never attempted to justify or explain his 
actions to his friends or to his enemies. One editor of Burr's papers 
has lamented, ``Almost alone among the men who held high office in the 
early decades of this nation, Burr left behind no lengthy recriminations 
against his enemies . . . no explanations and justifications for his 
actions.'' He seems to have cared very little what his contemporaries 
thought of him, or how historians would judge him.6 Few 
figures in American history have been as vilified, or as romanticized, 
by modern writers.7 Urbane and charming, generous beyond 
prudence, proud, shrewd, and ambitious, he stood apart from other public 
figures of his day. An anomaly in an era when public office was a duty 
to be gravely and solemnly accepted but never pursued with unseemly 
enthusiasm, Burr enjoyed the ``game'' of politics. His zest for politics 
enabled him to endure the setbacks and defeats he experienced throughout 
his checkered career, but, as Mary-Jo Kline, the editor of Burr's papers 
suggests, it also gave him the ``spectacular ability to inspire 
suspicion--even fear--among the more conventional Founding Fathers.'' 

                               Early Years

     Aaron Burr was born at Newark, New Jersey, on February 6, 1756. His 
father, Aaron Burr, Sr., was a highly respected clerical scholar who 
served as pastor of the Newark First Presbyterian Church and as 
president of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University). His 
mother, Esther Edwards Burr, was the daughter of the noted Puritan 
theologian and scholar, Jonathan Edwards, who is most often remembered 
for his passionate and fiery sermons. The family moved to Princeton when 
the college relocated there soon after the future vice president's 
birth, but Burr did not remain there long. His father contracted a fever 
and died when young Aaron was only a year-and-a-half old. His mother and 
her parents died soon thereafter. An orphan by the age of two, Burr and 
his older sister, Sally, moved to Philadelphia, where they lived with 
family friends until 1759, when their uncle, Timothy Edwards of 
Stockbridge, Massachusetts, became their legal guardian.
    Edwards and his young wards moved to Elizabeth Town, New Jersey, the 
following year. Uncle Timothy soon discovered that Esther's ``Little 
dirty Noisy Boy'' had inherited much of the Edwards family's renowned 
intellect but little of their piety. High-spirited, independent, 
precocious and self-confident, young Aaron at first studied with a 
private tutor. In 1769 he began his studies at the College of New 
Jersey, graduating in 1772. In 1773, he enrolled in the Reverend Joseph 
Bellamy's school at Bethlehem, Connecticut, to prepare for the ministry 
but soon realized that he could neither wholly accept the Calvinist 
discipline of his forebears nor forgo the distractions of the 
town.9 He had, his authorized biographer relates, ``come to 
the conclusion that the road to Heaven was open to all alike.'' 
10 In May 1774, he moved to Litchfield, Connecticut, to study 
law under his brother-in-law, Tapping Reeve, but the outbreak of the 
American Revolution interrupted his studies.
    Burr joined the march on Quebec as an uncompensated ``gentleman 
volunteer'' in the summer of 1775. His bravery under fire during the 
ill-fated assault on that heavily fortified city on December 31, 1775, 
won him a coveted appointment as an aide to the American commander in 
chief, General George Washington, but he was almost immediately 
reassigned to General Israel Putnam. Burr served as Putnam's aide until 
1777, when he finally received a commission as a lieutenant colonel and 
command of his own regiment. Washington seems to have taken an immediate 
dislike to his ambitious young aide, and Burr appears to have 
reciprocated this sentiment. When Washington ordered the court-martial 
of General Charles Lee for dilatory conduct at the battle of Monmouth 
Courthouse, New Jersey, in June 1778, Burr sided with Lee. His own 
regiment had suffered heavy losses during the engagement after 
Washington ordered Burr to hold an exposed position in the blazing 
ninety-six-degree heat. But notwithstanding his dislike for Colonel 
Burr, Washington respected his abilities, assigning him the difficult 
but crucial task of determining the future movements of the British 
forces in New York. Burr later commanded the troops stationed at 
Westchester, New York, imposing a rigid but effective discipline that 
brought order to the frontier outpost where unruly soldiers and 
footloose marauders had formerly terrorized the nearby settlers. Burr 
resigned his commission in early 1779, his health broken by the 
accumulated stresses of several exhausting campaigns. He always took 
pride in his military record, and for the remainder of his long life, 
admirers referred to him as ``Colonel Burr.'' 11 Of his many 
accomplishments, only two are memorialized on the stone that marks his 
grave: Colonel in the Army of the Revolution, and Vice President of the 
United States.12
     Aaron Burr lived an unsettled existence after leaving the army, 
travelling about the countryside, visiting friends and family, and 
studying law as his health permitted. In 1782, he began his legal 
practice and married Theodosia Bartow Prevost, the widow of a British 
army officer. In November 1783, the Burr family--which included his 
wife's two sons by her first husband and an infant daughter, named 
Theodosia for her mother--moved to New York after British forces 
evacuated the city. Burr lavished special attention on his only child, 
carefully supervising her education and cultivating her intellect. Young 
``Theo,'' in turn, idolized her father, and she became his closest 
confidante after her mother died in 1794.13

                         Early Political Career

    Burr was an able lawyer. A New York law barring non-Whigs from the 
legal profession worked to his advantage as he rose to prominence in 
that calling. At this stage in his career, he was not, apparently, an 
adherent of any particular political persuasion. Despite his alacrity in 
responding to the call for volunteers at the outbreak of the Revolution, 
he seems to have been curiously detached from the political ferment that 
brought it about. Once Burr began his political career, he served a 
single term in the New York assembly during the 1784-1785 session, 
14 not returning to public life until 1788. Then, as the 
editors of his papers suggest, he ``appears to have played a minor and 
equivocal role'' in the New York debate over ratification of the 
proposed federal constitution. The radical Sons of Liberty touted Burr 
as a possible delegate to the ratification convention, but, for reasons 
he never elaborated, he declined to serve.15 Before long, 
however, he abandoned whatever reservations he may have had with respect 
to the new Constitution. ``After adoption by ten states,'' he advised 
one correspondent, ``I think it became both politic and necessary to 
adopt it.'' 16
    Burr was soon actively involved in New York politics. Joining forces 
with his future rival, Alexander Hamilton, he supported Richard Yates--a 
moderate Antifederalist and a longstanding friend who had helped him win 
admission to the bar--in the 1789 gubernatorial election. Yates lost to 
George Clinton, a more ardent Antifederalist who had served as governor 
of New York since 1777. Governor Clinton, either willing to forgive Burr 
or shrewd enough to realize that the brilliant young newcomer would soon 
emerge as a key player in New York politics, appointed him attorney 
general in 1789. In 1791, Clinton helped orchestrate Burr's election to 
the U. S. Senate, unseating Senator Philip Schuyler and making a 
lifelong enemy of Schuyler's son-in-law, Alexander 
    Senator Burr had acquired a taste for politics--a profession that, 
he would later advise an aspiring candidate, he found ``a great deal of 
fun.'' 18 In 1792, he entered the New York gubernatorial race 
but soon withdrew in Clinton's favor. Northern Republicans mentioned him 
as a prospective vice-presidential candidate in 1792, but Burr deferred 
to Clinton again after southern Republicans refused to support the 
ambitious young senator. Better to select ``a person of more advanced 
life and longer standing in publick trust,'' James Monroe of Virginia 
cautioned, ``particularly one who in consequence of such service had 
given unequivocal proofs of what his principles really were.'' 
    Burr was a vehement partisan in the Senate, siding with the anti-
administration forces who opposed Hamilton's financial system and 
Washington's foreign policy. He mounted a spirited, though unsuccessful, 
defense of Pennsylvania Senator Albert Gallatin, the Swiss-born 
Republican who was unseated in 1794 after the Federalist majority 
determined that he did not meet the Constitution's nine-year citizenship 
requirement for senators. He voted against Washington's nomination of 
John Jay as an envoy to Great Britain in 1794, on the grounds that it 
would be ``mischievous and impolitic'' to appoint Jay, the chief justice 
of the United States, to ``any other office or employment emanating 
from, and holden at the pleasure of, the executive.'' Burr was also one 
of the most outspoken opponents of the unpopular ``Jay Treaty,'' which 
the Federalist-dominated Senate approved in 1795.20
    In 1796, the determined senator again set his sights on the vice-
presidency, and--in a striking departure from eighteenth-century 
electoral etiquette--began an energetic campaign to secure the support 
of his fellow Republicans. On June 26, 1796, the Republican caucus 
endorsed him as their vice-presidential candidate, although, as Burr's 
biographers have noted, ``For their party's vice-presidential 
nomination, the Republicans were less unified than in their 
determination that [Thomas Jefferson] was the man to head their party's 
drive to oust the `aristocrats.''' Republicans concentrated on capturing 
the presidency but succeeded only in electing Thomas Jefferson vice 
president. Over half of the electors who voted for Jefferson failed to 
cast their second votes for Burr, who finished a disappointing fourth 
with only thirty electoral votes.21
    Burr retired from the Senate in 1797. The following year, he 
returned to the New York assembly, making several enemies during his 
brief and troubled term. He advocated defensive measures to protect New 
York harbor as relations with France worsened in the wake of the ``X,Y,Z 
affair''--a prudent stance, given New York's strategic importance and 
vulnerable location, but one that prompted accusations from more 
doctrinaire Republicans that Burr had joined the Federalist camp. He 
became vulnerable to charges that he had abused the public trust for his 
personal benefit when he participated in a private land speculation 
venture in western New York and then sought to enact legislation 
removing restrictions on land ownership by noncitizens--a measure that 
would increase the value of his western lands. Working in concert with 
Hamilton, Burr helped secure a charter and raise subscriptions for a 
private company to improve the water supply of pestilence-ridden 
Manhattan, but New Yorkers were shocked to learn that the surplus 
capital from the venture had been used to establish the Bank of 
Manhattan. Although Federalists were heavily involved in the enterprise, 
the bank was controlled by Republicans. New York voters, suspicious as 
they were of banks, deserted the party in droves in the 1799 state 
election, and Burr was turned out of office.22 One observer 
commented in disgust that the Republicans ``had such a damn'd ticket 
that no decent man could hold up his head to support it.'' 23
    But although some Republicans were increasingly uncomfortable with 
Burr's questionable financial dealings and his willingness to cooperate 
with Federalists to achieve his ends, he remained a valuable asset. He 
had, one Federalist admitted, ``by his arts & intrigues . . . done a 
great deal towards revolutionizing the State,'' 24 building a 
political base that would help launch his national career. Burr's 
vehement opposition to the Alien and Sedition Acts in the New York 
assembly had won Republicans the support of New York's large and rapidly 
growing immigrant community. In a feat one admirer attributed to ``the 
intervention of a Supreme Power and our friend Burr the agent,'' he 
ensured that New York City elected a Republican delegation to the state 
legislature in 1800, laying the groundwork for a Republican victory in 
the presidential contest later that year. New York was one of the states 
in which the legislature selected presidential electors, and its 12 
electors comprised over 15 percent of the 70 votes necessary to achieve 
an electoral majority. Republican control of the New York legislature 
was crucial, and New York City's thirteen-member delegation gave the 
party a majority.25

                          The Election of 1800

    In 1800, Republican strategists hoped to cement their fledgling 
coalition by seeking, for geographical balance, a New Yorker as their 
vice-presidential candidate. One obvious choice was New York's elder 
statesman, George Clinton, but his reluctance to enter the race 
26 cleared the way for Burr's unanimous nomination by the 
Republican caucus on May 11, 1800. Although Jefferson would later 
claim--after Burr discredited himself by his behavior during the 
election and in office--that he had harbored reservations about his New 
York lieutenant from the time of their first meeting in 1791 or 1792, 
contemporary correspondence suggests that their relationship was cordial 
during the 1790s. If Jefferson had reservations about Burr in 1800, he 
laid them aside to secure a Republican victory, using his influence to 
ensure that all of Virginia's twenty-one electors would cast their 
second votes for his running mate.27
    Jefferson waged a behind-the-scenes campaign, writing letters to his 
political lieutenants and encouraging the preparation and dissemination 
of pamphlets and press accounts critical of John Adams' administration, 
which had supported the Alien and Sedition Acts and increased the 
military establishment. Burr was an active campaigner, visiting Rhode 
Island and Connecticut in late August to shore up Republican support. 
``The Matter of V.P--is of very little comparative Consequence,'' he 
informed one correspondent as he speculated that the election might 
result in the election of Jefferson as president and Adams as vice 
president, ``and any Sacrifice on that head ought to be made to obtain a 
single vote for J--------.'' 28 Surprising as it might appear 
to modern observers, Burr's clearly successful political prowess in the 
1800 election only raised suspicions among his rivals and allies that he 
was not to be trusted. He did not fit the mold of the dispassionate 
statesmen who remained aloof from the fray of politics while their 
supporters worked to secure their election. But ``the creation of 
nationwide, popularly based political parties,'' one Burr scholar 
explains, ``demanded men who were willing to . . . bargain regional 
alliances, men able to climb the ladder of popular support and to convey 
their own enjoyment of the `fun' of politics.'' In this respect, she 
suggests, Burr was ``The Ghost of Politics Yet to Come.'' 29
    Jefferson soon had ample reason to distrust Burr. In 1800, as in the 
three previous presidential elections, each elector cast two votes 
without distinguishing between presidential and vice-presidential 
candidates. Republican strategists expected that all of their electors 
would cast one vote for Jefferson and that most--enough to guarantee 
that Burr would receive the second highest number of votes but not 
enough to jeopardize Jefferson's margin--would cast their second votes 
for Burr. Jefferson and his lieutenants left the implementation of this 
scheme to chance, never asking even a single elector to withhold a vote 
from Burr, although Jefferson's friend and adviser, James Madison, would 
later allege that Republicans had been lulled by ``false assurances 
dispatched at the critical moment to the electors of one state, that the 
votes of another would be different from what they proved to be.''
    Increasingly confident of victory as the news of the election 
filtered in from the states, Republicans were stunned to learn by mid-
December that, although they had clearly defeated Adams and his running 
mate, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney of South Carolina, they had failed to 
elect a president. Jefferson and Burr, whether by neglect or 
miscalculation, would each receive 73 electoral votes. The election 
would be decided by the House of Representatives, as provided in Article 
II, section 1, of the Constitution, which directed that ``if there be 
more that one [candidate] who have such a majority, and have an equal 
Number of Votes, then the House of Representatives shall immediately 
chuse by Ballot one of them for President,'' with ``each State having 
one Vote.'' 30 The representatives from each state would poll 
their delegation to determine how their state would cast its single 
vote, with deadlocked states abstaining.
    As soon as the outcome of the election became apparent, but before 
Congress met to count the electoral votes on February 11, 1801, the 
Federalists began a last-ditch effort to defeat Jefferson. Some, while 
resigned to a Republican victory, believed that the less partisan and 
more flexible Burr was by far the lesser of two evils. Others supported 
Burr in the hope that, if a deadlock could be prolonged indefinitely, 
the Federalist-dominated Congress could resolve the impasse with 
legislation authorizing the Senate to elect a Federalist president--a 
hope that had no constitutional basis but demonstrated the uncertain 
temper of the times. Alexander Hamilton, a prominent New York 
Federalist, actively opposed Burr, repeatedly attempting to convince his 
colleagues that Burr was a man whose ``public principles have no other 
spring or aim than his own aggrandisement.'' 31
    Burr never explained his role in the drama that subsequently 
unfolded in the House of Representatives, which cast thirty-six ballots 
before finally declaring Jefferson the winner on February 17, 1801. The 
few comments he ventured at the time were guarded, evasive, and 
contradictory. Professing indignation at rumors that he was soliciting 
Federalist support in an attempt to wrest the presidency from Jefferson, 
Burr initially denied ``that I could submit to be instrumental in 
counteracting the wishes & expectations of the U. S.,'' instructing his 
friend Samuel Smith ``to declare these sentiments if the occasion shall 
require.'' One prominent Federalist, Robert Goodloe Harper of South 
Carolina, advised Burr against withdrawing from the presidential 
contest, urging that he ``take no step whatsoever, by which the choice 
of the House of Representatives can be impeded or embarassed,'' and 
instead ``keep the game perfectly in your own hand.'' Burr appears to 
have followed Harper's advice to the letter during the tense and 
confused days that followed. He never actively solicited Federalist 
votes but seemed willing enough to accept them. In late December, he 
informed Samuel Smith that, if the House elected him president, he would 
not step aside for Jefferson.32
    Rumors of Burr's change of heart soon appeared in the press. Tempers 
flared and reports of impending armed conflict spread, but Burr remained 
silent. When the House cast the first ballot on February 11, eight of 
the sixteen states--one less than the simple majority required to elect 
the president--voted for Jefferson. Six states voted for Burr, with two 
states divided and not voting. This ratio remained constant through 
thirty-four subsequent ballots taken over the course of a week. The 
deadlock was not resolved until February 17, when Jefferson received the 
votes of ten states on the thirty-sixth ballot. Representative James A. 
Bayard (F-DE) and Burr himself finally resolved the impasse. As 
Delaware's only representative, Bayard controlled his state's vote. He 
voted for Burr on the first several ballots, but was under considerable 
pressure from Hamilton to change his vote and resolve the contest in 
Jefferson's favor. (In thus throwing his support to Jefferson, Hamilton 
rose above partisan interests and helped to save the nation.) Concluding 
that Burr could not muster enough Republican support to win the election 
(and having received assurances with respect to Jefferson's fiscal and 
appointments policies), Bayard finally informed his fellow Federalists 
that he could not ``exclude Jefferson at the expense of the 
Constitution.'' 33 Correspondence from Burr, who was awaiting 
the outcome of the election in New York, had arrived on February 15; 
these letters, now lost, revealed that he had abandoned any hope of 
winning the presidency.34 His supporters finally agreed that, 
when the state delegations were polled before the House cast its thirty-
sixth ballot on February 17, Vermont and Maryland Federalists would 
withhold their votes, a move that freed their previously deadlocked 
delegations to vote for Jefferson. Bayard and the South Carolina 
representatives would cast blank ballots, further eroding Burr's margin. 
Jefferson, with ten votes, would become president, while Burr, with 
four, would become vice president.35
    The election, and the confusion that followed, exposed a critical 
flaw in the constitutional provision governing the election of the 
president and the vice president. The Twelfth Amendment, which passed 
both houses during the fall of 1803 and was ratified by the requisite 
number of states in time for the 1804 election, changed the method of 
election by requiring electors to designate one vote for a presidential 
candidate and the other for a vice-presidential candidate. Intended to 
prevent an unscrupulous vice-presidential candidate (or his supporters) 
from subverting the electoral process, the amendment was a Republican 
initiative, sponsored in the House of Representatives by John Dawson (R-
VA) and in the Senate by Burr's rival De Witt Clinton (R-

                        Vice President Aaron Burr

    If Burr was at all chagrined by the outcome of the election, or by 
the taint he had acquired from not emphatically renouncing his widely 
rumored presidential aspirations, he gave no sign of it. ``I join my 
hearty Congratulations on the Auspicious events of the 17th:,'' he wrote 
to Albert Gallatin while en route to Washington for the March 4 
inauguration; ``as to the infamous slanders which have been so 
industriously circulated--they are now of little Consequence & those who 
believed them will doubtless blush at their own Weakness.'' 
37 Burr arrived in Washington three days before the 
inauguration and found accommodations in nearby Georgetown.
    On March 4, 1801, Senate President pro tempore James Hillhouse (F-
CT) administered the oath of office to Burr in the Senate chamber on the 
ground floor of the new Capitol in Washington. The new vice president 
offered a brief extemporaneous address of ``about three sentences,'' 
which the press ignored in favor of Jefferson's elegant and conciliatory 
inaugural address. Burr assumed the president's chair and administered 
the oath of office to the newly elected senators who presented their 
credentials. When Jefferson and the presidential party arrived in the 
Senate chamber, Burr left the Senate president's seat and joined Chief 
Justice John Marshall to listen to Jefferson's inaugural address. He 
later described the day as ``serene & temperate--The Concourse of people 
immense--all passed off handsomely--great joy but no riot.'' 
     The new vice president soon received a flood of letters from 
friends, political allies and relatives, seeking appointments in the new 
administration or demanding the removal of Adams' Federalist appointees. 
Burr, who could never refuse a friend and considered patronage a means 
of cementing alliances and paying political debts, passed a number of 
these requests along to Jefferson. The president, however, became 
increasingly uncomfortable with each new recommendation. Most damning, 
as historian Mary-Jo Kline has explained, were the ``repeated requests 
for consideration of the claims of the `faithful' from other states and 
territories.'' Jefferson was perfectly willing to replace Adams' 
``midnight appointments'' with marshals and court officers who were 
loyal Republicans, as well as to remove Federalists who displayed 
``malversation or inherent disqualification'' for office, appointing 
Republicans to the vacant posts. Still, mindful of the charges of 
nepotism and cronyism he had levelled against the Adams administration, 
he hesitated to dismiss civil servants solely for political reasons. Nor 
did he think it appropriate for the ambitious New Yorker to concern 
himself with appointments to federal offices in other states. The final 
insult appears to have occurred in the fall of 1801 with Burr's campaign 
to secure an appointment for his ally, Matthew L. Davis, to a naval post 
in New York. The president, already suspicious of the enterprising vice 
president who had jeopardized his election, soon began to distance 
himself from Burr.39 Thereafter, in making federal 
appointments in New York, he relied on George Clinton or Clinton's 
nephew De Witt.
    After the Clintons replaced Burr as the administration's liaison to 
the New York Republican party, De Witt spared no effort to discredit the 
vice president in his home state. Assisted by [New York] American 
Citizen editor James Cheetham, he waged a savage war against the vice 
president in the local press.40 ``The handbills were 
numerous, of various descriptions, uniform however in Virulent and 
indecent abuse,'' Burr reported. ``[T]o Vilify A.B. was deemed of so 
much consequence, that packages of them were sent to Various parts of 
the country.'' It was becoming painfully apparent, one of his allies 
observed, that the vice president's ``influence and weight with the 
Administration is in my opinion not such as I could wish.'' 
41 Bereft of the political base that had made him a 
formidable force in New York politics and an attractive vice-
presidential prospect, he was now a liability to the administration. 
During Burr's single term in office, whatever influence or status he 
enjoyed would derive solely from his position as president of the 

                         President of the Senate

    Burr was one of the most skilled parliamentarians to serve as 
president of the Senate, a striking contrast to Adams and a worthy 
successor to Jefferson. ``Mr. Burr, the Vice President, presides in the 
Senate with great ease, dignity & propriety,'' Senator William Plumer 
(F-NH) observed. ``He preserves good order, silence--& decorum in 
debate--he confines the speaker to the point. He has excluded all 
spectators from the area of the Senate chamber, except the members from 
the other House. A measure which contributes much to good order.'' 
    But, although Burr was universally respected for his parliamentary 
skills and his impartial rulings, Senate Republicans noted with mounting 
concern his easy familiarity with his many Federalist friends. Alienated 
from his own party, pragmatic at the expense of principle, and beset by 
the chronic financial difficulties that dogged him throughout his 
career, Burr was increasingly regarded by his fellow Republicans as an 
unprincipled opportunist who would stop at nothing to rebuild his 
shattered political and personal fortunes.44 They found ample 
evidence of the vice president's apostasy on January 27, 1802, when Burr 
cast a tie-breaking vote that undercut the Republican effort to repeal 
the Judiciary Act of 1801.
    That act, signed into law less than a week before Jefferson's 
election, enacted badly needed reforms, providing circuit court judges 
to relieve the Supreme Court justices from the burdensome and exhausting 
chore of riding circuit, and reducing the number of justices from six to 
five, effective with the next vacancy. The act became effective in time 
to allow John Adams to appoint Federalist judges to the new circuit 
courts, a development that heightened Republican fears of a Federalist-
controlled judiciary. And, with one less Supreme Court justice, it 
appeared unlikely that Jefferson would ever have an opportunity to 
appoint a Republican nominee to the Supreme Court. On January 6, 1802, 
Senator John Breckinridge (R-KY) introduced a bill to repeal the 
Judiciary Act. Burr's vote would prove crucial in the Senate, where the 
absence of one Republican and the resignation of another had eroded the 
administration's already slim majority. Republicans were greatly 
relieved when the Senate deadlocked on a vote to proceed to a third 
reading of the repeal bill on January 26, and Burr resolved the tie in 
favor of the repealers. But he had secretly informed Federalists that he 
would support their attempts to block repeal by adding amendments that 
would make the Judiciary Act acceptable to moderate Republicans. Thus, 
the next day, when his friend Jonathan Dayton (F-NJ) moved to refer the 
bill to ``a select committee, with instructions to consider and report 
the alterations which may be proper in the Judiciary system of the 
United States,'' Burr resolved the tie in favor of the 
Federalists.45 Burr explained that he had voted for referral 
in hopes of reaching a compromise:
        I am for the affirmative, because I never can resist the 
    reference of a measure where the senate is so nicely balanced, when 
    the object is to effect amendment, that may accommodate it to the 
    opinions of a larger majority; and particularly when I can believe 
    that gentlemen are sincere in wishing a reference for this purpose. 
    Should it, however, at any time appear that delay only is intended, 
    my conduct will be different.46
    Republicans who resented Burr's treachery were outraged when he 
announced the members of the select committee. During the early 1800s, 
senators voted to choose members of these temporary committees, which 
normally consisted of three members, but on this occasion two senators 
tied for first place and three for second place. The committee would 
therefore, Burr announced, be comprised of five members: two Republicans 
who favored repeal; two Federalists who had voted against repeal and 
subsequently voted to refer the bill to committee in hopes of effecting 
a compromise; and one Republican moderate, John Ewing Colhoun (R-SC), 
who had sided with the Federalists.47 An account of the 
proceedings in the New York Evening Post reveals that Burr answered 
Republican challenges to this unexpected development with his customary 
ease and composure:
        . . . The Democratic [Republican] members appeared extremely 
    discontented at the apparent result; and before the vote was finally 
    declared by the Vice President, General [James] Jackson [R-GA] rose 
    and proposed, that the Senate should ballot again for the committee. 
    This dashing proposition did not materially interrupt the regularity 
    of the scrutiny.
        The Vice President was very deliberate. He took the ballots of 
    the respective Senators, examined them attentively, stated the 
    number of them, and holding them up in his hand, mentioned that 
    gentlemen, if they chose, might come and examine them. Mr. 
    G[ouverneur] Morris [F-NY] hoped never to see, in the Senate a 
    proceeding implying so much distrust.
        After a pause, the Vice President declared his opinion, that the 
    ballots were truly counted. Of course, the committee was composed as 
    stated above, to the no small chagrin of some of the Democratic 
    members of Congress, in both Houses.48
    Although Burr had substantive objections to the repeal bill, 
49 and told one correspondent that he was troubled at the 
prospect ``of depriving the twenty-six judges of office and pay,'' 
50 his growing estrangement from the administration was also 
a factor. He may, as one scholar of the early judiciary suggests, have 
hoped to ``enhance his stature not only with moderates of his own party 
but also with Federalists, and perhaps even pave the way for the 
eventual formation of a third party under his leadership,'' 
51 but the immediate result of Burr's abortive attempt to 
reach a compromise was his further isolation from his party. He had, as 
Jefferson's biographer has noted, ``offended one side without satisfying 
the other.'' 52 Among the advisers who comprised Jefferson's 
inner circle, only Treasury Secretary Albert Gallatin continued to 
support the increasingly troublesome vice president.53
    Burr soon abandoned any hope of winning renomination to a second 
term. In early 1804, he called on Jefferson to inform him that he 
recognized ``it would be for the interest of the republican cause for 
him to retire; that a disadvantageous schism would otherwise take 
place,'' but he was concerned that ``were he to retire, it would be said 
that he shrunk from the public sentence.'' He would need, Burr 
suggested, ``some mark of favor . . . which would declare to the world 
that he retired with [Jefferson's] confidence.'' Jefferson replied that 
he had not attempted to influence the 1800 election on his own or Burr's 
behalf, nor would he do so in the next election--a cool rejoinder that 
masked his now considerable resentment of the man whom, he claimed, he 
had ``habitually cautioned Mr. Madison against trusting too much.'' 
    The Republicans ultimately settled on George Clinton as their new 
vice-presidential candidate. Burr retired from national politics, 
without Jefferson's ``mark of favor,'' entering the 1804 New York 
gubernatorial race in a desperate attempt to restore his rapidly failing 

                         The Burr-Hamilton Duel

    Burr no longer commanded the respect and support from New York 
Republicans that he had once enjoyed. He entered the gubernatorial race 
as an independent and actively sought Federalist support when it became 
apparent that the Federalists would not offer a candidate of their own. 
But Alexander Hamilton was soon ``intriguing for any candidate who can 
have a chance of success against A.B.'' Burr plunged enthusiastically 
into the campaign, delivering speeches and distributing campaign 
literature, but he could not overcome the liabilities he had acquired 
since 1800. He lost the election by an overwhelming 8,000-vote 
    Burr's defeat left him bitter and disillusioned. He blamed Hamilton 
for his predicament, and when he learned that his rival and former ally 
had referred to him, at a private dinner party, as a ``dangerous man, 
and who ought not to be trusted,'' he demanded an explanation. The 
conflict escalated, as Burr and Hamilton exchanged a series of letters, 
and finally came to a head on June 27, 1804, when Burr challenged 
Hamilton to a duel. The grim engagement took place on July 11 at 
Weehawken, New Jersey, and resulted in Hamilton's death the following 
    Burr's opponents called for his arrest, but the outcry against him 
was by no means universal. Duelling was expressly prohibited by law in 
most states, and murder was a crime in every state. But encounters on 
the ``field of honor'' still took place during the early nineteenth 
century, particularly in the southern states. Burr had previously 
challenged Hamilton's brother-in-law, John Church, to a duel--a 
bloodless encounter that enabled them to confront and then forget their 
differences--and Hamilton's son, Philip, had incurred a mortal wound on 
the duelling ground the previous year. Henry Clay, Andrew Jackson, and 
others of similar stature subscribed to the Code Duello, but few 
suffered the stigma that Burr carried after that fatal morning at 
Weehawken. He left New York a month after Hamilton's death to allow 
``public opinion'' to ``take its proper course,'' travelling south in 
hopes of a reunion with his daughter Theodosia, now the wife of Joseph 
Alston, a South Carolina planter with impeccable Republican credentials, 
and his young grandson, Aaron Burr Alston. He was eventually indicted in 
New York and New Jersey, but never stood trial in either 
    Burr returned to the Senate in early November, in time for the 
second session of the Eighth Congress. It was, as Senator Plumer noted, 
an awkward occasion:
                              Nov. 7, 1804
        This day the Senate made a quorum for the first time this 
    session [which began two days earlier]. Mr. Burr, the Vice 
    President, appeared and took his seat in the Senate the very first 
    day of the session. It has been unusual for the Vice President to 
    take his seat the first day of the session. But this man, though 
    indicted in New York & New Jersey for the murder of the illustrious 
    Hamilton, is determined to brave public opinion. What a humiliating 
    circumstance that a man Who for months has fled from Justice--& who 
    by the legal authorities is now accused of murder, should preside 
    over the first branch of the National Legislature!
        I have avoided him--his presence to me is odious--I have merely 
    bowed & spoken to him--Federalists appear to despise neglect & abhor 
    him. The democrats [Republicans], at least many of them, appear 
    attentive to him--& he is very familiar with them--What line of 
    conduct they will generally observe to him is yet 
    Republicans had indeed become ``more attentive'' to Burr; even 
Jefferson seemed anxious to mend fences with his errant vice president. 
``Mr. Jefferson has shewn more attention & invited Mr. Burr oftener to 
his house within this three weeks than ever he did in the course of the 
same time before,'' Plumer marvelled. ``Mr. Gallatin, the Secy of the 
Treasury, has waited upon him often at his (Burr's) lodging--& on one 
day was closeted with him more than two hours. The Secretary of State, 
Mr. Madison, formerly the intimate friend of Genl. Hamilton, had taken 
his murderer into his carriage rode with him--accompanied him on a visit 
to M. Terreau the French Minister.'' 59 United States 
Attorney Alexander Dallas wrote to New Jersey Governor Joseph 
Bloomfield, urging him to grant clemency to the vice 
    Republicans in Congress, particularly in the Senate, were equally 
solicitous of Burr. ``The proceedings in New York in consequence of the 
duel are deemed by a number of the Senators to be harsh and 
unprecedented,'' Senator Samuel L. Mitchill (R-NY) explained to his 
wife. ``They believe it very unfair and partial to make him the victim 
of justice, while several other persons who have killed their opponents 
in duels at Hoboken are suffered to go at large without molestation. 
Under these impressions an address has been drawn up to Governor 
Bloomfield for the purpose of inducing him to quash or suspend the 
proceedings against the Vice President.'' 61 Federalists were 
stunned by the Republicans' newfound respect for Burr, which Plumer 
attributed to ``their joy for the death of Hamilton.'' 62 But 
the real reason for Republicans' apparent change of heart, as Burr's 
biographers Herbert Parmet and Marie Hecht have suggested, was the 
impending impeachment trial of Supreme Court Justice Samuel 

        The Impeachment Trials of John Pickering and Samuel Chase

    Burr had earlier presided over the impeachment trial of New 
Hampshire Judge John Pickering, a revered patriot and the author of his 
state's 1784 constitution, who by 1803 had become insane and an 
alcoholic. The House of Representatives impeached Pickering on March 2, 
1803, for conduct ``contrary to his trust and duty as judge,'' and the 
trial in the Senate was held a year later. Even the judge's Federalist 
supporters were embarrassed by his ravings from the bench, but they saw 
in the charges against him the opening salvo in the Republicans' assault 
on the federal judiciary. They would defend him at all costs, 
maintaining throughout his trial that insanity did not constitute 
grounds for removal. Republicans were forced to counter that the judge 
was perfectly sane, but guilty of misconduct that justified his removal 
from office, although Jefferson and some moderate Republicans were 
uneasy at the thought of subjecting a man so obviously tormented to the 
ordeal of an impeachment trial.64
    The trial was a highly partisan proceeding, and on March 12, 1804, 
the final vote that removed Pickering from office split along party 
lines. The vice president made ``very formal arrangements'' for the 
trial, Representative Manasseh Cutler, a Federalist from Massachusetts, 
informed a correspondent, ``and the court was opened with a dignified 
solemnity.'' 65 Burr presided over the preliminary 
proceedings and most of the trial with his customary tact and skill, 
deferring to the Senate to resolve the difficult procedural issues that 
arose after Pickering failed to appear and his son's attorney, Robert 
Goodloe Harper, informed the court that the judge, ``being in a state of 
absolute and long continued insanity,'' could ``neither appear nor 
authorize another to appear for him.'' But on March 10, Burr, concerned 
about his gubernatorial campaign in New York, ``abruptly left the 
Senate,'' departing in the midst of a heated debate over Connecticut 
Federalist Uriah Tracy's motion to postpone the trial until the 
following session. President pro tempore Jesse Franklin, a North 
Carolina Republican, presided for the remainder of the trial, and Burr's 
unexpected departure made no apparent difference in the outcome of the 
proceedings.66 Pickering's trial, as Jefferson's biographer 
has stressed, was a ``confused and tragic episode.'' 67 The 
participants in this sorry spectacle all realized that Pickering was a 
deeply disturbed man and were greatly relieved when the trial ended with 
his removal from office.
    But the impending trial of Associate Supreme Court Justice Samuel 
Chase, impeached for judicial misconduct by the House of Representatives 
on March 12, 1804--the day Pickering's trial ended--was another matter. 
Appointed to the court by President Washington and confirmed by a narrow 
margin, Chase was an inveterate Federalist, known for his intemperate 
and partisan harangues from the bench and for his flagrant prejudice 
against defendants accused of violating the Sedition Act. For many 
Republicans, Chase personified all the evils inherent in the Federalist-
controlled judiciary. As his impeachment trial approached, these 
Republicans were painfully aware that they could ill afford to offend 
the man whose rulings would govern the proceedings, and they thus 
treated Burr with studied deference.68
    But it was an uneasy truce, at best. Burr was noticeably 
uncomfortable in the Senate chamber. ``After the minutes of the 
preceding day have been read--the little business before us 
dispatched,'' Plumer observed, the vice president would ``leave the 
chair--come to some one Senator, & intimate in strong terms that it was 
best to adjourn--& sometimes request a senator to move an adjournment--& 
in a few minutes he was gone.'' He seemed to have ``lost those easy 
graceful manners that beguiled the hours away the last session--He is 
now uneasy, discontented, & hurried.'' 69 Plumer also sensed 
``an unusual concern & anxiety in the leading democratic members of the 
senate,'' who feared ``the talents of Burr.'' The vice president 
appeared ``friendly to them,'' he reflected, but ``[s]ome office must be 
given him--what office can that be, that he will accept, & not injure 
them?'' 70
    Burr imposed a rigid discipline on the conduct of the Chase 
impeachment trial, conducting the proceedings, as one reporter observed, 
``with the dignity and impartiality of an angel, but with the rigor of a 
devil.'' 71 Manasseh Cutler reported that the trial was 
``conducted with a propriety and solemnity throughout which reflects 
honor upon the Senate. It must be acknowledged that Burr has displayed 
much ability, and since the first day I have seen nothing of 
partiality.'' 72 Although the managers appointed by the House 
of Representatives and led by Republican Representative John Randolph of 
Virginia were responsible for trying the case, Burr would occasionally 
intervene, posing questions of his own to a witness when the irrational 
and ineffective Randolph (or another interrogator) failed to pursue a 
particular line of questioning, or seeking clarification of an 
incomplete or ambiguous response. When either side objected to a 
question posed by the other, Burr took careful note of the objection, 
ordering that the offending question be ``reduced to writing'' and put 
to the Senate for a determination.73
    But at times Burr's rigid insistence on absolute decorum only 
increased the tensions that simmered in the Senate chamber, elaborately 
redecorated for the occasion under his careful supervision. Although 
Senator Plumer would conclude by the end of the trial that Burr had 
``certainly, on the whole, done himself, the Senate & the nation honor 
by the dignified manner in which he has presided over this high & 
numerous Court,'' he was outraged at Burr's treatment of Chase on 
January 2, 1805, when the judge appeared before the Senate to enter his 
plea. Before the court opened, Plumer had overheard the vice president's 
caustic comment as he ordered Sergeant at Arms James Mathers to remove 
the chair set aside for the aged justice: ``Let the Judge take care to 
find a seat for himself.'' Mathers replaced the chair, after Chase 
``moved that a seat be assigned him,'' and the vice president ``in a 
very cold formal insolent manner replied he presumed the Court would not 
object to taking a seat,'' but Burr would not permit Mathers to provide 
a table for the judge's convenience. Burr repeatedly interrupted the 
aged and frail judge as Chase, at times breaking into tears, requested 
additional time to prepare his answer to the impeachment.74
    Burr's ``peevishness'' continued as the proceedings unfolded; on one 
occasion, he notified one of Chase's attorneys, Philip Barton Key, 
``that he must not appear as counsel in his loose coat'' [``greatcoat,'' 
or overcoat], a proviso that senators criticized and Key ignored. By the 
first week of February, the Senate's now ``remarkably testy'' president 
was ``in a rage because we do not sit longer.'' 75 Unruly 
senators on both sides of the aisle bristled, Plumer observed, when Burr 
lectured them on judicial etiquette after the high court of impeachment 
had adjourned for the day on February 12:
        Just as the time for adjourning to tomorrow was to be put in the 
    Secretary's office--Mr. Burr said he wished to inform the Senate of 
    some irregularities that he had observed in the Court. Some of the 
    senators as he said during the trial & while a witness was under 
    examination walked between him & the Managers--Others eat apples--& 
    some eat cake in their seats.
        Mr. [Timothy] Pickering [F-MA] said he [did] eat an apple--but 
    it was at a time when the President had retired from the chair. Burr 
    replied he did not mean him--he did not see him.
        Mr. [Robert] Wright [R-MD] said he did eat cake--he had a just 
    right so to do--he was faint--but he disturbed nobody--He never 
    would submit to be schooled & catechised in this manner.
        At this instance a motion was made by Mr. [Stephen Row] Bradley 
    [R-VT], who also had eaten cake, for an adjournment--Burr told 
    Wright he was not in order--sit down--The Senate adjourned--& I left 
    Wright & Burr scolding.76
Although rightfully concerned about maintaining an atmosphere of 
judicial decorum, Burr had obviously lost much of the ``easy grace'' and 
consummate tact that had made him such an effective presiding officer. 
The ordeal ended on March 1, when Burr announced, after a separate vote 
on each article of impeachment, ``that there is not a Constitutional 
majority of votes finding Samuel Chase, Esq., guilty, on any one 
article.'' 77

                     Burr's Final Days in the Senate

    Burr's final days in the Senate would have been unpleasant even 
without the strain of presiding over a taxing and bitterly contested 
impeachment trial. He presided over the February 13, 1805 joint session 
of Congress, counting the electoral returns. In that capacity, he 
announced that Jefferson had been reelected and that his old rival, 
George Clinton, would succeed him as vice president. Senator Samuel 
Mitchill reported that Burr performed this ``painful duty'' with ``so 
much regularity and composure that you would not have seen the least 
deviation from his common manner, or heard the smallest departure from 
his usual tone.'' But, Mitchill observed, the always impeccably attired 
vice president ``appeared rather more carefully dressed than usual'' for 
the occasion.78
    A week later, Republican Senator John Smith of New York introduced a 
bill ``freeing from postage all letters and packets to and from Aaron 
Burr,'' and Burr found himself in the unenviable position of listening 
as senators questioned the propriety of granting him the franking 
privilege. Although surviving accounts of the debate do not indicate 
that the issue of Burr's character was ever raised in his presence, it 
was certainly an unspoken consideration. The debate was particularly 
intense on February 27. Senator John Quincy Adams, a Massachusetts 
Federalist, proposed an amendment to extend the frank to all former vice 
presidents (omitting the explicit reference to Burr), and Republican 
James Jackson of Georgia cautioned in response that ``We might hereafter 
have a Vice President to whom it would be improper to grant the 
privilege.'' After Federalist Senators Timothy Pickering of 
Massachusetts and James Hillhouse of Connecticut finally ``advocated the 
indelicacy of the situation of having Mr. Burr in the chair,'' the vice 
president volunteered that ``he was apprehensive that tomorrow he should 
be afflicted with pain in the head & should be unable to attend.'' With 
Burr absent from the chamber, his opponents were free to speak their 
minds. The debate was bitter and intense; Senator Hillhouse was 
resolutely opposed to giving Burr such a dangerous privilege. ``The Vice 
President is an ambitious man,'' he warned his colleagues. ``[H]e 
aspired to the Presidency--disappointed ambition will be restless. You 
put arms into his hands to attack your government--He may disseminate 
seditious pamphlets, news papers & letters at the expence of the very 
government he is destroying.'' Senator Pickering feared that Burr would 
``sell the right of franking to commercial houses--And in the city of 
New York alone it might give him a fortune.'' But Burr's supporters 
countered, ``The reason why gentlemen oppose this bill is because Mr. 
Burr has fought a duel and killed a man.'' Although the bill passed by a 
vote of 18 to 13, with all but three of the New England senators voting 
against it, the House subsequently postponed the measure.79

                         Burr's Farewell Address

    Burr left the Senate the day after the Chase trial concluded and 
just two days before George Clinton took office as the nation's fourth 
vice president. Federalists and Republicans alike were deeply moved by 
his March 2, 1805, farewell address, still one of the most celebrated 
speeches in the history of the early Republic. His remarks were intended 
for the senators alone, unexpectedly delivered at the conclusion of a 
closed-door executive session.
    Burr began his twenty-minute address with an acknowledgement that 
``he must at times have wounded the feelings of individual members.'' 
But he had ``avoided entering into explanations at the time,'' he 
explained, ``because a moment of irritation was not a moment for 
explanation; because his position (being in the chair) rendered it 
impossible to enter into explanations without obvious danger of 
consequences which must injure the dignity of the Senate, or prove 
disagreeable and injurious in more than one point of view.'' Only ``the 
ignorant and unthinking,'' he continued, ``affected to treat as 
unnecessary and fastidious a rigid attention to rules and decorum.'' But 
Burr ``thought nothing trivial which touched, however remotely, the 
dignity'' of the Senate, and he cautioned senators ``to avoid the 
smallest relaxation of the habits which he had endeavored to inculcate 
and establish.'' Likening the Senate to ``a sanctuary, a citadel of law, 
of order, and of liberty,'' Burr predicted that ``if the Constitution be 
destined ever to perish by the sacrilegious hands of the demagogue or 
the usurper, which God avert, its expiring agonies will be witnessed on 
this floor.''
    Concluding his remarks with the customary expressions of respect and 
good will, Burr left the Senate chamber, closing the door behind him, 
Senator Mitchill noted, ``with some force.'' ``[A] solemn and silent 
weeping'' filled the Senate chamber ``for perhaps five minutes.'' 
Mitchill, for one, had ``never experienced any thing of the kind so 
affecting,'' and New York Republican John Smith, ``stout and manly as he 
is . . . laid his head upon his table and did not recover from his 
emotion for a quarter of an hour or more.'' 80 But De Witt 
Clinton's ally, [New York] American Citizen editor James Cheetham, and 
others who suspected that Burr's ``melodio, harmonico pathos'' was 
merely an effort to restore his political fortunes, doubted that ``the 
flowing tear'' could ``wash away the dingy stains'' of Burr's 
``political degeneracy.'' 81

                         The ``Burr Conspiracy''

    The forty-nine-year-old former vice president was heavily in debt at 
the time of his forced retirement from politics. He had been involved in 
a number of speculative ventures throughout his career, many of which 
had resulted in substantial losses. Generous beyond prudence, Burr could 
never refuse a relative or a friend in need, even if it meant going 
further into debt. He had assumed responsibility for a number of young 
wards throughout the years--some of them the children of clients, others 
rumored to have been his own offspring--and his generosity to his 
charges further strained his always precarious finances. Burr had always 
lived, dressed and entertained well, even when he could ill afford to do 
so.82 Surveying his limited prospects, the optimistic and 
always enterprising former vice president now looked to the West.
    The full extent of Burr's business and other ventures in the West 
will probably never be known, but his first undertaking appears to have 
been the Indiana Canal Company. Burr and his fellow investors intended 
to construct a canal to circumvent the Ohio River rapids at Louisville, 
but, as his biographers have explained, the resourceful vice president 
had ``more than one plan for the future but several alternate ones 
depending on change and history.'' His most ambitious scheme was 
contingent upon the outbreak of war with Spain, which was still in 
possession of West Florida and Mexico and increasingly hostile toward 
the burgeoning new nation that pressed along its eastern border. Burr 
planned an assault on Mexico and anticipated that the western states 
would leave the Union to join in a southeastern confederacy under his 
leadership. One of Burr's accomplices, Louisiana Governor James 
Wilkinson, betrayed the conspiracy before Burr could begin his 
expedition, and the former vice president was arrested on charges of 
treason. Chief Justice John Marshall presided over Burr's trial, which 
opened on August 3, 1807, in Richmond, Virginia. The jury, guided by 
Marshall's written opinion that two witnesses must testify to a 
specific, overt act to establish treason--a standard that the 
prosecution failed to meet--ultimately found ``that Aaron Burr is not 
proved to be guilty under this indictment.'' Pressed by debts and 
fearful of further prosecution, Burr departed for Europe under an 
assumed name in June 1808.83

                           Burr's Later Years

    Burr spent the next four years in self-imposed exile. He travelled 
throughout England and the continent, sightseeing, reading, entertaining 
the ladies, who found him an attractive companion, and seeking support 
for another southwestern expedition. His overtures to the British and 
French courts failed miserably. In the spring of 1812, convinced that a 
war between the United States and Great Britain was imminent, Burr 
returned home under the alias, ``M. Arnot.'' He took a room near the 
Boston waterfront--a far cry from the handsome and well-furnished New 
York mansion, Richmond Hill, that he maintained in better times--while 
testing the waters to determine whether he could safely return to New 
    Burr reappeared in New York in June 1812, ready to resume his legal 
career. He eagerly looked forward to a reunion with his beloved ``Theo'' 
and his grandson Aaron Burr Alston but soon learned that young 
``Gampy,'' as Burr called his namesake, had died. In late December 1812, 
the grief-stricken Theo set out from her home in Georgetown, South 
Carolina, to visit her father in New York and was never seen again. The 
schooner that carried Theodosia Burr Alston and her escort probably sank 
in a storm off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, but the mysterious 
circumstances of her disappearance, and the controversy and mystery that 
always dogged Burr's career, spawned legends that the unfortunate Mrs. 
Alston had been forced to walk the plank by pirates or mutineers, or was 
still alive as a prisoner in the West Indies.\85\
    Although devastated by his daughter's death, Burr continued to 
practice law and to supervise the education of his young wards. Snubbed 
by many of his former acquaintances and wholly removed from the ``game 
of politics'' that had once been his joy and delight, Burr followed the 
independence movements that were changing the face of Latin America with 
a lively but cautious interest. In 1829, he petitioned the government 
for a pension based on his military service during the Revolution, a 
crusade that continued until his plea was finally granted in 1834. He 
became progressively more eccentric and impoverished as the years 
passed. In 1831, William Seward found him living in a dirty garret, 
shabbily dressed but optimistic as ever.
    In 1833, Aaron Burr married a second time. His new bride, a wealthy 
widow with a past almost as controversial as his own, soon became 
disenchanted with her husband when she discovered that he had mismanaged 
her assets, and she divorced him the following year. Incapacitated by a 
series of strokes in 1834, Burr lived on the charity of friends and 
relatives until his death at Port Richmond, Staten Island, on September 
14, 1836. During his final hours, a clergyman inquired about his 
prospects for salvation. Evasive and cryptic to the end, Burr only 
replied, ``On that subject I am coy.'' Aaron Burr was buried with 
military honors at Princeton, New Jersey, on September 16, 
                               AARON BURR


    1 Herbert S. Parmet and Marie B. Hecht, Aaron Burr: 
Portrait of an Ambitious Man (New York, 1967), p. 285.
    2 Paul L. Ford, ed., The Writings of Thomas Jefferson 
(New York, 1905) 10:387, quoted in Parmet and Hecht, p. 287.
    3 Milton Lomask, Aaron Burr, vol. 2 (New York, 1982), pp. 
    4 Everett Somerville Brown, ed., William Plumer's 
Memorandum of Proceedings in the United States Senate, 1803-1807 (New 
York, 1923), p. 123.
    5 Remarks of Senator Robert C. Byrd, ``Profile of 'That 
Great Enigma': Aaron Burr,'' U.S., Congress, Senate, Congressional 
Record, 100th Cong., 1st sess., p. 31910.
    6 Mary-Jo Kline, ``Aaron Burr as a Symbol of Corruption 
in the New Republic,'' in Before Watergate: Problems of Corruption in 
American Society, ed. Abraham S. Eisenstadt, Ari Hoogenboom and Hans L. 
Trefousse (Brooklyn, NY, 1978), p. 74. Mary-Jo Kline and Joanne Wood 
Ryan's two-volume letterpress edition of Burr's public papers, published 
by Princeton University Press in 1983, is an invaluable resource for 
    7 See, for example, Samuel H. Wandell, Aaron Burr in 
Literature: Books, Pamphlets, Periodicals, and Miscellany Relating to 
Aaron Burr and His Leading Political Contemporaries (Port Washington, 
NY, 1972; reprint of 1936 edition).
    8 Kline, ``Aaron Burr as a Symbol of Corruption in the 
New Republic,'' p. 70.
    9 Parmet and Hecht, pp. 1-16.
    10 Matthew L. Davis, Memoirs of Aaron Burr (Freeport, NY, 
1970; reprint of 1836 edition), 1:45.
    11 Parmet and Hecht, pp. 17-51.
    12 Byrd, p. 31910.
    13 Parmet and Hecht, pp. 52-58, 64-65. A second daughter, 
Sally Reeve Burr, was born in 1785 and died in February 1789.
    14 Parmet and Hecht, pp. 58-62.
    15 Kline, Mary-Jo, and Joanne Wood Ryan, eds., Political 
Correspondence and Public Papers of Aaron Burr, vol. 1 (Princeton, 
1983), p. 46.
    16 Aaron Burr to Richard Oliver, July 29, 1788, in Kline 
and Ryan, 1:33.
    17 Parmet and Hecht, pp. 65-66.
    18 Kline, ``Aaron Burr as a Symbol of Corruption in the 
New Republic,'' p. 74.
    19 Parmet and Hecht, p. 84.
    20 Ibid., pp. 68-110.
    21 Ibid., pp. 108-10.
    22 Ibid., pp. 112-43.
    23 [New York] Commercial Advertiser, May 4, 1799, quoted 
in Kline and Ryan, 1:402.
    24 Robert Troup to Rufus King, May 6, 1799, quoted in 
Kline and Ryan, 1:420.
    25 Noble E. Cunningham, Jr., ``Election of 1800,'' in 
History of American Presidential Elections, 1789-1968, vol. 1, ed. 
Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., and Fred L. Israel (New York, 1985), pp. 
108-10; Dumas Malone, Jefferson and the Ordeal of Liberty (Boston, 
1962), pp. 473-74; Parmet and Hecht, pp. 131-48.
    26 See Chapter 4 of this volume, ``George Clinton,'' p. 
    27 Malone, Jefferson and the Ordeal of Liberty, p. 474; 
Kline and Ryan, 1:389-90, 430-34; Kline, ``Aaron Burr as a Symbol of 
Corruption in the New Republic, p. 70; Cunningham, ''Election of 1800,'' 
p. 110.
    28 Cunningham, ``Election of 1800,'' pp. 104, 113-15; 
Kline and Ryan, 1:443-49; Malone, Jefferson and the Ordeal of Liberty, 
pp. 473-83.
    29 Kline, ``Aaron Burr as a Symbol of Corruption in the 
New Republic,'' p. 75.
    30 Malone, Jefferson and the Ordeal of Liberty, pp. 489-
94; Thomas Jefferson to Aaron Burr, December 15, 1800, in Kline and 
Ryan, 1:469-70.
    31 Malone, Jefferson and the Ordeal of Liberty, pp. 489-
96; Parmet and Hecht, pp. 158-60; Cunningham, ``Election of 1800,'' pp. 
    32 Kline and Ryan, 1:469-87, see especially Aaron Burr to 
Samuel Smith, December 16, 1800, p. 471, and Aaron Burr to Samuel Smith, 
December 29, 1800, pp. 478-79; Malone, Jefferson and the Ordeal of 
Liberty, pp. 499-505; Parmet and Hecht, pp. 144-67.
    33 Kline and Ryan, 1:486-87; Malone, Jefferson and the 
Ordeal of Liberty, pp. 502-5; Cunningham, ``Election of 1800,'' pp. 131-
34; Parmet and Hecht, pp. 162-67; Richard E. Ellis, The Jeffersonian 
Crisis: Courts and Politics in the Young Republic (New York, 1974; 
reprint of 1971 edition), p. 28; Forrest McDonald, Alexander Hamilton: A 
Biography (New York, 1979), pp. 352-53.
    34 Kline and Ryan, 1:486.
    35 Ibid., 1:486-87; Malone, Jefferson and the Ordeal of 
Liberty, pp. 502-5; Cunningham, ``Election of 1800,'' pp. 131-34; Parmet 
and Hecht, pp. 162-67; Ellis, p. 28.
    36 U.S., Congress, House, Annals of Congress, 8th Cong., 
1st sess., pp. 372-77; U.S., Congress, Senate, Annals of Congress, 8th 
Cong., 1st sess., pp. 21-25, 81-210; Dennis J. Mahoney, ``Twelfth 
Amendment,'' Encyclopedia of the American Constitution, vol. 4 (New 
York, 1986), p. 1927; Tadahisa Kuroda, The Origins of the Twelfth 
Amendment: The Electoral College in the Early Republic, 1787-1804 
(Westport, CT, 1994).
    37 Aaron Burr to Albert Gallatin, February 25, 1801, in 
Kline and Ryan, 1:509.
    38 Aaron Burr to Caesar A. Rodney, March 3, 1801 (with 
March 4 postscript), in Kline and Ryan, 1:517-19; Annals of Congress, 
6th Cong., 2d sess., pp. 762-63.
    39 Kline and Ryan, 1:519-45; Dumas Malone, Jefferson the 
President: First Term, 1801-1805 (Boston, 1970), pp. 69-89; Kline, 
``Aaron Burr as a Symbol of Corruption in the New Republic,'' pp. 70-71; 
Noble E. Cunningham, Jr., The Jeffersonian Republicans in Power (Chapel 
Hill, NC, 1963), pp. 38-44.
    40 Kline and Ryan, 2:641-46, 724-28.
    41 Cunningham, Jeffersonian Republicans in Power, pp. 38-
44; Parmet and Hecht, pp. 172-77.
    42 Noble E. Cunningham, Jr., The Process of Government 
Under Jefferson (Princeton, 1978), p. 16.
    43 Brown, pp. 74-75.
    44 Kline, ``Aaron Burr as a Symbol of Corruption in the 
New Republic,'' pp. 69-76; Parmet and Hecht, pp. 168-93.
    45 Parmet and Hecht, p. 184; Ellis, pp. 15-16, 36-52; 
Kline and Ryan, 2:653-73; Malone, Jefferson the President, First Term, 
    46 Aaron Burr, ``Comment on a Motion to Repeal the 
Judiciary Act,'' [New York] American Citizen, February 3, 1802, in Kline 
and Ryan, 2:656. According to Kline and Ryan, this version of Burr's 
remarks, which differs slightly from the version printed in the Annals 
(Annals of Congress, 7th Cong., 1st sess., p. 150), is ``the version 
closest to a direct quotation that survives among contemporary 
accounts.'' Ibid., p. 655.
    47 Annals of Congress, 7th Cong., 1st sess., p. 150.
    48 New York Evening Post, February 2, 1801; Kline and 
Ryan, 2:655.
    49 Parmet and Hecht, p. 179.
    50 Ibid., p. 179.
    51 Ellis, p. 48.
    52 Malone, Jefferson the President, First Term, pp. 123-
    53 Ibid., pp. 395-98.
    54 Thomas Jefferson, Memorandum of a Conversation with 
Burr, January 26, 1804, Kline and Ryan, 2:819-22.
    55 Parmet and Hecht, pp. 194-201; Kline, ``Aaron Burr as 
a Symbol of Corruption in the New Republic,'' pp. 72-73.
    56 Parmet and Hecht, pp. 194-215.
    57 Ibid., pp. 210-23; Samuel L. Mitchill to Mrs. 
Mitchill, November 20, 1804, ``Dr. Mitchill's Letters from Washington: 
1801-1813,'' Harper's New Monthly Magazine 58 (April 1879): 748; W.J. 
Rorabaugh, ``The Political Duel in the Early Republic: Burr v. 
Hamilton,'' Journal of the Early Republic 15 (Spring 1995): 14.
    58 Brown, p. 185.
    59 Ibid., pp. 203-4.
    60 Parmet and Hecht, p. 224.
    61 Samuel L. Mitchill to Mrs. Mitchill, November 30, 
1804, ``Dr. Mitchill's Letters from Washington,'' p. 748.
    62 Brown, p. 203.
    63 Parmet and Hecht, p. 224.
    64 Ellis, pp. 69-75; Malone, Jefferson the President, 
First Term, pp. 460-64, 469; Annals of Congress, 8th Cong., 1st sess., 
pp. 315-68.
    65 Manasseh Cutler to the Rev. Dr. Dana, March 3, 1804, 
in Life, Journals and Correspondence of Rev. Manasseh Cutler, LL.D., by 
William Parker Cutler and Julia Perkins Cutler, vol. 2 (Cincinnati, 
1888), pp. 164-66.
    66 Brown, pp. 97-177; Ellis, pp., 69-75; Manasseh Cutler 
to Dr. Torrey, March 13, 1804, Life, Journals and Correspondence of Rev. 
Manasseh Cutler 2:166-68; Annals of Congress, 8th Cong., 1st sess., pp. 
315-68; Peter Charles Hoffer and N.E.H. Hull, Impeachment in America, 
1635-1805 (New Haven, 1984), pp. 206-20.
    67 Malone, Jefferson the President, First Term, p. 464.
    68 Parmet and Hecht, p. 224; Malone, Jefferson the 
President, First Term, pp. 464-69; Ellis, pp. 76-79.
    69 Brown, p. 213.
    70 Ibid., pp. 218-19.
    71 Quoted in Byrd, p. 31914.
    72 Manasseh Cutler to Dr. Torrey, March 1, 1805, Life, 
Journals and Correspondence of Manasseh Cutler 2:192-94.
    73 Report of the Trial of Samuel Chase, Annals of 
Congress, 8th Cong., 2d sess., pp. 81-676.
    74 Ibid., pp. 92-98; Brown, pp. 235-39; Ellis, p. 96; 
Hoffer and Hull, p. 238.
    75 Brown, pp. 239-311.
    76 Ibid., p. 285.
    77 Annals of Congress, 8th Cong., 2d sess., p. 669.
    78 Ibid., pp. 55-57; Samuel L. Mitchill to Mrs. Mitchill, 
February 14, 1805, ``Dr. Mitchill's Letters from Washington,'' p. 749.
    79 Brown, pp. 302-7; Annals of Congress, 8th Cong., 2d 
sess., pp. 63-66; Kline and Ryan, 2:910.
    80 Annals of Congress, 8th Cong., 2d sess., pp. 71-72; 
Dr. Mitchill to Mrs. Mitchill, March 2, 1805, ``Dr. Mitchill's Letters 
from Washington,'' p. 750; Kline and Ryan, 2:909-17.
    81 Kline and Ryan, 2:911-12.
    82 Parmet and Hecht, passim; Lomask, vols. 1 and 2, 
passim; Kline and Ryan, vols. 1 and 2, passim.
    83 Parmet and Hecht, pp. 233-310.
    84 Ibid., pp. 305-26.
    85 Ibid., pp. 326-31.
    86 Ibid., pp. 332-41; Kline and Ryan, 2:1169-1229.

                                Chapter 4

                             GEORGE CLINTON


                             GEORGE CLINTON
                             GEORGE CLINTON

                                Chapter 4

                             GEORGE CLINTON

                      4th Vice President: 1805-1812

          George Clinton the Vice President . . . is an feeble old 
      man . . . What a vast difference between him & Aaron Burr! 
      One would think that the office was made for Clinton, & not 
      he for the office.
                --Senator William Plumer (F-NH), December 16, 
    George Clinton took office as the nation's fourth vice president on 
March 4, 1805. He was the second vice president to serve under Thomas 
Jefferson, having replaced fellow New Yorker Aaron Burr whose 
intransigence in 1800 had nearly cost Jefferson the presidency. A 
Revolutionary War hero who had served as governor of New York for two 
decades, Clinton seemed an ideal choice to supplant Burr while 
preserving the New York-Virginia alliance that formed the backbone of 
the Republican coalition.
    Even though Republican senators may have been relieved to be rid of 
Burr, the contrast between their new presiding officer and his urbane, 
elegant predecessor must have been painfully apparent when Chief Justice 
John Marshall administered the oath of office to Jefferson and Clinton 
in the Senate chamber. Jefferson offered a lengthy inaugural speech 
celebrating the accomplishments of his first term, but Clinton declined 
to address the members of Congress and the ``large concourse of 
citizens'' present.2 Two days earlier, on March 2, 1805, Burr 
had regaled the Senate with a ``correct and elegant'' farewell oration 
so laden with emotion that even Clinton's friend, Senator Samuel L. 
Mitchill (R-NY), pronounced the scene ``one of the most affecting . . . 
of my life.'' 3 But when Clinton assumed the presiding 
officer's chair on December 16, 1805, two weeks into the first session 
of the Ninth Congress, he was so ``weak & feeble'' of voice that, 
according to Senator William Plumer (F-NH), the senators could not 
``hear the one half of what he says.'' 4
    Clinton's age and infirmity had, if anything, enhanced his value to 
the president, because Jefferson intended to pass his party's mantle to 
Secretary of State James Madison when he retired after his second term, 
yet he needed an honest, ``plain'' Republican vice president in the 
meantime. Clinton would be sixty-nine in 1808, too old, Jefferson 
anticipated, to challenge Madison for the Republican presidential 
nomination. Clinton had already retired once from public life, in 1795, 
pleading ill health.5 But, for all Clinton's apparent 
frailty, he was still a force to be reckoned with. His earlier decision 
to retire owed as much to the political climate in New York, and to his 
own political misfortunes, as to his chronic rheumatism. He had been an 
actual or prospective vice-presidential candidate in every election 
since the first one in 1788, and later capped his elective career with a 
successful run for the office in 1808.
    Clinton was, in the words of a recent biographer, ``an enigma.'' The 
British forces that torched Kingston, New York, during the Revolution, 
as well as the 1911 conflagration that destroyed most of Clinton's 
papers at the New York Public Library, have deprived modern researchers 
of sources that might have illuminated his personality and explained his 
motives.6 Much of the surviving evidence, however, coupled 
with the observations of Clinton's contemporaries, support historian 
Alan Taylor's assessment that ``Clinton crafted a masterful, compelling 
public persona . . . [T]hat . . . masked and permitted an array of 
contradictions that would have ruined a lesser, more transparent 
politician.'' 7 He was, in Taylor's view, ``The astutest 
politician in Revolutionary New York,'' a man who ``understood the power 
of symbolism and the new popularity of a plain styleDespecially when 
practiced by a man with the means and accomplishments to set himself 
above the common people.'' 8

                            War and Politics

    George Clinton's parents were Presbyterian immigrants who left 
Longford County, Ireland, in 1729 to escape an intolerant Anglican 
regime that imposed severe disabilities on religious dissenters. Charles 
and Elizabeth Denniston Clinton settled in Ulster County, New York, 
where the future vice president was born on July 26, 1739. Charles 
Clinton was a farmer, surveyor, and land speculator, whose survey of the 
New York frontier so impressed the governor that he was offered a 
position as sheriff of New York City and the surrounding county in 1748. 
After the elder Clinton declined the honor, the governor designated 
young George as successor to the clerk of the Ulster County Court of 
Common Pleas, a position he would assume in 1759 and hold for the rest 
of his life.
    George Clinton studied under a Scottish clergyman to prepare for his 
future responsibilities, interrupting his education at the age of 
eighteen in 1757 to serve in the French and Indian War. After the war, 
he read law in New York City under the renowned attorney William Smith. 
He began his legal practice in 1764 and became district attorney the 
following year. Clinton's aptitude for surveying and his penchant for 
land speculation eventually made him one of the wealthier residents of 
Ulster County, 9 but, despite his considerable fortune, he 
was a man of frugal habits and congenial, unassuming manners. Even in 
later life, when chronic ill health made it difficult for him to perform 
his public duties, observers remarked on his ``pleasing cheerfulness'' 
and ``flow of good humor.'' 10 Large-boned and coarse-
featured, 11 he was, one scholar relates, ``a man of powerful 
physique, whose mere presence commanded respect.'' 12
    In 1768, the twenty-nine-year-old Clinton was elected to the New 
York assembly, where he supported the ``Livingston'' faction, an 
alliance that he cemented two years later with his marriage to Cornelia 
Tappan, a Livingston relative. The Livingstons and their allies, who 
represented the wealthy, predominantly Presbyterian landowners of the 
Hudson Valley, assumed a vehemently anti-British posture as relations 
between England and her North American colonies deteriorated during the 
early 1770s. Clinton emerged as their leader in 1770, when he defended a 
member of the Sons of Liberty imprisoned for ``seditious libel'' by the 
royalist majority that still controlled the New York assembly. He was a 
delegate to the second Continental Congress in 1775, where a fellow 
delegate observed that ``Clinton has Abilities but is silent in general, 
and wants (when he does speak) that Influence to which he is intitled.'' 
Clinton disliked legislative service, because, as he explained, ``the 
duty of looking out for danger makes men cowards,'' and he soon resigned 
his seat to accept an appointment as a brigadier general in the New York 
militia. He was assigned to protect the New York frontier, where his 
efforts to prevent the British from gaining control of the Hudson River 
and splitting New England from the rest of the struggling confederacy 
earned him a brigadier general's commission in the Continental army and 
made him a hero among the farmers of the western counties.13
    The social and political changes that the Revolution precipitated 
worked to Clinton's advantage, and he made the most of his 
opportunities. As Edward Countryman so forcefully demonstrated in his 
study of revolutionary New York, ``the independence crisis . . . 
shattered old New York, both politically and socially.'' 14 
The state's new constitution greatly expanded the suffrage and increased 
the size of the state legislature. The ``yeoman'' farmers of small and 
middling means, who had previously deferred to the Livingstons and their 
royalist rivals, the DeLanceys, emerged as a powerful political entity 
in their own right, and George Clinton became their champion and 
spokesman. Their support proved crucial in the 1777 gubernatorial 
election, when Clinton defeated Edward Livingston in a stunning upset 
that ``signalled the dismemberment of the old Livingston party.'' 
15 The election also signalled Clinton's emergence as a 
dominant figure in New York politics; he served as governor from 1777 
until 1795 and again from 1801 until 1804, exercising considerable 
influence over the state legislature.16
    Before leaving the battlefield to assume his new responsibilities, 
Clinton promised his commander in chief, General George Washington, that 
he would resume his military duties ``sh'd the Business of my new 
appointm't admit of it.'' True to his word, he soon returned to the 
field to help defend the New York frontier. There, American troops under 
his command prevented Sir Henry Clinton (said to have been a ``distant 
cousin'') from relieving the main British force under General John 
Burgoyne, precipitating Burgoyne's surrender at Saratoga on October 17, 
1777.17 The Saratoga victory, which helped convince the 
French that the struggling colonies were worthy of the aid that proved 
so crucial to the revolutionary effort, marked a turning point in the 
    Governor Clinton's civilian labors were equally impressive. Like 
other wartime governors, he was responsible for coordinating his state's 
war effort. New York's strategic importance and large Loyalist 
population, coupled with Vermont's secession in 1777, posed special 
problems for the beleaguered governor, but he proved an able 
administrator. He was increasingly frustrated, however, as war expenses 
mounted, and as the Continental Congress, which lacked the power to 
raise revenues and relied on state contributions, looked to New York to 
make up the shortfall that resulted when other states failed to meet 
their quotas. He supported Alexander Hamilton's call for a stronger 
Congress with independent revenue-raising powers, warning Continental 
Congress President John Hanson in 1781 that ``we shall not be able 
without a Change in our Circumstances, long to maintain our civil 
Government.'' 18
    Clinton's perspective changed in 1783, after Congress asked the 
states to approve a national tariff that would deprive New York of its 
most lucrative source of income. He had long believed that Congress 
should facilitate and protect the foreign commerce that was so important 
to New York. Toward that end, he had supported Hamilton's efforts to 
strengthen the Articles of Confederation during the war. But the specter 
of a national tariff helped convince him that a national government with 
vastly enlarged powers might overwhelm the states and subvert individual 
liberties. ``[W]hen stronger powers for Congress would benefit New 
York,'' his biographer explains, ``Clinton would endorse such measures. 
In purely domestic matters, the governor would put New York concerns 
above all others.'' 19 The governor's primary concern, 
according to another scholar, ``was to avoid any measure which might 
burden his agrarian constituents with taxes.'' The tariff had supplied 
nearly a third of New York's revenue during the 1780s, and Clinton 
feared that if this critical source of income was diverted to national 
coffers, the state legislature would be forced to raise real estate and 
personal property taxes.20

                A Perennial Candidate for Vice President

    Clinton emerged as one of the most prominent opponents of the new 
Constitution. He was a delegate to the New York ratification convention, 
where an Antifederalist majority elected him presiding officer. But with 
the establishment of the federal union almost a foregone conclusion by 
the time the convention assembled at Poughkeepsie on June 17, 1788 
(eight states had already ratified, with the enabling ninth expected to 
follow) Clinton's options were sharply limited. He had initially hoped 
to secure a conditional ratification, contingent upon the adoption of 
``amendments calculated to abridge and limit'' federal power, but after 
the Antifederalists failed to agree on a common strategy and popular 
sentiment shifted in favor of unconditional ratification, there was 
little he could do to accomplish even this limited objective. Bowing to 
the inevitable, he finally signalled his allies that, if their 
constituents had come to favor unconditional ratification, they should 
vote accordingly. He did so, as biographer John Kaminski suggests, 
because he ``sensed that he might make the perfect vice presidential 
candidate. . . . Once elected, Vice President Clinton could advise 
Washington, support constitutional amendments as he presided over the 
first United States Senate, and perhaps be heir apparent when Washington 
decided to retire.'' 21
    Friends of the new Constitution were much alarmed when New York and 
Virginia Antifederalists proposed Clinton as a vice-presidential 
candidate in 1788.22 James Madison was horrified that ``the 
enemies to the Government . . . are laying a train for the election of 
Governor Clinton,'' 23 and Alexander Hamilton worked to unite 
Federalists behind John Adams.24 Well-placed rumors tainted 
Clinton's candidacy by indicating that Antifederalist electors intended 
to cast one of their two electoral votes for Richard Henry Lee or 
Patrick Henry for president and the other vote for the New York 
governor. Prior to the ratification of the Twelfth Amendment in 1804, 
electors cast two votes in presidential elections without distinguishing 
between presidential and vice-presidential candidates, and the runner-up 
in the presidential race simply became vice president. Each elector, 
however, voted with the clear intent of electing one individual as 
president and the other as vice president. In the charged and expectant 
atmosphere surrounding the first election under the new Constitution, 
Federalists who learned of the rumored conspiracy to elect Lee or Henry 
president feared that a vote for Clinton would be tantamount to a vote 
against George Washington. Popular enthusiasm for the new government and 
Clinton's well-known opposition to the Constitution also worked against 
him. John Adams won the vice-presidency with 34 electoral votes; Clinton 
received 3 of the 35 remaining electoral votes that were distributed 
among a field of ten ``favorite son'' candidates.25
    Clinton fared better in the 1792 election. By the end of 
Washington's first term, the cabinet was seriously divided over Treasury 
Secretary Alexander Hamilton's financial system, and all parties agreed 
that Washington's reelection was essential to the survival of the infant 
republic. In spite of their earlier reservations about Clinton, 
Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson and his Virginia allies, Madison and 
James Monroe, were determined to replace the ``monarchist'' and abrasive 
Vice President Adams. They considered the ``yeoman politician'' from New 
York the candidate most likely to unseat him.26
    Clinton's candidacy faced several obstacles. He was still widely 
suspect as an opponent of the Constitution, and the circumstances of his 
reelection as governor earlier in the year had aroused the consternation 
of even his most steadfast supporters. John Jay, the Federalist 
candidate, had received a majority of the votes in the gubernatorial 
race, but the destruction of ballots from Federalist-dominated Otsego 
County on highly suspicious technical grounds by Antifederalist 
canvassers had tipped the balance in Clinton's favor. Jefferson worried 
that the New York election would jeopardize ``the cause of 
republicanism,'' and Madison went so far as to suggest that Clinton 
should resign the governorship if he believed that he had been 
fraudulently elected.27 Even though Adams was reelected vice 
president with 77 electoral votes, Clinton managed to garner a 
respectable 50 votes, carrying Virginia, Georgia, New York, and North 
Carolina.28 The election provided a limited measure of 
comfort to Jefferson and Madison, who saw in the returns a portent of 
future success for the emerging Republican coalition.29
    Despite his strong showing in the national election, Governor 
Clinton found it increasingly difficult to maintain his power base in 
New York. Pleading exhaustion and poor health, he announced his 
retirement in 1795. Although his rheumatism was by that time so severe 
that he could no longer travel to Albany to convene the state 
legislature, other factors influenced his decision. The circumstances of 
his 1792 reelection remained a serious liability, and his effectiveness 
had been greatly diminished when the Federalists gained control of the 
state legislature in 1793. Clinton was further compromised when his 
daughter Cornelia married the flamboyant and highly suspect French 
emissary, ``Citizen'' Edmond Genet, in 1794.30
    Clinton remained an attractive vice-presidential prospect for 
Republican leaders hoping to preserve the Virginia-New York nexus so 
crucial to their strategy, although he was never entirely comfortable 
with the southern wing of the party. Party strategists tried to enlist 
Clinton as their vice-presidential candidate to balance the ticket 
headed by Thomas Jefferson in 1796, but he refused to run. He soon found 
himself at odds with Jefferson, who became vice president in 1797 after 
receiving the second highest number of electoral votes. In his March 4, 
1797, inaugural address to the Senate, Jefferson praised his 
predecessor, President John Adams, as a man of ``talents and 
integrity.'' Clinton was quick to voice his outrage at this apparent 
``public contradiction of the Objections offered by his Friends against 
Mr. Adams's Election.'' In 1800, however, when approached by an emissary 
from Representative Albert Gallatin (R-PA), Clinton did agree to become 
Jefferson's running mate, although he seemed noticeably relieved when 
Republicans finally chose his fellow New Yorker, Aaron Burr, to balance 
the ticket.31

                           Governor Once More

    Clinton ended his retirement in 1800, when he was elected to a seat 
in the New York legislature. He had entered the contest at Burr's 
urging, to ensure the selection of Republican presidential electors, and 
probably intended to retire when his term expired. But when New York 
Republicans, anticipating Jefferson's victory in the national election 
and hoping to consolidate their gains on the local level, asked him to 
enter the 1801 gubernatorial election, he agreed. He was at first 
reluctant to seek the nomination--his acceptance was subject to the 
caveat that he would resign the governorship if the office proved too 
much for him--but Burr soon provided him with a compelling reason to 
remain in the contest.32
    Eleven years earlier, Governor Clinton had appointed Aaron Burr 
attorney general of New York. In 1789, with Federalists in control of 
the state legislature, he had been anxious to add Burr and his allies to 
the Clinton coalition. But he never completely trusted Burr, and his 
suspicions were confirmed when Burr refused to defer to Thomas Jefferson 
after the two candidates received an equal number of electoral votes in 
the 1800 presidential contest. After the furor subsided, and after the 
House of Representatives finally declared Jefferson the winner on the 
thirty-sixth ballot, Clinton's nephew and political heir, De Witt 
Clinton, predicted that Burr would resign the vice-presidency and try to 
recoup his shattered fortunes by running for governor of New York. De 
Witt apparently persuaded his uncle that he was the only prospective 
candidate who could prevent Burr from taking control of the state 
Republican party. George Clinton was elected governor by an overwhelming 
margin, carrying traditionally Federalist New York City and all but six 
    During his last term as governor, Clinton was overshadowed by his 
increasingly powerful and ambitious nephew. Still, although De Witt was 
now ``the real power in New York politics,'' George Clinton was much 
revered by New York voters. Anxious to preserve the Virginia-New York 
coalition, but determined to limit Burr's role in his administration, 
Jefferson turned to Clinton for advice in making federal appointments in 
New York. ``[T]here is no one,'' he assured Clinton, ``whose opinion 
would command me with greater respect than yours, if you would be so 
good as to advise me.'' 34 Jefferson was, in practical 
effect, repudiating Burr, although he never publicly disavowed or openly 
criticized his errant vice president.35 One Federalist 
observer soon noted that ``Burr is completely an insulated man in 
Washington.'' 36 As the 1804 election approached, De Witt 
wrote to members of the Republican caucus suggesting his uncle George as 
a replacement for Burr.37

                         Vice President at Last

    Widely respected for his heroism during the war and for his devotion 
to Republican principles, George Clinton was a candidate who could 
replace Burr without alienating New York voters. His age and precarious 
health were important considerations for Jefferson, who calculated that 
in 1808 the sixty-five-year-old hero would be too old to challenge his 
intended successor, Secretary of State James Madison, for the Republican 
presidential nomination.38 But Clinton had no intention of 
deferring to Madison in 1808. As Madison's biographer, Ralph Ketcham, 
has explained, New York Republicans were deeply jealous of the 
Virginians who had dominated their party's councils since 1792. ``George 
Clinton's replacement of Burr as Vice President in 1804 was not so much 
a reconciliation with the Virginians,'' he suggests, ``as a play for 
better leverage to oust [the Virginians] in 1808.'' 39
    After the election, Clinton was all but shunted aside by a president 
who had no wish to enhance his vice president's stature in the 
administration or encourage his presidential ambitions. Jefferson no 
longer asked Clinton's advice in making political appointments in New 
York or elsewhere, or on any other matter of substance, 40 
relying instead on the counsel of Madison and Treasury Secretary Albert 
Gallatin. When he felt it necessary to consult Republican legislators, 
he did so in person 41 or through Gallatin, whose Capitol 
Hill residence served as the meeting place for the Republican 
caucus.42 (Now known as the Sewell-Belmont House, this 
building still stands, adjacent to the Hart Senate Office Building.)
    Clinton also took little part in the social life of the 
administration.43 Washington society had a distinctly 
southern flavor, and, as the vice president confided to Senator Plumer, 
he found the ``habits, manners, costoms, laws & country'' of New England 
``much preferable to the southern States.'' 44 A widower for 
four years at the time of his election, Clinton and his daughter Maria 
lived frugally with House of Representatives Clerk John Beckley and 
seldom entertained.45 Even in an administration that 
consciously avoided ceremony and ostentatious display in favor of the 
simple, republican style that shocked foreign visitors and scandalized 
Federalists, Clinton's parsimony was legend. ``Mr. Clinton, always comes 
to the city in his own carriage,'' Plumer noted. ``He is immensely 
rich--but lives out at board like a common member--keeps no table--or 
invites anybody to dine. A style of living unworthy of the 2d officer in 
our government.'' 46 Another senator observed that ``Mr. 
Clinton . . . lives snug at his lodgings, and keeps aloof from . . . 
exhibitions.'' 47 Clinton's sole function was to preside over 
the Senate.

                    An Ineffectual Presiding Officer

    Nor was he an effective presiding officer. Senator Plumer observed, 
when Clinton assumed the presiding officer's chair on December 16, 1805, 
that he seemed ``altogether unacquainted'' with the Senate's rules, had 
a ``clumsey awkward way of putting a question,'' and ``Preserves little 
or no order.'' 48 Senator John Quincy Adams (F-MA) shared 
Plumer's concern. The Senate's new president was ``totally ignorant of 
all the most common forms of proceeding in the Senate,'' he wrote in his 
diary. ``His judgement is neither quick nor strong: so there is no more 
dependence upon the correctness of his determination from his 
understanding than from his experience . . . a worse choice than Mr. 
Clinton could scarcely have been made.'' 49 Clinton's 
parliamentary skills failed to improve with experience, as Plumer 
observed a year later:
        The Vice President preserves very little order in the Senate. If 
    he ever had, he certainly has not now, the requisite qualifications 
    of a presiding officer. Age has impaired his mental powers. The 
    conversation & noise to day in our lobby was greater than I ever 
    suffered when moderator of a town meeting. It prevented us from 
    hearing the arguments of the Speaker. He frequently, at least he has 
    more than once, declared bills at the third reading when they had 
    been read but once--Puts questions without any motion being made--
    Sometimes declares it a vote before any vote has been taken. And 
    sometimes before one bill is decided proceeds to another. From want 
    of authority, & attention to order he has prostrated the dignity of 
    the Senate. His disposition appears good,--but he wants mind & 
    Although Plumer and others attributed the vice president's 
ineptitude to his advanced age and feeble health, Clinton's longstanding 
``aversion to councils'' 51 probably compounded his 
difficulties. He had little patience with long-winded senators, as a 
chagrined John Quincy Adams discovered after an extended discourse that 
was, by his own admission, ``a very tedious one to all my hearers.'' 
``The Vice-President,'' he concluded, ``does not love long speeches.'' 
Clinton could do little to alleviate his discomfort, given the fact that 
the Senate's rules permitted extended debate, but on at least one 
occasion he asked a special favor: ``that when we were about to make 
such we should give him notice; that he might take the opportunity to 
warm himself at the fire.'' 52
     Clinton was frequently absent from the Senate, but he apparently 
summoned the strength to attend when he found a compelling reason to do 
so. A case in point was his tie-breaking vote to approve the nomination 
of John Armstrong, Jr., a childhood friend and political ally, as a 
commissioner to Spain. Federalist senators, and many of their Republican 
colleagues, vehemently opposed Armstrong's nomination, alleging that he 
had mishandled claims relating to the ship New Jersey while serving as 
minister to France. At issue was Armstrong's finding that the 1800 
convention with France indemnified only the original owners of captured 
vessels, a position he abandoned after Jefferson insisted that insurers 
should also receive compensation. Senator Samuel Smith (R-MD), a member 
of Jefferson's own party and the brother of Navy Secretary Robert Smith, 
so effectively mustered the opposition forces that, by Adams' account, 
no senator spoke on Armstrong's behalf when the Senate debated his 
nomination on March 17, 1806. After Senator John Adair (R-KY) ``left his 
seat to avoid voting,'' the vice president, who had earlier informed 
Plumer ``that he had intended not to take his seat in the Senate this 
session,'' resolved the resulting 15-to-15 tied vote in Armstrong's 
favor. ``I apprehended,'' Plumer surmised, that ``they found it 
necessary & prevailed on him to attend.'' Clinton was absent for the 
remainder of the session.53
    Clinton's only known attempt to influence legislation as vice 
president occurred in early 1807, when he asked John Quincy Adams to 
sponsor a bill to compensate settlers who had purchased western Georgia 
lands from the Yazoo land companies. In 1795, the Georgia legislature 
had sold thirty-five million acres of land to four land speculation 
companies, which resold the properties to other land jobbers and to 
individual investors before the legislature canceled the sale and ceded 
the lands to the United States. A commission appointed to effect the 
transfer to the United States proposed that five million acres be 
earmarked to indemnify innocent parties, but Representative John 
Randolph (R-VA) charged that congressional approval of the arrangement 
would ``countenance the fraud a little further'' and blocked a final 
settlement. In March 1806, the Senate passed a bill to compensate the 
Yazoo settlers, but the House rejected the measure.54 With 
sentiment against compensation steadily mounting, the Senate on February 
11, 1807, enacted a bill ``to prevent settlements on lands ceded to the 
United States unless authorized by law.'' The following day, Adams 
recorded in his diary that ``The Vice-President this morning took 
[Adams] apart and advised [him] to ask leave to bring in a bill on 
behalf of the Yazoo claimants, like that which passed the Senate at the 
last session, to remove the effect of the bill passed yesterday.'' 
Clinton apparently abandoned the effort after Adams responded that he 
did ``not think it would answer any such purpose.'' 55
    Clinton's always tenuous relationship with Jefferson became 
increasingly strained as the president responded to English and French 
assaults on American shipping with a strategy of diplomatic maneuvering 
and economic coercion. Clinton viewed the escalating conflict between 
England and France with alarm. He believed that war with one or both 
nations was inevitable and became increasingly frustrated with 
Jefferson's seeming reluctance to arm the nation for battle. The vice 
president's own state was particularly vulnerable, because New York 
shippers and merchants suffered heavily from British raids, yet 
Jefferson's proposed solution of an embargo on foreign trade would have 
a devastating impact on the state's economy. New York's limited coastal 
defenses, Clinton feared, would prove painfully inadequate in the event 
that the president's strategy failed to prevent war.56

                          The Election of 1808

    Congress approved the Embargo Act, closing United States ports to 
foreign trade, in December 1807. When the Republican congressional 
caucus met the following month to select the party's 1808 presidential 
candidate, the vice president's supporters were conspicuously absent. 
Clinton knew that the caucus would choose Madison, the architect of 
Jefferson's foreign policy, as their presidential candidate but 
apparently believed that he could win the presidency without the support 
of the caucus. ``[O]ur venerable friend the Vice-President,'' Senator 
Mitchill observed, ``considers himself as fully entitled to the first 
place in the nation.'' Clinton was so ``self-complacent,'' Mitchill 
marvelled, that he failed to ``discern what was as plain as daylight to 
any body else,'' that there was not ``the remotest probability of his 
success as President.'' But Clinton still commanded a substantial 
following among disaffected Republicans from the Middle Atlantic states. 
Because New Yorkers, in particular, resented Virginia's near-monopoly of 
the presidency since 1789, Madison's campaign managers considered 
Clinton enough of a threat to suggest him as a possible running 
    Much to Clinton's chagrin, the caucus renominated him to a second 
term as vice president. His only public response was a letter to De 
Witt--subsequently edited for maximum effect and released to the press 
by the calculating nephew--denying that he had ``been directly or 
indirectly consulted on the subject'' or ``apprised of the meeting held 
for the purpose, otherwise, than by having accidentally seen a notice.'' 
58 George Clinton neither accepted nor expressly refused the 
vice-presidential nomination, a posture that caused considerable 
consternation among Republican strategists. When caucus representatives 
called on him to discuss the matter, his ``tart, severe, and puzzling 
reply'' left them ``as much in a quandary as ever what to do with their 
nomination of him.'' He was, Senator Mitchill theorized, ``as much a 
candidate for the Presidency . . . as for the Vice Presidency.'' 
    As far as Clinton was concerned, he remained a presidential 
candidate. While he affected the disinterested posture that early 
nineteenth-century electoral etiquette demanded of candidates for 
elective office, his supporters mounted a vigorous attack on Jefferson's 
foreign policy, warning that Madison, the president's ``mere organ or 
mouth piece,'' would continue along the same perilous course. But 
Clinton, one pamphleteer promised voters, would ``protect you from 
foreign and domestic foes.'' 60 Writing under the pseudonym, 
``A Citizen of New-York,'' the vice president's son-in-law, Edmond 
Genet, promised that Clinton would substitute ``a dignified plan of 
neutrality'' for the hated embargo.61 Turning their 
candidate's most obvious liability to their advantage, Clintonians 
portrayed the vice president as a seasoned elder statesman, ``a 
repository of experimental knowledge.'' 62
    The tension between Jefferson and his refractory vice president 
flared into open hostility after Clinton read confidential diplomatic 
dispatches from London and Paris before an open session of the Senate on 
February 26, 1808. The president had transmitted the reports to the 
Senate with a letter expressly warning that ``the publication of papers 
of this description would restrain injuriously the freedom of our 
foreign correspondence.'' But, as John Quincy Adams recorded, ``The 
Vice-President, not remarking that the first message was marked on the 
cover, confidential, suffered all the papers to be read without closing 
the doors.'' Clinton claimed that the disclosure was inadvertent, but 
the dispatches had seemed to affirm his own conviction that ``war with 
Great Britain appears inevitable.'' 63 Much to his 
embarrassment, the blunder was widely reported in the press. Entering 
the Senate chamber ``rather late than usual'' one morning, Adams 
witnessed an unusual display of temper:
        The Vice President had been formally complaining of the 
    President for a mistake which was really his own. The message of the 
    twenty-sixth of February was read in public because the Vice-
    President on receiving it had not noticed the word ``confidential'' 
    written on the outside cover. This had been told in the newspapers, 
    and commented on as evidence of Mr. Clinton's declining years. He 
    thinks it was designedly done by the President to ensnare him and 
    expose him to derision. This morning he asked [Secretary of the 
    Senate Samuel] Otis for a certificate that the message was received 
    in Senate without the word ``confidential;'' which Otis declining to 
    do, he was much incensed with him, and spoke to the Senate in anger, 
    concluding by saying that he thought the Executive would have had 
    more magnanimity than to have treated him thus.64
    Support for Clinton's presidential bid steadily eroded as the 
election approached and even the most ardent Clintonians realized that 
their candidate had no chance of winning. Some bowed to the will of the 
caucus as a matter of course, 65 while the prospect of a 
Federalist victory eventually drove others into the Madison 
camp.66 New England Federalists, energized by their 
opposition to the embargo, briefly considered endorsing Clinton as their 
presidential candidate but ultimately nominated Charles Cotesworth 
Pinckney of South Carolina after intelligence reports from New York 
indicated that Republicans there ``were disposed to unite in the 
abandonment of Clinton.'' 67 Madison won an easy victory with 
122 electoral votes; Clinton finished a distant third with only six 
electoral votes--a face-saving gesture by sympathetic New York 
Republicans, who cast the state's thirteen remaining votes for 
    The vice-presidential contest posed a unique problem for Republican 
electors.69 Clinton was still the Republican vice-
presidential candidate, notwithstanding the fact that, as Senator Wilson 
Cary Nicholas (R-VA) observed, his conduct had ``alienated [him] from 
the republicans.'' Although painfully aware that ``among the warm 
friends of Mr. Clinton are to be found the bitterest enemies of the 
administration,'' they ultimately elected him vice president because 
they feared that repudiating the caucus nomination would set a dangerous 
precedent. ``[I]f he is not elected,'' Nicholas argued, ``there will not 
in future be any reliance upon such nominations, all confidence will be 
lost and there can not be the necessary concert.'' 70 As 
Virginia Republican General Committee Chairman Philip Norborne Nicholas 
stressed, it would be impossible to reject Clinton ``without injury to 
the Republican cause.'' 71

                             The Final Term

    Clinton left for New York before Congress assembled in the House of 
Representatives chamber to count the electoral votes on February 8, 
1809, thus avoiding the unpleasant task of proclaiming Madison's 
election as president and his own reelection as vice president. He did 
not return in time to witness Madison's inauguration on March 4 (and 
surviving records do not indicate where or when he took his own 
oath).72 In the meantime, his supporters had already joined 
forces with disaffected Republican Senators Samuel Smith of Maryland, 
William B. Giles of Virginia, and Michael Leib of Pennsylvania in a 
successful attempt to prevent Madison from nominating Albert Gallatin as 
secretary of state.73
    Clinton opposed Madison's foreign and domestic policies throughout 
his second vice-presidential term, but he lacked the support and the 
vitality to muster an effective opposition. Still, he dealt the 
administration a severe blow when he cast the deciding vote in favor of 
a measure to prevent the recharter of the Bank of the United States. 
Madison had once opposed Hamilton's proposal to establish a national 
bank, but by 1811, ``twenty years of usefulness and public approval'' 
had mooted his objections. Treasury Secretary Gallatin considered the 
bank an essential component of the nation's financial and credit system, 
but Clinton and other ``Old Republicans'' still considered the 
institution an unconstitutional aggrandizement of federal power. The 
Senate debated Republican Senator William H. Crawford of Georgia's 
recharter bill at great length before voting on a motion to kill it on 
February 20, 1811. Clinton voted in favor of the motion after the Senate 
deadlocked by a vote of 17 to 17. His vote did not in itself defeat the 
bank, since the recharter bill had already failed in the House of 
Representatives, 74 but this last act of defiance dealt a 
humiliating blow to the administration and particularly to Gallatin, who 
observed many years later that ``nothing can be more injurious to an 
Administration than to have in that office a man in hostility with that 
Administration, as he will always become the most formidable rallying 
point for the opposition.'' 75
    In a brief and dignified address to the Senate, Clinton explained 
his vote, declaring his longstanding conviction that ``Government is not 
to be strengthened by an assumption of doubtful powers.'' Could 
Congress, he asked, ``create a body politic and corporate, not 
constituting a part of the Government, nor otherwise responsible to it 
by forfeiture of charter, and bestow on its members privileges, 
immunities, and exemptions not recognised by the laws of the States, nor 
enjoyed by the citizens generally? . . . The power to create 
corporations is not expressly granted [by the Constitution],'' he 
reasoned, but ``[i]f . . . the powers vested in the Government shall be 
found incompetent to the attainment of the objects for which it was 
instituted, the Constitution happily furnishes the means for remedying 
the evil by amendment.'' 76 Then-Senator Henry Clay, a 
Kentucky Republican, later claimed that he was the author of the vice 
president's remarks. Long after Clinton's death, but before Clay 
reversed his own position to become one of the bank's leading advocates 
during the 1830s, the ever-boastful Clay asserted that the speech ``was 
perhaps the thing that had gained the old man more credit than anything 
else that he ever did.'' Clay, however, admitted that ``he had written 
it . . . under Mr. Clinton's dictation, and he never should think of 
claiming it as his composition.'' 77
    Clinton's February 20, 1811, speech was his first and last formal 
address to the Senate. Two days later, he notified the senators that he 
would be absent for the remainder of the session.78 He 
returned for the opening session of the Twelfth Congress on November 4, 
1811, and faithfully presided over the Senate throughout the winter, but 
by the end of March 1812 he was too ill to continue. President pro 
tempore William Crawford presided for the remainder of the session, 
while Clinton's would-be successors engaged in ``[e]lectioneering . . . 
beyond description'' for the 1812 vice-presidential nomination. On April 
20, 1812, Crawford informed the Senate of ``the death of our venerable 
fellow-citizen, GEORGE CLINTON, Vice President of the United States.'' 
    The following afternoon, a joint delegation from the Senate and the 
House of Representatives accompanied Clinton's body to the Senate 
chamber. He was the first person to lie in state in the Capitol, for a 
brief two-hour period, before the funeral procession escorted his 
remains to nearby Congressional Cemetery. President Madison was among 
the official mourners, although he and the first lady held their 
customary reception at the Executive Mansion the following day. In the 
Senate chamber, black crepe adorned the presiding officer's chair for 
the remainder of the session, and each senator wore a black arm band for 
thirty days ``from an unfeigned respect'' for their departed 
president.80 Clinton's former rival, Gouverneur Morris, later 
offered a moving--if brutally frank--tribute to the fallen ``soldier of 
the Revolution.'' Clinton had rendered a lifetime of service to New York 
and the nation, Morris reminded his audience, but ``to share in the 
measures of the administration was not his part. To influence them was 
not in his power.'' 81
                             GEORGE CLINTON


    1 Everett Somerville Brown, ed., William Plumer's 
Memorandum of Proceedings in the United States Senate, 1803-1807 (New 
York, 1923), pp. 352-53.
    2 U.S., Congress, Senate, Annals of Congress, 8th Cong., 
2d sess., pp. 77-80; Stephen W. Stathis and Ronald C. Moe, ``America's 
Other Inauguration,'' Presidential Studies Quarterly 10 (Fall 1980): 
    3 Brown, pp. 312-13; Samuel L. Mitchill to Mrs. Mitchill, 
March 2, 1805, ``Dr. Mitchill's Letters from Washington: 1801-1818,'' 
Harper's New Monthly Magazine 58 (April 1879): 749.
    4 Brown, pp. 353-53.
    5 John Kaminski, George Clinton: Yeoman Politician of the 
New Republic (Madison, WI, 1993), pp. 247, 255-56, 274.
    6 Kaminski, p. 1.
    7 Alan Taylor, review of Kaminski, George Clinton, in 
Journal of the Early Republic 13 (Fall 1993): 414-15.
    8 Alan Taylor, William Cooper's Town: Power and 
Persuasion on the Frontier of the Early American Republic (New York, 
1995), p. 156.
    9 Kaminski, pp. 11-14; U.S., Congress, Senate, 
Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774-1989, S. Doc. 
100-34, 100th Cong., 2d sess., 1989, p. 795.
    10 Brown, pp. 450, 635.
    11 Several portraits of Clinton, at various stages of his 
career, are reproduced in Kaminski, pp. 22, 58, 112, 190, 228.
    12 Manning Dauer, ``Election of 1804,'' in History of 
American Presidential Elections, 1789-1968, ed. Arthur M. Schlesinger, 
Jr., and Fred L. Israel, vol. 1 (New York, 1971), p. 161.
    13 Kaminski, pp. 14-25, 251, 293.
    14 Edward Countryman, A People in Revolution: The 
American Revolution and Political Society in New York, 1760-1790 (New 
York, 1989; reprint of 1981 edition), p. 162.
    15 Kaminski, pp. 19-25; Countryman, pp. 161-202.
    16 As Countryman has noted, during the Confederation 
period alone, ``some 170 laws were passed and 40 other actions taken . . 
. in response to the governor's suggestions.'' Countryman, p. 210.
    17 Kaminski, pp. 26-36; Robert Middlekauff, The Glorious 
Cause: The American Revolution, 1763-1789 (New York, 1982), pp. 382-84; 
Countryman, p. 211.
    18 Kaminski, pp. 23-57.
    19 Ibid., pp. 60-63, 85-96, 115-21.
    20 Alfred F. Young, The Democratic Republicans of New 
York: The Origins, 1763-1791 (Chapel Hill, NC, 1967), pp. 56-57.
    21 Kaminski, pp. 113-69.
    22 Marcus Cunliffe, ``The Elections of 1789 and 1792,'' 
in Schlesinger and Israel, ed., 1:15.
    23 Kaminski, p. 171.
    24 As noted in Chapter 1 of this volume, ``John Adams,'' 
p. 6, Hamilton perceived Adams as a threat to his own ambitions and 
schemed--successfully--to erode his electoral count in 1788. Yet, even 
though, as Kaminski acknowledges, ``Hamilton did not particularly care 
for Adams,'' Adams' support for the Constitution made him infinitely 
preferable, in Hamilton's estimation, to Clinton. Kaminski, pp. 173-74.
    25 Cunliffe, p. 18; Annals of Congress, 1st Cong., 1st 
sess., p. 17.
    26 Kaminski, p. 231.
    27 Ibid., pp. 211-27; Stanley Elkins and Eric McKitrick, 
The Age of Federalism (New York, 1993), p. 288.
    28 Clinton also received one of Pennsylvania's 15 
electoral votes.
    29 Ralph Ketcham, James Madison: A Biography 
(Charlottesville, VA, 1992; reprint of 1971 edition), p. 336.
    30 Young, p. 430; Kaminski, p. 237-49.
    31 Kaminski, pp. 249-55; Annals of Congress, 5th Cong., 
special sess., March 4, 1797, pp. 1581-82.
    32 Kaminski, pp. 249-56; Annals of Congress, 5th Cong., 
special sess., March 4, 1797, pp. 1581-82.
    33 Kaminski, pp. 192, 256-60.
    34 Noble E. Cunningham, Jr., The Jeffersonian Republicans 
in Power: Party Operations, 1801-1809 (Chapel Hill, NC, 1963), p. 39; 
Dumas Malone, Jefferson the President: First Term, 1801-1805 (Boston, 
1970), p. 88; Noble E. Cunningham, Jr., The Process of Government under 
Jefferson (Princeton, NJ, 1978), p. 16; Kaminski, p. 261.
    35 Cunningham, Jeffersonian Republicans in Power, pp. 42-
43, 205-13; Noble E. Cunningham, Jr., In Pursuit of Reason: The Life of 
Thomas Jefferson (Baton Rouge, LA, 1987), p. 271; Malone, Jefferson the 
President: First Term, pp. 123-24, 141, 432; Kaminski, pp. 261-64.
    36 Cunningham, Jeffersonian Republicans in Power, p. 205.
    37 Kaminski, pp. 262-73.

    38 Dauer, pp. 159-69; Kaminski, p. 274.

    39 Ketcham, p. 466.

    40 Kaminski, p. 279; Cunningham, The Process of 
Government Under Jefferson, p. 16; Cunningham, Jeffersonian Republicans 
in Power, passim; and Dumas Malone, Jefferson the President: Second 
Term, 1805-1809 (Boston, 1974), passim.

    41 Cunningham, The Process of Government Under Jefferson, 
pp. 188-93; Alexander B. Lacy, Jr., ``Jefferson and Congress: 
Congressional Method and Politics, 1801-1809,'' Ph.D. dissertation 
(University of Virginia, 1964), pp. 97-101.

    42 Lacy, p. 102; Leonard D. White, The Jeffersonians: A 
Study in Administrative History, 1801-1809 (New York, 1951), p. 50.
    43 Kaminski, pp. 274-75.
    44 Brown, pp. 348-49.
    45 Kaminski, p. 275.
    46 Brown, pp. 634-35.
    47 Samuel L. Mitchill to Mrs. Mitchill, November 23, 
1807, ``Dr. Mitchill's Letters from Washington,'' p. 748.
    48 Brown, pp. 352-53.
    49 Adams' criticism followed his account of a debate in 
which Clinton ruled his motion to amend a resolution out of order. 
Charles F. Adams, ed., Memoirs of John Quincy Adams (12 vols., 
Philadelphia, 1874-1877), 1:382-85.
    50 Brown, p. 593.
    51 Kaminski, p. 292.
    52 Adams, 1:400.
    53 Ibid., 1:421; Brown, pp. 452, 455-57; Malone, 
Jefferson the President: Second Term, pp. 88-89.
    54 Cunningham, In Pursuit of Reason, pp. 281-82; Annals 
of Congress, 9th Cong., 1st sess., p. 208; U.S., Congress, House, Annals 
of Congress, 9th Cong., 1st sess., pp. 906-21.
    55 Adams, 1:452-53. The controversy was eventually 
settled by the Supreme Court's 1810 ruling in Fletcher v. Peck.
    56 Kaminski, pp. 278-79; Malone, Jefferson the President: 
Second Term, pp. 469-506.
    57 Samuel L. Mitchill to Mrs. Mitchill, January 25, 1808, 
``Dr. Mitchill's Letters to Washington,'' p. 752; Irving Brant, 
``Election of 1808,'' in Schlesinger and Israel, 1:185-221; Ketcham, pp. 
    58 ``Letter from Vice-President George Clinton to De Witt 
Clinton, March 5, 1808,'' in Schlesinger and Israel, 1:228; Brant, 
1:202; Kaminski, pp. 280-81, 332n.
    59 Samuel L. Mitchell to Mrs. Mitchell, April 1, 1808, 
``Dr. Mitchell's Letters from Washington,'' p. 753.
    60 Kaminski, pp. 285-86.
    61 ``A Citizen of New-York,'' quoted in Kaminski, pp. 
    62 Kaminski, p. 284.
    63 Adams, 1:516; Annals of Congress, 10th Cong., 1st 
sess., p. 150.
    64 Adams, 1:529.
    65 Cunningham, Jeffersonian Republicans in Power, pp. 
    66 Brant, 1:218.
    67 Kaminski, p. 283.
    68 Ibid., p. 288; Brant, 1:202; Ketcham, pp. 466-69. 
Pinckney carried the New England states with 76 electoral votes.
    69 The Twelfth Amendment, which provides that electors 
``shall name in their ballots the person voted for as President, and in 
distinct ballots the person voted for as Vice-President,'' was ratified 
on June 15, 1804. This procedure--designed to prevent a recurrence of 
the situation that occurred in 1800, when the Republican presidential 
and vice-presidential candidates received an equal number of electoral 
votes--was first employed during the 1804 election.
    70 Cunningham, Jeffersonian Republicans in Power, pp. 
    71  Ibid., p. 123.
    72 Annals of Congress, 10th Cong., 2d sess., pp. 337, 
344-45; U.S., Congress, Senate, Journal, 10th Cong., special session, 
March 4-March 7, 1809, pp. 365-68; and Journal, 11th Cong., 1st sess., 
pp. 373-74; Stathis and Moe, pp. 561, 566n. Neither the Annals nor the 
Senate Journal indicates where, or on what date, Clinton took his oath 
of office. He was not present for the special session of March 4-March 
7, 1809. The Senate Journal notes that ``[t]he Honorable George Clinton, 
Vice President of the United States and President of the Senate,'' was 
present when the Eleventh Congress convened on May 22, 1809, but does 
not indicate that he took the oath of office at that time.
    73 Ketcham, pp. 481-82. Gallatin continued to serve as 
secretary of the treasury until 1814.
    74 Ketcham, pp. 506; Annals of Congress, 11th Cong., 3d 
sess., pp. 121-347; Kaminski, pp. 289-90; Chase C. Mooney, William H. 
Crawford, 1772-1834 (Lexington, KY, 1974), pp. 17-26; Robert V. Remini, 
Henry Clay: Statesman for the Union (New York, 1991), pp. 68-71.
    75 Kaminski, p. 289.
    76 Annals of Congress, 11th Cong., 3d sess., pp. 346-47.
    77 Adams, 7:64; Remini, pp. 68-71, 379, and passim.
    78 Annals of Congress, 11th Cong., 3d sess., pp. 350-70.
    79 Ibid., pp. 9, 177, 205-6. The ``electioneering'' for 
Clinton's office was mentioned in correspondence from First Lady Dolley 
Madison to Anna Cutts, quoted in Ketcham, p. 521.
    80 Kaminski, p. 291; Annals of Congress, 12th Cong., 1st 
sess., p. 206; Ketcham, p. 520.
    81 Kaminski, pp. 292-93.

                                Chapter 5

                             ELBRIDGE GERRY


                             ELBRIDGE GERRY
                             ELBRIDGE GERRY

                                Chapter 5

                             ELBRIDGE GERRY

                      5th Vice President: 1813-1814

          It is the duty of every man, though he may have but one 
      day to live, to devote that day to the good of his country.
                                 --Elbridge Gerry 1
    The vice-presidency had been vacant for nearly a year by the time 
Elbridge Gerry took office as the nation's fifth vice president on March 
4, 1813. His predecessor, George Clinton, an uncompromising ``Old 
Republican'' with frustrated presidential ambitions, had died in office 
on April 20, 1812. Clinton's constant carping about President James 
Madison's foreign policy had put him at odds with the administration. 
Gerry, who replaced Clinton as the Republican vice-presidential nominee 
in the 1812 election, was a vice president more to Madison's liking. An 
enthusiastic supporter of Jefferson's embargo and Madison's foreign 
policy, he offered a welcome contrast to the independent-minded and 
cantankerous New Yorker who had proved so troublesome during the 
president's first term. But, like Clinton, Gerry would die in office 
before the end of his term, leaving Madison--and the nation--once again 
without a vice president.

                              Early Career

    Elbridge Gerry was born in Marblehead, Massachusetts, on July 17, 
1744, one of Thomas and Elizabeth Greenleaf Gerry's eleven children. A 
former ship's captain who emigrated from England in 1730, Thomas Gerry 
was a pillar of the Marblehead community, serving as a justice of the 
peace and selectman and as moderator of the town meeting. The family was 
prosperous, thanks to a thriving mercantile and shipping business and an 
inheritance from Elizabeth Gerry's side of the family. The Gerrys were 
also pious, faithfully attending the First Congregational Church and 
avoiding ostentatious display. Young Elbridge was probably educated by a 
private tutor before his admission to Harvard College in 1758. Like many 
of his fellow scholars, he paid careful attention to the imperial crisis 
that would eventually precipitate the American Revolution, arguing in 
his master's thesis that the colonists were justified in their 
resistance to ``the new Prohibitory Duties, which make it useless for 
the People to engage in Commerce.'' 2
    Gerry returned home after graduation to join the family business. A 
thriving port and commercial center, Marblehead was a hotbed of anti-
British activity during the 1760s and 1770s. The future vice president 
played a limited role in the resistance movement until the spring of 
1770, when he served on a local committee to enforce the ban on the sale 
and consumption of tea. He was elected to the Massachusetts legislature 
in 1772, and later to its successor body, the Provincial Congress, 
serving as chairman of the committee on supplies during the fall and 
winter of 1774-1775.3 The historian Mercy Otis Warren--a 
contemporary--later recalled that Gerry coordinated the procurement and 
distribution of arms and provisions with ``punctuality and indefatigable 
industry,'' 4 an effort he would continue while serving in 
the Continental Congress. Following a practice that was neither unusual 
nor illegal at the time, Gerry awarded several supply contracts to his 
family's business. But, unlike many of his fellow merchants, he refused 
to take excessive profits from wartime commerce, explaining that he 
would ``prefer any Loss to the least Misunderstanding with the public 
relative of Interest.'' 5
    Gerry was elected to the second Continental Congress in December 
1775, serving until 1780 and again from 1783 to 1785. If he was, as his 
biographer George Athan Billias admits, a ``second rank figure'' in a 
body that included such luminaries as Thomas Jefferson and John and 
Samuel Adams, he was also a diligent legislator. His efforts to persuade 
wavering middle colony delegates to support independence during the 
summer of 1776 evoked paeans of praise from John Adams. ``If every Man 
here was a Gerry,'' Adams claimed, ``the Liberties of America would be 
safe against the Gates of Earth and Hell.'' 6
    But, like Adams, Gerry could also be trying and impractical--even 
Adams despaired of his friend's ``obstinacy that will risk great things 
to secure small ones.'' 7 He was ``of so peculiar a cast of 
mind,'' Continental Congress Secretary Charles Thomson marvelled, ``that 
his pleasure seems proportioned to the absurdity of his schemes.'' 
8 Modern scholars agree that ``his work in Congress was 
remembered most for its capriciousness and contrariness,'' citing the 
``phobias against sword, purse, and centralized power'' that ``drove him 
to oppose any kind of peacetime army and any taxing scheme to raise 
revenue for the central government.'' 9 But Gerry's 
biographer discerns a fundamental logic in his seemingly erratic career. 
The Revolution was Gerry's defining moment, Billias emphasizes, and the 
future vice president considered ``the signing of the Declaration of 
Independence . . . the greatest single act of his entire life.'' 
10 All of his subsequent actions, inconsistent and 
idiosyncratic as they may have appeared to others, were driven by his 
single-minded goal of preserving the hard-won gains of the Revolution.
    For all his commitment to Revolutionary principles, however, Gerry 
was no egalitarian. He believed that a ``natural elite'' of able and 
talented individuals should govern the new nation. As a member of that 
favored class, he considered public service a responsibility, not an 
opportunity for personal or financial gain. Like many of his 
contemporaries, he believed that the ideal form of government was a 
``mixed'' constitution, incorporating in a delicately balanced 
equilibrium the best features of a monarchy, an aristocracy, and a 
democracy. A constitution that inclined too much toward any of the three 
would, Gerry feared, threaten the stability of the government or 
jeopardize the liberties of the people. This stance accounts for his 
seemingly inconsistent behavior during the Constitutional Convention and 
the ensuing ratification debate.11

                        Constitutional Convention

    One of four delegates chosen by the Massachusetts legislature to 
attend the 1787 Constitutional Convention, Gerry was, in his 
biographer's words, ``one of the most active participants in the entire 
Convention.'' 12 A member of the moderate bloc--he was 
neither an extreme nationalist nor a committed states' rights advocate--
he acted as a conciliator during the first phases of the convention. As 
chair of the committee that resolved the impasse between the large and 
small states over representation in the national legislature, Gerry made 
several impassioned speeches in support of the ``Great Compromise,'' 
which provided for equal representation of the states in the Senate and 
proportional representation in the House of 
    Soon after the convention adopted the compromise, Gerry began to 
worry that the constitution that was slowly emerging during those hot 
and tense days in Philadelphia would create a powerful national 
legislature capable of jeopardizing the people's liberties and 
overshadowing the states. Although the convention adopted several of his 
proposals to limit congressional power, including the prohibition 
against bills of attainder and ex post facto laws, these provisions 
failed to satisfy his apprehensions. Struggling to save a document that 
he now considered seriously flawed, Gerry offered a motion to include a 
bill of rights and several specific proposals to safeguard popular 
liberties. The convention's majority disagreed with this approach and 
defeated each of these initiatives. On September 15, 1787, a dispirited 
Gerry stated ``the objections which determined him to withhold his name 
from the Constitution,'' concluding that ``the best that could be done . 
. . was to provide for a second general Convention.'' Two days later, as 
his more optimistic colleagues prepared to sign the new Constitution, 
Gerry explained his change of heart. James Madison, whose notes of the 
convention provide the only authoritative account of its proceedings, 
recorded the awkward scene:
        Mr. Gerry described the painful feelings of his situation, and 
    the embarrassment under which he rose to offer any further 
    observations on the subject which had finally been decided. Whilst 
    the plan was depending, he had treated it with all the freedom he 
    thought it deserved. He now felt himself bound as he was disposed to 
    treat it with the respect due to the Act of the Convention. He hoped 
    he should not violate that respect in declaring on this occasion his 
    fears that a Civil war may result from the present crisis of the 
    Gerry objected to several provisions in the new Constitution, 
including the language in Article I, section 3, specifying that ``The 
Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate.'' 
During the September 7 debate over the ``mode of constituting the 
Executive,'' he had voiced his reservations about assigning legislative 
responsibilities to the vice president. ``We might as well put the 
President himself at the head of the Legislature,'' he had argued. ``The 
close intimacy that must subsist between the President & vice-president 
makes it absolutely improper.'' But, he now admitted, he could have 
accepted this provision and others that he found troubling had the 
Constitution not granted Congress such sweeping powers.15
    Fearful as he was about the new Constitution, Gerry was equally 
worried that ``anarchy may ensue'' if the states failed to ratify it. He 
did not, therefore, reject it outright during the ratification struggle. 
Abandoning his earlier call for a second convention, he worked to build 
support for amendments ``adapted to the `exigencies of Government' & the 
preservation of Liberty.'' Reviled as a traitor to his class by elites 
who strongly favored ratification, Gerry suffered an overwhelming defeat 
in the 1788 Massachusetts gubernatorial election. Still, he noted with 
some satisfaction that his state and four others ratified the 
Constitution with recommendations for amendments.16

                             The New Nation

    Gerry served in the United States House of Representatives during 
the First and Second congresses (1789-1793). A conciliatory and moderate 
legislator, he supported Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton's 
proposals to fund the Revolutionary War debt and to establish a national 
bank. Disillusioned by the increasingly partisan nature of the debate 
that Hamilton's proposals generated, Gerry retired at the end of his 
second term, returning to Elmwood, his Cambridge, Massachusetts, estate, 
to attend to his business affairs and to care for his large and growing 
family. He had remained a bachelor until the age of forty-one, marrying 
Ann Thompson, the European-educated daughter of a wealthy New York 
merchant, in 1786. Ann Gerry's frequent pregnancies--ten children 
arrived between 1787 and 1801--placed a severe strain on her health, and 
Elbridge was needed at home.17
    Gerry's brief retirement ended in 1796, when he served as a 
presidential elector, supporting his friend and former colleague, John 
Adams. In 1797, with relations between the United States and France 
steadily worsening after the adoption of the Jay Treaty, President Adams 
appointed Gerry an envoy to France. The mission failed after 
representatives of the French government demanded a bribe before they 
would begin negotiations. Gerry's fellow commissioners left Paris, but 
Gerry, who had been meeting privately with the French in an effort to 
facilitate negotiations, remained behind, believing that accommodation 
was possible. Eventually, he left France empty-handed but convinced that 
his efforts had averted war. Attacks on American shipping continued, 
however, and Gerry was widely criticized for the failure of the 
    Maligned by Federalists who believed him partial to France, and 
courted by Republicans for the same reason, Gerry tried to remain aloof 
from the partisan warfare of the late 1790s. Then, in 1800, energized by 
President John Adams' warning that Hamilton would use the army to gain 
control of the government, he aligned himself with the moderate wing of 
the Jeffersonian coalition, eventually emerging as the leader of the 
Massachusetts Republicans. After a brief second retirement from politics 
between 1804 and 1809, Gerry was elected governor of Massachusetts in 
1810. The success of his efforts to reconcile Federalists and 
Republicans, who were bitterly divided over foreign policy issues, led 
to his reelection the following year. During his second term, however, 
Governor Gerry adopted a more ``hard-line'' approach, as Massachusetts 
Federalists became increasingly outspoken in their opposition to 
Madison's foreign policy. He prosecuted Federalist editors for libel, 
appointed family members to state office, and approved a controversial 
redistricting plan crafted to give Republicans an advantage in the state 
senatorial elections. The Federalist press responded to this plan with 
cartoon figures of a salamander-shaped election district--the 
``Gerrymander''--adding to the American political lexicon a term that is 
still used to connote an irregularly shaped district created by 
legislative fiat to benefit a particular party, politician, or other 
group. Governor Gerry's highly partisan agenda led to his defeat in the 
April 1812 gubernatorial election. Heavily in debt after cosigning a 
note for a brother who defaulted on his obligation, and saddled with the 
expenses of a large family, Gerry asked President James Madison to 
appoint him collector of customs at Boston.19

                        Vice-Presidential Career

    Madison had other plans for Gerry. With the 1812 presidential 
election fast approaching and the vice-presidency vacant since George 
Clinton's death in April, Madison was more anxious to find a suitable 
running mate than to fill a customs post. He preferred a candidate who 
would attract votes in the New England states yet would not threaten the 
succession of the ``Virginia dynasty'' in the 1816 election. Former 
Senator John Langdon of New Hampshire, the party's first choice, was too 
old and too ill to accept the nomination. After he declined, the 
Republican caucus turned to the sixty-seven-year-old Gerry, a choice 
that Madison approved despite Albert Gallatin's prediction that the 
Massachusetts patriot ``would give us as much trouble as our late Vice-
President.'' 20 Gerry had supported Jefferson's embargo and 
Madison's foreign policy, remaining steadfast after the United States 
declared war against Great Britain in June 1812. Like Madison, he 
believed that the war was necessary to protect the liberties that both 
men had labored so hard to secure during the Revolution.21
    Although Gerry was certainly no liability, he turned out not to be 
as valuable an asset as the Republicans had hoped. Of Massachusetts' 22 
electors, only 2 voted for Gerry and none voted for Madison. In an 
election that was, as one scholar has observed, ``a virtual referendum'' 
on the War of 1812, editors and electioneers paid relatively little 
attention to the vice-presidential candidates. By a margin of 39 
electoral votes, Madison defeated opposition candidate De Witt Clinton, 
and Gerry triumphed over Jared Ingersoll of Pennsylvania.22
    Gerry remained at home in Massachusetts on inauguration day, March 
4, 1813, taking his oath of office there from U.S. District Judge John 
Davis.23 When the Senate convened at the beginning of the 
Thirteenth Congress on May 24, 1813, he appeared in the chamber with a 
certificate attesting to the fact that he had taken the oath of office. 
Gerry's inaugural address, an extended oration condemning the British 
and praising Madison, was unusual in content and length. He explained 
that ``to have concealed'' his ``political principles and opinions'' 
during ``a crisis like this might have savored too much of a deficiency 
of candor.'' 24 He was now on record as a supporter of the 
war effort and a loyal ally of the president.
    Gerry's early hopes that ``unanimity should prevail'' in the Senate 
25 soon faded, as the war deepened the divisions between the 
parties and threatened to split the Republican coalition. Republicans 
far outnumbered Federalists in the Senate, but mounting opposition to 
the war effort among disaffected Republicans steadily eroded the 
administration's 28-to-8 majority. The president was such an inept 
commander in chief that even his loyal ally, House Speaker Henry Clay of 
Kentucky, considered him ``wholly unfit for the storms of War.'' 
26 As anti-administration sentiment reached a fever pitch 
after American forces suffered humiliating defeats in Canada and at sea, 
27 several members of the president's party balked at the 
nomination of Treasury Secretary Albert Gallatin as envoy to Great 
Britain and Russia. Instead, they supported a resolution ordering 
Madison to inform the Senate whether Gallatin would retain his cabinet 
post (and, if so, who would serve in his absence). Ultimately, these 
Republicans joined with Federalists to defeat the nomination by a vote 
of 18 to 17.28
    Elbridge Gerry found it increasingly difficult to remain impartial 
in such a highly charged atmosphere, especially after Madison became 
seriously ill in mid-June 1813. Gerry, himself, was in poor health. He 
had recently suffered a ``stroke,'' and old age had so withered his 
slight physique that one observer likened his appearance to that of a 
``scant-patterned old skeleton of a French Barber.'' The March 1, 1792, 
act which at that time governed the presidential succession provided 
that if the president and the vice president died in office--a 
development that many considered possible, if not imminent, during the 
summer of 1813--the president pro tempore of the Senate would serve as 
president. And if Gerry left the Senate before Congress adjourned, as 
all of his predecessors had done to allow election of a president pro 
tempore, anti-administration forces might combine to elect an individual 
hostile to Madison's agenda. One Federalist editor had already suggested 
New York Federalist Senator Rufus King as a possible successor, while 
Secretary of State James Monroe warned that disaffected Senate 
Republicans had ``begun to make calculations, and plans, founded on the 
presumed death of the President and Vice-President, and it has been 
suggested to me that [Virginia Senator William Branch] Giles is thought 
of to take the place of the President of the Senate.'' 29
    But if Gerry remained in the chair, and if he survived until the end 
of the session, the person next in the line of succession would be 
Speaker of the House Henry Clay, an outspoken ``warhawk.'' Breaking with 
the precedent established by John Adams, Gerry therefore refused to 
vacate the chair, presiding over the Senate until the first session of 
the Thirteenth Congress adjourned on August 2, 1813. ``[S]everal 
gentlemen of the Senate had intimated a wish that he would retire from 
the Chair two or three weeks before the time of adjournment, and would 
thus give to the Senate an opportunity for choosing a President pro 
tempore,'' he later explained, but ``other gentlemen expressed a 
contrary desire, and thought that the President should remain in the 
Chair, and adjourn the Senate.'' Gerry ultimately decided that, as ``a 
war existed and had produced a special session of Congress,'' he was 
``differently circumstanced from any of his predecessors, and was under 
an obligation to remain in the Chair until the important business of the 
session was finished.'' 30 (Decades later, in March 1890, the 
Senate established the current practice of having presidents pro tempore 
hold office continuously until the election of another president pro 
tempore, rather than serving only during the absence of a vice 
    With the presidential succession safe and Madison's physical 
condition much improved by the time the Senate adjourned, Gerry was free 
to return home. He was absent when the second session of the Thirteenth 
Congress convened in December and did not return to Washington until 
early February 1814.31 Partisan sentiments remained strong in 
the Senate, he soon discovered. By one observer's count, the 
administration's opponents outnumbered its supporters by a margin of 20 
to 16. The vice president suspected that a Senate stenographer was the 
source of recent anti-administration articles in the local press, but 
with opposition forces now in the majority he was reluctant to ``meddle 
with serpents,'' and he let the matter drop.32
    Unpleasant as his Senate duties had become, Gerry still enjoyed the 
endless round of dinners, receptions, and entertainments that crowded 
his calendar. With his elegant manners and personal charm, the vice 
president was a favorite guest of Washington's Republican hostesses, 
including first lady Dolley Madison. He maintained an active social 
schedule that belied his advanced years and failing health, visiting 
friends from his earlier days, who were now serving as members of 
Congress or administration appointees, and paying special attention to 
Betsy Patterson Bonaparte, the American-born sister-in-law of Napoleon, 
whose revealing attire caused a stir wherever she went.33
    Gerry remained in Washington until the second session of the 
Thirteenth Congress adjourned on April 18, 1814, leaving the Senate 
chamber only a few moments before adjournment to permit the election of 
South Carolina Republican John Gaillard as president pro tempore. 
Mindful that the war had ``increased his responsibility,'' and 
apprehensive of ``the tendency of contrary conduct to prostrate the laws 
and Government,'' however, he had refused to relinquish the chair 
``whilst any important bill or measure was pending, and was to be 
finished at that session.'' 34
    Gerry spent the summer of 1814 in Massachusetts, awaiting news of 
the war effort from Madison.35 He found the capital much 
changed when he returned in the fall; British troops had burned most of 
the city's public buildings, including the Capitol, and the Senate would 
meet in temporary quarters for the remainder of his term. He was 
outraged to learn that Massachusetts Federalists had called for a 
convention of the New England states to consider defensive measures and 
to propose constitutional amendments. In the fall of 1814, the Hartford 
Convention, which would not issue its recommendations until after 
Gerry's death, was widely rumored to be a secessionist initiative. The 
vice president therefore urged Madison to counter with a ``spirited 
manifesto'' against the proceedings.36
    Gerry was still an energetic defender of the administration and of 
the war, but, by that autumn, his public responsibilities, coupled with 
his relentless socializing, had sapped his strength. He became seriously 
ill in late November 1814, retiring early on the evening of November 22 
and complaining of chest pains the next morning. Determined to perform 
his public responsibilities, he arrived at the temporary capitol in the 
Patent Office Building later that morning. Then, realizing that he was 
in no condition to preside over the Senate, he returned to his 
boardinghouse. Members of the Senate, assembling in the chamber at their 
customary hour and hearing reports of Gerry's death, sent Massachusetts 
Senators Joseph Varnum and Christopher Gore to the vice president's 
lodgings ``to ascertain the fact.'' When they returned with confirmation 
that the reports were true, the Senate appointed five senators to a 
joint committee ``to consider and report measures most proper to 
manifest the public respect for the memory of the deceased.'' The body 
then adjourned as a mark of respect to its departed president. On the 
following day, the Senate ordered that the president's chair ``be 
shrouded with black during the present session; and as a further 
testimony of respect for the deceased, the members of the Senate will go 
into mourning, and wear black crape round the left arm for thirty 
days.'' 37 Although the Senate passed legislation providing 
for payment of Gerry's vice-presidential salary to his financially 
strapped widow for the remainder of his term, the House rejected the 
    Not long after Gerry's interment at Congressional Cemetery, the 
United States claimed victory over Great Britain. The young nation 
received few tangible concessions from the British under the Treaty of 
Ghent, 38 but a new generation of leaders viewed America's 
``victory'' in the War of 1812 as a reaffirmation of the ideals that had 
animated and sustained Elbridge Gerry since the summer of 1776.
                             ELBRIDGE GERRY2


    1 Inscription on the Elbridge Gerry monument, 
Congressional Cemetery, Washington, D.C., reproduced in James T. Austin, 
The Life of Elbridge Gerry, vol. 2 (New York, 1970; reprint of 1829 
edition), p. 403.
    2 George Athan Billias, Elbridge Gerry, Founding Father 
and Republican Statesman (New York, 1976), pp. 1-7.
    3 Ibid., pp. 7-54.
    4 Quoted in ibid., p. 53.
    5 Ibid., pp. 73-75.
    6 Quoted in ibid., p. 70.
    7 Quoted in Samuel Eliot Morison, ``Elbridge Gerry, 
Gentleman-Democrat,'' New England Quarterly 2 (1929), reprinted in By 
Land and By Sea: Essays and Addresses (New York, 1953), p. 190.
    8 Quoted in Stanley Elkins and Eric McKitrick, The Age of 
Federalism: The Early American Republic, 1788-1800 (New York, 1993), p. 
    9 Elkins and McKitrick, p. 557.
    10 Billias, p. 70.
    11 Ibid., pp. xiii-xvii and passim; Jackson Turner Main, 
The Antifederalists: Critics of the Constitution, 1781-1788 (Chapel 
Hill, NC, 1961). p. 171.
    12 Billias, p. 158; Ralph Ketcham, James Madison: A 
Biography (Charlottesville, VA, 1992; reprint of 1971 edition), p. 194.
    13 Billias, pp. 153-84.
    14 Ibid., pp. 185-205; Notes of Debates in the Federal 
Convention of 1787 Reported By James Madison (New York, 1987; reprint of 
1966 edition), pp. 652-58.
    15 Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention, pp. 594-
97, 652.
    16 Billias, pp. 206-17.
    17 Ibid., pp. 147, 218-35.
    18 Ibid., pp. 245-86.
    19 Ibid., pp. 287-325.
    20 Ketcham, p. 523; Norman K. Risjord, ``Election of 
1812,'' in History of American Presidential Elections, 1789-1968, edited 
by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. and Fred L. Israel, vol. 1 (New York, 
1971). p. 252.
    21 According to Madison scholar Robert Allen Rutland, the 
president believed that ``war with Britain would reaffirm the commitment 
of 1776.'' Robert Allen Rutland, The Presidency of James Madison 
(Lawrence, KS, 1990), p. 97. Gerry elaborated his sentiments in his May 
24, 1813, inaugural address. U.S., Congress, Senate, Annals of Congress, 
13th Cong., 2d sess., pp. 10-13.
    22 Risjord, ``Election of 1812,'' pp. 249-72; Norman K. 
Risjord, ``1812,'' in Running for President: The Candidates and Their 
Images, ed. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., vol. 1, 1789-1896 (New York, 
1994), pp. 67-72.
    23 Stephen W. Stathis and Ronald C. Moe, ``America's 
Other Inauguration,'' Presidential Studies Quarterly 10 (Fall 1980), p. 
561. Gerry's legislative duties would not commence until the Thirteenth 
Congress convened two months later, which may account for his decision 
to remain in Cambridge until that time. Samuel Eliot Morison speculates 
that Ann Gerry's illness may have prevented her from accompanying her 
husband to Washington in 1813; her condition might also have delayed her 
husband's departure. Morison, ``Elbridge Gerry,'' pp. 197-98.
    24 Annals of Congress, 13th Cong., 1st sess., pp. 9-13.
    25 Ibid., p. 10.
    26 Robert V. Remini, Henry Clay: Statesman for the Union 
(New York, 1991), p. 97.
    27 Ibid., pp. 94-97.
    28 Ketcham, p. 560; Robert Ernst, Rufus King: American 
Federalist (Chapel Hill, NC, 1968), pp. 324-25; Annals of Congress, 13th 
Cong., 1st sess., pp. 84-90.
    29 The vice president's social life is chronicled in the 
diary of his son, Elbridge Gerry, Jr., who visited his father in 
Washington during the summer of 1813. Elbridge, Jr.'s diary makes no 
mention of his father's health, but the vice president's most recent 
biographer notes that the elder Gerry suffered a ``stroke'' while 
Madison was ill. Claude Bowers, ed., The Diary of Elbridge Gerry, Jr. 
(New York, 1927), passim; Ketcham, pp. 560-62; Billias, pp. 326-29.
    30 Annals of Congress, 13th Cong., 2d sess., pp. 776-78.
    31 Ketcham, p. 562; Annals of Congress, 13th Cong., 2d 
sess., pp. 537-622.
    32 Billias, p. 327.
    33 Ibid., pp. 327-28.
    34 Annals of Congress, 13th Cong., 2d sess., pp. 622-778.
    35 Rutland, p. 151.
    36 Billias, p. 326; Marshall Smelser, The Democratic 
Republic, 1801-1815 (New York, 1968), pp. 296-99.
    37 Billias, pp. 328-29; Annals of Congress, 13th Cong., 
3d sess., pp. 109-110.
    38 Smelser, pp. 308-11.

                                Chapter 6

                           DANIEL D. TOMPKINS


                           DANIEL D. TOMPKINS
                           DANIEL D. TOMPKINS

                                Chapter 6

                           DANIEL D. TOMPKINS

                      6th Vice President: 1817-1825

          The name of Daniel Tompkins deserves to be more kindly 
      remembered than it has been.
           --New York Herald-Tribune editorial, June 21, 1932 
    Daniel D. Tompkins was by all accounts an exceptionally handsome 
individual. He had a ``face of singular masculine beauty,'' one essayist 
noted, and a ``gentle, polished and unpretentious'' demeanor. Tompkins' 
biographer discovered that ``almost every noted American artist'' of the 
time painted the handsome New York Republican, 2 and the 
images reproduced in Raymond Irwin's study of Tompkins' career depict an 
attractive and obviously self-confident young politician. John 
Trumbull's 1809 portrait, for example, shows Tompkins as he appeared 
during his first term as governor of New York: a carefully dressed, 
poised, and seemingly contented public man, his dark hair framing an 
even-featured and not-yet-careworn face.3
    But had Trumbull painted Tompkins in 1825, the year he retired from 
public life after two terms as vice president during James Monroe's 
administration, he would have captured a vastly different likeness. A 
decade of financial privation and heavy drinking, coupled with 
accusations that he had mishandled state and federal funds while serving 
as governor of New York during the War of 1812, had prematurely aged 
Tompkins. He was, at the age of fifty, an embittered and tortured old 
man, his once-promising career brought to an untimely end. ``There was a 
time when no man in the state dared compete with him for any office in 
the gift of the people,'' a contemporary reflected after Tompkins' death 
on June 11, 1825, ``and his habits of intemperance alone prevented him 
from becoming President of the United States.'' 4

                          Tompkins' Early Years

    Daniel D. Tompkins was born in Westchester County, New York, on June 
21, 1774, one of eleven children of Jonathan Griffin Tompkins and Sarah 
Ann Hyatt Tompkins. His parents were tenant farmers, who acquired 
middle-class status only shortly before his birth when they purchased a 
farm near Scarsdale. Jonathan Griffin Tompkins joined several local 
resistance committees during the Revolution, serving as an adjutant in 
the county militia. After the war, he served several years as a town 
supervisor and as a delegate to the state legislature. A self-educated 
man, the elder Tompkins was determined to provide young Daniel with a 
classical education.
    The future vice president began his education at a New York City 
grammar school, later transferring to the Academy of North Salem and 
entering Columbia University in 1792. An exceptional scholar and a 
gifted essayist, Tompkins graduated first in his class in 1795, intent 
on pursuing a political career. In 1797, he was admitted to the New York 
bar and married Hannah Minthorne, the daughter of a well-connected 
Republican merchant. Tompkins' father-in-law was a prominent member of 
the Tammany Society, a militant, unabashedly democratic political 
organization that would one day challenge the Clinton dynasty for 
control of the New York Republican party. Also known as ``Bucktails,'' 
after the distinctive plumes worn at official and ceremonial gatherings, 
the Tammanyites were a diverse lot. As Tompkins' biographer has noted, 
the society was comprised of ``laborers . . . Revolutionary War veterans 
. . . who admired republican France and hated monarchical England; more 
than a sprinkling of immigrants . . . befriended by the Society . . . 
and, of course, hopeful politicians.'' 5
    Tompkins began his political career in 1800, canvassing his father-
in-law's precinct on behalf of candidates for the state legislature who 
would, if elected, choose Republican electors in the forthcoming 
presidential contest. He was a skilled and personable campaigner, never 
forgetting a name or a face; by the time the election was over, he knew 
nearly every voter in the Seventh Ward. Resourceful and energetic, he 
managed to circumvent New York's highly restrictive voter-qualification 
laws by pooling resources with other young men of modest means to 
purchase enough property to qualify for the franchise. The engaging and 
tactful Tompkins never allowed politics to interfere with personal 
friendships--an enormous asset for a New York politician, given the 
proliferation of factions in the Empire State during the early 1800s. 
Tompkins served as a New York City delegate to the 1801 state 
constitutional convention and was elected to the New York assembly in 
1803. In 1804 he won a seat in the United States House of 
Representatives, but he resigned before Congress convened to accept an 
appointment as an associate justice of the New York Supreme 

                              War Governor

    Tompkins was a popular and fair-minded jurist, well respected by 
members of the several factions that were struggling for control of the 
state Republican party during the early 1800s. He was also a close 
associate of De Witt Clinton, who supported him in the 1807 
gubernatorial race in an effort to unseat Morgan Lewis. Lewis was a 
``Livingston'' Republican, supported by the landed aristocracy who sided 
with the Livingston clan, wealthy landlords whose extensive holdings had 
assured them of a prominent role in New York politics. In contrast, the 
Clintonians stressed their candidate's humble origins--Tompkins was the 
``the Farmer's Boy,'' with not a drop of ``aristocratical or 
oligarchical blood'' in his veins--and won a solid victory. During his 
first months in office, the new governor apparently took his marching 
orders from Clinton, sending him advance copies of his official 
addresses for review and comment. But he soon asserted his independence 
by supporting President Thomas Jefferson's foreign policy and backing 
Clinton's rival, James Madison, in the 1808 presidential 
    Reelected governor in 1810, Tompkins was a loyal supporter of the 
Madison administration. He advised Treasury Secretary Albert Gallatin 
about patronage appointments in New York and, after the United States 
declared war on Great Britain in the summer of 1812, did his best to 
comply with War Department directives and requisitions. With Federalists 
in control of the state legislature and the Clintonians resolutely 
opposed to the war, Tompkins was hard pressed to comply with the 
constant stream of requests for men and materiel. He used his own funds 
to pay and arm the militia and personally endorsed a series of loans 
from local banks in a desperate effort to buttress the state's defenses. 
It was a risk Tompkins could ill afford to take; he had already made 
substantial contributions to the war effort and had borrowed heavily to 
finance several large purchases of land on Staten Island. When President 
Madison offered him a cabinet appointment in the fall of 1814, Tompkins 
protested that he would be more useful to the administration as governor 
of New York. But, he later confessed, ``One of the reasons was the 
inadequacy of my circumstances to remove to Washington & support so 
large and expensive family as mine is, on the salary of that office.'' 

                          The Election of 1816

    Tompkins' able and energetic leadership during the war made him one 
of the best-loved men in his state. One of his aides, novelist 
Washington Irving, pronounced him ``absolutely one of the worthiest men 
I ever knew . . . honest, candid, prompt, indefatigable,'' 9 
a sentiment that many shared. The editor of the Albany Argus suggested 
in January 1816 that ``if private worth--if public service--if fervent 
patriotism and practical talents are to be regarded in selecting a 
President then Governor Tompkins stands forth to the nation with 
unrivalled pretensions.'' 10 Republicans in the state 
legislature endorsed him as their presidential candidate on February 14, 
1816, and a week later he was renominated as the party's gubernatorial 
candidate. Tompkins defeated Federalist Rufus King by a comfortable 
margin in the gubernatorial race after an intensely partisan campaign 
focusing on the candidates' wartime records. But the victory was marred 
by Federalist accusations that Governor Tompkins had misused public 
monies during the war, charges that would haunt him for the remainder of 
his life.11
    Encouraged by Tompkins' victory, his supporters redoubled their 
efforts to secure his presidential nomination. Outside of New York, 
however, few Americans had ever heard of Tompkins, and few Republicans 
believed him capable of winning the presidency. Not even all New York 
Republicans backed Tompkins; some, like Albany Postmaster Samuel 
Southwick, a Madison appointee and the editor of the Albany Register, 
declared for Republican ``heir apparent'' James Monroe, who received the 
Republican presidential nomination on March 16, 1816. In a concession to 
New York Republicans, who were crucial to the party's national strategy, 
Daniel Tompkins did receive the vice-presidential nomination. Tompkins, 
like many New Yorkers, believed that Virginians had monopolized the 
presidency long enough, but, he assured one supporter, he had ``no 
objection to being vice President under Mr. Munro.'' He declared, 
however, that he could not accept a cabinet post in the Monroe 
administration because ``the emoluments . . . would not save his private 
fortune from encroachment . . . the vice Presidency in that respect 
would be more eligible to him--as he could discharge the Duties of that 
office and suffer his family to remain at home & probably save something 
for the support of his family.''
    The end of the war, by then popularly acclaimed as an American 
triumph, brought a resurgence in popularity for the Republicans and 
marked the beginning of the end for the Federalists, who had become 
suspect because of their opposition to the war. In this euphoric 
atmosphere, Monroe and Tompkins won an easy victory over Federalist 
presidential candidate Rufus King and an array of vice-presidential 

                         Absentee Vice President

    Tompkins' first term began auspiciously. He returned to his Staten 
Island home soon after taking the oath of office on March 4, 1817. There 
he welcomed President Monroe, who began the term with a tour of the 
northern states in the summer of 1817. A gesture reminiscent of 
President Washington's 1789 New England tour, the trip was intended to 
quell the partisan resentments that had so bitterly divided the country 
during the Jefferson and Madison administrations. After the president's 
brief visit to Staten Island, Tompkins accompanied him to Manhattan, 
where they attended a military review and a reception at City Hall and 
toured New York's military installations. When Monroe was made an 
honorary member of the Society for Encouragement of American 
Manufactures on June 13, 1817, Tompkins, the society's president, 
chaired the proceedings.13
    But Tompkins paid only sporadic attention to his vice-presidential 
duties after Monroe left New York to continue his tour. The vice 
president was in poor health, the result of a fall from his horse during 
an inspection tour of Fort Greene in 1814. By the fall of 1817, Tompkins 
was complaining that his injuries had ``increased upon me for several 
years until finally, for the last six weeks, they have confined me to my 
house and . . . sometimes to my bed. . . . My present prospect is that 
kind of affliction and confinement for the residue of my life.'' The 
problem was so severe that he expected to ``resign the office of Vice 
President at the next session, if not sooner, as there is very little 
hope of my ever being able to perform its duties hereafter.'' 
     Tompkins' health eventually improved enough to permit his return to 
public life, but his financial affairs were in such a chaotic state by 
1817 that he found little time to attend the Senate. In his haste to 
raise and spend the huge sums required for New York's wartime defense, 
he had failed to document his transactions, commingling his own monies 
with state and federal funds. An 1816 audit by the New York comptroller 
had revealed a $120,000 shortfall in the state treasury, the rough 
equivalent of $1.2 million 1991 dollars.15 A state commission 
appointed to investigate the matter indicated that Tompkins had 
apparently used the funds to make interest payments on an 1814 loan 
incurred ``on the pledge of the United States stock and Treasury notes, 
and on his personal responsibility, for defraying the expenses of 
carrying on the war.'' In 1819 the New York legislature awarded him a 
premium of $120,000, but currency values had plummeted since 1814. 
Tompkins maintained that the state now owed him $130,000, setting the 
stage for a long and bitter battle that continued through his first term 
as vice president.16
    Tompkins' efforts to settle accounts with the federal treasury 
proved equally frustrating. Perplexed by the intricacies of the 
government's rudimentary accounting system and lacking adequate 
documentation of his claims, he received no acknowledgement of the 
government's indebtedness to him until late 1822 and no actual 
compensation until 1824. In the meantime, Tompkins could neither make 
mortgage payments on his properties nor satisfy the judgments that 
several creditors, including his father-in-law and a former law tutor, 
obtained against him. Tompkins slid deeper into debt and began to drink 
    The vice president's financial troubles, and his continuing 
involvement in New York politics, kept him away from Washington for 
extended periods. He spent much of his first term in New York, trying to 
develop his Staten Island properties and negotiating with Comptroller 
Archibald McIntyre to settle his wartime accounts--a nearly impossible 
task, given the political climate in the state. De Witt Clinton had 
succeeded Tompkins as governor, and Comptroller McIntyre was Clinton's 
staunch ally. Governor Clinton's resentment of the ``Virginia dynasty'' 
knew no bounds, and with Tompkins now on record as a supporter of the 
Monroe administration, the long-simmering rivalry between the vice 
president and his former mentor finally came to a head. ``[B]oth parties 
thought they could make political capital'' out of Tompkins' financial 
embarrassments, one contemporary observed, ``and each party thought it 
could make more than the other.'' 18 In the spring of 1820, 
the New York Senate voted to award Tompkins $11,870.50 to settle his 
accounts, but Clinton's allies in the state assembly blocked a final 
settlement and affirmed the comptroller's contention that Tompkins was 
still in arrears.19
    Tompkins grew increasingly bitter with each new assault on his 
integrity, but many New Yorkers, having themselves suffered severe 
financial reverses during the panic of 1819, sympathized with his 
plight, and continued to hold him in high regard. In 1820, the Bucktails 
nominated Tompkins as their candidate to oppose Clinton in the 
gubernatorial race--a move that heightened public scrutiny of the 
charges against him while foreclosing any possibility of reaching a 
settlement before the election. Some questioned the wisdom of nominating 
Tompkins. Republican strategist Martin Van Buren tried, without success, 
to replace him with a less controversial candidate. But Tompkins, 
fearful that his withdrawal would only lend credence to the charges 
against him, refused to step aside. Although Clinton ultimately won 
reelection by a narrow margin, Tompkins achieved a personal victory when 
the state legislature finally approved a compromise settlement of his 
accounts in November 1820.20
    When Tompkins did find time to attend the Senate, he was an inept 
presiding officer. His shortcomings were painfully apparent during the 
debates over the admission of Missouri into the Union, a critically 
important contest that became, in the words of historian Glover Moore, 
``a struggle for political power between the North and South.'' 
21 New York Representative James Tallmadge, Jr. had sparked 
the debate when he offered an amendment to the Missouri statehood bill 
prohibiting ``the further introduction of slavery or involuntary 
servitude'' in the prospective state and requiring the emancipation, at 
the age of twenty-five, of all slave children born after Missouri's 
admission into the Union. The Senate took up the Missouri question in 
February 1819, with Senator Rufus King of New York leading the 
restrictionist charge and southern Republicans opposing the effort to 
restrict the spread of slavery. The debates continued through the spring 
of 1820, when Congress finally approved the Missouri 
    In this contentious atmosphere, Tompkins found it difficult to 
maintain order. Mrs. William A. Seaton, who followed the debate with 
avid interest from the Senate gallery, recounted one particularly 
chaotic session that took place in January 1820:
        . . . There have been not less than a hundred ladies on the 
    floor of the Senate every day on which it was anticipated that Mr. 
    Pinckney 23 would speak . . . Governor Tompkins, a very 
    gallant man, had invited a party of ladies who he met at Senator 
    Brown's, 24 to take seats on the floor of the Senate, 
    having, as President of the Senate, unlimited power, and thinking 
    proper to use it, contrary to all former precedent. I was one of the 
    select, and gladly availed myself of the invitation, with my good 
    friend Mrs. Lowndes, of South Carolina, and half a dozen others. The 
    company in the gallery seeing a few ladies very comfortably seated 
    on the sofas, with warm foot-stools and other luxuries, did as they 
    had a right to do,--deserted the gallery; and every one, old and 
    young, flocked into the Senate. 'Twas then that our Vice-President 
    began to look alarmed, and did not attend strictly to the member 
    addressing the chair. The Senators (some of them) frowned 
    indignantly, and were heard to mutter audibly, 'Too many women here 
    for business to be transacted properly!' Governor Tompkins found it 
    necessary the next morning to affix a note to the door, excluding 
    all ladies not introduced by one of the Senators.25
    Tompkins left for New York shortly after this embarrassing incident, 
turning his attention to the gubernatorial race while the Missouri 
debate dragged on. His abrupt departure angered antislavery senators, 
who were thus deprived of the vice president's tie-breaking vote in the 
event of a deadlock between the free states and the slave states. There 
is little evidence to suggest that Tompkins' absence had any effect on 
the ultimate outcome of the Missouri debate, since his vote was never 
needed to resolve an impasse, but restrictionists reviled him as a 
``miserable Sycophant who betrayed us to the lords of the South . . . 
that smallest of small men Daniel D. Tompkins.'' In one his last 
official acts as governor, Tompkins had petitioned the New York 
legislature to set a date certain for emancipation, and northern 
senators apparently expected some type of support from his quarter 
during the Missouri debate. They were bitterly disappointed. Rufus King, 
for one, lamented that Tompkins had ``fled the field on the day of 
battle.'' 26
    The vice president was, admittedly, distracted by the New York 
election and obsessed with clearing his name, but in ``fleeing the 
field,'' he had also avoided taking a public stand that would certainly 
have alienated the president, an important consideration since Tompkins 
had every intention of remaining on the ticket as Monroe's running mate 
in 1820. Monroe never commented publicly on the Missouri controversy, 
although he privately informed some advisers that he would veto any 
statehood bill incorporating a restrictionist proviso. Because his 
overriding concern had been to resolve the crisis before the 1820 
election, he had worked quietly behind the scenes to help fashion a 
compromise acceptable to northern and southern Republicans. Monroe's 
biographer has suggested that, given the controversy over his unsettled 
accounts, Tompkins knew that he had little chance of winning the New 
York gubernatorial election and ``intended to protect his career by 
remaining on the national ticket as Vice-President.'' 27
    Whatever his motives, the vice president was by 1820 a bitter and 
desperate man, his judgment and once-considerable abilities severely 
impaired both by the strain of his ordeal and by his heavy drinking. 
Still, even though some Republicans attempted to block his renomination, 
most remained faithful to ``the Farmer's Boy.'' The 1820 presidential 
contest generated surprisingly little interest, given the problems then 
facing the nation. The country was suffering from a severe depression, 
and the American occupation of Spanish Florida had unleashed a torrent 
of anti-administration criticism from House Speaker Henry Clay of 
Kentucky. Although the Missouri controversy had been resolved for the 
moment, the truce between North and South was still perilously fragile. 
Historian Lynn W. Turner has suggested that the reelection of Monroe and 
Tompkins in 1820 can perhaps be attributed to ``the nineteenth-century 
time-lapse between the perception of political pain and the physical 
reaction to it.'' Monroe ran virtually unopposed, winning all but one of 
the electoral votes cast--a ``unanimity of indifference, not of 
approbation,'' according to John Randolph of Roanoke.28
    Some of the electors who were willing to grant Monroe another term 
balked at casting their second votes for Tompkins. Among these was 
Federalist elector Daniel Webster of Massachusetts, who predicted that 
``[t]here will be a number of us . . . in this state, who will not vote 
for Mr. Tompkins, and we must therefore look up somebody to vote for.'' 
Federalist elector and former Senator William Plumer of New Hampshire 
felt ``compelled to withhold my vote from . . . Tompkins . . . because 
he grossly neglected his duty.'' 29 The vice president's only 
official function, Plumer maintained, was to preside over the Senate, 
``for which he receives annually a salary of five thousand dollars.'' 
But ``during the last three years he was absent from the Senate nearly 
three fourths of the time, & thereby occasioned an extra expense to the 
nation of nearly twenty five hundred dollars. He has not that weight of 
character which his office requires--the fact is he is grossly 
intemperate.'' 30 But Tompkins, like Monroe, ran virtually 
unopposed. He was easily reelected with 218 electoral votes.


    Tompkins' second term was, in his biographer's words, a time of 
``intensifying personal trial, and even of crushing misfortune.'' 
31 In 1821, he attended the New York constitutional 
convention and was deeply honored when his fellow delegates chose him to 
chair the proceedings. But his detractors complained that ``Mr. 
Tompkins''--now ``a degraded sot''--owed his election only to ``the 
madness of party.'' 32
    Tompkins missed the opening session of the Seventeenth Congress on 
December 3, 1821, but he was back in the Senate by December 28. He 
attended regularly until January 25, 1822, when the Senate was forced to 
adjourn until the following day, ``the Vice President being absent, from 
indisposition.'' Less than a week later, Senator King arrived with a 
letter from Tompkins informing the Senate that, his health having 
``suffered so much on my journey'' and since his arrival in town, he 
intended, ``as soon as the weather and the state of the roads permit, to 
return to my family.'' 33
    Tompkins was clearly losing control. During his brief stay in 
Washington, he had managed to alienate Monroe, having severely 
criticized the president during a meeting with Postmaster General Return 
J. Meigs and others.34 Not long after his departure, one 
observer ventured that Tompkins had never been ``perfectly sober during 
his stay here. He was several times so drunk in the chair,'' Dr. James 
Bronaugh informed Andrew Jackson, ``that he could with difficulty put 
the question.'' 35 Tompkins would spend the next several 
months trying to settle his accounts with the federal treasury. Before 
leaving Washington, he assigned what property he still owned, including 
his Staten Island home, to a group of trustees, and on his return to New 
York he moved into a run-down boardinghouse in Manhattan.36
    Tompkins' absence spared him the humiliation of presiding over the 
Senate as it considered a provision in the 1822 General Appropriation 
bill to withhold the salaries of government officials who owned money 
to, or had failed to settle their accounts with, the Treasury. The 
provision, part of a continuing effort to reform the government's 
auditing process and to insure greater accountability in public 
administration, prompted extensive debate.37 The April 19 
session would have been particularly difficult for Tompkins, with New 
York Senator Martin Van Buren asking whether ``gallant and heroic men, 
who had sustained the honor of their country in the hour of danger, 
should be kept out of their just dues''--an oblique reference, perhaps, 
to the vice president's plight--and South Carolina Senator William Smith 
exhibiting ``voluminous lists of those who had been reported public 
debtors of more than three years' standing,'' lists that included the 
name of Daniel Tompkins.38
    The General Appropriation Act became law on April 30, 1822, 
depriving Tompkins of his last remaining source of funds.39 
In a desperate attempt to settle his accounts, Tompkins petitioned the 
United States District Court for the District of New York to bring suit 
against him for the ``supposed balance for which I have been reported 
among the defaulters.'' His trial began on June 3, 1822, with the U.S. 
district attorney seeking a judgment of over $11,000 and the defendant 
coordinating his own defense. For three days, the jurors heard accounts 
of Tompkins' wartime sacrifices: bankers who had lent him funds to pay 
and arm the militia testified in his behalf, and Senator Rufus King 
recounted that he had urged his friend to take out personal loans for 
the common defense. Another witness gave a detailed accounting of 
Tompkins' transactions. But the high point of the trial was Tompkins' 
highly emotional summation to the jury, a detailed chronicle of ``long 
ten years' . . . accumulated and protracted wrongs.'' After deliberating 
for several hours, the jury finally decided in favor of Tompkins. 
Although the court could by law deliver only a general verdict, the 
jurors proclaimed that ``there is moreover due from the United States of 
America to the Defendant Daniel D. Tompkins the sum of One hundred and 
thirty six thousand seven hundred and ninety nine dollars and ninety 
seven cents.'' 40
    Tompkins returned to Washington by December 3, 1822, to resume his 
duties in the Senate. Finally exonerated after a decade-long struggle, 
Tompkins seemed a changed man. ``[T]he verdict . . . had an evident 
effect on his spirits,'' Niles' Weekly Register reported. ``His mind 
appeared to resume all its former strength, and, during the last 
session, in his attention to the duties of his office as president of 
the senate, it is the opinion of many of the older members, that no one 
ever conducted himself more satisfactorily, or with greater dignity 
filled the chair.'' He remained until February 18, 1823; two days later, 
the Senate approved a bill to ``adjust and settle the accounts and 
claims of Daniel D. Tompkins'' and to restore his salary.41
    Tompkins received no actual remuneration until much later, however. 
Government accountants ultimately recommended a settlement of just over 
$35,000, a finding that Monroe, convinced that ``a larger sum ought to 
be allowed him,'' delayed transmitting to Congress. But Tompkins and his 
family were in dire straits, although rumors of his confinement to a New 
York debtors' prison ultimately proved false. On December 7, 1823, 
Monroe asked Congress for a $35,000 interim appropriation to provide the 
vice president with ``an essential accommodation.'' Congress approved 
the request in late December.42
    On January 21, 1824, Tompkins returned to the Senate. He was 
``determined to take no part in the approaching election,'' he informed 
John Quincy Adams, ``and wished for nothing thereafter but quiet and 
retirement.'' He still suffered from bouts of insomnia but was finally 
``relieved of all his embarrassments.'' He remained in Washington until 
the end of the session, taking his final leave from the Senate on May 20 
with ``a few brief remarks'' expressing ``his sense of the kind and 
courteous treatment he had experienced from the members, collectively 
and individually.'' On May 26, the Senate approved Monroe's request for 
an additional appropriation of just over $60,000 ``for the payment of 
the claims of Daniel D. Tompkins.'' 43
    The 1823 and 1824 appropriations came too late to be of much use to 
the impoverished vice president. He continued to drink heavily, and 
after years of indebtedness his business affairs were convoluted beyond 
resolution. Daniel Tompkins died intestate on June 11, 1825, and was 
interred in St. Mark's Church in New York City. After his death, his 
creditors squabbled over his once-magnificent Staten Island estate, 
until it was finally disposed of in a series of sheriff's sales. In 
1847, Congress approved a payment of close to $50,000 to Tompkins's 
heirs.44 But even this amount, one scholar noted long after 
the fact, ``was only part of what was due him as generally admitted.'' 
                           DANIEL D. TOMPKINS2


    1 Quoted in Ray W. Irwin, Daniel D. Tompkins: Governor of 
New York and Vice President of the United States (New York, 1968), p. 
309, n. 55.
    2 Irwin, pp. 59, 227.
    3 Reproduced in ibid., facing p. 66.
    4 Philip Hone, quoted in ibid., p. 309.
    5 Ibid., pp. 1-36.
    6 Ibid., pp. 25-50.
    7 Ibid., pp. 51-75.
    8 Ibid., pp. 83-84, 145-213; Harry Ammon, James Monroe: 
The Quest for National Identity (Charlottesville, Va., 1990; reprint of 
1971 edition), pp. 314-37.
    9 Washington Irving to William Irving, October 14, 1814, 
quoted in Pierre M. Irving, ed., The Life and Letters of Washington 
Irving, vol. 1 (Detroit, 1967; reprint of 1863 edition), pp. 320-21.
    10 Quoted in Irwin, pp. 197-98.
    11 Ibid., pp. 197-205.
    12 Donald B. Cole, Martin Van Buren and the American 
Political System (Princeton, NJ, 1984), pp. 46-47; Irwin, pp. 206-11; 
Lynn W. Turner, ``Elections of 1816 and 1820,'' in History of American 
Presidential Elections, 1789-1968, ed., Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., and 
Fred L. Israel, vol. 1 (New York, 1985), pp. 299-321.
    13 Irwin, pp. 221-23; Ammon, pp. 371-79.
    14 Irwin, pp. 185, 223.
    15 Based on 1860 Composite Consumer Price Index, in John 
J. McCusker, How Much Is That in Real Money? A Historical Price Index 
for Use as a Deflator of Money Values in the Economy of the United 
States (Worcester, MA, 1992; reprint of 1991 edition), pp. 326-32.
    16 Irwin, pp. 231-32, and passim.
    17 Ibid., pp. 279-305, and passim.
    18 Jabez Hammond, quoted in ibid., p. 234.
    19 Ibid., pp. 220-63.
    20 Ibid., pp. 243-63; Cole, Martin Van Buren and the 
American Political System, pp. 61-62.
    21 Glover Moore, The Missouri Controversy, 1819-1821 
(Gloucester, MA, 1967; reprint of 1953 edition), p. 126.
    22 Moore, passim; Robert Ernst, Rufus King: American 
Federalist (Chapel Hill, NC, 1968), pp. 369-74; Ammon, pp. 449-57.
    23 Maryland Senator William Pinkney.
    24 Louisiana Senator James Brown.
    25 Josephine Seaton, William Winston Seaton of The 
``National Intelligencer'' (New York, 1970; reprint of 1871 edition), 
pp. 146-47.
    26 Irwin, pp. 211-12, 249-50; Moore, p. 182 and passim.
    27 Ammon, pp. 450-58.
    28 Turner, pp. 312-21.
    29 Ibid., pp. 312-18.
    30 Irwin, p. 262.
    31 Ibid., p. 279.
    32 Ibid., pp. 264-80.
    33 U.S., Congress, Senate, Annals of Congress, 17th 
Cong., 1st sess., pp. 9-43, 157, 174.
    34 Irwin, p. 282.
    35 Dr. James Bronaugh to Andrew Jackson, February 8, 
1822, quoted in Irwin, p. 283, n. 9.
    36 Irwin, pp. 280-84.
    37 Leonard D. White, The Jeffersonians: A Study in 
Administrative History, 1801-1829 (New York, 1961), pp. 162-79.
    38 Annals of Congress, 17th Cong., 1st sess., pp. 391-
    39 Irwin, p. 284; White, p. 179.
    40 Irwin, pp. 286-94.
    41 Niles' Weekly Register, quoted in Irwin, p. 295; 
Annals of Congress, 17th Cong., 2d sess., pp. 10-260.
    42 Annals of Congress, 18th Cong., 1st sess., p. 26; 
Irwin, pp. 297-99.
    43 Annals of Congress, 18th Cong., 1st sess., pp. 127, 
766, 788; Irwin, pp. 273, 300.
    44 Irwin, pp. 300-311.
    45 Henry A. Holmes, quoted in ibid., p. 301, n.43.

                                Chapter 7

                             JOHN C. CALHOUN


                             JOHN C. CALHOUN
                             JOHN C. CALHOUN

                                Chapter 7

                             JOHN C. CALHOUN

                      7th Vice President: 1825-1832

          . . . There are no two events in my life, in which I 
      take greater pride, than those to which you have so kindly 
      alluded. My first public act was to contribute . . . to the 
      maintenance of our national rights against foreign 
      aggressions, and my last had been to preserve in their 
      integrity, as far as it depended on men, those principles of 
      presiding in the Senate, which are essentially the most 
      vital of political rights, the freedom of debate . . . it 
      will ever to me be a proud reflection, that I have been 
      thought worthy of suffering in a great cause, . . . the 
      freedom of debate, a cause more sacred than even the liberty 
      of the press.
             --John C. Calhoun, September 7, 1826 1
    John C. Calhoun assumed office as the nation's seventh vice 
president on March 4, 1825, during a period of extraordinary political 
ferment. The demise of the Federalist party after the War of 1812 had 
not, as former President James Monroe had hoped, ushered in an ``Era of 
Good Feelings,'' free from party divisions. Contrary to Monroe's 
expectations, the partisan strife of earlier years had not abated during 
his two terms as president but had, instead, infected the Republican 
party, which had declined into a broad-based but rapidly disintegrating 
coalition of disparate elements. Five individuals, all of them 
Republicans, had entered the 1824 presidential contest, one of the most 
controversial and bitterly contested races in the nation's history. The 
``National Republicans,'' a group that included Calhoun, House Speaker 
Henry Clay, and Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, supported an 
expansive, nationalist agenda; the ``Radicals,'' allies of Treasury 
Secretary William Crawford, were strict constructionists and advocates 
of limited government. Other Republicans had rallied to the standard of 
Andrew Jackson, a former Tennessee senator and the military hero whose 
stunning victory at the Battle of New Orleans had salvaged the nation's 
pride during the War of 1812.
    In this momentous contest, John Quincy Adams had emerged the winner, 
but his victory came at great cost to his administration and to the 
nation. The election was decided in the House of Representatives, where 
Clay had used his influence as leader of the western bloc and as Speaker 
to secure Adams' election. Adams, in turn, had appointed Clay secretary 
of state, a nomination that stunned Jackson supporters, strict 
constructionists, and particularly Vice President Calhoun. The ``corrupt 
bargain'' deeply offended Calhoun's strict sense of honor and propriety, 
pushing him toward the opposition camp, a fragmented assortment of 
Radicals, southern agriculturalists, and men of conscience who shared 
the vice president's conviction that Adams and Clay had subverted the 
popular will. These diverse elements, which were frequently at odds with 
one another, would eventually coalesce to form the Democratic party. But 
the nation would first pass through a chaotic and turbulent period of 
political realignment, which Calhoun described for his friend and 
mentor, Monroe, in the summer of 1826:
        . . . Never in any country . . . was there in so short a period, 
    so complete an anarchy of political relations. Every prominent 
    publick man feels, that he has been thrown into a new attitude, and 
    has to reexamine his position, and reapply principles to the 
    situation, into which he was so unexpectedly and suddenly thrown, as 
    if by some might[y] political revolution . . . Was he of the old 
    Republican party? He finds his prominent political companions, who 
    claim and take the lead, to be the very men, against who, he had 
    been violently arrayed till the close of the late war; and sees in 
    the opposite rank, as enemies, those with whom he was proud to rank 
    . . .
        Taking it altogether, a new and dangerous state of things has 
    suddenly occurred, of which no one can see the result. It is, in my 
    opinion, more critical and perilous, than any I have ever 
    Congress was changing, as well. The Senate, as Senator Robert C. 
Byrd has noted in his authoritative history, was ``beginning to 
challenge the House as the principal legislative forum of the nation.'' 
Before the 1820s, the press and public had paid relatively little 
attention to the Senate's deliberations, being drawn instead to the 
livelier and more entertaining theater in the House of Representatives. 
By 1825, the House had become too large to permit the lengthy speeches 
and extended debates that had drawn observers to its galleries, while in 
the Senate, growth had brought increased influence. ``At the formation 
of the Government,'' Calhoun observed in his inaugural remarks, ``the 
members of the Senate were, probably, too small to attract the full 
confidence of the people, and thereby give to it that weight in the 
system which the Constitution intended. This defect has, however, been 
happily removed by an extraordinary growth''--eleven new states, and 
twenty-two senators, in a thirty-six-year period. The 1819-1820 debate 
over the extension of slavery into the Missouri territory signalled that 
an era of increasingly virulent sectional discord had arrived. The 
Senate, with its equality of representation among states and rules 
permitting extended debate, would become the forum where sectional 
concerns were aired, debated, and reconciled during the next quarter 
century, a momentous era known to scholars as ``The Golden Age of the 
Senate.'' 3
    Calhoun, who presided over the Senate at the dawning of its Golden 
Age, had reached the height of his career. Given his meteoritic rise to 
national prominence as a talented young congressman during the War of 
1812 and his solid record of accomplishment as secretary of war during 
Monroe's administration, he had every reason to assume that he would one 
day become president.

                     Calhoun's Early Life and Career

    John Caldwell Calhoun was born on March 18, 1782, near Long Canes 
Creek, an area later known as the Abbeville District, located in 
present-day McCormick County, South Carolina. His parents, Patrick and 
Martha Caldwell Calhoun, were of Scotch-Irish ancestry. The Calhouns had 
immigrated to Pennsylvania during the 1730s and moved steadily southward 
until 1756, when Patrick reached the South Carolina 
backcountry.4 One of the most prosperous planters (and one of 
the largest slaveowners) in his district, Patrick Calhoun was a leader 
in local politics; he served in the South Carolina legislature from 1768 
to 1774. During the late 1760s, he was a Regulator, one of the self-
appointed vigilantes whose well-intentioned but rough efforts to impose 
justice on a crime-racked frontier wholly lacking in judicial 
institutions finally prompted the South Carolina legislature to 
establish circuit courts in the backcountry. During the Revolution, he 
sided with the patriot cause.5
    Young John received only a sporadic education during his early 
years, attending a ``field school'' for a few months each year. In 1795, 
he entered a private academy in Appling, Georgia, but the school closed 
after a few months. The boy plunged into an exhausting course of self-
study, but his father's death soon forced him to return to Abbeville to 
manage the family farm. The disappointed young scholar remained at home 
until 1800, when his mother and brothers, having recognized his 
formidable intellectual abilities, returned him to the academy, which 
had since reopened. He was a diligent student, qualifying for admission 
to Yale College in 1802.
    Calhoun completed his studies at Yale in 1804. After graduation, he 
spent a month at the Newport, Rhode Island, summer retreat of Floride 
Bonneau Colhoun.6 Mrs. Colhoun was the widow of the future 
vice president's cousin, Senator John Ewing Colhoun; her daughter, also 
named Floride, was attractive, well-connected in South Carolina 
lowcountry circles, and socially accomplished. John C. Calhoun married 
his young cousin in 1811. The union conferred wealth and social prestige 
on the earnest young upcountry lawyer, but Calhoun was also attracted to 
Floride's ``beauty of mind . . . soft and sweet disposition,'' and 
``amiable and lovable character.'' 7 Not until later would he 
experience her stubborn will and unwavering sense of moral rectitude, so 
like his own.
    Calhoun began his legal education in 1804 soon after leaving 
Newport, studying first in Charleston and later at the Litchfield, 
Connecticut, school of Tapping Reeve, a distinguished scholar who 
counted among his former students such notables as James Madison and 
Aaron Burr. He returned to South Carolina in 1806 and served brief 
apprenticeships at Charleston and Abbeville. Admitted to the bar in 
Abbeville in 1807, Calhoun soon found another calling. In the summer of 
1807, he helped organize a town meeting to protest the British attack on 
the American vessel Chesapeake off the Virginia coast. His speech 
recommending an embargo and an enhanced defense posture electrified the 
militantly nationalistic crowd assembled at the Abbeville courthouse, 
winning him immediate acclaim. He was elected to the South Carolina 
legislature, where he served two terms, and in 1810 he won a seat in the 
United States House of Representatives.8

                           Congressman Calhoun

    Calhoun arrived in Washington shortly after the Twelfth Congress 
convened on November 4, 1811, taking quarters in a boardinghouse soon to 
be known as the ``War Mess.'' The nation's capital boasted few amenities 
during the early nineteenth century, and members of Congress rarely 
brought their families to town. They lodged instead with colleagues from 
their own states or regions and, as one student of early Washington 
discovered, ``the members who lived together, took their meals together, 
and spent most of their leisure hours together also voted together with 
a very high degree of regularity.'' 9 Calhoun's mess mates 
included two members of the South Carolina delegation, Langdon Cheves 
and William Lowndes; Felix Grundy of Tennessee; and the newly elected 
Speaker of the House of Representatives, Henry Clay of 
Kentucky.10 They, and other like-minded young congressmen 
known as the ``warhawks,'' believed that nothing short of war would stop 
British raids on American shipping and restore the young nation's honor.
    Calhoun, who had been appointed to the Foreign Affairs Committee 
11 at the beginning of his first term and became its chairman 
in the spring of 1812, played a leading role in the effort, supporting 
legislation to strengthen the nation's defenses. Working in concert with 
Secretary of State James Monroe, he introduced the war bill that 
Congress approved in June 1812.12 Although Calhoun soon 
realized that Madison was ``wholly unfit for the storms of war,'' he 
labored so diligently to defend the administration and to assist in the 
war effort that he became known as ``the young Hercules who carried the 
war on his shoulders.'' He was, as a historian of the period has noted, 
``an administration leader second only to Clay.'' 13
    Calhoun served in the House until 1817. Sobered by the nation's 
near-defeat during the War of 1812, he continued his interest in 
military affairs, opposing troop reductions and advocating the 
establishment of two additional service academies. As his modern 
biographer has observed, Calhoun ``equated defense with national self-
sufficiency.'' Toward that end, he accepted protective tariffs and 
helped draft legislation to establish the Second Bank of the United 
States in 1816. Concerned that the nation's interior settlements lacked 
the roads and other improvements that he believed essential to economic 
development and national security, he proposed legislation to earmark 
for internal improvements the $1.5 million charter fee the bank paid to 
the federal government, as well as the yields of government-owned bank 

                            Secretary of War

    Calhoun resigned from the House in November 1817 to accept an 
appointment as secretary of war in President James Monroe's cabinet, a 
post he would hold for more than seven years. Calhoun was not the 
president's first choice; Monroe had approached several others, but all 
had declined. With the nation's military establishment in complete 
disarray after the war, reforming a badly managed department with over 
$45 million in outstanding accounts (at a time when the government's 
annual budget amounted to less than $26 million) seemed to most a near-
impossible task. But Calhoun believed that a strong defense 
establishment was essential to maintaining the nation's honor and 
security, and he welcomed the chance to reform the troubled department. 
The thirty-two-year-old cabinet officer was also ambitious and well 
aware that, as another biographer has noted, ``no man had yet held the 
presidency . . . who had not proved his worth in some executive 
capacity.'' 15
    President Monroe relied heavily on his cabinet and submitted all 
matters of consequence to his department heads before deciding upon a 
course of action, a practice that assured the gifted young war secretary 
a prominent role in the new administration.16 Monroe seems to 
have felt a special fondness for Calhoun--and for Floride, who moved to 
Washington and soon became one of the capital's most popular hostesses. 
Official protocol during the early nineteenth century dictated that the 
president refrain from ``going abroad into any private companies,'' but 
when the Calhouns' infant daughter contracted a fatal illness in the 
spring of 1820, Monroe visited their residence every day to check on her 
    Calhoun began his first term as secretary of war with an exhaustive 
review and audit of the department's operations and 
accounts.18 Acting on his recommendations, Congress 
reorganized the army's command and general staff structure, revamped the 
accounting and procurement systems, and voted annual appropriations to 
construct fortifications and pay down the war debt. By the end of 
Calhoun's second term as secretary, outstanding accounts had been 
reduced from $45 to $3 million.19 Congress, however, refused 
to approve Calhoun's proposals for a network of coastal and frontier 
fortifications and military roads, imposing steep cuts in the defense 
budget after Treasury Secretary William Crawford's 1819 annual report 
projected a budget deficit for 1820 of $7 million (later adjusted to $5 
million). Postwar economic expansion had given way to a depression of 
unprecedented severity, and the panic of 1819 had left hundreds of 
speculators impoverished and in debt. These conditions, and Crawford's 
dire forecast, prompted calls for sharp reductions in government 
expenditures. The war department came under immediate attack, which 
intensified when the press reported that one of Calhoun's pet projects, 
an expedition to plant a military outpost on the Yellowstone River, had 
run significantly over budget.20
    Some scholars have suggested that Crawford timed the release of his 
report both to embarrass Monroe and Calhoun and to enhance his own 
presidential prospects. Shortly afterwards, the president received an 
anonymous letter alleging that Calhoun's chief secretary had realized 
substantial profits from an interest in a materials contract. The 
transaction was not illegal, for war department officials enjoyed 
considerable latitude in awarding government contracts, and the primary 
contractor had submitted the lowest bid, but the appearance of 
impropriety gave Crawford additional ammunition. Congress began an 
exhaustive review of the war department, with the ``Radicals'' taking 
the lead. Although the investigation found no evidence of malfeasance on 
Calhoun's part, Republicans were inherently suspicious of standing 
armies, and even the National Republicans were reluctant to fund a 
peacetime army on the scale envisioned by Calhoun. Congress ultimately 
reduced the war department budget by close to 50 percent.21

                     The 1824 Presidential Election

    Calhoun declared himself a candidate for the presidency in December 
1821, much to the surprise of Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, 
widely considered to be Monroe's heir apparent by virtue of his office. 
Calhoun and Adams were friends; both avid nationalists, they had also 
been political allies until the Missouri crisis in 1820 exposed their 
profound disagreement over slavery. Calhoun, however, became convinced 
that Adams was too weak a candidate to defeat Crawford, who enjoyed a 
significant following within the congressional nominating caucus. The 
South Carolinian, determined to prevent Crawford's election at any cost, 
therefore decided to become a candidate himself.
    In addition to Calhoun, Adams, and Crawford, the crowded field of 
prospective candidates for 1824 soon included House Speaker Henry Clay 
and the revered hero of New Orleans, Andrew Jackson--all Republicans. 
Calhoun believed that he was the only candidate who could command a 
national following; he had been warmly received during a visit to the 
northern and middle states in 1820, and his efforts to strengthen the 
nation's defenses had won him a following in the West, as well. His 
quest, however, lost momentum after the South Carolina legislature voted 
to endorse another favorite son, William Lowndes. Not only did Calhoun 
face formidable opposition from Crawford's supporters, now ably led by 
New York Senator Martin Van Buren, but, to the amazement of many, 
Jackson soon emerged as a leading contender. Calhoun's Pennsylvania 
supporters eventually declared for Jackson, endorsing Calhoun as their 
vice-presidential candidate. As other states followed suit, the 
ambitious young secretary of war was, in one scholar's words, 
``everybody's 'second choice.''' Thus, in the general election, Calhoun 
was overwhelmingly elected vice president, with support from both the 
Jackson and Adams camps.
    None of the presidential candidates, however, achieved an electoral 
majority--although Jackson received a plurality. The election was 
therefore thrown into the House of Representatives, where each state 
delegation had a single vote. Having come in fourth in the general 
election, Clay was not a contender in the House balloting, but he played 
a pivotal part in determining the outcome by persuading the delegations 
of the three states he had carried (Ohio, Kentucky and Missouri) to vote 
for Adams. These three western states, as well as New York, after heavy 
lobbying by Clay and Massachusetts Representative Daniel Webster, gave 
Adams the margin he needed to defeat Jackson.
    Clay's maneuvering and his subsequent appointment as Adams' 
secretary of state deeply offended Calhoun, nudging him toward the 
Jackson camp.22 He ``would probably have coalesced with the 
Jacksonians in any event,'' one scholar of the period has surmised, 
since South Carolina and Pennsylvania, the two states crucial to 
Calhoun's abortive presidential strategy, had gone for 
Jackson.23 But politics alone could not fully account for 
Calhoun's shift. He knew that the Kentucky legislature had expressly 
instructed its delegation to vote for Jackson, who had run second to 
Clay in the general election. Yet, at Clay's urging, the Kentuckians had 
cast their state's vote for Adams, who had received few, if any, popular 
votes in the state. ``Mr. Clay has made the Prest [President] against 
the voice of his constituents,'' Calhoun confided to a friend, ``and has 
been rewarded by the man elevated by him by the first office in his 
gift, the most dangerous stab, which the liberty of this country has 
ever received.'' 24

          The Senate Examines the Role of the Presiding Officer

    Wholly lacking in experience as a presiding officer, Calhoun 
prepared himself for his new responsibilities by studying Jefferson's 
Manual of Parliamentary Practice and other parliamentary 
authorities.25 But even this rigorous course of study could 
not adequately prepare him for the challenges he would face. The Senate, 
experiencing ``growing pains'' as it completed its transformation from 
the ``chamber of revision'' envisioned by the Constitution's framers to 
a full-fledged legislative body in its own right, was beginning to 
reconsider rules and procedures that seemed outdated or impractical. As 
the Senate's debates became increasingly contentious, the body began 
rethinking the role of its presiding officer, as well.
    Calhoun's difficulties began shortly after the Nineteenth Congress 
convened in December 1825, when he announced appointments to the 
Senate's standing committees. Prior to 1823, the Senate had elected 
committee members by ballot, an awkward and time-consuming process. The 
rule was revised during the Eighteenth Congress to provide that ``all 
committees shall be appointed by the presiding officer of this House, 
unless specially ordered otherwise by the Senate.'' Before Calhoun 
became vice president, the new procedure had been used only once, on 
December 9, 1823, the day the Senate adopted the revised rule. On that 
occasion, Vice President Daniel Tompkins was absent, a frequent 
occurrence during his troubled tenure, and President pro tempore John 
Gaillard of South Carolina had appointed the chairmen and members of the 
Senate's standing committees.
    As one scholar of the period has noted, Calhoun made ``an honest 
effort to divide control of the committees between friends and enemies 
of the administration.'' 26 An analysis of his appointments 
suggests that he took into account a senator's experience. He 
reappointed nine of the fifteen standing committee chairmen whom 
Gaillard had chosen two years earlier. The two chairmen who had left the 
Senate he replaced with individuals who had previously served on their 
respective committees. Of the four remaining committees, three were 
chaired by senators friendly to the administration. After Military 
Affairs Committee Chairman Andrew Jackson resigned his seat in October 
1825, Calhoun chose as his replacement the only member of the Senate 
whose military record could match Jackson's--Senator William Henry 
Harrison, the hero of the Battle of Tippecanoe.27
    As a result of Calhoun's appointments, senators hostile to the 
administration retained or gained control of several important 
committees: Maryland Senator Samuel Smith, a Crawford Republican who 
would eventually join the Jackson camp, remained in charge of the 
influential Finance Committee, while New York Senator Martin Van Buren, 
who would soon unite the opposition forces behind Andrew Jackson, 
continued to chair the Judiciary Committee. Administration supporters 
were outraged to learn that the Foreign Relations Committee included 
only one Adams-Clay man and that its new chairman was Nathaniel Macon of 
North Carolina, who had voted against confirming Clay as secretary of 
state.28 Bitter divisions between administration supporters 
and the opposition forces were beginning to infect the Senate, and 
Calhoun, in his attempt to please everyone, had satisfied no one. The 
pro-administration Philadelphia Democratic Press and several other 
papers vehemently criticized Calhoun, publishing unfounded allegations 
that he had made the offending appointments after Adams ignored 
Calhoun's demand to dissociate himself from Henry Clay.29
    In the meantime, Senator Van Buren had enlisted Calhoun's support 
for a concerted challenge to the expansive agenda that President Adams 
outlined in his December 6, 1825, annual message to Congress. Adams had 
proposed a national university, a national observatory, and a network of 
internal improvements unprecedented in the nation's history, as well as 
foreign policy initiatives. In particular, Calhoun, not yet the strict 
constructionist he would later become, was concerned that Adams' plan to 
send observers to a conference of South and Central American ministers 
scheduled to meet in Panama the following year would reinvigorate the 
sectional tensions that had emerged during the Missouri crisis. Calhoun 
saw United States participation in the Panama Congress as a perilous 
first step toward extending diplomatic recognition to Haiti, a nation of 
former slaves. He had cautioned Adams, through an intermediary, that the 
initiative would ``in the present tone of feelings in the south lead to 
great mischief.'' But Clay, an early and enthusiastic supporter of the 
Latin American independence movements, had prevailed.30
    The president sent the names of prospective delegates to Panama to 
the Senate for approval in late December 1825, touching off a protracted 
and contentious debate that continued through March 14, 1826, when the 
Senate approved the mission by a narrow margin. Missouri Senator Thomas 
Hart Benton later reflected that ``no question, in its day, excited more 
heat and intemperate discussion, or more feeling between a President and 
Senate, than this proposed mission.'' Although the vice president had 
``no vote, the constitutional contingency to authorize it not having 
occurred,'' Benton recalled, Calhoun had been ``full and free in the 
expression of his opinion against the mission.'' 31 It was a 
costly victory for the administration. The United States delegation 
arrived too late to have any impact on the deliberations, and all but 
one of the Latin American republics failed to ratify the accords 
approved at the convention. The president had wasted a great deal of 
political capital in a confrontation that hardened the party divisions 
in the Senate, and Calhoun and Van Buren had taken the first tentative 
steps toward an alliance that would drive Adams from office in the next 
    Calhoun also endorsed the opposition's efforts to curtail the powers 
of the executive, through constitutional amendments to abolish the 
electoral college and to limit the president to two terms. Although the 
Senate had considered similar amendments in previous sessions, the move 
acquired a new urgency after the 1824 election. Thomas Hart Benton 
renewed the initiative on December 15, 1825, with a resolution to 
appoint a select committee ``to inquire into the expediency'' of 
choosing the president and vice president ``by a direct vote of the 
People, in districts.'' Other senators suggested amendments to provide 
for the election of the president and vice president ``without the 
intervention of the Senate or House of Representatives'' and to 
``prohibit the appointment of any Member of Congress to any office of 
honor or trust under the United States during the term for which such 
Senator or Representative should have been elected.'' The latter 
proposal represented an obvious slap at Secretary of State Henry Clay, 
who had resigned from the House to take the executive post.
    Calhoun appointed Benton chairman of the select committee, which the 
Senate directed to determine ``the best, most preferable, and safest 
mode in regard to such elections.'' Benton was pleased that the other 
members of the nine-man select committee ``were . . . carefully 
selected, both geographically as coming from different sections of the 
Union, and personally and politically as being friendly to the object.'' 
Only one, Senator John Holmes of Maine, was an Adams man. Calhoun had 
appointed the administration's most vocal critics to the committee, 
which reported to the Senate on January 19, 1826, a constitutional 
amendment calling for the direct election of the president and vice 
president. Calhoun confided to a correspondent that he expected the 
administration to resist ``all attempts that can limit or counteract the 
effects of patronage. They will in particular resist any amendment of 
the Constitution,'' he predicted, ``which will place the Presl 
[Presidential] election in the hands of the voters, where patronage can 
have little, or no effect.'' As for Calhoun, he promised that ``no one 
who knows me, can doubt where I will be found.'' 32
    The constitutional debate over the select committee's report took an 
unexpected turn on March 30, 1826, when Virginia Senator John Randolph 
rose to address the Senate after North Carolina Senator John Branch 
offered a resolution protesting the president's appointment of ministers 
to the Panama Congress ``without the advice and consent of the Senate.'' 
Randolph was a diehard ``Old Republican,'' a strict constructionist and 
a resolute opponent of change in any form. Stubbornly clinging to the 
customs, attire, and rhetoric of a bygone era, he regarded any departure 
from the dicta of the Founding Fathers as tantamount to heresy. Calhoun 
thought him ``highly talented, eloquent, severe and eccentric,'' while 
others, alternately amused and offended by his rambling and caustic 
speeches, his eighteenth-century dress and manners, and his bizarre 
behavior, dismissed him as thoroughly insane. His March 30 address was 
vintage Randolph: a disjointed litany of personal grievances 
interspersed with his objections to the administration, the Panama 
Congress, and the ``practice . . . that the Secretary of State shall 
succeed the President.'' Calhoun remained silent as the agitated 
Virginian took Adams to task for elevating patronage above patriotism--
``buying us up with our own money''--and suggested that Clay had 
``manufactured'' the invitation to the Panama Congress. Even Randolph's 
likening of Adams and Clay to ``Bliful and Black George,'' two unsavory 
characters from the popular novel, Tom Jones, brought no rebuke from the 
    After Randolph ended his harangue, the Senate turned to the select 
committee report. Randolph, trumpeting his opposition ``to all 
amendments to the Constitution,'' moved to table the report. New Jersey 
Senator Mahlon Dickerson, who had spoken at great length the previous 
day in support of his own proposal to limit the president to two terms 
in office, prepared to speak in opposition to Randolph's motion. He had 
just started to explain his position when Calhoun cut him short, ruling 
him out of order on the grounds that ``the motion now pending . . . did 
not admit of debate.'' Randolph added that ``it is unreasonable, after 
having spoken an hour and thirty-five minutes [the previous day], to 
speak again to-day'' and explained that he would oppose any effort to 
amend the Constitution. When Dickerson attempted to respond to 
Randolph's remarks, Calhoun ruled him out of order a second time. 
Randolph finally agreed to Dickerson's request to postpone the 
discussion until the next day, bringing the awkward exchange to an end. 
On April 3, 1826, the Senate approved the select committee's amendment 
providing for the direct election of the president and vice 
    Fallout from the explosive session of March 30, 1826, would haunt 
Calhoun for the remainder of his term. Deeply offended at Randolph's 
charges, Clay demanded a duel with the Virginian. The resulting nerve-
wracking but bloodless encounter ended with a handshake after two 
exchanges of fire. Those who had expressed amusement at Randolph's March 
30 performance, or agreed with him in principle, were suddenly sobered 
at the thought that the vice president's failure to restrain an 
intemperate senator had resulted in a near-tragedy.35 
Calhoun's enemies criticized him for twice calling the sedate and 
congenial Dickerson to order while permitting Randolph to vent his 
spleen at will. In the following weeks the Senate, for the first time in 
its history, attempted to define the vice president's legislative duties 
and responsibilities.
    In the decade prior to 1826, the Senate had paid increasing 
attention to organizational matters, a clear indication of its increased 
workload, enlarged membership, and heightened importance as a national 
forum. It had established standing committees in 1816, revised its rules 
in 1820, and required the publication of regular financial reports by 
the secretary of the Senate after 1823. The body also enhanced the 
powers of the chair. Not only had it authorized the presiding officer in 
1823 to appoint members of standing and select committees, but in 1824 
it also directed the presiding officer to ``examine and correct the 
Journals, before they are read,'' and to ``have the regulation of such 
parts of the Capitol . . . as are . . . set apart for the use of the 
Senate and its officers.'' 36 These changes reflect an 
institution in transition, conscious of its changing role in a rapidly 
altering political environment. After the March 30, 1826, spectacle, 
however, any discussion of Senate rules inevitably invited comment on 
the vice president's legislative duties and on Calhoun's conduct as 
president of the Senate.
    On April 13, 1826, John Randolph offered a motion to rescind ``so 
much of the new rules of this House, which give to the presiding officer 
of this body the appointment of its committees, and the control over the 
Journal of its proceedings.'' The debate continued on April 15, as 
several Calhoun supporters, including Van Buren, reviewed ``the 
considerations that had led the Senate'' to change its rules in 1823 and 
1824. The fragmentary published accounts in the Register of Debates 
suggest that, when the Senate vested in the presiding officer the power 
to appoint committees, it had done so assuming that the president pro 
tempore would actually make the selections--a reasonable assumption when 
the debilitated Daniel D. Tompkins served as vice president. Randolph's 
cryptic remarks on April 12, when he notified the Senate that he would 
propose the rules changes on the following day, also hint that the 
Senate had given the presiding officer the responsibility of supervising 
the Journal because the secretary of the Senate had been negligent in 
performing this important task.
    The reporter who followed the April 15 debate was careful to note 
that ``the gentlemen who favored the present motion, as well as the one 
who offered it, disclaimed the remotest intention to impute to the Vice 
President an improper exercise of the duties devolved on him by the 
rules.'' But the debate took a personal turn after Randolph, sensitive 
to mounting and widespread criticism of Calhoun for failing to stifle 
his recent outburst, asserted that ``it is not the duty, nor the right, 
of the President of the Senate to call a member to order.'' That right, 
Randolph argued, was reserved to members of the Senate. At the 
conclusion of the debate, the Senate voted, by overwhelming margins, to 
resume its former practice of selecting committee members by ballot, and 
``to take from the President of the Senate, the control over the Journal 
of the Proceedings.'' 37
    Some contemporary observers, as well as modern day scholars, have 
interpreted the April 15 vote as a pointed rebuke of a vice president 
who had exceeded his authority and offended the Senate. On the other 
hand, the caveats of Van Buren and opposition senators suggest that, 
although some senators may well have intended to curtail Calhoun's 
authority, others were animated by concern for maintaining the Senate's 
institutional prerogatives. Calhoun, edging toward the strict 
constructionist stance he would champion in later years, seems to have 
approved of the changes, or at least to have accepted them with his 
customary grace. ``[N]o power ought to be delegated which can be fairly 
exercised by the constituent body,'' he agreed shortly after the vote, 
``and . . . none ought ever to be delegated, but to responsible agents . 
. . and I should be inconsistent with myself, if I did not give my 
entire assent to the principles on which the rules in question have been 
rescinded.'' Calhoun did bristle, however, at the suggestion that he had 
been negligent in not calling Randolph to order. He had diligently 
studied the Senate's rules, he informed the senators, and had concluded 
that, although the chair could issue rulings on procedural matters, 
``the right to call to order, on questions touching the latitude or 
freedom of debate, belongs exclusively to the members of this body, and 
not to the Chair. The power of the presiding officer . . . is an 
appellate power only; and . . . the duties of the Chair commence when a 
Senator is called to order by a Senator.'' He had been elected vice 
president by ``the People,'' he reminded the Senate, and ``he had laid 
it down as an invariable rule, to assume no power in the least degree 
doubtful.'' 38
    The debate over the vice president's role in the Senate continued a 
month later on May 18. A select committee chaired by Randolph that had 
been appointed ``to take into consideration the present arrangement of 
the Senate chamber,'' reported a resolution that would make access to 
the Senate floor by anyone other than past and current members of 
Congress and certain members of the executive and judicial branches 
contingent upon written authorization by the vice president. The 
resolution also specified that the officers of the Senate would be 
responsible to the vice president and that all, except for the secretary 
of the Senate, would be subject to immediate removal ``for any neglect 
of duty.'' The Senate chamber would ``be arranged under the direction of 
the Vice President, . . . so as to keep order more effectually in the 
lobby and the gallery,'' a change intended to regulate the crowds who 
were flocking to the Senate galleries in increasing numbers.
    As this first session of the Nineteenth Congress neared its end, 
Senator John Holmes submitted a resolution, for consideration in the 
next session, to appoint a committee that would consider rules to 
clarify and enhance the powers of the chair. Randolph moved to take up 
the Holmes resolution immediately, but Calhoun ruled him out of order on 
the grounds that ``when a member offered a resolution, if he did not 
desire its consideration, it would lie one day on the table.'' 
Undaunted, Randolph moved to instruct the committee that it would be 
``inconsistent with the rights and privileges of the States'' to 
authorize the chair to call a member. He then proceeded to castigate a 
Massachusetts editor for his alleged misconduct in the chamber. The 
debate degenerated into a shouting match after Massachusetts Senator 
James Lloyd rose to defend his constituent, but Calhoun remained 
impassive until Alabama Senator William R. King intervened with a call 
to order. Rigidly adhering to the Senate's rule governing the conduct of 
debate, Calhoun instructed King ``to reduce the exceptionable words to 
writing.'' King responded that ``it was not necessary to reduce the 
words to writing,'' since he had merely intended to ``check the 
gentlemen when they were giving way to effervescence of feeling.'' 
Calhoun explained that he had ``no power beyond the rules of the 
Senate;'' if King would not comply, Randolph was free to continue. After 
Randolph finished his diatribe, Calhoun again reminded the Senate that 
``The Chair . . . would never assume any power not vested in it.'' 
    A weary Calhoun left the chair on May 20, 1826, two days before the 
Nineteenth Congress adjourned, in order to allow for the election of a 
president pro tempore, but the controversy over his conduct in the 
Senate continued throughout the spring and summer and into fall. On 
April 24, the National Intelligencer had published a letter from Senator 
Dickerson, who maintained that Calhoun had treated him with appropriate 
courtesy and respect during the March 30 debate, 40 as well 
as a submission from an anonymous ``Western Senator'' defending the vice 
president. On May 1, the pro-administration National Journal published 
the first in a series of five articles by ``Patrick Henry,'' an 
anonymous writer friendly to the administration, charging that Calhoun 
had abused his office. These essays, which continued through August 8, 
cited an impressive array of parliamentary scholarship to support the 
author's contention that Calhoun had been negligent in permitting the 
``irrelative rhapsodies of a once powerful mind'' to disturb the Senate 
``without one effort of authority, or one hint of disapprobation from 
its president.'' The vice president had also allowed ``selfish 
considerations'' to influence his committee appointments, ``Henry'' 
charged. ``From the commencement of the Government until the last 
session of Congress,'' the essayist scolded Calhoun in his August 4 
order had been preserved in the Senate under every Vice-President, 
              and decorum, almost rising to solemnity, had been a 
        distinctive feature of its proceedings. But no sooner were 
         you sent to preside over it, than its hall became, as if 
            by some magic agency, transformed into an arena where 
                   political disappointment rioted in its madness.
    Modern scholars have never conclusively established the identity of 
``Patrick Henry,'' although Calhoun and many others believed him to be 
President Adams. The vice president responded in his own series of 
essays, published in the National Intelligencer between May 20 and 
October 12, 1826, under the pseudonym ``Onslow,'' in honor of a 
distinguished eighteenth-century Speaker of the British House of 
Commons. Echoing Calhoun's pronouncements in the Senate, the writer's 
opening salvo offered a forceful defense of the vice president's refusal 
to restrain ``the latitude or freedom of debate.'' The decision to rule 
Dickerson out of order had involved a procedural matter, well within the 
scope of the vice president's authority; silencing Randolph's outburst 
would have required ``a despotic Power, worse than the sedition law.'' 
As for the vice president's committee appointments, ``Onslow'' 
maintained in his October 12 epistle, ``The only correct rule is, to 
appoint the able, experienced, and independent, without regard to their 
feelings towards the Executive.'' To appoint only pro-administration 
partisans, he argued, would have drastically expanded the power of an 
executive who already had ``the whole patronage of the Government'' at 
his disposal.41 These arguments, the modern-era editors of 
Calhoun's papers have stressed, reveal ``the ground principles of all 
Calhoun's later thinking,'' and mark ``the `turning point' in Calhoun's 
career from nationalist and latitudinarian to sectionalist and strict 
constructionist.'' 42
    Not until 1828 did the Senate finally revise the rule governing 
debate to authorize the presiding officer, or any senator, to call a 
member to order. After this revision was adopted, Calhoun stubbornly 
remarked that ``it was not for him'' to comment on the change, assuring 
the Senate ``that he should always endeavor to exercise it with strict 
impartiality.'' He did heartily approve of another change adopted in 
1828, a revision that made rulings of the chair subject to appeal. ``It 
was not only according to strict principle,'' he informed the Senate, 
``but would relieve the Chair from a most delicate duty.'' 43

                      The Calhoun-Jackson Alliance

    On June 4, 1826, Calhoun notified Andrew Jackson that he would 
support his 1828 presidential bid. Calhoun, with his disciplined 
intellect and rigid sense of propriety, presented a striking contrast to 
the popular and dashing military hero. The two were never close, and 
Calhoun never completely trusted Jackson. In fact, several years 
earlier, while serving in Monroe's cabinet, the South Carolinian had 
urged the president to discipline Jackson for his unauthorized invasion 
of Spanish Florida during the Seminole War.44 But Calhoun 
needed time to recoup his political fortunes, and Jackson had vowed to 
serve but a single term if elected president. The old hero welcomed 
Calhoun's support, assuring him that they would ``march hand in hand in 
their [the people's] cause,'' cementing one of the most ill-starred 
partnerships in the history of the vice-presidency.45
    When Calhoun returned to the Senate for the second session of the 
Nineteenth Congress in early December, he was relieved to find that he 
was not ``the object of the malignant attack of those in power.'' He did 
observe, however, that in the Senate ``the line of separation is better 
drawn, and the feelings on both sides higher than in the last session.'' 
46 Calhoun's respite came to an abrupt halt on December 28, 
when the Alexandria, Virginia, Phoenix Gazette, an administration 
mouthpiece, resurrected the old charges that Calhoun's chief secretary 
at the War Department had improperly profited from his interest in a 
materials contract.47 On the following day, Calhoun notified 
Secretary of the Senate Walter Lowrie that he had asked the House of 
Representatives to investigate the charges and would not preside over 
the Senate until the matter was resolved. ``[A] sense of propriety 
forbids me from resuming my station till the House has disposed of this 
subject,'' he explained.48
    On January 2, 1827, the Senate chose Nathaniel Macon of North 
Carolina to preside over its deliberations while a House select 
committee pursued the allegations. Henry Clay, who still commanded 
enormous influence in the House of Representatives, played a silent role 
in the appointment of the House select committee, which was heavily 
weighted against Calhoun. Even though the committee cleared Calhoun 
after six weeks of hearings, press accounts of the investigation, 
combined with the muddled language that Clay had persuaded his allies to 
insert in the select committee's February 13, 1827, report, contributed 
to the widespread perception that the vice president had done something 
wrong while serving as secretary of war.49 Some Jacksonians 
would have gladly withdrawn their support for Calhoun's vice-
presidential bid at that point. But Jackson's chief strategist, Martin 
Van Buren, insisted that Calhoun was essential to his strategy of 
forging a coalition of ``planters of the South and the plain Republicans 
of the North'' to drive Adams from the White House.50
    The vice president, for his part, was increasingly disturbed at the 
concessions that Van Buren seemed willing to make to secure Jackson's 
election, particularly with respect to the tariff. Van Buren and New 
York Senator Silas Wright had finessed a protective tariff through the 
Senate in the spring of 1828. This so-called ``Tariff of Abominations'' 
included no concessions to southern agricultural interests, as had 
previous tariffs, and imposed severe hardships on the region. Still, 
Calhoun convinced the South Carolina delegation to hold its fire, 
fearing that the backlash might cost Jackson the election and hoping 
that Jackson would, if elected, reform the tariff 
schedules.51 ``[T]he Tariff of the last session excites much 
feelings in this and the other Southern atlantick states,'' he wrote to 
Jackson from South Carolina in July, continuing,
The belief that those now in power will be displaced shortly, and 
        that under an administration formed under your auspices, a 
        better order will commence, in which an equal distribution 
        of the burden and benefit of government . . . and finally 
             the removal of oppressive duties will be the primary 
        objects of policy is what mainly consoles this quarter of 
              the Union under existing embarrassment.52
    Jackson and Calhoun won 56 percent of the popular vote in 1828--a 
sweeping victory widely acclaimed as a triumph for ``the common man.'' 
The ``Jacksonians'' boasted an organization vastly more efficient than 
that of Adams' National Republicans, a factor that had helped them gain 
control of both houses in the 1827 congressional elections. The 
presidential campaign was one of the most bitterly contested in the 
nation's history. Adams' supporters charged Jackson and his wife with 
immoral conduct (the two had married before Rachel's divorce from her 
first husband) and Jacksonians countered by reminding the electorate of 
the ``corrupt bargain.'' Calhoun and the National Republican vice-
presidential candidate Richard Rush were barely noticed in the 
    Candidate Calhoun had spent most of the election year at ``Fort 
Hill,'' his Pendleton, South Carolina estate, supervising farm 
operations and, at the request of the South Carolina legislature, 
preparing a critique of the tariff. His point of departure for the 
resulting South Carolina ``Exposition'' was an argument that Jefferson 
had marshalled three decades earlier in his crusade against the Alien 
and Sedition Acts: that the Union was a compact between states, which 
retained certain rights under the Constitution. But Calhoun carried the 
argument several steps farther, asserting that a state could veto, or 
``nullify,'' any act by the federal government that encroached on its 
sovereignty or otherwise violated the Constitution. The ``Exposition'' 
and an accompanying set of ``Protest'' resolutions were widely 
circulated by the South Carolina legislature. Calhoun, wary of 
jeopardizing his national standing, was careful not to claim authorship, 
but Jackson and Van Buren soon suspected that the vice president had 
written the controversial tract.54

                    The Senate Debates Nullification

    Calhoun's second vice-presidential term was even more of an ordeal 
than his first. His suspicions that Jackson might pose as great a threat 
to popular liberties as his predecessor were soon confirmed. The 
president failed to repudiate the tariff--clear evidence that he had 
fallen under Van Buren's spell--and his appointment of the ``Little 
Magician'' as secretary of state boded ill for Calhoun. The vice 
president was soon isolated within an administration where Van Buren and 
his protectionist allies appeared to be gaining the upper 
    Calhoun's novel theory came under attack in the Senate early in his 
second term, during a debate over the disposition of western lands, a 
lengthy exchange that one historian has termed ``the greatest debate in 
the history of the Senate.'' 56 The debate began on December 
29, when Connecticut Senator Samuel Foot offered a resolution to curtail 
the sale of public lands in the West. South Carolina Senator Robert Y. 
Hayne changed the tone of the debate on January 19, 1830, when he argued 
that the federal government should leave land policy to the states and 
that individual states could nullify federal legislation. The remainder 
of the debate, which lasted through January 27, consisted of a spirited 
exchange between Hayne and Massachusetts Senator Daniel Webster, who 
summoned all of his formidable oratorical talents in a passionate 
defense of the Union.
    But the Webster-Hayne debate was, in fact, a confrontation between 
Webster and Calhoun. Hayne received a steady stream of handwritten notes 
from the chair as he articulated Calhoun's doctrines for several hours 
on January 21, and Webster clearly directed at the vice president his 
second reply to Hayne of January 26-27. His charge that ``leading and 
distinguished gentlemen from South Carolina'' had reversed their stand 
on internal improvements brought an immediate and pointed inquiry from 
the vice president: ``Does the chair understand the gentleman from 
Massachusetts to say that the person now occupying the chair of the 
Senate had changed his opinions on the subject of internal 
improvements?'' Webster responded: ``If such change has taken place, I 
regret it. I speak generally of the State of South Carolina.'' 
    The president, although not directly involved in the debate, was 
clearly interested in the outcome. Jackson sympathized with advocates of 
states' rights, but, as a passionate defender of the Union, he regarded 
nullification as tantamount to treason. When his friend and adviser, 
William B. Lewis, having witnessed the sparring between Hayne and 
Webster from the Senate gallery, reported that Webster was ``demolishing 
our friend Hayne,'' the president responded with a succinct ``I expected 
it.'' 58 An open confrontation between Jackson and Calhoun 
soon followed, at the April 13, 1830, banquet commemorating Jefferson's 
birthday. The event was a longstanding tradition among congressional 
Republicans, but the recent use of Jefferson's writings to justify 
nullification imbued the 1830 celebration with particular significance. 
Warned in advance by Van Buren that several ``nullifiers'' were expected 
to attend, the president and his advisers carefully scripted his 
remarks. After the meal, and an interminable series of toasts, Jackson 
rose to offer his own: ``Our Union. It must be preserved.'' Calhoun was 
well prepared with an explosive rejoinder: ``The Union. Next to our 
liberty, the most dear.'' Jackson had the last word a few days later, 
when he asked a South Carolina congressman about to depart for home to 
``give my compliments to my friends in your State, and say to them, that 
if a single drop of blood shall be shed there in opposition to the laws 
of the United States, I will hang the first man I can lay my hand on 
engaged in such treasonable conduct, upon the first tree I can reach.'' 

                       Jackson Repudiates Calhoun

    Even without Calhoun's intransigence on the tariff and 
nullification, Jackson had ample reason to dislike his vice president. 
In May 1830, the president finally received incontrovertible proof that 
Calhoun, as he had long suspected, had urged Monroe's cabinet to censure 
him for his invasion of Spanish Florida during the Seminole War. 
Demanding an explanation from Calhoun, Jackson was stunned when the vice 
president responded that he could not ``recognize the right on your part 
to call in question my conduct.'' Calhoun went on to explain that 
neither he, as secretary of war, nor President Monroe had authorized the 
occupation of the Spanish posts in Florida, and that ``when orders were 
transcended, investigation, as a matter of course, ought to follow.'' 
His opponents had resurrected a long-forgotten incident to discredit him 
in Jackson's eyes, the vice president warned. ``I should be blind not to 
see, that this whole affair is a political manoeuvre.'' Thus began a 
lengthy and strident correspondence, which concluded only after Jackson 
wrote from his Tennessee home in mid-July that ``I feel no interest in 
this altercation . . . and now close this correspondence forever,'' and 
Calhoun concurred that the correspondence ``is far from being agreeable 
at this critical juncture of our affairs.'' Anxious to contradict 
inaccurate press accounts of his quarrel with the president, Calhoun 
published the correspondence in the United States' Telegraph of February 
17 and 25, 1831, prefaced with a lengthy explanation addressed ``To the 
People of the United States.'' His break with Jackson, so long in the 
making, was now complete.60
    Calhoun soon found himself completely eclipsed by Van Buren. After a 
longstanding dispute over official protocol had culminated in the 
resignation of the entire cabinet in April 1831, all of Jackson's new 
secretaries were Van Buren men. Calhoun had his wife Floride to thank 
for this unfortunate development. Mrs. Calhoun, the unofficial arbiter 
of Washington society, had thrown the capital into turmoil with her 
deliberate snub of Secretary of War John Eaton and his wife, Peggy. 
Peggy Eaton was a lively and attractive woman of dubious reputation and 
a special favorite of the president. The daughter of an innkeeper, she 
was clearly not the social equal of the haughty and highly critical 
Floride. She had married Eaton, a boarder at her father's hotel, soon 
after her first husband had died at sea--Washington scandalmongers 
hinted that he had taken his life in despair after learning of Peggy's 
affair with Eaton. Floride's reputation as an accomplished hostess, her 
husband's position, and the fact that both the president and Van Buren 
were widowers gave her enormous influence in Washington society. When 
she refused to return Peggy Eaton's calls, several of the cabinet wives 
followed suit.
    Floride's actions put her husband in an awkward position, but he 
acquiesced in her decision because he regarded social protocol as her 
rightful sphere of authority and because he knew that nothing he did or 
said would shake her resolve. The president, who considered Eaton ``more 
like a son to me than anything else''--and later pronounced Peggy 
``chaste as a virgin''--was sorely offended. His outrage was compounded 
by memories of his late wife, Rachel, who had suffered a fatal heart 
attack after hearing the vicious attacks on her character that the Adams 
camp had circulated during the presidential campaign.
    The ``Petticoat War'' split the cabinet for well over a year, with 
Van Buren emerging the winner. The shrewd and gallant widower had 
conspicuously entertained the Eatons and orchestrated the cabinet's 
resignation to resolve the impasse. Jackson was profoundly grateful to 
Van Buren for the opportunity to purge his cabinet of Calhoun's 
supporters, and rewarded him with an appointment as ambassador to Great 

                          Nullification Leader

    Calhoun initially believed that his break with Jackson would only 
enhance his chances of winning the presidency in 1832. He still enjoyed 
considerable support in the South and believed he might be able to 
reconcile southern agriculturalists and northern manufacturers with 
selective modifications in the tariff schedules. But events in South 
Carolina soon forced him to make public his position on the tariff and 
nullification, a move that effectively killed his chances of ever 
becoming president. In the summer of 1831, Calhoun protege George 
McDuffie electrified a Charleston, South Carolina, audience with a fiery 
declamation advocating nullification and secession. Calhoun was 
horrified at this development, as well as by accounts that South 
Carolina merchants were refusing to pay duties that they considered 
unconstitutional. Calhoun had advanced the doctrine of nullification to 
provide southern states with a peaceful mechanism for obtaining redress 
of their grievances, never contemplating the possibility of disunion. He 
had not endorsed secession in his 1828 ``Exposition,'' arguing that a 
state could veto and refuse to enforce any law it considered 
unconstitutional, but, if three fourths of the states subsequently 
affirmed the law, the nullifying state must defer to the collective 
    Until this point, Calhoun had never publicly claimed authorship of 
his controversial doctrine, but now he felt compelled to assume control 
of the nullification movement to minimize its destructive potential. He 
published in the July 26, 1831, issue of the Pendleton, South Carolina, 
Messenger his first public statement on nullification, the ``Rock Hill 
Address,'' a forceful restatement of the principles first articulated in 
the South Carolina ``Exposition.'' Calhoun was well aware of the risk he 
had assumed. ``I can scarcely dare hope,'' he conceded shortly after the 
``Rock Hill Address'' appeared in print, ``that my friends to the North 
will sustain me in the positions I have taken, tho' I have the most 
thorough conviction that the doctrines I advanced, must ultimately 
become those of the Union; or that it will be impossible to preserve the 
Union.'' Once the most ardent of nationalists, Calhoun would henceforth 
be known as the South's advocate and, by Jackson supporters, as a 

                   Calhoun ``Elects'' a Vice President

    Calhoun returned to Washington after a lengthy absence in time for 
the opening of the Twenty-second Congress in December 1831. He had 
devoted the time since the Twenty-first Congress had adjourned on March 
3 to nullification and to his anticipated presidential campaign. One of 
the first items on the Senate's agenda was the confirmation of Jackson's 
reconstituted cabinet. The Senate approved these nominations without 
incident, but Jackson's appointment of former Secretary of State Martin 
Van Buren as ambassador to Great Britain aroused a firestorm of 
controversy. Henry Clay, leading the anti-Jackson forces in the Senate, 
blamed Van Buren for the ``pernicious system of party politics adopted 
by the present administration,'' 63 a sentiment shared by 
many disaffected Jacksonians and Calhoun supporters, as well.
    Tempers flared as the Senate debated the controversial nomination on 
January 24 and 25, 1832, with several senators venting their anger at 
the administration. Massachusetts Senator Daniel Webster took Van Buren 
to task for his trade policies, while his southern colleagues, Senators 
Stephen Miller of South Carolina and George Poindexter of Mississippi, 
took aim at Van Buren's personal life. When Missouri's Alexander Buckner 
rose to Van Buren's defense, asserting that only a ``liar'' would accuse 
Van Buren of malfeasance or misconduct, Vice President Calhoun ruled him 
out of order. Georgia Senator John Forsyth, a staunch Jackson man, 
pointedly reminded the vice president, ``[I]f you remember your own 
decisions you must know that you are grossly out of order for this 
interference.'' Forsyth clearly intended to taunt Calhoun, not to raise 
a substantive objection, since the Senate had, four years earlier, 
revised its rules to authorize the presiding officer to call a member to 
    The debate over Van Buren's appointment ended in a tied vote--
orchestrated, one scholar suggests, to give the vice president the 
``distinction and honor of defeating Van Buren's nomination.'' Calhoun, 
as expected, cast his vote against the nomination, a decision that, 
Missouri Senator Thomas Hart Benton predicted, ``elected a Vice 
President.'' 64 But Benton was only partially correct. Rigid 
in defense of his principles, but wholly lacking the abundant political 
skills of the ``Little Magician,'' Calhoun had played into Van Buren's 
hands throughout his second term as vice president. His decision to 
assume control of the South Carolina nullification movement had already 
killed his presidential prospects. Van Buren would become the Democratic 
vice-presidential candidate in 1832 and would succeed Jackson as 
president four years later.
    Calhoun spent the remainder of the year in the Senate disheartened 
by the enactment of the 1832 tariff. That measure was intended to 
reconcile northern manufacturers and all but the most diehard free 
traders, but, in one scholar's assessment, it ``satisfied neither 
protectionists nor free traders.'' 65 ``It is, in truth,'' 
Calhoun wrote to a kinsman as the Senate labored over the tariff in 
early March 1832, ``hard to find a midle [sic] position, where the 
principle of protection is asserted to be essential on one side, and 
fatal on the other. It involves not the question of concession, but 
surrender.'' 66 In early July, a despairing Calhoun offered a 
gloomy precis of the Senate's action on the tariff:
        We have spent a long & fruitless season. The Tariff Bill was 
    late last evening ordered to the 3d. reading in the senate with many 
    amendments all going to increase the burden on us. Every southern 
    member voted against it including the South West, with the exception 
    of the Senators from Louisiana. The question is no longer one of 
    free trade, but liberty and despotism. The hope of the country now 
    rests on our gallant little State. Let every Carolinian do his duty. 
    Those who do not join us now intend unqualified 

                             Senator Calhoun

    In South Carolina, where antitariff sentiments had reached a fever 
pitch, Calhoun found it increasingly difficult to contain the deadly 
forces that he had unwittingly unleashed. Nullifiers gained control of 
the state legislature in the fall 1832 election. The new legislature 
promptly called for a nullification convention, which passed an 
ordinance declaring the 1828 and 1832 tariffs void as of February 1, 
1833. The Ordinance of Nullification also warned that, if the 
administration resorted to coercion to collect the offensive duties, 
South Carolina would ``proceed to organize a separate government.'' An 
irate Jackson ordered reinforcements to the federal installations 
surrounding Charleston Harbor but soon announced his support for a 
revised tariff. On December 10, he proclaimed nullification 
``incompatible with the existence of the Union.''
    Calhoun would help defuse this explosive situation, but not as vice 
president. Elected to the Senate to replace Robert Hayne, he resigned 
the vice-presidency on December 28, 1832, more than two months before 
his term was up. Except for a brief stint as secretary of state during 
John Tyler's administration, he spent the rest of his life in the 
Senate, valiantly defending his state and attempting to reconcile its 
interests with those of the nation at large. Undaunted by rumors that 
Jackson intended to try him for treason if the impasse over 
nullification resulted in an armed confrontation, Calhoun joined forces 
with Henry Clay to help guide through the Senate a revised tariff, 
acceptable to the southern states. The nullifiers, encouraged by the 
prospect of a more equitable tariff, and counseled by cool-headed 
emissaries from Virginia to show restraint, postponed the effective date 
of the ordinance until March 4. Jackson's supporters had, in the 
meantime, introduced a measure to force South Carolina's compliance with 
the old tariff, which passed the Senate by overwhelming margins. Calhoun 
and eight of his fellow senators stalked out of the chamber in protest 
when the Senate adopted the ``Force bill,'' but Jackson never had 
occasion to employ its provisions against the nullifiers. The crisis 
passed after Congress approved both the revised tariff and the Force 
bill shortly before adjourning on March 3, 1833. Calhoun returned to 
South Carolina firmly convinced that nullification had ``dealt the fatal 
blow'' to the tariff.68
    For the next several years, Calhoun remained aloof from the 
Jacksonian coalition, which had become known as the Democratic party. 
But during Van Buren's administration, from 1837 to 1841, he set aside 
his longstanding aversion to ``the Little Magician'' and risked the 
wrath of his fellow South Carolinians to support the independent 
treasury plan, Van Buren's solution to the credit and currency problems 
that he and Calhoun believed responsible for the 1837 depression. 
Alarmed at the prospect that Whig presidential candidate William Henry 
Harrison would back tariff concessions for special interests, Calhoun 
rejoined the Democrats in 1840 and began making plans to enter the 1844 
presidential race.69
    Hoping to present himself as an independent candidate with no 
institutional affiliation, Calhoun resigned from the Senate on March 3, 
1843. His campaign faltered, however, when several prominent Virginia 
Democrats backed Van Buren and the New York City convention followed 
suit. Calhoun consoled himself by focusing his attention on his farm, 
badly in debt after several years of depressed cotton prices, and his 
family, torn by a protracted financial disputes between Calhoun's son, 
Andrew Pickens Calhoun, and his son-in-law, Thomas Green Clemson. In 
mid-March 1844, he accepted President John Tyler's offer of an 
appointment to succeed Secretary of State Abel Upshur, who had been 
killed by an exploding cannon during an outing on the ship Princeton. 
Calhoun remained at the State Department until Tyler's term ended on 
March 3, 1845, participating in the final stages of the negotiations for 
the Texas Annexation Treaty.70
    Calhoun returned to the Senate in November 1845 and remained there 
for the rest of his life. Increasingly defensive about the institution 
of slavery as the abolition movement gained momentum, and agitated at 
the growing discord between the slaveholding and free states, he spoke, 
as he informed the Senate in 1847, as ``a Southern man and a 
slaveholder.'' As secretary of state Calhoun had strongly supported the 
annexation of Texas. After Pennsylvania Representative David Wilmot 
offered his famous proviso as an amendment to an administration war 
bill, however, the South Carolina senator realized that the acquisition 
of additional territory would inevitably heighten the sectional conflict 
over slavery. The Wilmot Proviso, which would have barred slavery from 
all lands acquired from Mexico, pushed Calhoun into the anti-
administration camp. He vehemently opposed the war policy of President 
James K. Polk, warning that the acquisition of Mexican territory, with 
its population of ``pure Indians and by far the larger portion of the 
residue mixed blood,'' would corrupt the nation's culture and 
    By 1850, the precarious balance between the slaveholding and free 
states was again at risk. California's petition to enter the Union as a 
free state threatened to upset the delicate equilibrium. Other 
unresolved issues, too, including slavery in the District of Columbia 
and the enforcement of fugitive slave laws, loomed large on the horizon 
during the final weeks of Calhoun's life. To resolve the impasse, 
Calhoun's old friend and rival, Henry Clay, on January 29, 1850, offered 
a series of proposals, collectively known as the Compromise of 1850. 
Clay proposed that California enter the Union as a free state and that 
Congress agree to impose no restrictions on slavery in the New Mexico 
and Utah territories. The compromise also provided that Congress would 
not prohibit or regulate slavery in the District of Columbia, would 
abolish the slave trade in the District, and would require northern 
states to comply with fugitive slave laws. Massachusetts Senator Daniel 
Webster sought Calhoun's support for the compromise, but the South 
Carolinian, vehemently opposed to abolishing the slave trade in the 
nation's capital and admitting California as a free state, refused to 
endorse the plan.
    On March 4, a dispirited and emaciated Calhoun, his body so ravaged 
by tuberculosis that he could no longer walk unassisted and his once 
penetrating voice so weak that he could no longer speak, presented his 
final address to the Senate. Virginia Senator James Mason spoke for 
Calhoun, who sat nearby, his pitiful frame huddled in his chair. Only an 
immediate halt to antislavery agitation and a constitutional amendment 
to preserve the balance between North and South would save the Union, 
Calhoun warned. Even senators who had long considered Calhoun a 
disunionist were shocked when Mason pronounced his ultimatum: if the 
northern states were unwilling to reconcile their differences with the 
South ``on the broad principle of justice and duty, say so; and let the 
States we both represent agree to separate and part in peace.'' Three 
days later, Senator Webster delivered his famous ``Seventh of March'' 
speech, a ringing plea for compromise and Union that Calhoun interrupted 
with a resolute, ``No sir! the Union can be broken''--one of his last 
utterances in the Senate.72
    The Senate ultimately approved Clay's compromise, not as a package, 
but as separate items. Calhoun died on March 31, 1850, convinced that 
his beloved South would one day withdraw from the Union he had labored 
so long and hard to strengthen and preserve. Even in death, he was a 
controversial figure. Senator Thomas Hart Benton refused to speak at the 
April 5 memorial service in the Senate chamber; Calhoun was ``not 
dead,'' he maintained. ``There may be no vitality in his body, but there 
is in his doctrines.'' Senator Daniel Webster, one of the official 
mourners chosen by the Senate to accompany Calhoun's body to South 
Carolina, could not bring himself to perform this awkward and painful 
task. He took his leave from Calhoun at the Virginia landing as the 
funeral party departed for the South. Calhoun was buried in Charleston, 
in a crypt in St. Philip's churchyard.73
                             JOHN C. CALHOUN


    1 Clyde N. Wilson and W. Edwin Hemphill, eds., The Papers 
of John C. Calhoun, vol. 10 (Columbia, SC, 1977), pp. 199-203.
    2 John C. Calhoun to James Monroe, June 23, 1826, Calhoun 
Papers, 10:132-35.
    3 U.S., Congress, Senate, The Senate, 1789-1989: 
Addresses on the History of the United States Senate, by Robert C. Byrd, 
S. Doc. 100-20, 100th Cong., 1st sess., vol. 1, 1988, p. 88; U.S., 
Congress, Senate, Journal, 18th Cong., special session of March 4, 1825, 
pp. 271-74.
    4 John Niven, John C. Calhoun and the Price of Union 
(Baton Rouge, LA, 1988), p. 10.
    5 Niven, pp. 1-12; for an account of the Regulator 
movement, see Richard Maxwell Brown, The South Carolina Regulators 
(Cambridge, 1963).
    6 By the eighteenth century, the family had changed the 
spelling of their name, originally ``Colquhoun'' (after the Scottish 
clan of that name), with one branch of the family adopting the most 
commonly known spelling, ``Calhoun,'' and the other spelling the name 
``Colhoun.'' Charles M. Wiltse, John C. Calhoun, vol. 1, Nationalist, 
1782-1828 (New York, 1968; reprint of 1944 ed.), p. 12; Niven, p. 20.
    7 Wiltse, John C. Calhoun: Nationalist, p. 50.
    8 Niven, pp. 21-34; Merrill D. Peterson, The Great 
Triumvirate: Webster, Clay, and Calhoun (New York, 1987), pp. 23-27.
    9 James Sterling Young, The Washington Community, 1800-
1828 (New York, 1966), pp. 97-102.
    10 Niven, pp. 34-35; Peterson, p. 23.
    11 The Committee on Foreign Affairs did not become a 
standing committee of the House of Representatives until 1822. U.S., 
Congress, House of Representatives, Guide to the Records of the United 
States House of Representatives at the National Archives, 1789-1989, 
100th Cong., 2d sess. (Washington, 1989), p. 135.
    12 Peterson, p. 18; Niven, pp. 41-52; Harry Ammon, James 
Monroe: The Quest for National Identity (Charlottesville, VA, 1990; 
reprint of 1971 edition), p. 309; James F. Hopkins, ``Election of 
1824,'' in History of American Presidential Elections, 1789-1968, ed. 
Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., and Fred L. Israel, vol. 1 (New York, 1971), 
p. 354.
    13 Peterson, pp. 18, 39.
    14 Charles Sellers, The Market Revolution: Jacksonian 
America, 1815-1846 (New York, 1991), pp. 76-79; Peterson, p. 49; Niven, 
pp. 51-57. President James Madison vetoed the ``Bonus Bill'' on 
Constitutional grounds.
    15 Niven, pp. 58-60; Ammon, pp. 357-60, 470; Richard W. 
Barsness, ``John C. Calhoun and the Military Establishment, 1817-1825,'' 
Wisconsin Magazine of History 50 (Autumn 1966), pp. 43-53; Wiltse, John 
C. Calhoun: Nationalist, p. 140.
    16 Young, pp. 230-31.
    17 Allan Nevins, ed., The Diary of John Quincy Adams, 
1794-1845 (New York, 1951), p. 354; Wiltse, John C. Calhoun: 
Nationalist, pp. 208-209.
    18 Peterson, pp. 87-88.
    19 Barsness, pp. 43-53; Ammon, p. 470.
    20 Ammon, pp. 470-72; Peterson, pp. 88-89, 93; Niven, pp. 
78-79. See also Chapter 9 of this volume, ``Richard Mentor Johnson,'' 
pp. 123-24.
    21 Barsness, pp. 43-53; Niven, pp. 86-93.
    22 Peterson, pp. 116-31; Hopkins, pp. 349-81; Niven, pp. 
    23 Peterson, p. 130.
    24 John C. Calhoun to J.G. Swift, in Calhoun Papers, 
    25 Niven, p. 116; for Calhoun's caveat that he was 
``without experience, which only can give the requisite skill in 
presiding,'' see his March 4, 1825, inaugural address, U.S., Congress, 
Senate, Journal, 18th Cong., special sess. of March 4, 1825, pp. 272-73.
    26 Peterson, p. 136.
    27 For a list of committee chairmen during the 18th 
Congress, see U.S., Congress, Senate, Annals of Congress, 18th Cong., 
1st sess., p. 27; a comprehensive list of committee chairs from 1789 
through 1992 appears in Byrd, The Senate, 1789-1989, vol. 4, Historical 
Statistics, 1789-1992 (Washington, 1993), pp. 522-81.
    28 Peterson, p. 136; Niven, p. 114. Macon had served as a 
member of the Foreign Relations Committee in the 18th Congress; Virginia 
Senator James Barbour, a Crawford Republican who served as the 
committee's chairman during that Congress, had resigned in March 1825, 
to accept an appointment as secretary of war. Annals of Congress, 18th 
Cong., 1st sess., p. 27; U.S., Congress, Senate, Biographical Directory 
of the United States Congress, 1771-1989, S. Doc. 100-34, 100th Cong., 
2d sess., 1989, pp. 574-75.
    29 Peterson, p. 136.
    30 Niven, pp. 113-15; Peterson, pp. 136-40; Robert V. 
Remini, Martin Van Buren and the Making of the Democratic Party (New 
York, 1959), pp. 105-13.
    31 Thomas Hart Benton, Thirty Years View; or, A History 
of the Working of the American Government for Thirty Years, from 1820 to 
1850 (New York, 1871; reprint of 1854 edition), vol. 1, pp. 65-69; 
Remini, Martin Van Buren and the Making of the Democratic Party, pp. 
105-13. The Senate confirmed the appointments of John Sergeant and 
Richard Clark Adams as delegates to the Panama Congress by a vote of 24 
to 20.
    32 U.S., Congress, Register of Debates in Congress, 19th 
Cong., 1st sess., pp. 384-406; Benton, 1:78; John C. Calhoun to Micah 
Sterling, February 4, 1826, in Calhoun Papers, 10:72-73.
    33 Robert V. Remini, Henry Clay: Statesman for the Union 
(New York, 1991), pp. 292-93; Niven, pp. 114-16; Peterson, pp. 140-41; 
Register of Debates in Congress, 19th Cong., 1st sess., pp. 384-406.
    34 Register of Debates in Congress, 19th Cong., 1st 
sess., pp. 384-407. The amendment was sent to the House of 
Representatives, where it died in committee.
    35 Remini, Henry Clay, pp. 293-95; Peterson, pp. 140-42.
    36 Annals of Congress, 18th Cong., 1st sess., pp. 114-17; 
U.S., Congress, Senate, Journal, 18th Cong., 1st sess., pp. 106, 114, 
    37 Register of Debates in Congress, 19th Cong., 1st 
sess., pp. 525-26, 571-73.
    38 Senator John Holmes of Maine noted, in his April 15, 
1826 remarks, that proposed rules changes ``had proceeded from an 
intimate personal friend of the Vice President, which will itself 
contradict the presumption that any conduct'' of Calhoun's ``had induced 
the proposition.'' His remarks brought an immediate disclaimer from the 
ever-erratic Randolph that he had ``offered the resolution in no such 
character . . . of the personal friend or enemy of any gentleman on this 
floor with one exception.'' Register of Debates in Congress, 19th Cong., 
1st sess., pp. 571-74.
    39 Register of Debates in Congress, pp. 754-59.
    40  Editorial note and summary, Calhoun Papers, 10:91.
    41 The essays of ``Patrick Henry'' appear in Calhoun 
Papers, 10:91-96; 113-27; 165-75; 175-87; 188-97; for the ``Onslow'' 
essays, see pp. 99-104; 135-47; 147-155; 208-215; 215-21; 223-33. See 
also the editors' introduction, xix-xxx.
    42 Calhoun Papers, 10:xxi.
    43 Register of Debates in Congress, 20th Cong., 1st 
sess., pp. 278-341 (``Powers of the Vice President'').
    44 John C. Calhoun to Andrew Jackson, June 4, 1826, 
Calhoun Papers, 10:110-11; Peterson, pp. 151-52; Niven, pp. 68-71, 119-
    45 Harry L. Watson, Liberty and Power: The Politics of 
Jacksonian America (New York, 1990), pp. 73-74.
    46 John C. Calhoun to Lt. James Edward Colhoun, December 
24, 1826, Calhoun Papers, 10:238-40.
    47 Alexandria Phoenix Gazette, December 28, 1826, Calhoun 
Papers, 10:241-42.
    48 John C. Calhoun to the secretary of the Senate, 
December 29, 1826, Calhoun Papers, 10:243.
    49 Niven, pp. 124-26; editorial note, Calhoun Papers, 
    50 John C. Calhoun to the Rev. Moses Waddel, February 24, 
1827, Calhoun Papers, 10: 266-67; Niven, pp. 125-26.
    51 Niven, pp. 131-37; Peterson, pp. 159-61.
    52  John C. Calhoun to Andrew Jackson, July 10, 1828, 
Calhoun Papers, 10:395-97.
    53 Robert V. Remini, ``Election of 1828,'' in Schlesinger 
and Israel, eds., pp. 413-33.
    54 Niven, pp. 154-78; Peterson, pp. 169-70.
    55 Niven, pp. 165-69.
    56 Peterson, p. 170.
    57 Byrd, The Senate, 1789-1989, vol. 3, Classic Speeches, 
1830-1993 (Washington, 1994), pp. 1-77; Robert V. Remini, Andrew Jackson 
and the Course of American Freedom, 1822-1832 (New York, 1981), pp. 232-
33; Peterson, pp. 170-83; Niven, pp. 169-72.
    58 Remini, Jackson and the Course of American Freedom, p. 
    59 Ibid., pp. 185-86; Peterson, pp. 233-37.
    60 Remini, Jackson and the Course of American Freedom, 
pp. 240-47; Peterson, pp. 187-89; Niven, pp. 174-75. For the Calhoun-
Jackson correspondence regarding the Seminole War investigation, and an 
account of Calhoun's subsequent publication of the exchange, see Clyde 
N. Wilson, ed., The Papers of John C. Calhoun, vol. 11 (Columbia, SC, 
1978), pp. 94-96, 159-225, 285, 334-38.
    61 Remini, Jackson and the Course of American Freedom, 
pp. 161-63, 320-21; Peterson, pp. 183-85; Niven, pp. 167-69, 174. For 
further discussion of this incident, see Chapter 8 of this volume, 
``Martin Van Buren,'' p. 108.
    62 Niven, pp. 180-84; Charles M. Wiltse, John C. Calhoun, 
vol. 2, Nullifier, 1829-1839 (New York, 1968; reprint of 1949 ed.), pp. 
110-20; John C. Calhoun to Samuel D. Ingham, July 31, 1831, Calhoun 
Papers, 11:441-45.
    63 Remini, Jackson and the Course of American Democracy, 
p. 347.
    64 Ibid., pp. 347-49; Niven, pp. 185-87; Peterson, p. 
203; Register of Debates in Congress, 20th Cong., 1st sess., pp. 278-
    65 Peterson, pp. 203-9.
    66 John C. Calhoun to Francis W. Pickens, March 2, 1832, 
Calhoun Papers, 11:558-59.
    67 John C. Calhoun to Samuel D. Ingham, July 8, 1832, 
Calhoun Papers, 11:602-3.
    68 Niven, pp. 189-99; Richard E. Ellis, The Union at 
Risk: Jacksonian Democracy, States' Rights, and the Nullification Crisis 
(New York, 1987), pp. 74-91, and passim.
    69 Niven, pp. 200-58.
    70 Ibid., pp. 259-82.
    71 Ibid., pp. 295-313.
    72 Ibid., pp. 339-45; Peterson, pp. 449-66.
    73 Peterson, pp. 467-68; Niven, pp. 343-45.

                                Chapter 8

                            MARTIN VAN BUREN


                            MARTIN VAN BUREN
                            MARTIN VAN BUREN

                                Chapter 8

                            MARTIN VAN BUREN

                      8th Vice President: 1833-1837

          a true man with no guile
             --Andrew Jackson on Martin Van Buren 1
          you were a great intriguer--the author of sundry plots
           --William L. Marcy to Martin Van Buren 2
    Few people ever really knew Martin Van Buren. The impeccable attire, 
ready wit, and unfailing tact that set him apart from his contemporaries 
masked a nagging sense of insecurity that dogged him throughout his 
political career. His father, a tavern keeper of modest means, had been 
able to provide him with only a rudimentary education. One of Van 
Buren's better-educated associates observed that his ``knowledge of 
books outside of his profession was more limited than that of any other 
public man'' he had ever known and that Van Buren never prepared a state 
paper without asking a friend to ``revise and correct that document.''
    Van Buren received his real education in the turbulent and factious 
world of New York politics, and he was an apt pupil. He learned to hold 
his counsel as others debated the hotly contested issues of the day, 
carefully observing the course of a debate and weighing all of the 
issues before staking out a position of his own. ``Even after deciding 
on a course of action,'' one scholar has observed, ``Van Buren might 
move with an air of evasiveness.'' Circumspect to a fault, he ``enjoyed 
a name for noncommittalism that survived when most other things about 
him were forgotten.'' 3
    Reviled as a ``schemer'' and a master ``manipulator'' by 
contemporaries who lacked (and probably envied) his uncanny political 
acumen, he was known throughout his career by an unparalleled assortment 
of nicknames, none of them entirely favorable. But ``the Little 
Magician'' (also known as ``the American Talleyrand,'' ``the Red Fox of 
Kinderhook,'' the ``Mistletoe Politician,'' and by a variety of other 
sobriquets) 4 left a solid record of accomplishment that few 
of his better-known fellows could rival. More than any other individual 
of his time, Van Buren realized the importance of party organization, 
discipline, and political patronage. He engineered Andrew Jackson's 
victory in the 1828 presidential election and later became a trusted 
confidant and adviser to ``Old Hickory,'' a relationship that continued 
after Van Buren became vice president in 1833. No previous vice 
president enjoyed a greater measure of influence than Van Buren, and no 
vice president, in over three decades, had assumed that office as the 
``heir apparent.''

                         Van Buren's Early Years

    Martin Van Buren was born on December 5, 1782, in the predominantly 
Dutch community of Kinderhook, New York. His father, Abraham, was a 
tavern keeper and farmer of modest means; his mother, Maria Goes 
5 Van Alen, was a widow with two sons from her first 
marriage. Both were of undiluted Dutch ancestry, a fact that Van Buren 
took care to note in his Autobiography. One of the six children born to 
Abraham and Maria, Martin grew up in a crowded household, lodged above 
his father's tavern. From his father, a resolute opponent of Federalism, 
he inherited his genial manners and political creed but very little 
else. Dilatory about collecting his debts and generous beyond his means, 
Abraham barely supported his large family. Young Martin inherited his 
ambition from his mother, who insisted that her sons receive the best 
education possible, given their limited resources. He attended a local 
school until the age of fifteen, then served as an apprentice to Francis 
Sylvester, a local lawyer. During his apprenticeship, Van Buren became 
involved in local politics, attending his district's 1800 Republican 
convention and helping to elect John Peter Van Ness to the United States 
House of Representatives in 1801. These activities strained his 
relationship with Sylvester, a prominent Federalist, and Van Buren 
terminated their arrangement after the election. Van Ness, grateful for 
Van Buren's efforts on his behalf, paid his young supporter's travel and 
expenses while he finished his legal studies in New York City, clerking 
for the congressman's brother, William.
    New York City politics fascinated Van Buren, but he returned to 
Kinderhook shortly after his admission to the bar in 1803 to establish a 
legal practice with his half brother, James Van Alen. In leaving the 
city he also sought to distance himself from the intraparty warfare that 
infected the New York Republican coalition after the 1800 presidential 
election. In Kinderhook, much of Van Buren's time was spent defending 
tenants and small landholders in suits against the powerful Livingston 
clan. The Livingstons, landed gentry whose control of the New York 
legislature had helped them expand their extensive holdings by 
questionable means, had retained the best legal minds in the state. 
Rigorous and careful preparation on Van Buren's part helped him prevail 
against these notable attorneys and won him the respect of De Witt 
Clinton, Governor George Clinton's nephew and political heir. Van Buren 
backed Clinton's candidate, future Vice President Daniel D. Tompkins, in 
the 1807 gubernatorial race and received for his efforts an appointment 
as Columbia County surrogate on March 20, 1808.6
    In 1808, Van Buren married Hannah Hoes, a distant relative, and 
settled in Hudson, the Columbia County seat. The marriage was a happy 
one, notwithstanding the frequent absences imposed by the demands of 
Martin's career, but by the time their fifth son was born in 1817, 
Hannah had contracted a fatal case of tuberculosis. Van Buren was 
profoundly affected by her death in 1819; although much in demand as an 
escort and dinner companion, particularly during the years that he lived 
in Washington, he never remarried.7
    Van Buren served as Columbia County surrogate from 1808 until 1812, 
when he was elected to the New York senate. During the War of 1812, he 
was an avid supporter of the administration's war effort, offering 
legislation to facilitate mobilization of the state's defenses. He 
opposed the Federalists' antiwar stance and broke with his mentor, De 
Witt Clinton, after learning that Clinton had solicited Federalist 
support for his 1812 presidential bid. In 1815, Van Buren became state 
attorney general and moved his family to Albany. He held that office 
until 1819 and continued to serve in the state senate until 1820, 
delegating his growing legal practice to his junior partner, Benjamin F. 
    Van Buren soon emerged as the guiding force of the ``Bucktail'' 
faction, one of several groups jockeying for control of the New York 
Republican party. The Bucktails, opponents of De Witt Clinton who took 
their name from the distinctive plumes they affixed to their hats, 
rapidly gained in influence under Van Buren's tutelage. A Bucktail-
controlled convention made major revisions in New York's constitution in 
1821-1822, expanding the suffrage and curbing aristocratic influence, 
reforms that helped break De Witt Clinton's hold on the state Republican 
party. In 1821, Van Buren won election to the United States Senate, 
leaving behind a formidable political organization, popularly known as 
the ``Albany Regency,'' that would manage the New York Republican 
party--and through it, the state--while he was away. The Regency 
maintained rigid discipline, rewarding loyalty with patronage 
appointments and disciplining errant members. Although centered in 
Albany, the organization's control also extended to local political 
organizations and clubs. Powerful as Van Buren's apparatus became, ``It 
was not,'' one scholar of the period emphasizes, ``so much the rewarding 
of partisans and the mass lopping off of rebellious heads that explained 
the Regency success as it was the skilful, highly judicious manner in 
which the power was exercised.'' Regency leaders took ``the prejudices 
and feelings of local communities'' into account in making their 
appointments and exercised equal care in making removals.9

               Senator Van Buren: The ``Little Magician''

    Once in Washington, Van Buren set about organizing the New York 
congressional delegation, a difficult undertaking in light of the fact 
that John Taylor, the unofficial dean of the delegation and Speaker of 
the House of Representatives, was firmly in the Clinton camp. In an 
effort to curb Taylor's influence, Van Buren helped orchestrate the 
election of Virginia Representative Philip Barbour as House Speaker 
during the Seventeenth Congress, a narrow victory that increased his own 
influence while cementing his ties to Virginia Republicans. He tried but 
failed to block the appointment of a Federalist as postmaster of Albany, 
but his effort to derail the nomination, chronicled at length by the 
press, enhanced his reputation.10
    In the 1824 presidential election, Van Buren backed the Republican 
caucus nominee, Treasury Secretary William H. Crawford. The two had a 
great deal in common: Crawford was a states' rights advocate, a strict 
constructionist, and--a consideration of overriding importance to Van 
Buren--a dedicated party man. But the Republican coalition was rapidly 
splintering, and many Republicans, calling for reform of the nominating 
process, refused to heed the will of the caucus. Four other candidates 
ultimately entered the race, all claiming membership in the party of 
Jefferson: Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, Secretary of War John 
C. Calhoun, Henry Clay, and Tennessee Senator Andrew Jackson. Consumed 
by his single-minded effort to secure Crawford's election, even after 
his candidate became so seriously ill that he could neither see, hear, 
nor walk, Van Buren was bitterly disappointed when the House of 
Representatives elected Adams president.11
    After the election, Van Buren, as the new acknowledged leader of the 
``Crawford'' Republicans, also known as ``Radicals,'' kept his peace 
while others denounced the ``corrupt bargain'' with Henry Clay that many 
suspected had elevated Adams to the White House. He voted to confirm 
Clay as secretary of state, but he broke his silence after Adams 
outlined an ambitious domestic and foreign policy agenda in his first 
annual address. Van Buren particularly objected to the president's plan 
to send representatives to a conference of South and Central American 
delegates in Panama and enlisted the aid of Vice President John C. 
Calhoun and his allies in an effort to prevent the confirmation of 
delegates to the conference. The Senate ultimately confirmed the 
nominees, but the debate over the Panama mission had helped forge a 
tentative coalition of ``Radicals'' and Calhoun supporters under Van 
Buren's leadership.12
    In December 1826, the Little Magician formalized his alliance with 
Calhoun, who had already pledged his support for Andrew Jackson in the 
forthcoming presidential race. Each man had his own agenda: Calhoun 
intended to succeed Jackson, after serving a second term as vice 
president; Van Buren, alarmed by Adams' grandiose agenda and convinced 
that Republicans had strayed from the Jeffersonian creed, intended to 
restore the party to its ``first principles.'' Jackson, he was 
convinced, should carry the reinvigorated party's standard in 1828. ``If 
Gen Jackson . . . will put his election on old party grounds, preserve 
the old systems, avoid if not condemn the practices of the last 
campaign,'' he predicted, ``we can by adding his personal popularity to 
the yet remaining force of old party feeling, not only succeed in 
electing him but our success when achieved will be worth something.'' 
    By December 1827, Van Buren had assumed control of the Jackson 
campaign. The candidate remained in the background while the Little 
Magician orchestrated a battle plan of unprecedented energy and vigor. 
His campaigning was, in the words of one scholar, ``little short of 
brilliant.'' Van Buren plunged wholeheartedly into the contest, serving 
as fund raiser, strategist, publicist, and counselor. Several states 
had, prior to the election, revised their election laws to expand the 
franchise. With parades, rallies, speeches, and calls for ``reform,'' 
Van Buren and his lieutenants mesmerized these first-time voters, as 
well as others who had become disenchanted with the administration. 
``[T]he American people,'' a Jackson scholar concluded, ``loved the 
performance put on for them.'' 14
    Keeping his fragile coalition together represented Van Buren's most 
difficult challenge, apart from persuading the candidate to suffer in 
dignified silence as the Adams camp levelled increasingly virulent 
attacks on his character. The growing protectionist sentiment in the 
West and in the Northeast posed particular problems for Van Buren, who 
could not afford to alienate southern free-trade advocates. Courting 
both camps, he studiously avoided making a definitive pronouncement on 
the tariff, even as he deftly guided a protectionist bill through the 
Senate. The 1828 tariff, known in the South as the ``Tariff of 
Abominations,'' reassured westerners, who might otherwise have remained 
in the ``Adams-Clay'' fold, that a Jackson administration would take 
their interests into account. Van Buren realized that protectionism was 
anathema to southern agriculturalists, but he also realized that most 
southerners regarded Jackson as the lesser of two evils. As one scholar 
has conceded, during the tariff debate Van Buren ``said some very 
equivocal things to Southerners,'' helping them convince themselves 
that, once elected, Old Hickory would support tariff 

                      Secretary of State Van Buren

    Jackson won an impressive victory in 1828, widely heralded as a 
triumph of the ``common man.'' Writing his Autobiography many years 
after the fact, Van Buren attributed the outcome of this historic 
election to the ``zealous union between that portion of the republican 
party who . . . had shown themselves willing to sacrifice personal 
preferences to its harmony, the numerous supporters of Gen. Jackson . . 
. and the friends of Mr. Calhoun . . . strengthened by the mismanagement 
of the administration.'' Van Buren achieved a personal victory as well, 
winning election as governor of New York. But he served less than two 
months in this position, resigning to accept an appointment as secretary 
of state in the new administration.16
    Van Buren was easily the most capable individual in Jackson's 
cabinet, an assortment of second-rank appointees chosen to achieve 
sectional and ideological balance.17 During his two years as 
secretary of state from 1829 to 1831, he became one of the president's 
most trusted advisers. He arrived in the capital shortly after Jackson's 
inauguration to find the cabinet--and Washington society--at odds over 
Mrs. John C. Calhoun's adamant refusal to socialize with the wife of 
Secretary of War John Eaton, a woman with a spirited disposition and a 
notorious reputation. Several cabinet wives had followed suit, avoiding 
official functions for fear of encountering the tainted couple. The 
``Petticoat War'' was, as Van Buren realized, much more than a dispute 
over protocol or public morals; it was a symptom of the deep divisions 
in an administration that included both free-trade advocates and 
protectionists. The tension became even more pronounced after Jackson 
delivered his first annual message. His speech, prepared with Van 
Buren's assistance, convinced Vice President Calhoun and his allies that 
they would obtain no relief from the Tariff of Abominations. As for Van 
Buren, he suspected--correctly, as it turned out--that Calhoun was 
somehow behind the talk of ``nullification'' emanating from South 
    Van Buren at first tried to cure what he called ``the Eaton 
malaria,'' the malaise that threatened to paralyze the administration, 
by entertaining the Eatons. As a widower with no wife to object if he 
showed courtesy to a woman of questionable repute, he had nothing to 
lose by entertaining Mrs. Eaton and everything to gain, given the high 
regard that Jackson felt for Peggy and her husband. He was no match for 
the formidable Floride Calhoun, however, and he soon became persona non 
grata among the Calhoun set, but his gallantry endeared him to the 
president.18 Accompanying Jackson on horseback for their 
customary rides throughout the countryside surrounding Washington, Van 
Buren became the president's sounding board and friend, offering well-
timed and perceptive counsel to the care-burdened and lonely old hero. 
He helped craft the president's memorable toast: ``The Union: It must be 
preserved'' that electrified the April 13, 1830, banquet commemorating 
Jefferson's birthday, and he helped persuade Jackson to run for a second 
    Calhoun simmered with resentment as the man he considered a 
``weasel'' gained the upper hand in a rivalry that was becoming 
increasingly bitter. Van Buren, although every bit as ambitious as 
Calhoun, became increasingly discomfited at the widespread speculation 
that he, and not Calhoun, would succeed Jackson as president. Recoiling 
at the thought that his opponents might interpret his labors on 
Jackson's behalf as a crude form of electioneering, he informed the 
president in late March of 1831 that ``there is but one thing'' that 
would bring peace to Jackson's troubled administration: ``my 
resignation.'' Old Hickory was at first reluctant to accept Van Buren's 
resignation, but eventually realized that the gesture offered him the 
opportunity to purge his cabinet of Calhoun partisans. Van Buren's 
departure precipitated the mass resignation of the entire cabinet, 
except for Postmaster General William Barry. The new cabinet was 
distinctly more sympathetic to Jackson--and to Van Buren. As a reward 
for his ``highly patriotic'' sacrifice, the Little Magician received an 
appointment as minister to England.19
    Van Buren sailed for England before the Senate confirmed his 
nomination. His easy, elegant manners made him an instant hit in London. 
Almost immediately, he received the British foreign minister's pledge to 
respect the rulings of the panel arbitrating the longstanding boundary 
dispute between Maine and New Brunswick. Jackson had predicted that Van 
Buren's enemies would not dare oppose this appointment, for fear that 
``the people in mass would take you up and elect you vice Pres.,'' but, 
in late February 1832, Van Buren learned that the Senate had in fact 
rejected his nomination, with Vice President Calhoun casting the 
deciding vote. Jackson was furious when he heard the news but, after 
sober reflection, realized that he now had ample justification for 
removing Calhoun from the ticket in the coming election. He had already 
settled on Van Buren as his next vice president, but Calhoun's 
effrontery strengthened his resolve. ``The people will properly resent 
the insult offered to the Executive, and the injury intended to our 
foreign relations, in your rejection,'' he consoled Van Buren in mid-
February, ``by placing you in the chair of the very man whose casting 
vote rejected you.'' 20 Calhoun, his presidential prospects 
rapidly dimming as a consequence of his role in the nullification 
controversy, resigned before the end of his term--the first vice 
president to do so--to take a seat in the Senate. Once Van Buren's most 
formidable rival for the soul of the organization soon to be known as 
the Democratic party, he had become a sectional leader and would remain 
a sectional leader for the rest of his life.

                          The Election of 1832

    Van Buren found every reason imaginable to remain abroad after 
learning of his rejection by the Senate. He could not break his lease or 
abruptly discharge his servants, he protested, nor could he pack up his 
household on such short notice. But his biographer suggests that he 
delayed his departure because he believed that the ``opposition would 
splinter . . . if left alone; it stood a good chance of coalescing if he 
returned with undue haste for vindication.'' 21 Touring the 
Continent with his son John, Van Buren was still abroad when Democratic 
delegates assembled at Baltimore on May 21, 1832, to choose a vice-
presidential candidate. Although antitariff southern Democrats had 
serious reservations about Van Buren, Jackson's sentiments prevailed. By 
an overwhelming margin, the convention chose Van Buren on the first 
    Finally returning home in July 1832, the Little Magician was 
immediately summoned to Washington. Jackson needed his help in drafting 
a message to Congress explaining his impending veto of a bill to 
recharter the Second Bank of the United States. Van Buren approved of 
the veto message, a ringing denunciation of the bank as an instrument of 
privilege. At Jackson's request, he attended the Senate and the House of 
Representatives on July 10, in order to lobby against the inevitable 
attempt to override the veto. Also at Jackson's request, he lobbied for 
a compromise tariff designed to keep would-be nullifiers in the 
Jacksonian camp. Successful in both efforts, he departed for New York 
after Congress adjourned. He remained in New York until shortly before 
the inauguration, attempting to reconcile die-hard New York 
protectionists to the compromise tariff.23
    The 1832 election was, as one scholar of the period has observed, a 
referendum on the Second Bank of the United States, the first 
presidential election in which the candidates submitted a single, 
specific question to the electorate. Jackson was a ``hard-money'' man, 
deeply suspicious of banks, credit, and paper money after suffering near 
ruin in an early land speculation venture. Regarding the Second Bank of 
the United States, a government-chartered but privately owned 
institution, as an instrument of aristocratic, monied interests, he 
would have announced his intention to destroy the bank in his first 
annual message had his advisers not counseled restraint. Fully confident 
that the voters would signal their assent by electing him to a second 
term, Jackson had vetoed the bank recharter bill before the election. 
National Republican candidate Henry Clay, who considered the bank 
essential to the nation's fiscal stability, was quick to make an issue 
of the veto. Clay's partisans took aim at the Little Magician, as well, 
charging that his feats of legerdemain had secured the throne for a 
president who had abused his office. Political cartoons showed Jackson, 
Van Buren, and their cronies assaulting the bank with a battering ram, 
Van Buren crowning Jackson, and ``King Andrew the First'' brandishing 
the ``veto.'' These and similar images helped make the contest one of 
the liveliest, if not the best illustrated, in the nation's history.
    But the National Republicans were no match for the well-organized 
party that Van Buren had helped create. One scholar has suggested that 
the majority of American voters still regarded Jackson as their 
champion, even though they may well have approved of the bank, which 
provided the nation with the stable currency so essential to its 
prosperity. The Democrats, now a full-fledged political party, won a 
solid victory, although by a somewhat smaller margin than in 1828. 
Jackson was easily reelected, and Van Buren won a substantial victory 
over Clay's running mate, John Sergeant.24

                        Vice President Van Buren

    Jackson had every reason to rejoice at the outcome of the election. 
The voters had, he believed, given him a mandate to destroy the bank, 
and he was rid of Calhoun. In Van Buren, Jackson had a vice president 
more to his liking. Old Hickory respected his second vice president and 
seems to have felt sincere affection for him, as well. Some longtime 
Jackson cronies were deeply jealous of the New Yorker, who, as one 
critic put it, stuck ``close to the President as a blistering plaster.'' 
25 But Van Buren was not, as critics of both men so 
frequently alleged, the ``power- behind-the-throne.'' Jackson was a 
formidable tactician in his own right and a man of resolute convictions, 
fully capable of determining his own course of action. Van Buren was not 
his only confidant; throughout his two terms as president, Jackson also 
relied on his ``Kitchen Cabinet,'' an informal group of trusted friends, 
supporters, kinsmen, and hangers-on, for advice and moral support.
    In orchestrating the transfer of government deposits from the Bank 
of the United States to state depositories, for example, Jackson 
rejected the cautious course that Van Buren proposed in favor of the 
more precipitate approach advocated by Amos Kendall, the fourth auditor 
of the treasury. After Jackson informed his advisers early in his first 
term that he intended to remove the deposits, Kendall urged immediate 
action. Van Buren, sensitive to the political and financial 
repercussions of a hasty withdrawal but reluctant to challenge the 
president, advised Jackson to wait at least until the Twenty-third 
Congress convened in December 1833. Apprehensive--with good reason, as 
it turned out--that he would be regarded both as the author of this 
controversial move and as the pawn of Wall Street bankers who expected 
to benefit from the Philadelphia-based bank's demise, Van Buren was 
conspicuously absent from Washington that fall. The opposition would 
inevitably ``relieve the question . . . from the influence of your well 
deserved popularity with the people,'' he wrote Jackson from New York in 
September, ``by attributing the removal of the deposits to the 
solicitat[i]ons of myself and the monied junto in N. York, and as it is 
not your habit to play into the enemies hands you will not I know 
request me to come down unless there is some adequate inducement for my 
so doing.'' 26
    Van Buren did, however, enjoy a greater measure of influence in the 
administration than any previous vice president. He helped Treasury 
Secretary Roger B. Taney coax the president into a less belligerent 
posture when Jackson, outraged at France's failure to comply with the 
1832 treaty for the payment of U.S. claims against France, threatened to 
seek congressional authorization to issue letters of marque, a move that 
Taney feared might lead to war. Upset that Jackson failed to follow his 
advice about France, Secretary of State Louis McLane resigned in 
protest. Van Buren then helped Jackson draft a reply to McLane's letter 
of resignation and suggested his longtime ally Senator John Forsyth of 
Georgia to fill the position. Van Buren shouldered a workload that, in 
the words of a biographer, ``would have crushed lesser men.'' In 
addition to his labors in the Senate, he spent a considerable amount of 
time ``advising members of the cabinet, ghosting significant parts of 
Jackson's messages, acting as the president's chief advisor on patronage 
and foreign affairs, feeling his way around the Kitchen Cabinet, while 
always keeping his eye on New York.'' 27

                       Senate Committee Elections

    Presiding over the Senate was easily Van Buren's most challenging 
and frustrating task, one that demanded all of his legendary tact and 
good humor. Jackson faced sustained opposition during his second term 
from an opposition coalition of National Republicans, nullifiers, 
states' rights advocates, and eventually from disaffected Democrats who 
came to regard him as an overreaching despot. By 1834, these disparate 
elements would unite to form a new party, calling themselves ``Whigs'' 
to signal their opposition to a chief executive they called King Andrew. 
The rhetoric was particularly heated in the Senate, where the opposition 
commanded a slim majority after the 1832 election. The coalition's ranks 
included such luminaries as Henry Clay, the bank's most avid defender; 
Massachusetts Senator Daniel Webster, like Jackson a staunch unionist 
but also a defender of the bank; and Calhoun, the author of 
    Van Buren began his duties in the Senate on December 16, 1833, two 
weeks after the Twenty-third Congress convened. Having served there from 
1821 to 1828, he was familiar with the body's customs and procedures. He 
knew that the vice president was not expected to attend the Senate for 
several days at the beginning of each Congress, a practice that allowed 
the Senate to attend to organizational matters and appoint committees 
without interference from the executive branch. But in 1833 a unique 
combination of events prevented the Senate from attending to this 
important task before Van Buren arrived.
    Under normal circumstances, President pro tempore Hugh Lawson White 
would have appointed the committee members and chairmen at the start of 
the Twenty-third Congress. The rule adopted in December 1828 governing 
the appointment of committees directed that ``[t]he President pro 
tempore . . . shall appoint the committees of the Senate; but if there 
be no President pro tempore, the Senate . . . will proceed, by ballot,'' 
with a majority required to elect a committee chairman and a plurality 
required to elect the remaining members.29 But White found 
himself in a ``delicate'' position. Although he was a longstanding 
friend and supporter of the president, he was becoming disillusioned 
with the administration, and he particularly resented Jackson's 
designation of Van Buren as his political heir. A firm defender of the 
Senate's prerogatives, he had refused to let Jackson dictate the 
composition of a select committee appointed to consider Clay's 
compromise tariff during the previous Congress, a stand that had deeply 
offended the president. White would eventually become a Whig, but at the 
start of the Twenty-third Congress, Clay and the rest of the opposition 
still regarded him as a Jackson man.30
     On December 9, White stated that ``he should have announced the 
standing committees this morning . . . had it not been that a resolution 
was offered by a Senator [Peleg Sprague] from Maine . . . which proposed 
to take away from the presiding officer the power of appointing any 
committees whatsoever.'' The Senate adopted the resolution the following 
day, returning to its earlier practice of choosing committees by ballot, 
with nearly all of the Jacksonians opposing the change.31
    Van Buren finally arrived in Washington on the evening of December 
14 and met with the president and Tennessee Senator Felix Grundy the 
following morning. He learned that Grundy, painfully aware that his 
party could no longer count on a majority in the Senate and reluctant to 
proceed with the selection of committees until Van Buren could provide 
advice, had offered a motion to postpone the elections until December 
16. Webster had voted in favor of that motion, along with five other New 
England senators--a gesture that Grundy, rightly or wrongly, interpreted 
as an overture toward the administration. Webster's biographer discounts 
this possibility but admits that the Massachusetts senator's support for 
the administration during the nullification battle, and his differences 
with Clay over the tariff issue, had led to widespread speculation that 
he intended to form an alliance with the Jacksonians.
    During his December 15 meeting with Van Buren, therefore, Grundy 
raised the possibility of an alliance with Webster, at least for the 
purposes of electing the Senate's committees. The vice president, 
however, refused to consider collaboration with Webster, the one 
individual he genuinely disliked and took pains to avoid. Such an 
arrangement would blur the very real differences between the 
administration and the New England opposition, he lectured, and would 
leave Jackson open to charges that he had placed politics above 
principle. Persuaded by the force of Van Buren's argument, Grundy 
deferred to the vice president. The Senate began the balloting to elect 
chairmen and members of its standing committees on December 16, Van 
Buren's first day in the chair. With only a slight majority, the Anti-
Jackson forces did not win complete control of the committees. Jackson's 
ally, Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri, was reelected chairman of the 
Military Affairs Committee, and William Wilkins of Pennsylvania was 
elected chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. But other coveted 
chairmanships went to opposition senators: the Finance Committee to 
Webster, the Judiciary Committee to John Clayton of Delaware, and the 
Committee on Public Lands to one of Jackson's most outspoken critics, 
George Poindexter of Mississippi.32

           The Senate Censures Jackson: Van Buren Versus Clay

    During the four years that Van Buren served as vice president, the 
president's war on the Bank of the United States was one of the most 
important and controversial subjects on the Senate's agenda. 
Anticipating Jackson's order to withdraw the government deposits, bank 
president Nicholas Biddle had persuaded the bank's directors to order 
sharp reductions in credit. The directors subsequently decreed that the 
bank would accept only hard currency from state banks with loans 
outstanding, a move that forced state banks to adopt similar measures 
and wreaked havoc in the credit-dependent West and in the nation's 
financial markets.33
    When Van Buren assumed the chair on December 16, 1833, he found the 
Senate in a state of turmoil. The Senate's December 11 request that 
Jackson provide a copy of his withdrawal directive had been met with a 
curt response that infuriated opposition senators. ``I have yet to 
learn,'' Jackson had notified the Senate on December 12, ``under what 
constitutional authority that branch of the Legislature has a right to 
require of me an account of any communication.'' On December 27, Clay 
retaliated with two resolutions to censure Jackson, which the Senate 
adopted after three months of intense and heated debate. Van Buren's 
legendary poise served him well as Clay and his lieutenants began their 
attack, dropping not-so-thinly-veiled hints that the vice president was 
also to blame for the wave of bank and business failures sweeping the 
nation. Smiling and genial, he took care to maintain order in the 
chamber, ordering the galleries cleared when necessary. To all outward 
appearances, he seemed oddly unperturbed at the opprobrium that Clay and 
his allies heaped on the administration.34
    Early in the debate, however, Van Buren had orchestrated a spirited 
rejoinder to Clay's attacks. Unable to join in the debate himself, he 
had persuaded Silas Wright, the New York senator widely regarded as his 
spokesman in the Senate, to deliver the administration's response. 
Unmoved by Wright's plea that ``[t]he administration had several friends 
in the Senate more competent for the task than myself,'' Van Buren 
offered to ``reduce all we want to have said to writing.'' On January 
30, Wright presented an impassioned defense of Jackson's conduct and a 
ringing condemnation of the bank. His lengthy address--the product of 
Van Buren's pen--emphasized that the question before the public was 
``Bank or no Bank, . . . not the disposition of the Government 
deposits.'' The president, he argued, had been ``instrumental in 
restoring the constitution of the country to what it was intended to be 
by those who formed it . . . relieving that sacred instrument from those 
constructive and implied additions under which Congress have claimed the 
right to place beyond the reach of the people, and without 
responsibility, a moneyed power.'' Wright concluded his remarks with an 
argument that Jackson partisans would use to good advantage in the 
months that followed. ``The country . . . has approved the course of the 
Executive, in his attempts to relieve us from the corrupt and corrupting 
power and influence of a national bank,'' the New York senator stressed, 
``and it will sustain him in the experiment now making to substitute 
State institutions for such a fiscal agent.''
    Notwithstanding Wright's disclaimer that ``he had given his opinion 
as an individual,'' everyone present realized the truth of Daniel 
Webster's observation that, knowing the senator's ``political 
connexions, his station, and his relations,'' it was obvious that he had 
not ``spoken one word which has not been deliberately weighed and 
considered by others.'' Van Buren's words, ably articulated by a senator 
generally regarded as the ``clearest logician'' of his day, provided a 
forceful rebuttal to Clay's charges. One senator pronounced the speech 
``a hit,'' while Webster fretted about the ``effect which the recent 
debate in the Senate . . . may produce at the north.'' 35
    But even this triumph of sorts could not alleviate Van Buren's 
mounting discomfort as the lengthy debate dragged on. During one 
particularly heated March session, Clay addressed him directly, pleading 
with him to tell Jackson ``in the language of truth and sincerity, the 
actual condition of his bleeding country.'' Van Buren listened politely 
as Clay, obviously playing to the galleries, reminded him of his ``well-
known influence'' in the administration. At the conclusion of Clay's 
remarks, Van Buren handed the gavel to Hugh Lawson White and stepped 
down from the dais. Clay rose to his feet as the vice president 
deliberately approached his desk, and the crowds in the galleries fell 
silent. Then, with a deep bow, and a voice dripping with sarcasm, Van 
Buren returned fire: ``Mr. Senator, allow me to be indebted to you for 
another pinch of your aromatic Maccoboy.'' The galleries erupted in a 
wave of laughter as Clay, speechless and humiliated, gestured helplessly 
at the snuff on his desk. Van Buren helped himself and returned to the 
chair, all the while maintaining his studied composure.36
    When the Senate finally voted to censure the president on March 28, 
1834, Van Buren was not unduly alarmed, convinced that the American 
people would not take kindly to this dramatic assault on their hero and 
champion. But he was deeply disturbed by the response that Jackson sent 
to the Senate in mid-April. The president's critics, and even some of 
his allies, were shocked to learn that Jackson, as he explained in his 
infamous ``Protest,'' considered himself the direct representative of 
the American people--responsible, along with his appointees, for ``every 
species of property belonging to the United States.'' Worried about the 
constitutional ramifications of this novel interpretation of 
presidential power and about the effect that the controversial 
pronouncement might have on his own prospects in the coming election, 
Van Buren persuaded Jackson to soften his rhetoric. He was greatly 
relieved when the 1834 midterm elections affirmed that the American 
people approved of the war that Jackson waged against the bank on their 
behalf. Jackson ultimately killed the bank, as he had predicted he 
would, but the struggle took its toll on Van Buren, who eventually came 
to regard his duties as president of the opposition-controlled Senate as 
``so distasteful and so wearing'' that, according to a modern 
biographer, he suffered ``more than his share of colds and debilitating 
upsets.'' 37

                             The ``Weasel''

    Other issues before the Senate were equally troublesome for Van 
Buren, who was well aware that opposition senators, as well as some 
Jacksonians resentful of his influence, would exploit any apparent 
failing on his part in the coming election. The abolition movement, 
which sent scores of antislavery petitions to Congress during the 1830s, 
posed particular difficulties for a northern politician who had 
supported emancipation in his own state but was anxious to remain on 
good terms with southern voters and regarded slavery as a matter best 
left to the states. Like many northern voters at the time, Van Buren had 
little use for the abolitionists, dismissing their 1835-1836 crusade for 
emancipation in the District of Columbia as an attempt to ``distract 
Congress and the country . . . in the midst of a Presidential canvas.''
    Van Buren's disclaimers failed to satisfy many southerners who 
considered him an abolitionist at heart, but some were heartened by his 
June 2, 1836, tie-breaking vote to proceed to the third and final 
reading of Calhoun's bill authorizing local postal officials to 
confiscate mailings prohibited by state law. The bill was similar to one 
that Jackson had proposed after a mass mailing of abolitionist 
literature to Charleston, South Carolina, caused a near-riot there the 
previous summer. But the administration proposal would have authorized 
the federal government to determine which materials should be embargoed, 
while Calhoun's would have delegated this function to the states. 
Calhoun engineered a tied vote on the motion to proceed to the third 
reading of his bill. If he did so to embarrass Van Buren, as one scholar 
of the period has suggested, he miscalculated. ``The Vice President 
promptly voted yea, thus preventing Southerners from blaming him when 
the bill was finally defeated.'' 38 In fact, when the measure 
came up for the final vote less that a week later, 39 the 
Senate rejected it, a development that Van Buren, a shrewd judge of men 
and events, may well have anticipated. The ``weasel,'' as Calhoun now 
disparagingly referred to Van Buren, 40 had once again 
outmaneuvered his rival.

                          A ``Third-Rate Man''

     On May 20, 1835, the Democratic nominating convention chose Van 
Buren as the party's 1836 presidential candidate. The unanimous vote of 
the delegates present belied serious divisions in a party that was, in 
the words of a contemporary journalist, comprised of ``the Jackson 
party, proper; the Jackson-Van Buren party; the Jackson-anti-Van Buren 
party.'' More than a few disaffected Democrats, alarmed at the growth of 
presidential power during Jackson's two terms and reluctant to 
countenance more of the same under Van Buren, had grave reservations 
about the Little Magician. But Jackson had made his preference known. 
The president was equally adamant that Richard Mentor Johnson, a 
Kentucky Democrat and military hero who had served in both houses of 
Congress, should be Van Buren's running mate, a legacy that cost the 
ticket support among southern voters who regarded Johnson as an 
``amalgamator'' because of his relationship with his slave mistress.
    Van Buren was opposed by a field of regional opposition candidates 
endorsed by state and local Whig organizations. The Whigs, still more a 
coalition than a party, with no candidate capable of defeating Van Buren 
outright, hoped that each regional candidate would so weaken the 
Democratic ticket in his own section that the election would be thrown 
into the House of Representatives. During the campaign, opposition 
strategists reviled Van Buren as an abolitionist, a manipulator, and a 
trimmer--a ``third-rate man,'' in the words of one detractor. David 
Crockett, formerly a member of the anti-Jackson coalition in the House 
and one of ``Aunt Matty's'' sharpest critics, ridiculed the vice 
president's appearance as he presided over the Senate, ``laced up in 
corsets, such as women in a town wear, and, if possible, tighter than 
the best of them.'' Cartoonists portrayed Van Buren clutching the 
president's coattails, or donning Jackson's too-large greatcoat. More 
serious detractors warned that Van Buren would continue the 
aggrandizement of executive power that Jackson had begun. Democrats 
countered with pointed allusions to the Federalists, who had supported 
the First Bank of the United States, they reminded voters, as well as 
such equally repugnant measures as the Alien and Sedition Acts. They 
coupled these attacks with paeans of praise for the president who had 
slain the ``monster bank.''
    Van Buren won the election, a triumph that owed more to the 
fragmented and poorly coordinated campaigns mounted by the opposition 
and to Jackson's continued popularity than to his own prestige. He 
assumed office under a cloud, overshadowed at his presidential 
inauguration by the crowds that flocked to catch a final glimpse of Old 
Hickory. He would never be as beloved or as respected as his 
predecessor. Richard Mentor Johnson had failed to receive an electoral 
majority after Virginia's electors withheld their votes in protest, 
forcing the vice-presidential election into the Senate for the first and 
only time in the nation's history. With his controversial personal 
history and complete disdain for prevailing norms of social discourse 
and personal hygiene, Johnson would remain a source of continuing 
embarrassment for Van Buren.41

                           ``Martin Van Ruin''

    The nation's worsening relations with Mexico posed a serious problem 
for the new president. American settlers in Texas had declared their 
independence in 1836, precipitating a war with Mexico, and a request for 
annexation by the United States was pending at the time of Van Buren's 
inauguration. Reluctant to involve the nation in a war that northern 
antislavery interests would inevitably characterize as a war to extend 
slavery, but equally reluctant to offend southern expansionists, he 
pursued a dilatory and evasive course until Texas ultimately withdrew 
its petition.42
    Van Buren could not, however, afford to remain equally indecisive 
with respect to the economic maladies besetting the nation. On the day 
that he assumed office, one of the nation's most prominent trading 
houses suspended payments, the first in a wave of brokerage house 
failures that swept the nation during the panic of 1837. Jackson's 
``hard money'' fiscal policies were only partly to blame for the panic. 
A trade imbalance and a sharp decline in the price of American cotton 
had also contributed to the crisis, which was international in scope. 
But Whigs were quick to blame the nation's economic woes on Jackson and, 
by extension, on Van Buren, sometimes dubbed ``Martin Van Ruin'' during 
this period. He had inherited a situation that one scholar has 
characterized as a ``potentially devastating emergency, probably the 
worst facing any new President on taking office until James Buchanan had 
to cope with slavery and the Dred Scott decision in 1837.'' Van Buren's 
solution was to ``divorce'' the government from the banking sector by 
establishing a treasury independent of the state bank-based system that, 
contrary to Jackson's expectations, had fuelled the speculative frenzy 
of the mid 1830s. Whigs succeeded in blocking this initiative until 
1840, when Congress finally passed an independent treasury bill. In the 
meantime, the panic gave way to a depression of unprecedented severity. 
Up to one third of the factory workers in some northeastern towns were 
thrown out of work; in the South, vast expanses of once productive 
farmland went untilled. Prices of food and other necessities 
skyrocketed, with soup kitchens the only source of sustenance for many 
destitute residents of Washington, D.C., and other cities.43
    Van Buren lost his 1840 bid for reelection to William Henry 
Harrison, a military hero touted as a ``common man'' by the Whig 
strategists who ran an extraordinarily effective campaign on his behalf. 
After one Democrat made the mistake of dismissing ``Old Tippecanoe'' as 
a cider-swilling rustic content to live in a log cabin, Whigs 
appropriated these symbols to their advantage. The log cabin and the 
cider barrel were powerful images during the depression, images that 
contrasted sharply with the picture that Whigs painted of Van Buren as a 
nattily attired, high-living schemer, a ``used-up man'' hopelessly out 
of touch with the American electorate. Out-maneuvered and out-
campaigned, Van Buren's party lost not only the White House, but control 
of both houses of Congress, as well.44

                            A ``Used-Up Man''

    Van Buren was staggered by his humiliating defeat. He had received a 
mere 60 electoral votes, a dismal showing compared with Harrison's 234 
electoral votes, and a defeat made even more galling by his failure to 
carry New York. He gave little outward sign of his disappointment and 
extended more than the customary courtesies to Harrison when ``Old Tip'' 
arrived in Washington shortly before the inauguration. Van Buren was 
anxious to return to private life, he cheerfully informed friends, and 
seemed to enjoy the rousing welcome that awaited him in New York City. 
(He had, of course, conveniently informed friends that he would arrive 
in the city on March 23, allowing them plenty of time to prepare a 
``surprise'' in his honor.) But he was deeply shaken at the outcome of 
the election, and would have announced his retirement from politics had 
Silas Wright not intervened with a timely lecture about his 
responsibilities to the Democratic party.45
    Van Buren retired to Lindenwald, his Kinderhook estate, cautiously 
pondering his prospects for 1844 while maintaining that ``his ambition 
had been fully satisfied.'' But he made an extensive tour of the 
southern and western states in the spring and summer of 1842, drawing 
large crowds wherever he went. The voters who had turned him out of 
office were amazed to discover that the man demonized by Whigs as an 
insensitive dandy and a shrewd, cunning schemer was merely a plain-
spoken, unassuming, and quite ordinary man. ``Instead of a dwarf 
Dutchman, a little dandy who you might lift in a bandbox,'' Jackson 
observed, ``the people found him a plain man of middle size, plain and 
affable.'' Cautiously and discreetly, Van Buren began laying the 
groundwork for another attempt at the presidency. The leading contender 
after the first ballot at the 1844 Democratic convention, he ultimately 
lost the nomination to James K. Polk, a darkhorse candidate who 
supported the immediate annexation of Texas. Resolved never again to 
seek elective office, he focused his energies on securing New York for 
    After Polk's inauguration, Van Buren watched with mounting alarm as 
disagreement over the extension of slavery into the territory acquired 
from Mexico began to split his increasingly fragile party. He was deeply 
troubled by southern Democrats' claims that Congress could not bar 
slavery from the new territories; he had always believed that the 
institution, where it already existed, was a matter best left to the 
individual states. But when events in Texas offered southern 
slaveholders the opportunity to extend their reach toward the Southwest, 
Van Buren decided that he could not support the expansion of a practice 
that he regarded as evil. In 1848, the Free Soil party--a coalition of 
antislavery Democrats, antislavery Whigs and disaffected Whigs--
nominated Van Buren as their presidential candidate. In this last 
attempt at elective office, he lost to Whig candidate Zachary Taylor, 
having received a mere 10 percent of the popular vote and no electoral 
    Van Buren died at Lindenwald on July 24, 1862. He had lived long 
enough to see the southern states secede from the Union, a bitter 
disappointment for the man who had forged a once-formidable coalition 
that had transcended sectional lines. His last public statement, made 
the year before his death, was a declaration of his ``earnest and 
vigorous support to the Lincoln Administration for . . . the maintenance 
of the Union and the Constitution'' in response to President Lincoln's 
call for troops to suppress the rebellion. Lincoln reciprocated with a 
stilted posthumous tribute: ``The grief of his patriotic friends, will 
measurably be assuaged by the consciousness that while . . . seeing his 
end approaching, his prayers were for the restoration of the authority 
of the government of which he had been head, and for peace and good will 
among his fellow citizens.'' 48
                            MARTIN VAN BUREN


    1 Donald B. Cole, Martin Van Buren and the American 
Political System (Princeton, NJ, 1984), p. 188.
    2 John Niven, Martin Van Buren: The Romantic Age of 
American Politics (New York, 1983), p. 298.
    3 James A. Hamilton, Reminiscences of James A. Hamilton; 
or, Men and Events, at Home and Abroad, During Three Quarters of a 
Century (New York, 1869), pp. 42, 97; Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., The 
Age of Jackson (Boston, 1945), pp. 47-50; Robert V. Remini, Martin Van 
Buren and the Making of the Democratic Party (New York, 1959; reprint of 
1951 edition), pp. 2-3; Niven, pp. 7-8.
    4 Schlesinger, p. 49; Carl Sifakis, The Dictionary of 
Historic Nicknames (New York, 1984), p. 508.
    5 Also spelled Hoes.
    6 Niven, pp. 1-22; John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The 
Autobiography of Martin Van Buren (New York, 1973; reprint of 1920 
edition), 1:9-10.
    7 Niven, pp. 23-25, 60, 72, 162-63. Four of the five sons 
born to Martin and Hannah Van Buren survived infancy.
    8 Ibid., pp. 26-52.
    9 Remini, Martin Van Buren, pp. 5-11; Niven, p. 88.
    10 Niven, pp. 102-17.
    11 Remini, Martin Van Buren, pp. 36-92. For more on the 
1824 election, see also Chapter 7, ``John C. Calhoun,'' pp. 86-87.
    12 Remini, Martin Van Buren, pp. 91-113. For more about 
the Panama mission, see Chapter 7 of this volume, ``John C. Calhoun,'' 
pp. 88-89.
    13 Ibid., pp. 120-32; Robert V. Remini, Andrew Jackson 
and the Course of American Freedom, 1822-1832 (New York, 1981), pp. 113-
    14 Remini, Martin Van Buren, pp. 192-93; Remini, Jackson 
and the Course of American Freedom, pp. 116-42.
    15 Remini, Martin Van Buren, pp. 170-85. See also Chapter 
7, ``John C. Calhoun,'' p. 93.
    16 Fitzpatrick, ed., 1:220-24.
    17 Remini, Jackson and the Course of American Freedom, 
pp. 159-66.
    18 This incident is also discussed in Chapter 7, ``John 
C. Calhoun,'' p. 95.
    19 Niven, pp. 232-71; Remini, Jackson and the Course of 
American Freedom, pp. 291-320.
    20 Niven, pp. 272-95; Remini, Jackson and the Course of 
American Freedom, pp. 345-55.
    21 Niven, pp. 295-98.
    22 Remini, Jackson and the Course of American Freedom, 
pp. 355-58; Niven, pp. 298-301.
    23 Niven, pp. 301-29. For a more detailed account of the 
nullification crisis, see Chapter 7 of this volume, ``John C. Calhoun,'' 
pp. 94-96.
    24 Robert V. Remini, Andrew Jackson and the Course of 
American Democracy, 1833-1845 (New York, 1984), pp. 374-92; Robert V. 
Remini, Andrew Jackson and the Bank War: A Study in the Growth of 
Presidential Power (New York, 1967), pp. 1-108.
    25 Remini, Jackson and the Course of American Democracy, 
p. 46.
    26 Remini, Jackson and the Bank War, passim; Niven, pp. 
304, 330-47.
    27 Niven, pp. 368-72, 402; Remini, Jackson and the Course 
of American Democracy, pp. 201-18.
    28 At the beginning of the Twenty-second Congress, 20 of 
the Senate's 48 members belonged to the Jackson coalition; of the 
remainder, 26 belonged to the Anti-Jackson party and 2 were Nullifiers. 
U.S., Congress, Senate, The Senate, 1789-1989, by Robert C. Byrd, S. 
Doc., 100-20, 100th Cong., 1st sess., vol. 4, Historical Statistics, 
1789-1992, 1993, p. 416.
    29 U.S., Congress, Senate, Journal, 20th Cong., 2d sess., 
p. 51.
    30 Nancy N. Scott, ed., A Memoir of Hugh Lawson White, 
Judge of the Supreme Court of Tennessee, Member of the Senate of the 
United States . . . With Selections from His Speeches and Correspondence 
(Philadelphia, 1856), pp. 265-300; Remini, Jackson and the Course of 
American Democracy, p. 39; Niven, p. 356.
    31 U.S., Congress, Senate, Register of Debates in 
Congress, 23d Cong., 1st sess., pp. 19-29; Senate Journal, 23d Cong., 
1st sess., p. 39.
    32 Niven, pp. 356-58; Remini, Jackson and the Course of 
American Democracy, pp. 116-18; Register of Debates in Congress, 23d 
Cong., 1st sess., pp. 39-44; Senate Journal, 23d Cong., 1st sess., pp. 
39-43; Maurice G. Baxter, One and Inseparable: Daniel Webster and the 
Union (Cambridge, 1984), pp. 224-28.
    33 Niven, pp. 333-54; Remini, Jackson and the Bank War, 
pp. 109-53.
    34 U.S., Congress, Senate, The Senate, 1789-1989: 
Addresses on the History of the United States Senate, by Robert C. Byrd, 
S. Doc. 100-20, 100th Cong., 1st sess., vol. 1, 1989, pp. 127-32; Niven, 
p. 354.
    35 John A. Garraty, Silas Wright (New York, 1970; reprint 
of 1949 edition), pp. 114-18; Register of Debates in Congress, 23d 
Cong., 1st sess., pp. 397-405.
    36 Robert V. Remini, Henry Clay: Statesman for the Union 
(New York, 1991), pp. 452-53; Niven, pp. 354-55.
    37 Byrd, The Senate, 1:127-41, 145-47; Niven, pp. 365-66; 
Remini, Jackson and the Course of American Democracy, pp. 150-60; 
Remini, Jackson and the Bank War, pp. 152-53.
    38 Niven, pp. 384-85, 390; Glyndon G. Van Deusen, The 
Jacksonian Era (New York, 1959), p. 107-9; Cole, pp. 269-72; Senate 
Journal, 24th Cong., 1st sess., pp. 396-400.
    39 Senate Journal, 24th Cong., 1st sess., pp. 414-16.
    40 Cole, p. 264.
    41 Ibid., pp. 256-90; Niven, pp. 386-402. For a more 
detailed account of the 1836 election, see Chapter 9 of this volume, 
``Richard Mentor Johnson,'' pp. 126-27.
    42 Cole, pp. 317-21.
    43 Ibid., pp. 285-360; Sifakis, p. 508; Niven, pp. 412-
    44 Cole, pp. 368-73.
    45 Ibid., pp. 372-75; Niven, pp. 471-83.
    46 Niven, pp. 484-548.
    47 Ibid., pp. 542-90; Cole, pp. 407-18.
    48 Niven, pp. 611-12.

                                Chapter 9

                         RICHARD MENTOR JOHNSON


                         RICHARD MENTOR JOHNSON
                         RICHARD MENTOR JOHNSON

                                Chapter 9

                         RICHARD MENTOR JOHNSON

                      9th Vice President: 1837-1841

           . . . I pray you to assure our friends that the 
      humblest of us do not believe that a lucky random shot, even 
      if it did hit Tecumseh, qualifies a man for the Vice 
--Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice John Catron to Andrew 
                                   March 21, 1835.1
    The United States Senate elected Richard Mentor Johnson of Kentucky 
the nation's ninth vice president on February 8, 1837. His selection 
marked the first and only time the Senate has exercised its prerogative 
under the U.S. Constitution's Twelfth Amendment, which provides, ``if no 
person have a majority, then from the two highest numbers on the list, 
the Senate shall choose the Vice-President.'' Johnson became Martin Van 
Buren's running mate after three decades in the House and Senate, a 
congressional career spanning the administrations of five presidents 
from Thomas Jefferson through Andrew Jackson. Detractors alleged, 
however, that he owed his nomination solely to the dubious claim that he 
killed the Shawnee chieftain Tecumseh in 1813 at the Battle of the 
    Johnson wielded substantial power in the House of Representatives 
during Jackson's two administrations, and his successful decade-long 
campaign to end imprisonment for debt won him a national following. For 
most of his career, the voters of his district held him in great esteem. 
They forgave him when he sponsored the 1816 Compensation Act, one of the 
most unpopular laws ever enacted by Congress, as well as on more than 
one occasion when he lined his own pockets with government funds.
    During the 1836 presidential campaign and Johnson's single term as 
vice president, however, his popularity dissipated. The plain manners 
and habits that had once endeared him to his constituents and 
supporters, combined with his controversial personal life and 
unfortunate penchant for lending his influence in support of 
questionable undertakings, proved serious liabilities. A campaign to 
remove him from the Democratic ticket in 1840 failed only because Van 
Buren, while no Johnson enthusiast, was unwilling to alienate the 
eastern labor vote and because party leaders were reluctant to force a 
potentially divisive confrontation. The 1840 election, resulting in a 
decisive victory for the Whig ticket headed by Johnson's former comrade-
in-arms, William Henry Harrison, signalled the end of the Kentuckian's 
long and often controversial career.

                            A Frontier Youth

    Little is known of Richard Mentor Johnson's early years. Nineteenth-
century campaign biographies and a modern study based on these earlier 
accounts are heavily colored by the heroic rhetoric that Johnson and his 
supporters employed throughout his career.2 Although he was, 
as he later claimed, ``born in a cane-brake and cradled in a sap 
trough,'' 3 the Johnsons were a powerful family of 
substantial means. The future vice president was born on October 17, 
1780, at Beargrass, a Virginia frontier outpost near the site of 
present-day Louisville, Kentucky.4 His father, Robert 
Johnson, had migrated from Orange County, Virginia, with his wife, 
Jemima Suggett Johnson, in 1779. By 1812 Robert Johnson was one of the 
largest landholders in Kentucky. He served in the Virginia house of 
burgesses, attended both the 1785 convention that petitioned the 
Virginia legislature for Kentucky statehood and the 1792 Kentucky 
constitutional convention, and represented his district in the state 
legislature for several years after Kentucky's admission to the Union. 
After three of Richard Mentor Johnson's brothers achieved national 
office--James and John Telemachus served in the House of Representatives 
and Benjamin was a federal district judge--critics charged that the 
family sought ``power in every hole and corner of the state.'' The 
Johnsons proved remarkably effective in obtaining government contracts 
and other favors for family members and allies, and their financial 
interests in local newspapers such as Amos Kendall's Georgetown Minerva 
and the Georgetown Patriot added to their considerable 
    Richard Mentor Johnson received enough of an early education to 
qualify him for apprenticeships reading law under Kentucky jurists 
George Nicholas and James Brown, 6 both former students of 
Thomas Jefferson's legendary teacher George Wythe.7 The 
allusions that flavor his letters and speeches suggest at least a 
passing familiarity with the classics.8 After his admission 
to the bar in 1802, he returned to the family's home near Great 
Crossings, Kentucky, to practice law.9 He later operated a 
retail store at Great Crossings and engaged in other business and 
speculative ventures with brothers James, Benjamin, and Joel. These 
efforts, together with a sizeable bequest of land and slaves from his 
father, eventually made Johnson a wealthy man, although he never 
identified with the privileged classes. He routinely waived legal fees 
for the indigent land claimants he represented in suits against wealthy 
speculators, 10 and his home was a mecca for disabled 
veterans, widows, and orphans seeking his assistance. No one was refused 
hospitality at Blue Spring Farm, his estate near Great Crossings. An 
acquaintance ``heard men say they were treated so well by Col. Johnson 
when they went out there, they loved to go.'' 11
    Early accounts describe the future vice president as a gentle and 
personable man, with a pleasant, if nondescript, appearance. Washington 
socialite Margaret Bayard Smith found him ``[t]he most tender hearted, 
mild, affectionate and benevolent of men . . . whose countenance beams 
with good will to all, whose soul seems to feed on the milk of human 
kindness.'' He ``might have been a fashionable man,'' she speculated, if 
not for his retiring nature and ``plain . . . dress and manners.'' 
12 He possessed, in the words of John C. Calhoun's biographer 
Charles M. Wiltse, ``the rare quality of being personally liked by 
everyone.'' 13

                         Soldier and Legislator

    From 1804 to 1806, Johnson served as a delegate from Scott County in 
the Kentucky house of representatives, where he supported legislation to 
protect settlers from land speculators.14 Elected to the 
United States House of Representatives from the district encompassing 
Shelby, Scott, and Franklin counties in 1806, he served six consecutive 
terms, retiring from the House in 1819 to seek election to the 
Senate.15 Throughout his career, Johnson professed allegiance 
to the principles of ``Thomas Jefferson, the patriarch of 
republicanism,'' and correspondence from his early years in Congress 
suggests that he enjoyed a cordial acquaintance with 
Jefferson.16 In a rambling letter of February 1808, Johnson 
recommended a candidate for federal office and assured the president 
that ``I feel in you a confidence, & attachment which is indescribable & 
can never be excelled.'' ``Having procured the Books mentioned in the 
memorandum from you,'' the young congressman suggested, ``a course of 
Historical reading would be gratefully received.'' 17 The 
acquaintance continued after Jefferson's retirement. In 1813, Johnson 
wrote that he ``constantly recollected how much mankind are indebted to 
you,'' adding somewhat self-consciously that ``I make no apologies for 
indulging feelings which I really feel.'' 18 During the War 
of 1812, he apprised the retired president of military developments and 
solicited his counsel ``as to the manner of reading, & the Books to 
read, particularly as it respects Military history.'' 19
    As the representative of a frontier, predominantly agrarian 
district, Johnson shared his constituents' concern for the security of 
the interior settlements, as well as their inherent distrust of bankers, 
speculators, and other monied interests. An ``administration man'' with 
respect to defense and foreign policy matters, he voted against 
Secretary of the Treasury Albert Gallatin's proposal to recharter the 
Bank of the United States during the Madison 
administration.20 ``Great monied monopolies,'' he explained 
much later, ``controlled by persons, irresponsible to the people, are 
liable to exercise a dangerous influence, and corporate bodies 
generally, especially when they have the power to effect the circulating 
medium of the country, do not well comport with genius of a republic.'' 
21 He was a hardworking representative, popular among the 
voters of his district but otherwise undistinguished, until his heroism 
in the War of 1812 brought him national acclaim.22
    Johnson was one of the vociferous young congressmen, led by his 
fellow Kentuckian House Speaker Henry Clay, known collectively as the 
``warhawks.'' During the Twelfth Congress, this group urged military 
redress for British violations of American frontiers and shipping 
rights, 23 and in June 1812 they voted to declare war against 
Great Britain.24 Not wishing ``to be idle during the recess 
of Congress,'' 25 Johnson raised and led two mounted 
regiments that joined the northwestern army under the command of his 
future rival, General William Henry Harrison, in the fall of 1813. 
Johnson's Kentucky volunteers crossed the Canadian border in pursuit of 
a combined British and Shawnee force led by General Henry Proctor and 
overran the enemy position at the Thames River on October 5, 1813. A 
heroic cavalry charge led by Johnson and his brother James ensured a 
decisive American victory, in which Tecumseh, the Shawnee leader who had 
preyed upon American settlements in the Northwest since 1806, was among 
the presumed casualties. Although his remains were never identified, 
some witnesses claimed after the fact that Johnson had killed 
    Johnson returned to Congress a hero on March 7, 1814, still 
suffering from the extensive wounds that plagued him for the rest of his 
life. He turned his attention to war-related matters: the relief of 
veterans, widows and orphans; the compensation of veterans for service-
related property losses; and the improvement of the young nation's 
military establishment.27 Johnson's newfound popularity and 
his characteristic willingness to accede to his constituents' demands 
ensured his political survival through the furor over the 1816 
Compensation Act, which for the first time granted members of Congress 
an annual salary, rather than paying them only for the days Congress was 
in session. The measure became controversial when a newspaper estimated 
that the new system would cost the government an additional $400,000 
annually, and Congress repealed the law the next year. Although Johnson 
sponsored the bill, he quickly repudiated the measure after the public 
outcry cost many of his colleagues their seats.28
    His nationalist perspective heightened by the war, Johnson joined 
with Henry Clay in advocating protection for frontier products and 
federal funding for internal improvements to give western producers 
readier access to eastern markets.29 In 1817, he voted to 
override Madison's veto of the bonus bill, a proposal to fund internal 
improvements from the bonus and dividends from the Bank of the United 
States.30 Widely regarded as an expert in military affairs as 
a consequence of his valor under fire, Johnson was one of several 
westerners whom President James Monroe considered to head the War 
Department after Henry Clay declined the post in 1817.31 The 
nomination ultimately went to John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, but 
Johnson enjoyed considerable leverage over the department as chairman 
from 1817 to 1819 of the House Committee on Expenditures in the 
Department of War.32 In 1818, Calhoun authorized an 
expedition to plant a military outpost at the mouth of the Yellowstone 
River, near the current site of Bismarck, North Dakota, and awarded the 
transportation and supply contract to the chairman's brother and 
partner, James Johnson.
    The Yellowstone expedition departed from St. Louis just as the panic 
of 1819 brought postwar economic expansion to a halt and shortly before 
Treasury Secretary William H. Crawford issued a December 1819 report 
projecting a $5 million budget deficit. The venture grossly exceeded 
anticipated costs (in large part because of James Johnson's malfeasance 
and Richard Mentor Johnson's repeated pleas for further advances). As a 
result, the expedition provided Calhoun's enemies in Congress with 
potent ammunition for an attack that ultimately led to drastic 
reductions in the War Department budget.33 After Johnson 
requested yet another contract for James in the summer of 1820, Calhoun 
finally advised the president that, ``to avoid all censure, the 
contracts ought to be made on public proposals.'' 34
    Johnson retired from the House long before the Yellowstone 
expedition stalled at Council Bluffs, Iowa, but the eventual outcry over 
the venture failed to diminish his stature in Kentucky.35 As 
Monroe had earlier acknowledged, ``the people of the whole western 
country'' considered the expedition ``a measure . . . to preserve the 
peace of the frontier.'' 36 The local press celebrated ``the 
Herculean undertakings of the Johnsons,'' while accusing their critics 
of ``political animosity.'' 37 On December 10, 1819, the 
Kentucky legislature elected Johnson to fill the unexpired portion of 
John J. Crittenden's Senate term.38

                           Relief for Debtors

     Johnson began his Senate career heavily in debt. He mortgaged 
several properties to the Bank of the United States to settle accounts 
outstanding from the Yellowstone expedition and other speculative 
ventures. In 1822 Bank counsel Henry Clay won a substantial judgment 
against the Johnson brothers.39 Still, Johnson weathered the 
depression better than many of his constituents and others who were left 
destitute after the panic of 1819 severely depressed credit and 
agricultural prices. Thousands of overextended farmers and laborers 
found themselves pressed by increasingly frantic creditors during the 
depression that followed the panic. Imprisonment for debt was a common 
punishment in state and local courts during the early nineteenth 
century, although few debtors were incarcerated for outstanding federal 
    Both Johnson's own experience and the suffering in his district and 
elsewhere convinced him that ``the principle is deemed too dangerous to 
be tolerated in a free government, to permit a man for any pecuniary 
consideration, to dispose of the liberty of his equal.'' 41 
The movement to end debt imprisonment began long before Johnson, on 
December 10, 1822, introduced a Senate bill to abolish use of the 
punishment by federal courts. He did, however, become one of the 
acknowledged leaders of the effort, first through his success in 
persuading the Kentucky legislature to abolish the practice in 1821 and 
then with his decade-long campaign in Congress that in 1832 achieved 
enactment of a federal statute.42 Senator Thomas Hart Benton 
of Missouri later explained that the impact of the 1832 law extended far 
beyond the federal courts ``in the force of example and influence.'' The 
statute ``led to the cessation of the practice of imprisoning debtors, 
in all, or nearly all, of the States and Territories of the Union.'' 
    A second legislative accomplishment that brought Johnson national 
distinction was a report that he prepared during his final Senate term, 
as chairman of the Committee on Post Offices and Post Roads, in response 
to a flood of petitions from religious congregations in the East 
demanding the suspension of Sunday mail deliveries. The January 19, 
1829, report, widely reprinted in the press, argued that, as ``a civil, 
and not a religious institution,'' the government could take no action 
sanctioning the religious convictions or practices of any denomination. 
After leaving the Senate, Johnson continued his crusade as a member of 
the House of Representatives. In 1830, as chairman of the House 
Committee on Post Offices and Post Roads, he submitted a second report. 
This, like the earlier Senate report, brought him widespread acclaim in 
the labor press as a champion of religious liberty. Some contemporaries 
doubted Johnson's authorship of the second report, however; and his 
biographer has conceded that Johnson's friends in the Post Office 
Department, including his landlord O.B. Brown, may have influenced his 
    During his ten years in the Senate from 1819 to 1829, Johnson 
gravitated toward the coalition, then emerging under the skilled 
leadership of Martin Van Buren, that eventually became the Democratic 
party, as well as toward the party's future standard bearer, Andrew 
Jackson.45 The acquaintance dated at least from 1814, when 
Johnson wrote to Jackson at New Orleans to recommend a supply 
contractor.46 He was Jackson's impassioned, if ineffective, 
defender in 1819 when Clay urged the House of Representatives to censure 
the general for his execution of two British subjects during the 
Seminole War.47 Senator Johnson declared for Jackson after 
the 1824 presidential election was thrown into the House of 
Representatives 48--and, by some accounts, after the 
candidate hinted that, if elected, he intended to name Johnson secretary 
of war.49 When the House elected John Quincy Adams president, 
Johnson broke the news to Jackson that the new president had named as 
secretary of state Henry Clay, who had voted for Adams in spite of the 
Kentucky voters' clear preference for Jackson.50 Johnson was 
absent when the Senate approved Clay's nomination on March 7, 
1825.51 A Washington journalist later reported that, after 
the election, Johnson ``determined to enter the ranks of the 
opposition.'' 52 He had become, and would remain for the rest 
of his life, a steadfast ``Jacksonian.''
     Johnson was reelected to a full Senate term in 1822 but in 1828 
lost his reelection bid because Kentucky Democrats feared that 
controversy over his domestic life would jeopardize Jackson's chances in 
the national election. Johnson never married. Family tradition recounts 
that he ended an early romance, vowing revenge for his mother's 
interference, after Jemima Johnson pronounced his intended bride 
unworthy of the family.53 He later lived openly with Julia 
Chinn, a mulatto slave raised by his mother and inherited from his 
father, until her death from cholera in 1833. Johnson freely 
acknowledged the relationship, as well as the two daughters born to the 
union, and entrusted Julia with full authority over his business affairs 
during his absences from Blue Spring Farm.54
    The relationship provoked little comment in Johnson's congressional 
district, but as a member of the Senate, with an expanded constituency, 
he was vulnerable to criticism by large slaveholders and others who 
disapproved of open miscegenation. Threatened press exposure of the 
senator's personal life during the 1828 campaign unnerved Jackson 
supporters in the Kentucky legislature. They therefore attempted to 
dissociate the national candidate from the now-controversial Johnson, 
joining forces with the Adams faction to oppose Johnson's reelection and 
ultimately forcing state legislator John Telemachus Johnson to withdraw 
his brother's name from the contest.55 The defeat ended 
Johnson's Senate career. In his three later attempts to return to the 
Senate, he lost to Henry Clay in 1831 and 1848 and to John J. Crittenden 
in 1842.56

                           In the House Again

    In 1829 the voters in Johnson's old district returned him to the 
House of Representatives, 57 where he remained during 
Jackson's two administrations. After chairing the Committee on Post 
Offices and Post Roads from 1829 to 1833, he served as chairman of the 
Committee on Military Affairs from 1833 to 1837.58 An 
acknowledged power in the House, Johnson offered his services and advice 
to the administration on several occasions, albeit with noticeably less 
success than the more politically astute Martin Van Buren.59
    Johnson was, by nature, a conciliator, whose vehement rhetoric 
belied a tendency to avoid politically risky confrontations. In 1830 he 
urged Jackson to sign a bill to fund an extension of the national road 
from Lexington to Maysville, Kentucky, warning in emphatic terms that 
``you will crush your friends in Kentucky if you veto that Bill.'' When 
the president proved intransigent, he conceded that a tax to fund the 
Maysville Road ``would be worse than a veto.'' He failed to vote when 
the House sustained the veto on May 18, 1830.60
    An early aspirant for the 1832 Democratic presidential nomination, 
Johnson refocused his sights on the vice-presidency after Jackson 
announced that he would seek a second term.61 New York labor 
leader Ely Moore and members of the Workingmen's party supported Johnson 
for vice president, 62 but Democratic strategists questioned 
the wisdom of adding him to the ticket. A correspondent of Navy 
Secretary John McLean noted that ``Gen. Jackson . . . is in feeble 
health; and may not live to the end of his second term'' and questioned 
whether ``Colo. Johnson's calibre will answer for so high a station.'' 
63 Despite clear indications that Van Buren would replace 
Calhoun as the vice-presidential candidate, however, Johnson abandoned 
his campaign only after Jackson's adviser William B. Lewis convinced him 
to do so.64 When, on May 22, 1832, the Democratic convention 
tapped Van Buren as Jackson's running mate on the first ballot, Johnson 
received only 26 votes from the Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois 
delegations--a poor showing compared to Van Buren's 208 votes and the 49 
votes of former House Speaker and Calhoun ally Philip P. Barbour. 
Jackson and Van Buren then went on to win an easy victory in the general 
    As early as April 1833, shortly after Jackson's new term began, Duff 
Green's Political Register reported that ``the western States are 
flooded with handbills nominating Col. Richard M. Johnson, of Kentucky, 
as a candidate for the Presidency in 1836.'' Johnson's friend William 
Emmons published The Authentic Biography of Colonel Richard M. Johnson 
in 1833, and Richard Emmons' play, Tecumseh, of the Battle of the 
Thames, soon followed. A poem by Richard Emmons supplied the slogan that 
Johnson enthusiasts trumpeted in the 1836 and 1840 campaigns: ``Rumpsey, 
Dumpsey, Colonel Johnson killed Tecumseh!''
    The candidate delighted in these overblown celebrations of his 
military prowess, boasting after a well-attended and well-received 
performance of Tecumseh that he had ``more friends than ever.'' 
66 But Johnson's following was based upon more than his 
military accomplishments, exaggerated though they were by his eager 
promoters. His efforts to abolish imprisonment for debt and to continue 
Sunday mail deliveries ensured him the support of the workingmen's 
movement in the urban centers, and his ``hard-money,'' antibank fiscal 
policy appealed to the party's ``radical'' faction. He also enjoyed a 
strong following in the West, where Jackson's ``Kitchen Cabinet'' 
advisers Amos Kendall and Francis P. Blair considered him the only 
candidate who could neutralize Clay's overwhelming appeal.67 
Party regulars understood, however, that in selecting Van Buren as his 
running mate in 1832, Jackson had named the diminutive New Yorker his 
successor. Johnson eventually acceded to the president's wishes with his 
usual equanimity, refusing to run as an opposition candidate when 
approached in 1834 by a coalition of disaffected Tennesseans led by 
David Crockett and John Bell.68 Blair and Kendall quietly 
changed their tactics in hopes of securing the vice-presidential 
nomination for ``Old Dick.'' 69 Perhaps they hoped that 
Johnson would thus become the ``heir apparent'' to succeed Van Buren, or 
perhaps they merely recognized the futility of opposing Old Hickory's 
will. Van Buren served as Jackson's ``right hand'' during his term as 
vice president, but this arrangement resulted more from his longstanding 
relationship with the president than from any commonly held assumptions 
regarding the role of the vice president.

                              1836 Election

    When the Democratic convention met at Baltimore on May 22, 1835, to 
ratify Van Buren's nomination and select his running mate, Johnson's 
only serious opponent for the vice-presidential nomination was former 
senator William Cabell Rives of Virginia, who had served as minister to 
France during Jackson's first administration. Southern Democrats, and 
Van Buren himself, strongly preferred Rives. Although he counted ``the 
gallant Colonel . . . among the bravest of the brave,'' Van Buren also 
feared that Johnson could not ``be relied upon to check the cupidity of 
his friends.'' Jackson, however, concerned about the threat that 
opposition candidate Hugh Lawson White posed among western voters, 
strongly preferred his Kentucky lieutenant. His anger over Rives' 
diplomatic failures and his gratitude for Johnson's longstanding loyalty 
and support also weighed heavily in his decision. In spite of the 
president's considerable influence, however, Johnson received the 
required two-thirds vote only after New York Senator Silas Wright 
prevailed upon nondelegate Edward Rucker to cast the fifteen votes of 
the absent Tennessee delegation in his favor.70
    The choice provoked bitter dissention in Democratic ranks. Virginia 
delegate Dr. R.C. Mason questioned Johnson's fidelity to the party's 
``great republican principles'' and announced that his delegation would 
not support the nomination.71 Johnson's letter of acceptance, 
explaining that ``I consider the views of president Jackson, on the 
tariff and internal improvements, as founded in true wisdom,'' failed to 
mollify the Virginians.72 Van Buren's ally Albert Balch had 
previously warned Jackson that ``I do not think from what I hear daily 
that the nomination of Johnson for the Vice Presidency will be popular 
in any of the slave holding states except Ky. on account of his former 
domestic relations,'' 73 and a Van Buren correspondent later 
predicted that ``Col. Johnson's . . . weight would absolutely sink the 
whole party in Virginia.'' 74 Tennessee Supreme Court Chief 
Justice John Catron warned Jackson that Johnson was ``not only 
positively unpopular in Tennessee . . . but affirmatively odious'' and 
begged the president ``to assure our friends that the humblest of us do 
not believe that a lucky random shot, even if it did hit Tecumseh, 
qualifies a man for the Vice Presidency.'' He predicted that ``the very 
moment Col. J. is announced, the newspapers will open upon him with 
facts, that he had endeavored often to force his daughters into society, 
that the mother in her life time, and they now, rode in carriages, and 
claimed equality.'' 75
    The Whigs still formed a loose coalition bound by mutual opposition 
to Jackson's antibank policies but lacked the party unity or 
organizational strength to field a single ticket or define a coherent 
platform. Instead of a single nominee, they offered a series of 
sectional candidates nominated by local caucuses in hopes of defeating 
Van Buren in each region and throwing the election into the House of 
Representatives. The Whig presidential candidates were Daniel Webster, 
Tennessee Senator and former Jacksonian Hugh Lawson White, and Johnson's 
former commander, General William Henry Harrison. For vice president, 
opposition caucuses nominated New York Anti-Mason Francis Granger and 
former Democrat John Tyler of Virginia.76
    In the bitter campaign that followed, Whigs attempted to attract 
disaffected Democrats by focusing on personalities rather than issues. 
In the South, opposition strategists raised the specter of abolition 
against Van Buren, 77 while attacking Johnson as a ``great 
amalgamator,'' who had ``habitually and practically illustrated'' 
abolitionist principles in his own home.78 Johnson not only 
cost his party southern votes, but he also failed to attract western 
votes as anticipated. His own state went for Harrison and Granger. In 
spite of these disappointments, however, Van Buren still managed a 
narrow victory with just over fifty percent of the popular 
    On February 8, 1837, President pro tempore of the Senate William R. 
King of Alabama proclaimed to the members of Congress assembled in the 
House chamber to tally the electoral returns that Martin Van Buren, with 
170 electoral votes, was the ``duly elected President of the United 
States.'' Johnson, however, received only 147 electoral votes, 70 more 
than his closest contender, Francis Granger, but one less than the 
number required to elect. The Virginia electors had remained loyal to 
Van Buren, who carried the state by a close margin, but cast their votes 
in the vice-presidential contest for William Smith of Alabama. After 
King announced that ``it devolved on the Senate of the United States . . 
. to choose . . . a Vice President of the United States,'' the Senate 
retired to its own chamber.80
    After reassembling to elect the vice president, the Senate approved 
Tennessee Senator Felix Grundy's resolution to establish the voting 
[T]he Secretary of the Senate shall call the names of Senators in 
         alphabetical order; and each Senator will, when his name 
           is called, name the person for whom he votes; and if a 
          majority of the whole number of Senators shall vote for 
        either the said Richard M. Johnson or Francis Granger, he 
         shall be declared by the presiding officer of the Senate 
            constitutionally elected Vice President of the United 
Secretary of the Senate Asbury Dickins called the roll, with 49 of the 
52 senators present voting along strict party lines: 33 for Johnson, 16 
for Granger. President pro tempore King then announced that Johnson had 
been ``constitutionally elected Vice President of the United States for 
four years, commencing on the fourth day of March, 1837.'' 81

                             Vice President

    Notified of his election, 82 Johnson responded that his 
``gratification was heightened from the conviction that the Senate, in 
the exercise of their constitutional prerogative, concurred with and 
confirmed the wishes of both the States and the people.'' He explained 
that he had never paid ``special regard to the minuteness of rules and 
orders, so necessary to the progress of business, and so important to 
the observance of the presiding officer'' during his three decades in 
Congress. He was nonetheless confident--in words reminiscent of 
Jefferson's forty years earlier--that ``the intelligence of the Senate 
will guard the country from any injury that might result from the 
imperfections of the presiding officer.'' While he hoped ``that there 
may be always sufficient unanimity'' to prevent equal divisions in the 
Senate, he would perform his duty ``without embarrassment'' in the event 
that he was called upon to cast a tie-breaking vote.83
     President pro tempore King administered the oath of office to 
Johnson in the Senate chamber at 10:00 a.m. on March 4, 1837. In a brief 
address to the Senate, the new vice president observed that ``there is 
not, perhaps, a deliberative assembly existing, where the presiding 
officer has less difficulty in preserving order.'' He attributed this 
characteristic to ``the intelligence and patriotism of the members who 
compose the body, and that personal respect and courtesy which have 
always been extended from one member to another in its deliberations.'' 
At the conclusion of his remarks, the ceremony of newly elected senators 
presenting their credentials to the Senate and taking the oath of office 
was temporarily interrupted by the arrival of President-elect Van Buren 
and his party. The senators therefore joined the procession to the east 
portico of the Capitol for the presidential inauguration.84
    Contemporary witnesses and scholarly accounts of the day's 
festivities mention Richard Mentor Johnson only in passing, if at all. 
The outgoing president, worn and emaciated from two terms in office and 
a recent debilitating illness but still towering over his immaculately 
attired successor, was clearly the focus of attention. Thomas Hart 
Benton, a dedicated Jackson supporter, later recounted the 
``acclamations and cheers bursting from the heart and filling the air'' 
that erupted from the crowd as Jackson took his leave of the ceremony. 
From Benton's perspective, ``the rising was eclipsed by the setting 
sun.'' 85
    Johnson's friendship with Jackson and his stature in the House had 
assured him access to the president and some measure of influence during 
Jackson's administrations. The controversy surrounding his nomination, 
however, together with his disappointing showing in the 1836 election, 
his longstanding rivalry with Van Buren, and the constitutional 
limitations of his new office severely curtailed his role in the Van 
Buren administration. Histories of Van Buren's presidency do not 
indicate that he ever sought his vice president's counsel.86 
Johnson's duties were confined to the Senate chamber, where he watched 
from the presiding officer's chair as Senate Finance Committee Chairman 
Silas Wright of New York introduced Van Buren's economic 
    Johnson was, however, willing to use on behalf of his friends and 
cronies the limited influence he still commanded. When Lewis Tappan 
asked the vice president to present an abolition petition to the Senate, 
Johnson, who owned several slaves, averred that ``considerations of a 
moral and political, as well as of a constitutional nature'' prevented 
him from presenting ``petitions of a character evidently hostile to the 
union, and destructive of the principles on which it is founded.'' 
88 ``Constitutional considerations'' did not, however, 
prevent him from lobbying Congress on behalf of Indian subagent Samuel 
Milroy when Milroy, an Indiana Democrat who performed ``special favors'' 
for the vice president, sought the more lucrative position of Indian 
    Johnson was a competent presiding officer, 90 although 
not an accomplished parliamentarian. In keeping with Senate practice 
during the 1830s, he appointed senators to standing and select 
committees, a duty that President pro tempore William R. King performed 
when he was absent.91
    Although he had hoped for ``equanimity'' in the Senate, Johnson was 
called upon to cast his tie-breaking vote fourteen times during his 
single term in office, more frequently than any previous vice president 
except John Adams and John C. Calhoun.92 Three of his 
predecessors--Adams, George Clinton, and Daniel D. Tompkins--had 
addressed the Senate on occasion to explain their tie-breaking votes, 
but Johnson declined to do so.93 In at least one instance, 
however, he did explain a vote to readers of the Kentucky Gazette.  
Justifying his support for a bill granting relief to the daughter of a 
veteran, Johnson reminded his former constituents that he had always 
``used my humble abilities in favor of those laws which have extended 
compensation to the officers and soldiers who have bravely fought, and 
freely bled, in their country's cause, and to widows and orphans of 
those who perished.'' 94 In other instances, however, Johnson 
voted with Democratic senators in support of administration 
    Notwithstanding his steady, if lackluster, service in the Senate, 
Johnson from the outset represented a liability to Van Buren. Still 
heavily in debt when he assumed office, he hoped to recoup his fortunes 
through the Choctaw Academy, a school he established at Blue Spring Farm 
during the 1820s that became the focus of the Jackson administration's 
efforts to ``socialize'' and ``civilize'' the Native American 
population. He received federal funds for each student from tribal 
annuities and the ``Civilization Fund'' established by Congress during 
the Monroe administration, 96 but revenues from the school 
failed to satisfy his mounting obligations. By the spring of 1839, Amos 
Kendall reported to Van Buren on the vice president's latest venture: a 
hotel and tavern at White Sulphur Spring, Kentucky. He enclosed a letter 
from a friend who had visited ``Col. Johnson's Watering establishment'' 
and found the vice president ``happy in the inglorious pursuit of tavern 
keeping--even giving his personal superintendence to the chicken and egg 
purchasing and water-melon selling department.'' 97 Kendall 
wrote with consternation that Johnson's companion, ``a young Delilah of 
about the complexion of Shakespears swarthy Othello,'' was ``said to be 
his third wife; his second, which he sold for her infidelity, having 
been the sister of the present lady.'' 98 Although one of the 
most fashionable in Kentucky, 99 Johnson's resort also formed 
a source of considerable embarrassment for the administration.
    As debts, disappointments, and the chronic pain he had suffered 
since 1813 took their toll, Johnson's once-pleasing appearance became 
dishevelled, and the plain republican manners that had in earlier days 
so charmed Margaret Bayard Smith now struck observers as vulgar and 
crude, 100 especially compared to the impeccably clad and 
consummately tactful Van Buren. Henry Stanton observed Johnson presiding 
over the Senate in 1838 and pronounced him ``shabbily dressed, and to 
the last degree clumsy,'' a striking contrast with his ``urbane, elegant 
predecessor.'' 101 English author Harriett Martineau sat 
opposite the vice president at a dinner party, and predicted that ``if 
he should become President, he will be as strange-looking a potentate as 
ever ruled. His countenance is wild, though with much cleverness in it; 
his hair wanders all abroad, and he wears no cravat. But there is no 
telling how he might look if he dressed like other people.'' 
102 The trademark scarlet vest that Johnson affected while 
vice president (after he and stagecoach line operator James Reeside 
agreed to don vests to match Reeside's red coaches) 103 only 
accentuated his unkempt appearance and eccentric habits.
    Van Buren and Johnson took office just as weakened demand for 
American products abroad and credit restrictions imposed by British 
banks and trading houses combined to produce a massive contraction in 
the economy. Critics focused their wrath on Jackson's fiscal policies, 
which were in part responsible for the panic of 1837, but Van Buren 
would not abandon his predecessor's ``hard money'' stance. He refused 
mounting demands to rescind the 1836 Specie Circular, Jackson's 
directive to end speculation and inflation by requiring purchasers of 
public land to pay in specie. During the September 1837 special session 
of Congress that Van Buren called to address the crisis, Senate Finance 
Committee Chairman Silas Wright of New York introduced the new 
administration's remedy, a proposal to end government reliance on the 
banking system. Congress finally approved Van Buren's independent 
treasury plan in the summer of 1840, but not before bitter debate and 
the worsening economy galvanized the Whig opposition.104 
Adding to Van Buren's considerable difficulties, and contributing to 
Democratic losses in the 1837 and 1838 local elections, were a border 
dispute with Canada, armed resistance to removal by the Seminole tribe 
in Florida, heightened sectional antagonism over slavery in Congress, 
and flagrant misconduct on the part of several administration 

                              1840 Campaign

    Although Van Buren's renomination was never in doubt, Democratic 
strategists began to question the wisdom of keeping Johnson on the 
ticket in 1840. They feared, as Harriett Martineau had predicted, that 
``the slavery question . . . may again be to the disadvantage of the 
Colonel.'' 106 Even Jackson finally conceded that Johnson was 
a liability and insisted on former House Speaker James K. Polk of 
Tennessee as Van Buren's new running mate.107 ``I like Col. 
Johnson but I like my country more,'' he wrote Francis P. Blair shortly 
before the Democratic convention, ``and I allway go for my Country 
first, and then for my friend.'' 108
    In spite of the entreaties of several southern Democrats, anonymous 
hints in the Democratic press that Johnson would not stand for 
reelection, and his own half-hearted offer to withdraw from the contest 
if asked to do so, he remained a candidate.109 With William 
Henry Harrison, Johnson's former commander and comrade-in-arms and the 
``Hero of Tippecanoe,'' emerging as a likely Whig presidential 
contender, Van Buren was reluctant to drop the Democrats' own hero from 
the ticket. He was also well aware of ``Old Dick's'' following among 
``hard-money'' Democrats in the Northeast.110 Party leaders, 
unwilling to risk an open confrontation, approved Van Buren's compromise 
proposal that the 1840 convention would leave the selection of the vice-
presidential candidate to the state party organizations, but they 
ultimately backed Johnson after two crucial states--New York and 
Pennsylvania--rallied behind him and other prospective candidates 
declined to run.111
    Eastern Whigs' fear that Clay could not win the presidency, as well 
as Harrison's surprising showing in the 1836 contest, assured Harrison 
the 1840 Whig nomination. To balance his strength in the North and West, 
Whigs chose former Virginia Senator John Tyler as their vice-
presidential candidate. Whigs portrayed Harrison as a champion of the 
people and a welcome corrective to the New York dandy whose economic 
policies had failed to relieve widespread suffering among ordinary 
    Van Buren remained aloof from the popular hoopla that distinguished 
the 1840 campaign from earlier contests, despite Johnson's warning that 
the campaign ``would be hard run, and that he ought to go out among the 
voters as I intended doing.'' 113 The vice president plunged 
headlong into the fray, opening his shirt to display battle scars before 
an Ohio audience, revisiting the Battle of the Thames in progressively 
more lurid detail with each retelling, and delivering ``rambling'' 
diatribes on several occasions. He always also took care to remind 
western audiences that Van Buren had ``raised himself from a poor Dutch 
orphan boy to the highest station in the world.'' During an Ohio 
campaign tour with Governor Wilson Shannon and Senator William Allen, 
the trio's inflammatory charges against Harrison touched off a riot in 
Cleveland.114 Still, as Robert Gray Gunderson concluded in 
his study of the ``log-cabin campaign,'' ``Old Rumpsey Dumpsey conducted 
a more effective campaign than any other Democrat in 1840.'' 
     Unprecedented public interest aroused by the campaign, coupled with 
broadened suffrage requirements in several states, ensured a record 
voter turnout. Harrison defeated Van Buren with 52.9 percent of the 
popular vote and 234 electoral votes to Van Buren's 60, and Whigs won 
majorities for the first time in both the House and the 
Senate.116 Johnson's showing was particularly embarrassing: 
Kentucky voters again backed the opposing ticket, but this time the 
Whigs carried the vice president's own district as well.117 
One of the 23 Virginia electors, and all of South Carolina's 11 
electors, voted for Van Buren but defected to James K. Polk and 
Littleton W. Tazewell of Virginia, respectively, in the vice-
presidential contest.118
    Johnson had the painful duty of presiding over the joint session of 
Congress that met in the House chamber on February 10, 1841, to count 
the electoral votes. After proclaiming Harrison's election, he announced 
that John Tyler ``was duly elected Vice President of the United States 
for four years, commencing with the 4th day of March, 1841.'' He then 
appointed Whig Senator William C. Preston of South Carolina to a joint 
committee to notify Tyler of his election, 119 and nine days 
later, he reported Tyler's acknowledgement of the message.120


    Johnson took his leave of the Senate on March 2, 1841, the day 
before the Twenty-sixth Congress adjourned, to allow the Senate ``an 
opportunity of selecting a presiding officer, for the convenience of 
organization'' when the next Congress convened two days later. Recalling 
his association with ``a very great majority of the members of the 
Senate . . . for many years, in the councils of our common country,'' he 
reflected that his ``personal relations'' with them had ``ever been kind 
and tender,'' notwithstanding ``diversity of opinion . . . on minor 
points, or . . . points of greater magnitude.'' The ``generous, the 
magnanimous course'' of individual senators, and particularly ``their 
indulgence'' of a presiding officer ``who never studied the rules of 
order technically,'' had rendered his service in the Senate ``pleasant 
and agreeable'' despite ``momentary agitation and excitement in 
debate.'' As the Senate's presiding officer, he had tried to ``act with 
perfect impartiality'' and to treat ``each Senator as the representative 
of a sovereign and independent State, and as entitled to equal 
consideration of me.''
    Johnson claimed that he retired ``without the least 
dissatisfaction,'' obedient to ``the great radical and fundamental 
principle of submission to the voice of the people, when 
constitutionally expressed.'' But his parting comments betrayed a sense 
of regret:
[A]nd when I am far distant from you--as time must separate us all 
         even here, not to speak of hereafter--as long as I shall 
        have my recollection to remember the associations which I 
        have had with this body, I shall always be animated by the 
        sentiment of kindness and friendship with which I take my 
                          final leave of the Senate.121

                               Later Years

    Johnson's 1840 defeat effectively ended his political career. He was 
a candidate for the Senate in 1842 but lost to John J. Crittenden. Early 
efforts by Kentucky Democrats to secure the 1844 Democratic presidential 
nomination for ``Colonel Dick,'' and his own tours of the northern 
states and the Mississippi Valley toward that end, met with polite but 
condescending resistance from Democrats who shared William L. Marcy's 
view that ``he is not now even what he formally was. It may be there was 
never so much of him as many of us were led to suppose.'' 122 
Jackson was characteristically blunt. Johnson, he warned Van Buren, 
would be ``dead weight'' in the forthcoming election.123 An 
observer noted the old hero's mounting frustration: ``Colonel Dick 
Johnson . . . seems to understand very well Mr. V Buren is stacking the 
cards . . . Dick . . . will be bamboozled as sure as a gun. . . . You 
never saw a more restless dissatisfied man in your life, than Dick is.'' 
124 By 1843, Johnson partisans conceded that he had no chance 
of winning the presidential nomination, and a Kentucky Democrat assured 
Van Buren that ``the friends of Col. Johnson do not ask anything more 
than a vote on the first ballot in his favor.'' 125 Several 
Democrats speculated that Johnson's real objective was the vice-
presidential nomination, although he never formally declared himself a 
candidate.126 But by early 1844 he realized that ``his party 
doesn't even intend to place him upon the Vice Presidents ticket.'' 
    Johnson made a final attempt to return to the Senate in 1848, but 
the Kentucky legislature sent his old colleague and adversary, Henry 
Clay, to Washington. Scott County voters elected Johnson to the state 
legislature two years later, but he was gravely ill when he took his 
seat on November 8, 1850. Shortly after the Louisville Daily Journal 
reported that ``it is painful to see him on the floor attempting to 
discharge the duties of a member,'' Johnson suffered a stroke. He died 
on November 19, 1850, and, by resolution of the Kentucky legislature, 
was buried at the Frankfort cemetery. State Senator Beriah Magoffin 
eulogized the frontier hero as Johnson would have wished to be 
remembered: ``He was the poor man's friend. . . . Void of ostentation, 
simple in his taste, his manners, and his dress--brave, magnanimous, 
patriotic and generous to a fault, in his earliest years he was the beau 
ideal of the soul and the chivalry of Kentucky.'' 128
                         RICHARD MENTOR JOHNSON


    1 John Spencer Bassett, ed., Correspondence of Andrew 
Jackson (Washington, DC, 1931), 5:331.
    2 The first full-length account of Richard Mentor 
Johnson's career was William Emmons' highly laudatory campaign 
biography, Authentic Biography of Colonel Richard M. Johnson (New York, 
1833). Ignatius Loyola Robertson's Sketches of Public Characters--Drawn 
from the Living and the Dead (New York, 1830), includes a brief and 
highly complimentary sketch of Johnson's career. Leland Winfield Meyer, 
Life and Times of Colonel Richard M. Johnson (New York, 1967, reprint of 
1932 edition), pp. 176, 298, 342, 401, 405, 489. Meyer's biography, the 
only modern account of Johnson's life and career, accepts at face value 
many of the assumptions and assessments that color the earlier works.
    3 Louisville Journal, October 14, 1840, quoted in Meyer, 
p. 290.
    4 U.S., Congress, Biographical Directory of the United 
States Congress, 1774-1989, S. Doc. 100-34, 100th Cong., 2d sess., 1989, 
p. 1270.
    5 Meyer, pp. 13-48, 325-27.
    6 Ibid., pp. 290-91.
    7 Robert V. Remini, Henry Clay: Statesman for the Union 
(New York, 1991), p. 18.
    8 See, for example, Johnson's December 4, 1816, speech on 
the Compensation Law, U.S., Congress, House, Annals of Congress, 14th 
Cong., 2d sess., pp. 235-43.
    9 Meyer, p. 292.
    10 Ibid., pp. 290-342 and passim.
    11 Ibid., pp. 312-14 and Appendix, ``Mr. James Y. Kelly's 
Reminiscences about 'Dick Johnson' Taken Down as He Spoke, April 2, 
1929, to Leland W. Meyer,'' pp. 477-78.
    12 Mrs. Samuel Harrison Smith (Margaret Bayard Smith), 
The First Forty Years of Washington Society (New York, 1906), quoted in 
Meyer, pp. 293, 304-5.
    13 Charles M. Wiltse, John C. Calhoun, vol. 2, Nullifier, 
1829-1839 (New York, 1968; reprint of 1948 ed.), p. 37.
    14 Meyer, pp. 49-58.
    15 Ibid., p. 58; Biographical Directory of the United 
States Congress, p. 1270.
    16 R. M. Johnson to Andrew Stevenson et al., June 9, 
1835, in James A. Padgett, ed., ``The Letters of Colonel Richard M. 
Johnson of Kentucky,'' Register of the Kentucky State Historical Society 
40 (January 1942): 83-86.
    17 Richard M. Johnson to Thomas Jefferson, February 27, 
1808, in James A. Padgett, ed., ``The Letters of Colonel Richard M. 
Johnson of Kentucky,'' Register of the Kentucky State Historical Society 
38 (July 1940): 190-91.
    18 Richard M. Johnson to Thomas Jefferson, January 30, 
1813, in ibid., p. 197.
    19 Richard M. Johnson to Thomas Jefferson, February 9, 
1813 [1814?], in ibid., p. 198.
    20 Meyer, pp. 49-84.
    21 Richard Mentor Johnson to Dawson et al., February 6, 
1836, printed in Kentucky Gazette, April 2, 1836, and reprinted in 
Meyer, p. 142.
    22 Meyer, pp. 49-84.
    23 Marshall Smelser, The Democratic Republic, 1801-1815 
(New York, 1968), pp. 208-9; John Niven, John C. Calhoun and the Price 
of Union (Baton Rouge, LA, 1988), p. 36; Harry W. Fritz, ``The War Hawks 
of 1812,'' Capitol Studies 5 (Spring 1977): 28.
    24 Smelser, p. 216.
    25 Richard Mentor Johnson to John Armstrong, received 
February 23, 1813, quoted in Meyer, pp. 100-101.
    26 Smelser, pp. 210, 255-56; Meyer, pp. 101-35.
    27 Meyer, pp. 136-88.
    28 U.S., Congress, House, Annals of Congress, 14th Cong., 
1st sess., pp. 1127-34, Appendix, p. 1801; 14th Cong., 2d sess., pp. 
235-43, Appendix, p. 1278; Charles M. Wiltse, John C. Calhoun, vol. 1, 
Nationalist, 1782-1828 (New York, 1968; reprint of 1944 edition), pp. 
125-31; U.S., Congress, Senate, The Senate, 1789-1989: Addresses on the 
History of the United States Senate, by Robert C. Byrd, S. Doc. 100-20, 
vol. 2, 1991, pp. 350-51; Meyer, pp. 168, 172, 326-27.
    29 Meyer, pp. 162-67.
    30 Annals of Congress, 14th Cong., 2d sess., p. 1062.
    31  Harry Ammon, James Monroe: The Quest for National 
Identity (Charlottesville, VA, 1990), pp. 358-59.
    32 Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 
p. 1270.
    33 John Niven, John C. Calhoun and the Price of Union 
(Baton Rouge, LA, 1988), pp. 59-80; Ammon, pp. 468-71; Meyer, pp. 189-
206; Merrill D. Peterson, The Great Triumvirate: Webster, Clay, and 
Calhoun (New York, 1987), pp. 88-95; Chase C. Mooney, William H. 
Crawford, 1772-1834 (Lexington, KY, 1974), pp. 151-57.
    34 John C. Calhoun to James Monroe, July 14, 1820, quoted 
in Meyer, p. 195.
    35 Meyer, pp. 202-5.
    36 James Monroe to John C. Calhoun, July 5, 1819, quoted 
in ibid., p. 202.
    37 Kentucky Gazette, October 8, 1819, quoted in ibid., p. 
    38 Meyer, pp. 183-88.
    39 Ibid., pp. 205-6; Remini, Henry Clay, pp. 207-8.
    40 Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., The Age of Jackson 
(Boston, 1945), pp. 134-36.
    41 Speech of Col. Richard M. Johnson to the Senate, 
January 14, 1823, quoted in Meyer, pp. 283-84.
    42 Schlesinger, pp. 134-36; Meyer, pp. 235, 282-89; 
Annals of Congress, 17th Cong., 2d sess., pp. 23-27.
    43 Thomas Hart Benton, Thirty Years' View; or, A History 
of the Working of the American Government for Thirty Years, From 1820 to 
1851 (New York, 1871; reprint of 1854 ed.), 1:291-92.
    44 Meyer, pp. 256-63, 293-94.
    45 Ibid., passim; Donald R. Cole, Martin Van Buren and 
the American Political System (Princeton, NJ, 1984), p. 125.
    46 Richard M. Johnson to Major General Andrew Jackson, 
November 21, 1814, in Padgett, ed., Register of the Kentucky State 
Historical Society 38: 326-27.
    47 Remini, Henry Clay, pp. 161-66.
    48 Meyer, p. 220.
    49 Ibid., pp. 221-22.
    50 Remini, Henry Clay, p. 268.
    51 Robert V. Remini, Andrew Jackson and the Course of 
American Freedom, 1822-1832 (New York, 1981), p. 103; U.S., Congress, 
Senate, Journal, Appendix, 19th Cong., special session of March 4, 1825; 
U.S., Congress, Senate, Executive Journal, 19th Cong., special session, 
p. 441.
    52 Niles' Weekly Register, April 28, 1827, quoted in 
Meyer, pp. 220-21.
    53 Meyer, pp. 318-19.
    54 Ibid., pp. 317-22.
    55 Ibid., pp. 251-55.
    56 Remini, Henry Clay, pp. 373, 716; Meyer, p. 457.
    57 Meyer, p. 256.
    58 Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 
p. 1270.
    59 Meyer, pp. 266-71; Robert V. Remini, Andrew Jackson 
and the Course of American Democracy, 1833-1845 (New York, 1984), pp. 
203-16, 305-6, 423; Richard M. Johnson to Andrew Jackson, February 13, 
1831, in Padgett, ed., Register of the Kentucky State Historical Society 
40: 69.
    60 Meyer, pp. 273-76; U.S., Congress, House, Journal, 
21st Cong., 1st sess., pp. 763-64; Remini, Jackson and the Course of 
American Freedom, pp. 252-56.
    61 Remini, Jackson and the Course of American Freedom, p. 
304; Meyer, pp. 393-400.
    62 Walter Hugins, Jacksonian Democracy and the Working 
Class: A Study of the New York Workingmen's Movement (Stanford, CA, 
1960), pp. 63-64, 97.
    63 John Norvell to John McLean, January 23, 1832, and 
Worden Pope to John McLean, quoted in Meyer, p. 398.
    64 Schlesinger, p. 142.
    65 Robert V. Remini, ``Election of 1832,'' in History of 
American Presidential Elections, 1789-1968, ed. Arthur M. Schlesinger 
and Fred L. Israel, (New York, 1971), 1:507-8; John Niven, Martin Van 
Buren and the Romantic Era of American Politics (New York, 1983), p. 
    66 Meyer, pp. 315-16, 398-402, 411.
    67 Major L. Wilson, The Presidency of Martin Van Buren 
(Lawrence, KS, 1984), pp. 15-16; Niven, Martin Van Buren, pp. 374-76; 
John Arthur Garraty, Silas Wright (New York, 1970; reprint of 1949 
edition), p. 130; Remini, Jackson and the Course of American Democracy, 
p. 256; Meyer, pp. 393-429.
    68 Remini, Jackson and the Course of American Democracy, 
pp. 252-53.
    69 Ibid., pp, 182-83, 252-55, Niven, Martin Van Buren, p. 
351, 372-76; Cole, p. 262; Wilson, p. 16.
    70 Remini, Jackson and the Course of American Democracy, 
pp. 256; Niven, Martin Van Buren, pp. 374-96; Wilson, p. 16; John C. 
Fitzpatrick, ed., The Autobiography of Martin Van Buren (Washington, DC, 
1920), 2:754, quoted in Meyer, pp. 337-38.
    71 Niven, Martin Van Buren, p. 396; Meyer, p. 419.
    72 Richard M. Johnson to Andrew Stevenson, et al., June 
9, 1835, in Padgett, ed., Register of the Kentucky State Historical 
Society 40: 83-86.
    73 Albert Balch to Andrew Jackson, April 4, 1835, quoted 
in Meyer, p. 413.
    74 C.S. Morgan to Martin Van Buren, January 9, 1936, 
quoted in Robert Bolt, ``Vice President Richard M. Johnson of Kentucky: 
Hero of the Thames--Or the Great Amalgamator?'' Register of the Kentucky 
Historical Society 75 (July 1977): 201.
    75 John Catron to Andrew Jackson, March 21, 1835, in 
Bassett, Correspondence of Jackson, 5:330-32.
    76 Joel Silbey, ``Election of 1836,'' in Schlesinger and 
Israel, eds., 1:584-86.
    77 Silbey, pp. 586-91; Harry L. Watson, Liberty and 
Power: The Politics of Jacksonian America (New York, 1990), p. 204.
    78 United States Telegraph, June 3, 1835, quoted in Bolt, 
pp. 198-99.
    79 Niven, Martin Van Buren, pp. 401-2; Silbey, pp. 591-
96; Senate Journal, 24th Cong., 2d sess., pp. 227-28.
    80 Senate Journal, 24th Cong., 2d sess., pp. 227-28; 
Niven, Martin Van Buren, pp. 401-2.
    81 Senate Journal, 24th Cong., 2d sess., pp. 229-31. 
South Carolina Senators John C. Calhoun and William C. Preston and 
Tennessee Senator Hugh Lawson White attended but did not vote. Wiltse, 
    82 Senate Journal, 24th Cong., 2d sess., p. 231.
    83 Ibid., pp. 238-39.
    84 Ibid., Appendix, special session of March 4, 1837, pp. 
    85 Benton, 1:735; Cole, pp. 289-90; Remini, Jackson and 
the Course of American Democracy, pp. 420-23; Stephen W. Stathis and 
Ronald C. Moe, ``America's Other Inauguration,'' Presidential Studies 
Quarterly 10 (Fall 1980): 561; Watson, p. 205.
    86 See, for example, James C. Curtis, The Fox at Bay: 
Martin Van Buren and the Presidency, 1837-1841 (Lexington, KY, 1970); 
Cole; Niven, Martin Van Buren; Wilson.
    87 Niven, Martin Van Buren, pp. 423-24; Cole, pp. 307-11, 
    88 Meyer, p. 431.
    89 Ronald M. Satz, American Indian Policy in the 
Jacksonian Era (Lincoln, NE, 1975), p. 183.
    90 Meyer, p. 431.
    91 Byrd, 2:219; Senate Journal, 25th Cong., 1st sess., 
pp. 27-28; 2d sess., pp. 25, 32-33; 3d sess., p. 5; 26th Cong., 1st 
sess., pp. 5, 10-11, 46.
    92 Henry Barrett Learned, ``Casting Votes of the Vice-
Presidents, 1789-1915,'' American Historical Review 20 (April 1915): 
571; Byrd, The Senate, 1789-1989, vol. 4, Historical Statistics, 1789-
1992, p. 642.
    93 Ibid., p. 574.
    94 Kentucky Gazette, March 14, 1839, quoted in Meyer, pp. 
    95 Senate Journal, 25th Cong., 2d sess., pp. 181-82; 26th 
Cong., 2d sess., pp. 274-76; Francis Jennings, ed., The History and 
Culture of Iroquois Diplomacy: An Interdisciplinary Guide to the 
Treaties of the Six Nations and Their Leagues (New York, 1985), p. 206.
    96 Satz, pp. 246-51; Meyer, pp. 337-39.
    97 Letter to Amos Kendall, August 12, 1839, enclosed in 
Kendall's letter of August 22, 1839, to Van Buren, quoted in Meyer, p. 
    98 Kendall to Van Buren, August 22, 1839, quoted in 
Meyer, p. 341.
    99 Meyer, pp. 339-40.
    100 Robert Gray Gunderson, The Log-Cabin Campaign 
(Lexington, KY, 1957), p. 80.
    101 Henry B. Stanton, Random Recollections (New York, 
1887), p. 61.
    102 Harriett Martineau, ``Life at the Capital,'' in 
America Through British Eyes, ed. Allan Nevins (New York, 1948; revised 
from 1923 edition), p. 150.
    103 Joseph E. Morse and R. Duff Green, eds., Thomas B. 
Searight's The Old Pike: An Illustrated Narrative of the National Road 
(Orange, VA, 1971), pp. 105-6.
    104 Glyndon Van Deusen, The Jacksonian Era, 1828-1848 
(New York, 1959), pp. 116-28; Watson, pp. 206-209; Cole, pp. 307-41, 
    105 Niven, Martin Van Buren, pp. 425-52; Watson, p. 410; 
Van Deusen, pp. 132-40; Cole, pp. 318-42.
    106 Harriett Martineau, ``Life at the Capital,'' p. 150.
    107 Remini, Jackson and the Course of American Democracy, 
pp. 463-64.
    108 Andrew Jackson to Francis P. Blair, February 15, 
1840, quoted in Remini, Jackson and the Course of American Democracy, p. 
    109 Gunderson, p. 82; Meyer, pp. 435-36; Niven, Martin 
Van Buren, p. 463.
    110 Niven, Martin Van Buren, p. 463; Gunderson, pp. 81-
82; Cole, p. 358.
    111 Niven, Martin Van Buren, p. 463; Gunderson, p. 83.
    112 Gunderson, pp. 41-75; Peterson, pp. 248, 281-96; 
Remini, Henry Clay, pp. 545-67.
    113 Washington National Intelligencer, September 24, 
1840, quoting Wheeling Gazette, n.d., cited in Gunderson, p. 163; 
Wilson, p. 206.
    114 Meyer, p. 433; Gunderson, pp. 241-46.
    115 Gunderson, p. 246.
    116 Remini, Henry Clay, pp. 566-67; Gunderson, pp. 253-
    117 Gunderson, p. 255.
    118 Senate Journal, 26th Cong., 2d sess., pp. 171-72.
    119 Ibid., pp. 172-73.
    120 Ibid., pp. 191-92.
    121 Ibid., pp. 231-32.
    122 Meyer, pp. 452-59.
    123 Andrew Jackson to Martin Van Buren, September 22, 
1843, quoted in Meyer, p. 460.
    124 R.P. Letcher to John J. Crittenden, June 2, 1842, 
quoted in Meyer, p. 454.
    125 General McCalla to Martin Van Buren, January 11, 
1843, quoted in Meyer, p. 457.
    126 Meyer, pp. 461-62.
    127 R.P. Letcher to John J. Crittenden, January 6, 1844, 
quoted in ibid., p. 461.
    128 Meyer, pp. 473-74.

                               Chapter 10

                               JOHN TYLER


                               JOHN TYLER
                               JOHN TYLER

                               Chapter 10

                               JOHN TYLER

                        10th Vice President: 1841

          To this body [the Senate] is committed in an eminent 
      degree, the trust of guarding and protecting the 
      institutions handed down to us from our fathers, as well 
      against the waves of popular and rash impulses on the one 
      hand, as against attempts at executive encroachment on the 
                                   --Vice President John Tyler
          Go you now then, Mr. Clay, to your end of the avenue, 
      where stands the Capitol, and there perform your duty to the 
      country as you shall think proper. So help me God, I shall 
      do mine at this end of it as I shall think proper.
                                        --President John Tyler
    He held the office of vice president for only thirty-three days; he 
presided over the Senate for less than two hours. Despite this brief 
experience, John Tyler significantly strengthened the office by 
enforcing an interpretation of the Constitution that many of his 
contemporaries disputed. Tyler believed that, in the event of a vacancy 
in the office of president, the vice president would become more than 
just the acting president. He would assume the chief executive's full 
powers, salary, and residence as if he himself had been elected to that 
position. Taken for granted today, that interpretation is owed entirely 
to this courtly and uncompromising Virginian who brought to the vice-
presidency a greater diversity of governmental experience than any of 
his predecessors.

                               Early Years

     John Tyler was born on March 29, 1790, at Greenway, his family's 
twelve-hundred-acre James River estate in Charles City County, Virginia. 
He was the second son among the eight children of John and Mary 
Armistead Tyler. The elder John Tyler had been a prominent figure in the 
American Revolution and a vigorous opponent of the Constitution at the 
Virginia ratifying convention. Young John Tyler's mother died when he 
was only seven, leaving the boy's upbringing to his father. During 
John's late teens and early twenties, his father served as governor of 
Virginia and then as a federal judge. A modern biographer concluded: 
``The most important single fact that can be derived from John Tyler's 
formative years is that he absorbed in toto the political, social, and 
economic views of his distinguished father.'' 1
    Tyler received his early formal education at private schools; at the 
age of twelve he enrolled in the college preparatory division of the 
College of William and Mary. Three years later he began his college 
studies, chiefly in English literature and classical languages, and 
graduated in 1807, just seventeen years old. He studied law for two 
years, first under his father's direction, then with a cousin, and 
finally with Edmund Randolph, the nation's first attorney general. 
Randolph's advocacy of a strong central government ran counter to 
Tyler's interpretation of the limited extent to which the Constitution 
granted powers to the national government and his belief in the 
supremacy of states' rights. Tyler feared the Constitution would be used 
to subordinate the interests of the southern white planter class to 
those of northern merchants and propertyless working men, putting the 
South at an economic and political disadvantage.2
    The young Virginian established his own legal practice in 1811 and 
soon developed a reputation as an eloquent and effective advocate in 
handling difficult criminal defense cases. That year also brought his 
election, at age twenty-one, to the Virginia house of delegates. He 
earned early acclaim through his work in persuading the house to pass a 
resolution censuring Virginia's two U.S. senators for their refusal to 
follow the legislature's ``instructions'' to vote against the recharter 
of the Bank of the United States.3
    In March 1813, weeks after he inherited the Greenway plantation on 
his father's death, Tyler married the beautiful and introverted Letitia 
Christian. The death of both her parents soon after the marriage 
conveyed to the bride holdings of land and slaves that greatly expanded 
the wealth that John brought to their union. Reclusive and preferring 
domestic pursuits, Letitia took no active interest in her husband's 
public life. During the time of his service in Congress and as vice 
president, she visited Washington only once, preferring the tranquility 
of the family's plantation to the mud and grime of the nation's capital. 
Together they had seven children in a tranquil and happy union disrupted 
only when she suffered a paralytic stroke in 1839. She died in 
    Tyler served five one-year terms in the Virginia house of delegates 
and was chosen to sit on the state executive council. In 1817, at the 
age of twenty-seven, he won election to the U.S. House of 
Representatives, serving there until 1821 without apparent distinction. 
He actively opposed legislation designed to implement Henry Clay's 
``American System,'' linking a federally sponsored network of canals, 
railroads, and turnpikes with a strong central bank and protective 
tariffs in an alliance that seemed designed to unite the North and West 
at the South's expense.
    Tyler's views on slavery appeared ambivalent. In attacking the 1820 
Missouri Compromise governing the future admission of ``slave'' and 
``free'' states, Tyler sought without success to deny the federal 
government the right to regulate slavery. From his earliest days in the 
public arena, the Virginian appeared uncomfortable with the institution 
of slavery, although he owned many slaves throughout his lifetime and 
argued that slavery should be allowed to extend to regions where it 
would prove to be economically viable. He expected, however, that the 
``peculiar institution'' would eventually die out and, on various 
occasions over the years, he advocated ending both the importation of 
slaves and their sale in the District of Columbia.5
    At the end of 1820, suffering from financial difficulties, 
chronically poor health, and a string of legislative defeats, Tyler 
decided to give up his career in the House of Representatives. He wrote 
a friend, ``the truth is, that I can no longer do any good here. I stand 
in a decided minority, and to waste words on an obstinate majority is 
utterly useless and vain.'' 6 In 1823, however, his health 
and political ambitions restored, Tyler returned to the Virginia house 
of delegates. Two years later, he won election as Virginia's governor 
and served two one-year terms until 1827, when he was elected to the 
U.S. Senate. Reelected in 1833, Tyler served until his resignation on 
February 29, 1836. While in the Senate he served briefly as president 
pro tempore in March 1835 and as chairman of the Committee on the 
District of Columbia and the Committee on Manufactures.


    In the 1830s John Tyler identified himself with the Democratic party 
but differed often with President Andrew Jackson. The two men diverged 
both in temperament--a Tidewater aristocrat opposing a Tennessee 
democrat--and in political philosophy. Tyler supported the president's 
veto of legislation rechartering the Bank of the United States, but he 
opposed Jackson's removal of government funds from that institution. 
Although Tyler reluctantly advocated Jackson's election in both 1828 and 
1832, he opposed many of the president's nominees to key administration 
posts. The final break between the two came in 1833 when Tyler, alone 
among Senate Democrats, chose to oppose the Force Act, which allowed 
Jackson to override South Carolina's ordinance nullifying the tariff of 
1832. He feared the Force Act would undermine the doctrine of states' 
rights, to which he was deeply committed.
    By 1834 Tyler joined Henry Clay in actively opposing Jackson's 
policies, and he voted with a Senate majority to ``censure'' the 
president for refusing to provide information concerning his removal of 
government funds from the Bank of the United States. In 1836, when the 
Virginia legislature ``instructed'' Tyler to reverse his censure vote, 
Tyler refused. Unlike some senators who by that time had come to ignore 
such legislative instruction, Tyler remembered his own vote years 
earlier against noncomplying senators and concluded that he had no 
honorable choice but to resign from the Senate.
    In 1836 the emerging Whig party was united only in its opposition to 
Jackson. To avoid demonstrating their lack of unity, the Whigs chose not 
to hold a presidential nominating convention that year.7 
Party strategy called for fielding several regional candidates, 
nominated at the state and local level, in the hope that they would deny 
Jackson's heir Martin Van Buren a majority in the electoral college. 
Such an impasse would throw the contest into the House of 
Representatives where the outcome might be more easily influenced to 
produce a Whig president. Although there was little general interest 
expressed in the vice-presidential position, Tyler's name appeared for 
that post on the ballots in several states. He was listed as the running 
mate of William Henry Harrison in Maryland; of Hugh Lawson White in 
Tennessee, North Carolina, and Georgia; and of Willie Mangum in South 
Carolina. In Virginia, Tyler's name appeared on the ballot with both 
Harrison and White.
    Van Buren won the presidency, but when the vice-presidential ballots 
were tallied, Tyler came in third, after Richard Mentor Johnson and 
Francis Granger, with 47 electoral votes from the states of Georgia, 
Maryland, South Carolina and Tennessee.8 Under the provisions 
of the Constitution's Twelfth Amendment, as no candidate for the vice-
presidency had secured a majority of the electoral votes, the Senate 
would make the selection from the top two candidates. On February 8, 
1837, the Senate exercised this constitutional prerogative for the only 
time in its history and selected Johnson on the first ballot.

                        Senate Election Deadlock

     In April 1838, Tyler won election to the Virginia house of 
delegates for the third time--this time as a Whig. On taking his seat 
early in 1839, he was unanimously chosen speaker. In that capacity, he 
presided over a debate in which he held an intense personal interest: 
the selection of a United States senator. William C. Rives, the 
Jacksonian Democrat who had succeeded Tyler in 1836, hoped to retain his 
Senate seat for another term. Tyler, however, decided that he would like 
to return to the Senate. The Democrats held a slight majority in the 
legislature, but among their members were a dozen so-called 
Conservatives, renegade Democrats who had supported Jackson but 
disagreed with the financial policies of his successor, Martin Van 
Buren. The legislature's regular Democrats tried to win the support of 
this maverick group to ensure that Virginia would marshal its sizeable 
number of electoral votes in favor of Van Buren in the 1840 presidential 
election. To this end, they offered to support Rives, one of Virginia's 
most prominent Conservatives. But Rives proved unwilling to lead 
Virginia's Conservatives back to the Democratic fold. Consequently, the 
Democrats turned to John Mason as their Senate candidate. Whig leaders 
might have been expected to support Tyler, who had resigned the seat in 
1836 out of support for that party's doctrine. In fact, however, these 
party leaders were more willing to ``sacrifice Tyler on the altar of 
party expediency'' and promote Rives in return for cooperation from his 
fellow Conservatives in voting for a Whig presidential candidate in 
    On February 15, 1839, each house first met separately to hear 
extended debate in support of Rives, Tyler, and Mason then convened in 
joint session to vote. With heavy support from the Whig rank-and-file, 
Tyler received a plurality on each of the first five ballots. On the 
sixth ballot, Whigs began to shift in favor of Rives, who moved into the 
lead but fell short of a majority in this and succeeding tallies. On 
February 25, after twenty-eight ballots and eight legislative days 
during which no other business was transacted, both houses agreed to 
suspend the voting indefinitely. The seat remained vacant for nearly two 
years until Tyler's election as vice president broke the deadlock and 
opened the way for the legislature to select Rives, who had recently 
changed his political allegiance to the Whig party.10
    Contrary to his opponents' later charges, Tyler made no effort to 
obtain the vice-presidential nomination as a consolation prize for the 
Senate seat denied to him. ``I do declare, in the presence of my 
Heavenly Judge, that the nomination given to me was neither solicited 
nor expected.'' 11

                       Whig Nominating Convention

     Going into their December 1839 presidential nominating convention, 
Whig leaders believed that Democratic President Martin Van Buren was 
easily beatable as long as they selected a challenger of moderate views 
who had not alienated large numbers of voters. Taking its name from the 
English political party of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries that 
had formed in opposition to monarchial tyranny, the American Whig party 
was held together primarily by its opposition to the perceived executive 
tyranny of ``King Andrew'' and his successor, Van Buren.
    Desiring a presidential candidate who would acknowledge the 
preeminent role of Congress as maker of national policy, the party could 
not ignore Henry Clay. As a leader of the Senate's Whigs and 
orchestrator of the 1834 Senate censure of Jackson, Clay personified the 
notion of congressional dominance. He was the best known of his party's 
potential candidates; he was the most competent; and, as a slaveholder 
and low-tariff advocate, he enjoyed considerable support in the South. 
Party leaders from other regions, however, argued that Clay's public 
record would work to his disadvantage and that, in any event, he could 
not be expected to carry the electorally essential states of New York 
and Pennsylvania.
    Turning from a battle-scarred legislative veteran to military heroes 
of uncertain political leanings, the Whig convention, meeting in 
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, considered War of 1812 generals Winfield Scott 
and William Henry Harrison. Harrison's heroism at the Battle of 
Tippecanoe was well known. He served as territorial governor of Indiana 
after the war and later represented Ohio in the House of Representatives 
and in the Senate, but he was hardly a national figure before the 1836 
election.12 That year he ran well in the presidential contest 
and in 1840 won the endorsement of Senator Daniel Webster, who sought to 
block his old rival, Clay. At the convention, Harrison gained the 
crucial support of New York political boss Thurlow Weed, who also wanted 
to prevent Clay from becoming the party's nominee. Weed manipulated the 
convention's voting rules to require a unit-rule system that had each 
state cast its entire vote for the candidate preferred by a simple 
majority of its delegates. Weed then led his state's influential 
delegation to secure a first-ballot victory for Harrison, a candidate 
unencumbered by a political record or strong opinions. 13
    The Whigs turned to the selection of a vice-presidential candidate 
as somewhat of an afterthought. In finding a running mate for Harrison, 
they sought an equally malleable candidate who would bring suitable 
geographical and ideological balance to the ticket. If Clay of Kentucky 
had been selected for the presidency, party leaders intended to find a 
vice-presidential candidate from a state closed to slavery. With 
Harrison the party's choice, they looked instead to the slave states for 
a suitable contender; they found John Tyler.
    The courtly Virginian had run well in southern states during the 
1836 contest and enjoyed a solid identification with the South and 
states' rights doctrine.14 With Harrison rumored to be an 
abolitionist sympathizer, a slaveholder would nicely balance the ticket. 
The Whigs particularly hoped to pick up Virginia's twenty-three 
electoral votes, which had gone to the Democrats in 1836. (Both Tyler 
and Harrison had been born in the same Virginia county and their fathers 
had served terms as that state's governor.) The selection of Tyler, who 
had energetically campaigned for Clay through the final convention 
ballot--and was believed by some even to have shed tears at his defeat--
was also intended to mollify Clay's disappointed supporters in the 
South. The convention's general committee quickly agreed on Tyler and 
recommended him to the assembled delegates, who voted their unanimous 
approval. In selecting Tyler, party leaders made no effort to determine 
whether his views were compatible with their candidate's, for their 
privately acknowledged campaign strategy was to ``fool the voters and 
avoid the issues.'' 15

                            The 1840 Campaign

     At Harrison's request, Tyler remained inactive during most of the 
1840 election campaign. His major contribution was his surname, which 
formed the rhyming conclusion of the party slogan ``Tippecanoe and Tyler 
Too.'' Few Americans took much interest in his candidacy, for the sixty-
seven-year-old Harrison appeared to be in good health and had vowed to 
serve only a single four-year term.
    In the campaign's final weeks, word reached Tyler that President Van 
Buren's running mate, Vice President Richard Mentor Johnson, had been 
conducting a vigorous reelection campaign before enthusiastic crowds in 
Ohio and adjacent states. Tyler responded with a speaking tour of his 
own in portions of Virginia, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.16 One 
Democratic editor concluded that he might as well have stayed home. 
``Mr. Tyler is a graceful, easy speaker, with all that blandness of 
manner which belongs to the Virginia character. But there is nothing 
forcible or striking in his speech; no bright thoughts, no well-turned 
expressions; nothing that left an impression on the mind from its 
strength and beauty--nothing that marked the great man.'' 17
    Saddled with responsibility for the economic crises that 
characterized his administration, Martin Van Buren had but a slim chance 
to win a second term. Harrison, for his part, avoided taking unpopular 
stands by repeating at every opportunity that he would take his 
direction from Congress--the best instrument for expressing the needs 
and wishes of the American people. Although the popular-vote margin was 
relatively slim, the Harrison-Tyler ticket won a resounding electoral 
vote victory (234 to 60) in an election that stimulated the 
participation of 80.2 percent of the eligible voters, the greatest 
percentage ever.
    Although Tyler failed to carry his own state of Virginia, he took 
some satisfaction in believing that his Pennsylvania tour may have been 
responsible for winning that state's important electoral votes. The 
election also placed both houses of Congress under Whig control for the 
first time. A Whig newspaper summarized the consequences of the 
Harrison-Tyler victory: ``It has pleased the Almighty to give the 
oppressed people of this misgoverned and suffering country a victory 
over their weak and wicked rulers. . . . The reign of incompetency, 
imposture and corruption, is at length arrested, and the country 
redeemed.'' 18

                         A Brief Vice-Presidency

    At 11 a.m. on March 4, 1841, the Senate convened in special session 
to play its constitutional role in inaugurating the Harrison presidency. 
After the secretary of the Senate called members to order, Henry Clay 
administered the oath of office to President pro tempore William R. 
King. Then, as a wave of excitement swept chamber galleries that had 
been packed to capacity since early morning, Tyler entered the room 
accompanied by former Vice President Richard M. Johnson, the Supreme 
Court, and the diplomatic corps. The court, somber ``in their black 
robes with their grave, intellectual, reflecting countenances,'' sat in 
front-row seats to the presiding officer's right. To his left, in 
colorful contrast, sat the ambassadors decorated, ``not only with the 
insignia of their various orders, but half covered with the richest 
embroidery in silver and in gold.'' 19
    John Tyler arose and proceeded with Vice President Richard Johnson 
to the presiding officer's chair to take his oath from President pro 
tempore King. The new vice president then assumed the chair and launched 
a three-minute inaugural address with a ringing tribute to his 
predecessors, calling it an honor ``to occupy a seat which has been 
filled and adorned . . . by an Adams, a Jefferson, a Gerry, a Clinton, 
and a Tompkins.'' He then continued with a verbal bouquet to the Senate 
and ``the high order of the moral and intellectual power which has 
distinguished it in all past time, and which still distinguishes it.'' 
In the next sentence, Tyler moved into his main theme--the centrality of 
the states' rights doctrine:
Here [in the Senate] are to be found the immediate representatives 
        of the States, by whose sovereign will the Government has 
              been spoken into existence. Here exists the perfect 
            equality among the members of this confederacy, which 
              gives to the smallest State in the Union a voice as 
                potential as that of the largest. To this body is 
        committed in an eminent degree, the trust of guarding and 
           protecting the institutions handed down to us from our 
           fathers, as well against the waves of popular and rash 
        impulses on the one hand, as against attempts at executive 
                                        encroachment on the other.
    Concluding in the spirit of Vice President Jefferson, Tyler 
confessed to his shortcomings as a presiding officer and asked of the 
Senate ``your indulgence for my defects, and your charity for my errors. 
I am but little skilled in parliamentary law, and have been unused to 
preside over deliberative assemblies. All that I can urge in excuse of 
my defects is, that I bring with me to this chair an earnest wish to 
discharge properly its duties, and a fixed determination to preside over 
your deliberations with entire impartiality.'' 20
    When Tyler finished, senators beginning new terms took their oaths. 
At twenty minutes past noon, President-elect Harrison and the inaugural 
arrangements committee entered the chamber and took seats in front of 
the secretary's desk. After several minutes, the entire official party 
rose and proceeded to the Capitol's east portico where a crowd of fifty 
thousand awaited to witness the president's oath-taking. On that 
blustery spring day, Harrison spoke without hat or overcoat for more 
than ninety minutes. Following the ceremony, Tyler and the Senate 
returned to the chamber to receive the president's cabinet nominations, 
which were confirmed unanimously on the following day. Without caring to 
attend the series of inaugural parties or to preside over the Senate for 
the remainder of the special session that ended on March 15, Tyler 
promptly returned to Williamsburg. He traveled there, as one biographer 
noted, ``with the expectation of spending the next four years in peace 
and quiet.'' 21
    Early in April, Secretary of State Daniel Webster sent word to Tyler 
that Harrison, worn out from the press of jobseekers, had fallen 
seriously ill. The vice president saw no compelling need, however, to 
return to Washington on account of the president's condition. As Senator 
Thomas Hart Benton observed, ``Mr. Tyler would feel it indelicate to 
repair to the seat of government, of his own will, on hearing the report 
of the President's illness.'' 22 Then, at sunrise on April 5, 
1841, two horsemen arrived at Tyler's plantation. They were State 
Department chief clerk Fletcher Webster, son of Secretary of State 
Daniel Webster, and Senate assistant doorkeeper Robert Beale, whose 
mission was to deliver a letter from the cabinet addressed to ``John 
Tyler, Vice President of the United States.'' The letter reported that 
President Harrison had died of pneumonia the previous day.23 
After a quick breakfast, Tyler embarked on a hurried journey by 
horseback and boat that placed him back in the nation's capital at 4 
a.m. the following day.
    As word of Harrison's demise spread across a startled nation, John 
Quincy Adams despaired for the country's well-being:
 Tyler is a political sectarian, of the slave-driving, Virginian, 
         Jeffersonian school, principled against all improvement, 
         with all the interests and passions and vices of slavery 
             rooted in his moral and political constitution--with 
          talents not above mediocrity, and a spirit incapable of 
         expansion to the dimensions of the station upon which he 
          has been cast by the hand of Providence, unseen through 
        the apparent agency of chance. No one ever thought of his 
                 being placed in the executive chair.24
Although Tyler at age fifty-one was younger than any previous president, 
he was also the most experienced in the ways of government. He had 
served as a member of both houses of his state legislature, both houses 
of the U.S. Congress, governor of his state, and vice president of the 
United States.25 By appearance, he was cast for a leadership 
role. Standing slightly over six feet, he possessed all the ``features 
of the best Grecian model'' including a sharply defined aquiline nose. 
When a bust of Cicero was discovered during an excavation in Naples, two 
visiting Americans reportedly exclaimed ``President Tyler!'' 

                        The Accidental President

     Harrison's demise after only a month in office presented the nation 
with a potential constitutional crisis. The Constitution of that time 
contained no Twenty-fifth Amendment to lay out procedures governing the 
vice president's actions when the chief executive became disabled or 
when there was a vacancy before the end of the incumbent's term. The 
document provided only that the ``Powers and Duties of the said Office . 
. . shall devolve on the Vice President . . . [who] shall act 
accordingly, until the Disability be removed, or a President shall be 
elected.'' In another section, the Constitution referred to the vice 
president ``when he shall exercise [emphasis added] the Office of 
President of the United States.'' 27
    These provisions had occasioned a theoretical discussion between 
those who believed a person does not have to become president to 
exercise presidential powers and others who held that the vice president 
becomes president for the balance of the term.28 As the first 
vice president to succeed to the presidency upon the death of his 
predecessor, Tyler was determined to transform theory into practice on 
behalf of the latter view, becoming president in his own right and not 
``Vice President, acting as President'' as Harrison's cabinet was 
inclined to label him. Secretary of State Webster raised his concern 
about the constitutional implications of the succession with William 
Carroll, clerk of the Supreme Court. Carroll conveyed Webster's 
misgivings to Chief Justice Roger Taney, reporting that the ``Cabinet 
would be pleased to see and confer with you at this most interesting 
moment.'' Taney responded with extreme caution, saying that he wished to 
avoid raising ``the suspicion of desiring to intrude into the affairs 
which belong to another branch of government.'' 29
    Tyler argued that his vice-presidential oath covered the possibility 
of having to take over as chief executive and consequently there was no 
need for him to take the separate presidential oath. The cabinet, major 
newspapers, and some Tyler advisers disagreed. To remove any doubt, 
despite his own strong reservations, Tyler agreed to the oath, which was 
administered on April 6 at Brown's Indian Queen Hotel by Chief Judge 
William Cranch of the U.S. Circuit Court for the District of Columbia. 
Taking this step produced a significant reward, for it boosted Tyler's 
annual salary five-fold from $5,000 to $25,000.30
    In his first official move, Tyler convened Harrison's cabinet and 
listened patiently as Secretary of State Daniel Webster advised that it 
had been Harrison's custom to bring all administrative issues ``before 
the Cabinet, and their settlement was decided by the majority, each 
member of the Cabinet and the President having but one vote.'' Choosing 
his words with care, Tyler responded, ``I am the President, and I shall 
be held responsible for my administration. I shall be pleased to avail 
myself of your counsel and advice. But I can never consent to being 
dictated to as to what I shall do or not do. When you think otherwise, 
your resignations will be accepted.'' 31
    Outside of his cabinet, Tyler's assumption of the presidency's full 
powers evoked little general concern that he was overstepping proper 
constitutional boundaries, or that a special election should be called. 
Major newspapers argued that he was fully justified in his action, 
although for several months after he took office some journals continued 
to refer to him as ``acting president.'' One suggested a compromise 
view; a special election would be required only if the presidency were 
to fall, in the absence of a vice president, to the Senate president pro 
tempore or the House Speaker, as designated by the presidential 
succession statute of 1792.32
    As the epithet ``His Accidency'' grew in popularity, Congress 
convened on May 31, 1841, for its previously called special session and 
immediately took up the issue of Tyler's claim to be president in his 
own right. The question was raised as the House prepared a resolution 
authorizing a committee to follow the custom of informing the president 
that ``Congress is now ready to receive any communication he may be 
pleased to make.'' 33 One member moved to amend the 
resolution by striking out the word ``President'' and substituting 
``Vice President now exercising the office of President.'' Members more 
sympathetic to Tyler's reading of the Constitution--and the need to get 
on with the business of the nation--offered a firm rebuttal, which the 
House then agreed to.
    In the Senate, on the following day, a member posed a hypothetical 
question as to what would happen if the president were only temporarily 
disabled and the vice president assumed the office. He envisioned a 
major struggle at the time the disabled president sought to resume his 
powers, particularly if he and the vice president were of different 
parties. Senator John C. Calhoun reminded the Senate that this was not 
the situation that faced them, rendering further discussion pointless. 
And what about the Senate's president pro tempore? Should he assume the 
vice-presidency as the vice president had assumed the presidency? Former 
President pro tempore George Poindexter urged the incumbent president 
pro tempore, Samuel Southard, to claim the title. Southard ignored the 
advice, and the Senate then joined the House in adopting a resolution 
recognizing Tyler's legitimate claim to the presidency.34

              Acting Vice President (President Pro Tempore)

    In this early period of the Senate's history, when a vice president 
planned to be away from the Capitol, the Senate customarily elected a 
president pro tempore to serve for the limited time of that absence. 
This official would preside, sign legislation, and perform routine 
administrative tasks. Whenever the vice-presidency was vacant, as it was 
with the deaths of George Clinton and Elbridge Gerry in James Madison's 
administration, the post of president pro tempore, next in line of 
presidential succession, assumed heightened importance. Two individuals 
held this crucial post during Tyler's presidency: Samuel Southard, from 
1841 to 1842, and Willie P. Mangum from 1842 to 1845.
    Soon after Vice President Tyler left Washington on the day of 
Harrison's inauguration, the Senate followed Clay's recommendation and 
elected Senator Samuel Southard of New Jersey as president pro tempore. 
Southard had first entered the Senate in 1821 but resigned in 1823 to 
become secretary of the navy. In 1833, after moving through a series of 
state and national offices, Southard returned to the Senate, where he 
helped to establish the Whig party. At a time when Clay was attempting 
to consolidate his control of the Senate, Southard proved to be a useful 
ally. When the Senate convened in May 1841, a month after Harrison's 
death, Southard's significance expanded. In this period of the Senate's 
history, the vice president or, in his absence, the president pro 
tempore made all committee assignments. Southard willingly accommodated 
Clay in the distribution of important chairmanships.
    The next year, however, on May 3, 1842, the New Jersey Whig resigned 
from the Senate due to ill health and died soon thereafter. Several 
weeks later, on May 31, the Senate selected a new president pro tempore, 
Willie P. Mangum (W-NC), a leader of the Senate's Whig caucus. Mangum 
had served a Senate term in the 1830s and, as a Clay delegate to the 
1839 Whig convention, had been considered briefly as a vice-presidential 
nominee. He returned to the Senate in 1840, where he remained as a Whig 
leader until 1853. His 1842 selection as president pro tempore occurred 
in recognition of his leadership in opposing Tyler. He held the post 
through the remainder of Tyler's administration.

                           Tyler's Presidency

    Deep divisions over the issue of establishing a new banking system 
overshadowed Tyler's early presidency. In the Senate, Henry Clay led his 
party in a direction quite different from Tyler's. The two men had been 
good friends, despite their philosophical differences. Tyler had joined 
the Whigs because of his strong opposition to the policies of Andrew 
Jackson and Martin Van Buren. Ideologically, however, he had little 
sympathy for the Whig program of a national bank, internal improvements, 
and protective tariffs embodied in Clay's ``American System.'' As a 
former states' rights Democrat, Tyler emphasized the importance of state 
sovereignty over national economic integration. Both Tyler and Clay held 
a typical nineteenth-century, anti-Jacksonian view of the presidency as 
a limited, relatively passive office responsible for providing Congress 
the necessary information to pass appropriate legislation. They saw the 
president's policy role as essentially limited to vetoing legislation 
that he believed to be either unconstitutional or not in the nation's 
best interests. Tyler, however, would have given the president 
sufficient power to keep Congress from actions that might erode states' 
rights. Clay made a sharper distinction, advocating an assertive 
Congress and a chief executive stripped of the powers acquired during 
Jackson's years in office. Admirers and foes alike began referring to 
Clay as ``the Andrew Jackson of the Senate.''
    Although Clay had briefly opposed Tyler's move to take on full 
presidential powers after Harrison's death, he changed his mind and 
began to provide the new chief executive with valuable moral and 
political support. Yet Clay also realized that Tyler now blocked his own 
road to the presidency. Clay had appeared to be the obvious successor in 
1845, based on Harrison's announcement that he intended to serve only 
one term.
    Clay intended to lead the nation from the Senate and he expected 
Tyler to help him to that objective by supporting his policies. That 
expectation quickly proved to be misplaced. Despite Tyler's mild-
mannered demeanor, he began to display a rock-like tenacity in pushing 
for his own objectives. Clay sought to reestablish a strong, private, 
central bank of the United States. Tyler, consistent in his concern for 
preservation of states' rights--and state banks--advocated a weaker 
bank, chartered in the District of Columbia, that would operate only in 
those states that chose to have it. When Clay urged Tyler to push for a 
new Bank of the United States during the May 1841 special session, Tyler 
said he wanted more time and intended to put the matter off until the 
regular session in December. Clay arrogantly responded that this would 
not be acceptable. Tyler is said to have countered, ``Then, sir, I wish 
you to understand this--that you and I were born in the same district; 
that we have fed upon the same food, and have breathed the same natal 
air. Go you now then, Mr. Clay, to your end of the avenue, where stands 
the Capitol, and there perform your duty to the country as you shall 
think proper. So help me God, I shall do mine at this end of it as I 
shall think proper.'' 35
     In the interest of party harmony, Clay eventually agreed to a 
compromise bank measure, which the increasingly resentful Tyler promptly 
vetoed. Congress subsequently passed a modified ``Fiscal Corporation'' 
bill to meet the president's specific objections. Tyler also vetoed this 
act as an unconstitutional infringement on states' rights. On Saturday, 
September 11, 1841, in the final days of the special session, Tyler's 
entire cabinet--with the exception of Secretary of State Webster--
resigned in a protest designed by Clay to force Tyler's own resignation. 
With the vice-presidency vacant, this would place Clay's protege, Senate 
President pro tempore Southard, in the White House.
    Refusing to be intimidated, Tyler responded the following Monday by 
sending the Senate a new slate of cabinet officers. Despite the 
president's break with the Senate's leaders, the body on September 13 
quickly confirmed each of the nominees and then adjourned until 
December. Later that day, in a starkly dramatic move, sixty prominent 
Whigs assembled in the plaza adjacent to the Capitol. In a festive mood, 
they adopted a manifesto that asserted the supremacy of Congress in 
policy-making, condemned the president's conduct, and proclaimed that 
the Whig party could no longer be held responsible for the chief 
executive's actions. Tyler had become a president without a 
    The chaos that ensued gave Tyler the unwanted distinction of having 
``the most disrupted Cabinet in presidential history.'' 37 
During his nearly four years in office, he appointed twenty-two 
individuals to the administration's six cabinet seats. Many of these 
nominees were manifestly unqualified for their assignments, and the 
Senate refused to confirm four of them. Among those rejected was Caleb 
Cushing, whom Tyler chose to be secretary of the treasury. On the day of 
Cushing's initial rejection, Tyler immediately resubmitted his name. The 
Senate, irritated at this disregard of its expressed will, again said 
``no'' but by a larger margin. For a third time, Tyler nominated Cushing 
and again the Senate decisively rejected him. The Senate's Whig 
majority, stalling for time in the expectation that Henry Clay would be 
elected president in 1844, also turned down, or failed to act on, four 
of Tyler's Supreme Court nominees--a record not before or since 
    Positioning himself to run in 1844 as the Whig candidate for the 
presidency, Clay resigned from the Senate in March 1842. Tyler continued 
the struggle with his party's congressional majority by vetoing two 
tariff bills. As government revenues fell to a dangerously low level, he 
finally agreed to a measure that became the Tariff Act of 1842. Although 
this action probably aided the nation's economy, it destroyed any 
remaining hope that Tyler might govern effectively. Northern Whigs 
condemned him for failing to push for a sufficiently protective tariff, 
and his former states' rights allies in the South abandoned him for 
supporting a measure that they considered excessively protective.
    John Tyler sought to be a strong president, but his accomplishments 
proved to be modest. Stubborn, proud, and unpredictable, he decisively 
established the right of the vice president to assume the full powers of 
the presidency in the event of a vacancy to an unexpired term. He boldly 
exercised the veto ten times, a record exceeded only by Andrew Jackson 
among presidents who served in the nation's first seventy-five years. 
His chief contributions lay in the field of foreign policy. The 
annexation of Texas opened a new chapter in the nation's history. The 
Webster-Ashburton treaty prevented a costly war with Great Britain, and 
the Treaty of Wanghia obtained economically promising most-favored-
nation status for the United States in China. 38
    Despite his earlier ambitions, Tyler became the first president not 
to seek a second term. (No party would have him as its candidate.) After 
leaving the White House on March 3, 1845, Tyler practiced law and was 
appointed to the board of visitors for the College of William and Mary. 
A year earlier, at the first presidential wedding to be conducted in the 
White House, he had married Julia Gardiner, a vivacious partner who, 
like his first wife Letitia, produced seven children.39 In 
February 1861 the ex-president chaired a conference in Washington in a 
last-ditch effort to avert civil war. When that war began, he was 
elected to Virginia's secessionist convention and then to the 
provisional Congress of the Confederacy. He had won a seat in the 
Confederate Congress' house of representatives, but his death on January 
18, 1862, came before he could begin his service.
    Tyler biographer Robert Seager notes that he ``lived in a time in 
which many brilliant and forceful men strode the American stage . . . 
and he was overshadowed by all of them, as was the office of the 
Presidency itself. . . . Had he surrendered his states' rights and anti-
Bank principles he might have salvaged it. He chose not to surrender and 
the powerful Henry Clay crushed him.'' 40
                               JOHN TYLER2


    1 Robert Seager II, And Tyler Too: A Biography of John & 
Julia Gardiner Tyler (Norwalk, CT, 1963), p. 50.
    2 Ibid., pp. 52-53.
    3 Ibid., pp. 55-56.
    4 Ibid., pp. 56-58.
    5 Ibid., p. 53-54.
    6 Quoted in ibid., p. 72.
    7 Oliver Perry Chitwood, John Tyler: Champion of the Old 
South (New York, 1939), pp. 148-49.
    8 Ibid., p. 151-52.
    9 Ibid., pp. 157-61.
    10 Ibid., pp. 162-63.
    11 National Intelligencer, August 27, 1844; Seager, p. 
    12 Robert Gray Gunderson, The Log-Cabin Campaign 
(Lexington, KY, 1957), pp. 41-75; Merrill D. Peterson, The Great 
Triumvirate: Webster, Clay, and Calhoun (New York, 1987), pp. 248, 281-
96; Robert V. Remini, Henry Clay: Statesman for the Union (New York, 
1991), pp. 545-67.
    13 Norma Lois Peterson, The Presidencies of William Henry 
Harrison & John Tyler (Lawrence, KS, 1989), p. 21; Chitwood, pp. 164-67.
    14 Seager, pp. 134-35. There is some scholarly 
controversy over the reasons for Tyler's selection. The view that he was 
carelessly selected may not have been widely held until after Tyler 
broke with Whig party leaders after becoming president. For a discussion 
of this question, see Norma Peterson, The Presidencies of William Henry 
Harrison & John Tyler, p. 26; Chitwood, pp. 167-73.
    15 William O. Stoddard, Lives of the Presidents, 10 vols. 
(New York, 1888), 5:44; Chitwood, pp. 166-67; Norma Peterson, pp. 26-27.
    16 Chitwood, pp. 184-85.
    17 Daily Pittsburgher, October 8, 1840, quoted in ibid., 
p. 187.
    18 Niles' National Register, 59:163.
    19 Niles National Register, March 13, 1841, p. 19. This 
excellent source provides colorful descriptions of the events of March 
4, 1841.
    20 Chitwood, pp. 200-201; U.S., Congress, Senate, 
Congressional Globe, 26th Cong., 2d sess., March 4, 1841, pp. 231-32.
    21 Chitwood, p. 202.
    22 Thomas Hart Benton, Thirty Years' View, 2 vols. (New 
York, 1871), 2:211.
    23 Ruth C. Silva, Presidential Succession (Ann Arbor, MI, 
1951), p. 16.
    24 Charles Francis Adams, ed., Memoirs of John Quincy 
Adams, 12 vols. (Philadelphia, 1876), 10:456-57.
    25 Seager, p. 147.
    26 Quoted in Remini, p. 582.
    27 U.S. Constitution, Article II, section 1, clause 6; 
Article I, section 2, clause 10.
    28 Stephen W. Stathis, ``John Tyler's Presidential 
Succession: A Reappraisal,'' Prologue 8 (Winter 1976): 223-24, 
especially footnote 1; Silva, pp. 2-3. See also Stephen W. Stathis, 
``The Making of a Precedent 1841 (The Presidential Succession of John 
Tyler),'' (Master's Thesis, Utah State University, 1971).
    29 Samuel Tyler, Memoir of Roger Brooke Taney (Baltimore, 
1872), pp. 295-96; Silva, pp. 16-17.
    30 Sharon Stiver Gressle, ``Salaries, Executive,'' 
Encyclopedia of the American Presidency (New York, 1994), pp. 1344-46.
    31 Quoted in Seager, p. 149.
    32 Silva, pp. 18-20.
    33 Congressional Globe, 27th Cong., 1st sess., pp. 3-4.
    34 Stathis, p. 234; Chitwood, p. 206; Silva, pp. 21-22. 
Even after he left the presidency, Tyler continued to confront the issue 
of his proper title. On October 16, 1848, he wrote to Secretary of State 
James Buchanan to complain that the State Department, the government's 
official arbiter of protocol, had on three occasions addressed him in 
formal correspondence as ``ex-vice president.'' ``I desire only to say, 
that if I am addressed, and especially from the State department, by 
title, it must be that which the Constitution confers . . .'' [quoted in 
Silva, p. 21]
    35 Chitwood, pp. 210-11; Seager, p. 147; Remini, p. 583.
    36 Norma Peterson, pp. 89-91; Seager, p. 160.
    37 Paul Finkelman, ``John Tyler,'' Encyclopedia of the 
American Presidency, 4:1521.
    38 For a balanced assessment of Tyler's presidency, see 
Norma Peterson, chapter 15.
    39 Seager, pp. 1-16.
    40 Ibid., p. xvi.

                               Chapter 11

                          GEORGE MIFFLIN DALLAS


                            GEORGE M. DALLAS
                            GEORGE M. DALLAS

                               Chapter 11

                          GEORGE MIFFLIN DALLAS

                     11th Vice President: 1845-1849

          [Except that he is President of the Senate, the vice 
      president] forms no part of the government:--he enters into 
      no administrative sphere:--he has practically no 
      legislative, executive, or judicial functions:--while the 
      Senate sits, he presides, that's all:--he doesn't debate or 
      vote, (except to end a tie) he merely preserves the order 
      and courtesy of business . . . [When Congress is in recess] 
      where is he to go? what has he to do?--no where, nothing! He 
      might, to be sure, meddle with affairs of state, rummage 
      through the departments, devote his leisure to the study of 
      public questions and interests, holding himself in readiness 
      to counsel and to help at every emergency in the great 
      onward movement of the vast machine:--But, then, recollect, 
      that this course would sometimes be esteemed intrusive, 
      sometimes factious, sometimes vain and arrogant, and, as it 
      is prescribed by no law, it could not fail to be treated 
      lightly because guaranteed by no responsibility.
                     --George M. Dallas, ca. 1845 1
    George Mifflin Dallas admitted in his later years that his driving 
force in life was for historical fame. From the 1840s on through the 
latter part of the nineteenth century, Americans associated his name 
with the acquisition of Texas and the settlement of the Oregon boundary 
dispute. Texas memorialized his contributions to the state's history by 
renaming the town of Peter's Corner in his honor. In the 1850s, when 
officials in Oregon sought a name for the principal town in Polk County, 
they settled on the logical choice: Polk's vice president. Thus, while 
largely forgotten today as the nation's eleventh vice president, George 
Mifflin Dallas has won his measure of immortality in a large Texas city 
and a small Oregon town.2
    For four years at the heart of the Senate's ``Golden Age,'' Vice 
President George Dallas occupied a center stage seat in the nation's 
premier political theater. This courtly Philadelphia aristocrat--whose 
political ambition greatly exceeded his political energy--entered that 
arena in 1845 filled with optimism for the nation, the Democratic party, 
and his own presidential future. He departed in 1849 embittered and 
depressed, his political chances obliterated. During his term, the 
nation fought and won a war with Mexico, acquired vast new territories, 
settled a chronic northwestern boundary dispute, discovered gold, and 
launched a communications revolution with the invention of the 
telegraph. In the Senate, where political party caucuses assumed new 
powers to appoint committee members and distribute patronage, the 
central debates occurred over the status of slavery in the territories 
and the very nature of the constitutional union. With increasing 
frequency, senators faced conflicting choices between the desires of 
their parties and of their constituencies. When such an unavoidable 
decision confronted Vice President Dallas in July 1846 on the then 
searing issue of tariff policy, he chose party over constituency--
thereby forfeiting his political future.

                               Early Years

     George Mifflin Dallas was born in Philadelphia on July 10, 1792, 
the second of Alexander and Arabella Smith Dallas' six children. 
Alexander Dallas, a politically well-connected Philadelphia lawyer, 
served as secretary for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and reporter 
for the opinions of the U.S. Supreme Court and other courts then meeting 
in that city, which was at the time the nation's capital and leading 
commercial center. In 1801, as a reward for the elder Dallas' assistance 
in his presidential election campaign, Thomas Jefferson appointed him 
U.S. district attorney for the eastern district of Pennsylvania. He 
remained in that post until 1814, when President James Madison selected 
him as his treasury secretary. In 1815, Alexander Dallas also served 
concurrently for a brief period as acting secretary of war. He then 
resigned the treasury position in 1816 to return to his law practice 
with the intention of expanding the family's financial resources. 
However, early the following year, a chronic illness led to his death at 
the age of fifty-nine, leaving his family without the wealth necessary 
to support its accustomed style of living.
    George Dallas graduated with highest honors from the College of New 
Jersey at Princeton in 1810. He then studied law and in 1813, at age 
twenty, was admitted to the Pennsylvania bar. With little taste for 
legal practice, he sought military service in the War of 1812 but 
abandoned those plans on the objection of his ever-influential father. 
He then readily accepted an appointment to serve as private secretary to 
former treasury secretary and Pennsylvania political figure Albert 
Gallatin, who was about to embark on a wartime mission to secure the aid 
of Russia in U.S. peace negotiations with Great Britain. Dallas enjoyed 
the opportunities that travel to this distant land offered, but after 
six months orders took him from St. Petersburg to London to probe for 
diplomatic openings that might bring the war to an end.
    In August 1814, as British troops were setting fire to the U.S. 
Capitol, young Dallas carried a preliminary draft of Britain's peace 
terms home to Washington and accepted President Madison's appointment as 
remitter of the treasury, a convenient arrangement at a time when his 
father was serving as that department's secretary. The light duties of 
his new post left Dallas plenty of time to pursue his major vocational 
    In 1816, lonely and lovesick, Dallas left Washington for 
Philadelphia, where he married Sophia Chew Nicklin, daughter of an old-
line Federalist family. (They would eventually have eight children.) His 
marriage extended his social and political reach but, as his modern 
biographer reports, ``Prestige came without money, a circumstance that 
was doubly unfortunate because he had developed extravagant tastes as a 
youth. For this reason he continually lived beyond his means and was 
constantly in debt, a situation that caused him on more than one 
occasion to reject otherwise acceptable political posts.'' 4 
At the start of his married life, Dallas achieved a measure of financial 
stability by accepting a position as counsel to the Second Bank of the 
United States, an institution his father had helped create while 
treasury secretary. The 1817 death of Alexander Dallas abruptly ended 
George's plans for a family law practice. He left the Bank of the United 
States to become deputy attorney general of Philadelphia, a post he held 
until 1820.
    George Mifflin Dallas cultivated a bearing appropriate to his 
aristocratic origins. Tall, with soft hazel eyes, an aquiline nose, and 
sandy hair, he dressed impeccably in the finest clothes his fashionable 
city could offer, wrote poetry, and, when the occasion warranted, spoke 
perfectly nuanced French. He developed an oratorical style that 
capitalized on his sonorous voice and protected him from the barbs of 
quicker-witted legal adversaries. His biographer explains that, whether 
``by chance or design, his habit of talking slowly and emphasizing each 
word created the feeling that he was reasoning his way to a conclusion 
on the spot. Since he also prepared cases carefully in advance, his 
apparent groping for the right word--and finding it--reinforced the 
initial impression that a great mind was at work.'' 5
    Dallas, however, lacked both the intense drive necessary to achieve 
his high ambitions and a natural politican's gift for warm social 
interaction with those outside his immediate circle. ``A silk-stocking 
Jeffersonian in an age of egalitarianism,'' he preferred to remain aloof 
from the rough-and-tumble world of political deal making. Only once in 
his public life, when he ran for the vice-presidency, did he submit 
himself to the decision of the voting public. The Pennsylvania state 
legislature awarded him his Senate term, and the rest of his offices 
were given by appointment. At crucial moments, Dallas pulled back from 
the wrenching political compromises and exhausting coalition building 
necessary to achieve his lifelong quest for the presidency.6

                            Buchanan Rivalry

    Pennsylvania's chaotic political climate in the forty years that 
followed the War of 1812 promoted, shaped, and ultimately sidetracked 
Dallas' public career. Two factions within the state's Democratic party 
contended for power during that time. Led by Dallas, the Philadelphia-
based ``Family party'' shared his belief in the supremacy of the 
Constitution and in an active national government that would impose 
protective tariffs, operate a strong central banking system, and promote 
so-called internal improvements to facilitate national commerce. In 
factional opposition to Dallas stood the equally patrician James 
Buchanan of Harrisburg, head of the rival ``Amalgamators,'' whose 
strength lay among the farmers of western Pennsylvania.7
    When the Family party gained control of the Philadelphia city 
councils, its members in 1828 elected Dallas as mayor. Boredom with that 
post quickly led Dallas--in his father's path--to the position of 
district attorney for the eastern district of Pennsylvania, where he 
stayed from 1829 to 1831. In December 1831 he won a five-man, eleven-
ballot contest in the state legislature for election to the U.S. Senate 
to complete an unexpired term. In the Senate for only fourteen months, 
he chaired the Naval Affairs Committee and supported President Jackson's 
views on protective tariffs and the use of force to implement federal 
tariff laws in South Carolina.
    A longtime supporter and financial beneficiary of the Second Bank of 
the United States, whose original charter his father had drafted, Dallas 
reluctantly parted company with the president on the volcanic issue of 
the bank's rechartering. As one Dallas biographer has written: ``There 
was no question about how the people of Pennsylvania viewed the Second 
Bank of the United States. The Philadelphia-based institution was 
Pennsylvanian by interest, location, and legislative initiative.'' 
8 Dallas complied with a directive from his state legislature 
that he support a new charter, despite Jackson's unremitting opposition 
and his own view that the divisive recharter issue should be put off 
until after the 1832 presidential election. When Jackson vetoed the 
recharter act in July 1831 and Congress failed to override the veto, 
Dallas--always the pragmatist--dropped his support for the bank. 
Observing that ``we ought to have it, but we can do without it,'' he 
mollified the president and angered his state's influential commercial 
interests.9 Dallas realized that his chances for reelection 
to the Senate by the state legislature were uncertain. His wife Sophia, 
who refused to leave Philadelphia's comforts for muddy and cholera-
ridden Washington, was growing increasingly bitter over the legislative 
and social demands of his life in the capital. Consequently, Dallas 
chose not to run for a full term and left the Senate in March 
    Although off the national stage, Dallas remained active in state 
Democratic politics. The tension with Buchanan intensified when the 
latter returned from his diplomatic post in Russia and secured 
Pennsylvania's other seat in the U.S. Senate. Dallas turned down 
opportunities to return to the Senate and to become the nation's 
attorney general. Instead, he accepted an appointment as state attorney 
general, holding that post until 1835, when control of the state's party 
machinery shifted from the declining Family party to Buchanan's 
Amalgamators. In 1837, it was Dallas' turn for political exile, as newly 
elected President Martin Van Buren named him U.S. minister to Russia. 
Although Dallas enjoyed the social responsibilities of that post, he 
soon grew frustrated at its lack of substantive duties and returned to 
the United States in 1839. He found that during his absence in St. 
Petersburg Buchanan had achieved a commanding position in the home state 
political contest that had long engaged the two men.11
    In December 1839, Van Buren offered the U.S. attorney-generalship to 
Dallas after Buchanan had rejected the post. Dallas again declined the 
offer and spent the following years building his Philadelphia law 
practice. His relations with Buchanan remained troubled throughout this 

                     The 1844 Campaign and Election

    Favoring Van Buren for the 1844 Democratic presidential nomination, 
Dallas worked successfully to blunt Buchanan's drive for that prize. Van 
Buren sought unsuccessfully to have the Democratic convention held in 
November 1843 rather than late May 1844. He had hoped to capture the 
nomination before his opposition to the annexation of Texas became 
public when Congress convened in early December. By April 1844, with 
Democratic support for annexation intensifying, Van Buren watched 
helplessly as his chances for regaining the White House slipped away.
    Under the influence of Van Buren's opponents, the Democratic party's 
Baltimore convention in May adopted the Jackson-era rule that required a 
two-thirds vote to select its nominee. After eight deadlocked ballots at 
the superheated and violence-prone convention, supporters of Van Buren 
and his chief rival, Michigan's Lewis Cass, united on the unheralded 
former House Speaker James K. Polk of Tennessee--who thus became the 
first successful ``darkhorse'' candidate in American presidential 
history. To cement an alliance with the disgruntled Van Buren faction, 
Polk offered to support a Van Buren loyalist for the vice-presidential 
nomination, New York Senator Silas Wright. Although Wright was absent 
from the convention, those delegates who had not already left town 
willingly added him to the ticket.12
    Four days earlier, Professor Samuel F. B. Morse had successfully 
demonstrated that his newly invented ``Magnetic Electric Telegraph'' 
could transmit messages over the forty-mile distance between the U.S. 
Capitol and Baltimore. Silas Wright was in the Capitol Rotunda reading 
other telegraphic reports from the Baltimore convention when news of his 
nomination arrived. Bitter at the convention's rejection of Van Buren, 
Wright dictated a response to Morse, who typed out the following message 
to the convention's waiting delegates: ``Washington. Important! Mr. 
Wright is here, and says, say to the New York delegation, that he cannot 
accept the nomination.'' His party's remaining delegates in Baltimore 
did not fully trust this new invention and repeated their message. Morse 
replied: ``Again: Mr. Wright is here, and will support Mr. Polk 
cheerfully, but can not accept the nomination for vice-president.'' The 
unbelieving convention continued its request until Wright dispatched two 
members of Congress in a wagon--the evening train to Baltimore had 
already departed--bearing handwritten letters of rejection.13
    With Wright out of the picture, and with no New York ally of Van 
Buren willing to accept the nomination, the convention turned to James 
Buchanan, but he immediately instructed his allies to withdraw his name. 
The searchlight then swept across several candidates from New England 
and came to rest on Maine's Senator John Fairfield, who received an 
impressive, but inconclusive, 106 votes on the first ballot. At the 
suggestion of party leader and Mississippi Senator Robert J. Walker (who 
was married to Dallas' niece), Pennsylvania delegates then sparked a 
move for Dallas, who was at home in Philadelphia. Dallas' views were 
generally compatible with Polk's, especially on the key issue of 
annexing Texas. His stand in favor of protective tariffs would appeal to 
northeastern commercial interests and offset Polk's ambiguous position 
on this sensitive issue. Party strategists realized that Pennsylvania, 
with its prize of nearly 10 percent of the total electoral votes, which 
were by no means safely in the Democratic camp, could prove decisive in 
the election. On the second ballot, the convention gave Dallas the 
nomination with 220 votes to just 30 for Fairfield.
    On May 30, sixty high-spirited delegates left Baltimore for 
Philadelphia, arriving at the Dallas residence at 3 a.m. As a bewildered 
Dallas stood by his open door, the nocturnal visitors marched by double 
column silently into his parlor. Forming a semicircle, the men burst 
into applause as Senator Fairfield conveyed the surprising news and 
Dallas, uneasy at the prospect of returning to public life, accepted 
with less than abundant enthusiasm.14
    The selection also came as news to presidential nominee Polk, whose 
advisers quickly assured him that Dallas would be an excellent 
complement to the ticket. Within Pennsylvania, opinion was sharply 
divided, as resentful Buchanan allies feared that the less-than-dynamic 
Dallas would cost their party the presidency in a contest against the 
aggressive and better-known Whig candidates, Kentucky's Henry Clay and 
New Jersey's Theodore Frelinghuysen.15 One Pennsylvania Whig 
dismissively described Dallas as ``a gentleman by birth and education, 
amiable in private life, very bland and courteous in manner . . . a 
reckless partizan totally devoid of principle and capable of upholding 
or relinquishing . . . opinions whenever his own or his party's 
interests require it.'' 16
    As was customary prior to 1845, the various states scheduled the 
presidential election on different days during November's first two 
weeks.17 When the votes were finally tallied, the Polk-Dallas 
ticket won fifteen out of the twenty-six states by a comfortable margin 
of 170 to 105 electoral votes. They were far less convincing, however, 
in the popular vote, with a margin of only 6,000 out of the 2.7 million 
ballots cast. Polk narrowly lost his native Tennessee, while Dallas 
barely carried Pennsylvania. While analysts agreed that victories in New 
York and Pennsylvania made the difference for the Democratic ticket, no 
such consensus existed about Dallas' impact on this result.18

                          Preparing for Office

    Like many of his contemporaries on the national political stage in 
1845, George Dallas wanted to be president. In accepting the Democratic 
nomination, Polk committed himself to serving only one term, hoping this 
promise would encourage his party's warring factions to suspend their 
combat at least until the 1848 campaign.19 Instead, his 
pledge instantly prompted maneuvering from many quarters for the 1848 
nomination. Four of the nation's ten previous vice presidents had moved 
up to the presidency and Dallas saw no reason why he should not become 
the fifth. For his first two years in the second office, Dallas framed 
his behavior with that goal in mind.
    Dallas met Polk for the first time on February 13, 1845, joining the 
president-elect for the final leg of his railroad journey to Washington. 
Dallas used the opportunity to follow up on his earlier suggestions for 
cabinet nominees he believed would strengthen the party--and his own 
presidential chances.20 He particularly sought to sabotage 
archrival James Buchanan's hopes of becoming secretary of state, the 
other traditional launching pad to the White House. Buchanan had 
arrogantly instructed Pennsylvania's presidential electors to recommend 
him for that post at the time they cast their ballots for the Democratic 
ticket. This infuriated Dallas, who promised a friend that, while he had 
become vice president ``willy-nilly'' and expected to endure ``heavy and 
painful and protracted sacrifices, . . . I am resolved that no one shall 
be taken from Pennsylvania in a cabinet office who is notoriously 
hostile to the Vice President. If such a choice be made, my relations 
with the administration are at once at an end.'' 21
    Several weeks later, learning that Polk had indeed chosen Buchanan, 
Dallas failed to follow up on his dark oath. Instead, he began quietly 
to lobby for the appointment of Senator Robert J. Walker--his earlier 
choice against Buchanan for the state department--for the influential 
post of treasury secretary. Polk, realizing that he had offended Dallas 
and Walker's southern Democratic allies, awarded the treasury post to 
Walker. Dallas continued to be sensitive about the administration's 
distribution of major appointments, as he sought to strengthen his 
Pennsylvania political base in order to weaken the Buchanan faction and 
enhance his own presidential prospects. In his subsequent appointments, 
however, Polk continued to antagonize Dallas, as well as others in the 
Democratic party. Again, the president tried to appease the vice 
president. ``I would have been pleased to explain to you some of the 
circumstances attending the appointments at Philadelphia which were made 
some time ago, but no opportunity for that purpose has occurred.'' 
Dallas responded that it was pointless to discuss these matters ``in as 
much as you have not been able to gratify the few requests I have 
previously made.'' Despite his frustration and subsequent patronage 
losses to Secretary of State Buchanan, who was a far tougher and more 
persistent operator, the vice president endeavored to remain loyal to 
his president and party.22

                         President of the Senate

    From 1789 to 1845, the Senate followed the practice of selecting its 
committees by ballot, with the exception of several years in the 1820s 
and 1830s when the power was specifically given to the presiding officer 
(1823-1826) or, more pointedly, to the president pro tempore (1828-
1833), an officer selected by and responsible to the 
Senate.23 When the Senate convened in March 1845 for its 
brief special session to receive the new president's executive 
nominations, Democratic party leaders engineered a resolution that 
revived the practice of having the vice president appoint the members of 
standing committees. Acknowledging that the vice president was not 
directly responsible to the Senate, administration allies asserted that 
his was a greater responsibility, as guaranteed in the Constitution, 
``to the Senate's masters, the people of these United States.'' 
24 The goal was to pack the Committee on Foreign Relations 
with members sympathetic to the administration's position on the Oregon 
boundary question. Vice President Dallas made the desired appointments.
    In December 1845, at the opening of the Senate's regular legislative 
session, party leaders again sought to give the appointment power to 
Dallas. On this occasion, however, four rebellious Democrats joined 
minority party Whigs to defeat the resolution by a one-vote margin. This 
action presented the Polk administration with the unappealing likelihood 
that, in balloting by the full Senate, Democrats hostile to its specific 
objectives would take control of key Senate committees. Dallas reported 
that the return to the usual procedure required him to work ``unusually 
hard . . . to superintend some sixteen or twenty ballotings for officers 
and chairmen of Committees.'' He was ``much encouraged by the kind 
manner in which I am complimented on my mode of presiding. But I assure 
you,'' he continued, ``contrary to my expectations, it is not done 
without a great deal of preparatory labor. Now that [the anti-
administration] hostility has shewn itself, I am bound to be ready at 
all points and against surprizes.'' 25
    To end this time-consuming process, Senate party leaders took a step 
of major importance for the future development of legislative political 
parties. The Democrats and Whigs each organized a party caucus to 
prepare lists of committee assignments, an arrangement that marked the 
beginning of the Senate seniority system. As long as committee members 
had been selected by secret ballot or appointed by presiding officers, a 
member's experience did not guarantee his selection. After 1845, 
seniority became a major determinant, particularly in the selection of 
committee chairmen. Legislative parties, charged with preparing slates 
of committee assignments, tended to become more cohesive. In this period 
the tradition also began of seating in the chamber by party--with the 
Democrats to the presiding officer's right and the Whigs (later the 
Republicans) to the left.
    From his canopied dais, the vice president had the best seat in the 
nation's best theater. On one memorable occasion, he reported to his 
wife that ``the speech of [Senator Daniel] Webster to-day would have 
overwhelmed and perhaps disgusted you. He attacked [Pennsylvania's 
Representative] Mr. C. J. Ingersoll with the savage and mangling 
ferocity of a tiger. For at least a half an hour, he grit his teeth, 
scowled, stamped, and roared forth the very worst & most abusive 
language I have ever heard uttered in the Senate.'' Dallas later 
observed that ``[v]ast intellect, like Webster's, almost naturally 
glides into arrogance.'' 26
    In his brief inaugural address to the Senate, Dallas had 
acknowledged that he entered into his ``tranquil and unimposing'' new 
duties ``[w]ithout any of the cares of real power [and] none of the 
responsibilities of legislation'' except in rare instances when he might 
be called on to break tied votes. If anything, he would stand as ``an 
organ of Freedom's fundamental principle of order.'' 27 
Despite this noble disclaimer of partisanship, Dallas involved himself 
deeply in the struggle to help the president achieve his legislative 
agenda. He worked against strong contrary pressures from the party's 
western faction, led by Senator Thomas Hart Benton, and its southern 
bloc under the inspiration of Senator John C. Calhoun. In assessing 
these senators' motives, Dallas reported that Benton intended to oppose 
Calhoun wherever possible. ``If Mr. Calhoun should support the [Polk] 
administration, Col. Benton will not be able to resist the impulse to 
oppose it:--on the contrary, if Mr. Calhoun opposes, Col. Benton will be 
our champion. Such are, in the highest spheres of action, the 
uncertainties and extravagancies of human passions!'' 28
    At the start of his term as Senate president, Dallas was called on 
to make an administrative decision that had larger constitutional 
consequences. Since 1815, senators had received a compensation of eight 
dollars for each day they were present in Washington. Public opposition 
routinely frustrated persistent congressional efforts to move instead to 
an annual salary. In March 1845 several senators hit upon a novel way to 
supplement their compensation--to collect travel expenses to and from 
Washington for the special session that the Senate held at the start of 
each new administration to confirm presidential appointments. The 
problem was that senators had already been paid for their travel to the 
final regular session of the Congress that had adjourned the day before 
the special session began. When veteran Secretary of the Senate Asbury 
Dickins informed Dallas that ``no distinct and controlling decision'' 
had ever been made on this issue, Dallas ruled in a lengthy written 
opinion that each senator should be paid for travel at the beginning and 
end of each session ``without any enquiry or regard as to where he 
actually was or how he was actually engaged . . . and without any 
enquiry or regard as to, where he intends to travel or remain when the 
Senate adjourns.'' This decision unleashed a flood of applications from 
current and former senators for compensation for travel to earlier 
special sessions, until Dallas advised that the ruling would not be 
applied retroactively. Several years later, in response to a Treasury 
Department challenge of the Dallas ruling, the attorney general 
concluded that the ``president of the Senate is the sole judge of the 
amounts of compensation due and his certificate is conclusive'' and that 
``mileage is part of a Senator's compensation, and not mere defrayment 
of travelling expenses, and hence actual travel is not necessary.'' 
    Dallas followed the custom of members of Congress who rented rooms, 
for the duration of a congressional session, either on Capitol Hill or 
closer to the White House. During the regular session of the Twenty-
ninth Congress, from December 1845 through August 1846, he resided at 
Henry Riell's boardinghouse within a short walk of the Capitol at Third 
Street and Maryland Avenue, NE. For the first session of the Thirtieth 
Congress, from December 1847 to August 1848, he lived at Mrs. Gadsby's 
on President's Square across from the White House. For his final 
session, from December 1848 to March 1849, he moved several blocks to 
Mr. Levi Williams' boardinghouse on the north side of Pennsylvania 
Avenue, between 17th and 18th Streets, Northwest.30
    At the beginning of his first regular session in December 1845, 
Dallas set a daily routine in which he arrived at the vice president's 
office in the Capitol at 9 a.m., remained busily engaged there receiving 
visitors and presiding until 4 p.m., adjourned to his lodgings for 
lunch, and then returned to the Capitol until 9 or 10 p.m. For a 
diversion, he would stroll around the Capitol grounds or walk down 
Pennsylvania Avenue.31 The newly refurbished Senate chamber 
he pronounced ``redeemed from a thousand barbarisms.'' But he confided 
to his son that he expected the coming session to ``be one of the most 
important, disturbed, and protracted'' in the nation's history and 
feared that the weakness of administration supporters in the Senate 
``may exact more exertion from me than would otherwise fall my share.'' 
    Dallas regularly complained about the inconveniences and demands of 
his daily life as vice president. His wife disliked Washington and 
remained in Philadelphia except for rare visits. He dined frequently 
with Treasury Secretary Robert Walker and his nephew U.S. Coast Survey 
Superintendent Alexander Dallas Bache (a great-grandson of Benjamin 
Franklin). His biographer reports that during these years, the vice 
president allowed himself one luxury--a stylish African American 
coachman who wore a distinctive black hat with broad band and steel 
buckle. Dallas was ill a great deal and complained of digestive 
disorders and sore feet, which he routinely bathed in hot water 
augmented with mustard or cayenne pepper.
    Always concerned about earning enough money to support his desired 
social position and his wife's easy spending habits, Dallas supplemented 
his $5,000 government salary by maintaining an active law practice 
during his vice-presidency. He handled several high-profile cases 
against the federal government, including a claim against the Treasury 
Department for $15 million. The decision would be made by his close 
friend and relative by marriage, Treasury Secretary Robert Walker. 
Dallas, whose cocounsel in the case was Senator Daniel Webster, 
considered that ``unless Walker has lost his intelligence and fairness, 
[the case] will be a lucrative one.'' To Dallas' dismay and veiled 
anger, Walker decided against his client.33
    At the mid-point in his vice-presidency, Dallas accepted a $1,000 
fee for a secondary role in representing wealthy Philadelphian Pierce 
Butler in his celebrated divorce from the Shakespearean actress Fanny 
Kemble. Fearing that the nation's top legal talent would be attracted to 
Kemble's side, Butler preemptively purchased much of that talent, 
including Dallas and Daniel Webster. Despite intense criticism by 
political opponents for cashing in on his national prominence, the vice 
president tossed off these attacks as the ``hissing and gobbling'' of 
``snakes and geese'' and spent his final months in office arranging an 
expanded legal partnership with his son Philip.34

                     Tariffs and Westward Expansion

    Dallas determined that he would use his vice-presidential position 
to advance two of the administration's major objectives: tariff 
reduction and territorial expansion. As a Pennsylvanian, Dallas had 
traditionally supported the protectionist tariff policy that his state's 
coal and iron interests demanded. But as vice president, elected on a 
platform dedicated to tariff reduction, he agreed to do anything 
necessary to realize that goal. Dallas equated the vice president's 
constitutional power to break tied votes in the Senate with the 
president's constitutional power to veto acts of Congress. At the end of 
his vice-presidential term, Dallas claimed that he cast thirty tie-
breaking votes during his four years in office (although only nineteen 
of these have been identified in Senate records). Taking obvious 
personal satisfaction in this record, Dallas singled out this 
achievement and the fairness with which he believed he accomplished it 
in his farewell address to the Senate.35 Not interested in 
political suicide, however, Dallas sought to avoid having to exercise 
his singular constitutional prerogative on the tariff issue, actively 
lobbying senators during the debate over Treasury Secretary Walker's 
tariff bill in the summer of 1846. He complained to his wife (whom he 
sometimes addressed as ``Mrs. Vice'') that the Senate speeches on the 
subject were ``as vapid as inexhaustible. . . . All sorts of ridiculous 
efforts are making, by letters, newspaper-paragraphs, and personal 
visits, to affect the Vice's casting vote, by persuasion or threat.'' 
    Despite Dallas' efforts to avoid taking a stand, the Senate 
completed its voting on the Walker Tariff with a 27-to-27 tie. (A 
twenty-eighth vote in favor was held in reserve by a senator who opposed 
the measure but agreed to follow the instructions of his state 
legislature to support it.) When he cast the tie-breaking vote in favor 
of the tariff on July 28, 1846, Dallas rationalized that he had studied 
the distribution of Senate support and concluded that backing for the 
measure came from all regions of the country. Additionally, the measure 
had overwhelmingly passed the House of Representatives, a body closer to 
public sentiment. He apprehensively explained to the citizens of 
Pennsylvania that ``an officer, elected by the suffrages of all twenty-
eight states, and bound by his oath and every constitutional obligation, 
faithfully and fairly to represent, in the execution of his high trust, 
all the citizens of the Union'' could not ``narrow his great sphere and 
act with reference only to [Pennsylvania's] interests.'' While his 
action, based on a mixture of party loyalty and political opportunism, 
earned Dallas the respect of the president and certain party leaders--
and possible votes in 1848 from the southern and western states that 
supported low tariffs--it effectively demolished his home state 
political base, ending any serious prospects for future elective office. 
(He even advised his wife in a message hand-delivered by the Senate 
sergeant at arms, ``If there be the slightest indication of a 
disposition to riot in the city of Philadelphia, owing to the passage of 
the Tariff Bill, pack up and bring the whole brood to Washington.'') 
    While Dallas' tariff vote destroyed him in Pennsylvania, his 
aggressive views on Oregon and the Mexican War crippled his campaign 
efforts elsewhere in the nation.38 In his last hope of 
building the necessary national support to gain the White House, the 
vice president shifted his attention to the aggressive, expansionist 
foreign policy program embodied in the concept of ``Manifest Destiny.'' 
He actively supported efforts to gain control of Texas, the Southwest, 
Cuba, and disputed portions of the Oregon territory.
    The joint United States-British occupation of the vast western 
territory in the region north of the forty-second parallel and south of 
the boundary at fifty-four degrees, forty minutes, was scheduled for 
renewal in 1847. Dallas seized the opportunity in 1846 to call for a 
``settlement'' at the 54 deg. 40' line, even at the risk of war with 
Great Britain. For several months early in 1846, the vice president 
pursued this position--seeking to broaden his national political base--
until President Polk and British leaders agreed to compromise on a 
northern boundary at the forty-ninth parallel. This outcome satisfied 
Dallas, as it removed his earlier fear that the United States would be 
caught in a two-front war, with Great Britain over the Oregon boundary 
and with Mexico over control of Texas. Now the nation would be free to 
concentrate on war with Mexico, a conflict that Dallas hoped would serve 
to unify the Democratic party and propel him to the White House. As the 
Mexican War continued into 1847, Dallas expanded his own objective to 
the taking of all Mexico. Again, a moderate course advanced by more 
realistic leaders prevailed and forced Dallas to applaud publicly the 
result that gained for the United States the Mexican states of 
California and New Mexico.
    The events of 1846 extinguished Dallas' presidential fire. Although 
he remained strong in Philadelphia and its immediate precincts, Buchanan 
sapped his strength throughout the rest of their state. The vice 
president, incapable of the intense and sustained personal drive 
necessary to secure the nomination, nonetheless sought to bolster his 
political standing by advocating popular sovereignty as a solution to 
the crippling issue of allowing slavery in the territories. This stance 
only hardened the opposition against him and he soon abandoned his 
presidential quest.39 Democratic party leaders originally 
looked to Mexican War hero Zachary Taylor as their 1848 standard-bearer. 
When the general cast his lot with the Whigs, Democrats turned to 
Michigan's Lewis Cass, who took the nomination at the Baltimore 
convention on the fourth ballot. They chose General William O. Butler as 
the vice-presidential candidate. With Martin Van Buren's third-party 
candidacy eroding the Democratic vote, Taylor and his running mate 
Millard Fillmore easily won the election.
    By the end of the Mexican War in 1848, relations between Polk and 
Dallas had deteriorated to the point that the two men rarely spoke to 
one another. From the first days of his vice-presidency, Dallas 
complained to his wife Sophia and others that the president cared little 
for his advice on either small matters or major affairs of state. At the 
outbreak of the war with Mexico, Dallas confided, ``In making the 
officers of the new Regiment of mounted riflemen, the tenant of the 
White House has maintained his consistency of action by excluding every 
one for whom I felt an interest.'' When Polk summoned the vice president 
to the White House for ``a most important communication,'' Dallas told 
Sophia that Polk had a habit of ``making mountains out of molehills.'' 
and that the meeting was ``another illustration of the mountain and the 
mouse. I am heartily sick of factitious importance.'' Dallas considered 
Polk to be ``cold, devious, and two-faced.'' When he received Thomas 
Macauley's newly published History of England, he noted that the 
author's description of Charles I's ``defects of character''--
faithlessness and cunning--``are so directly applicable to President 
Polk as almost to be curious.'' 40

                              Last Session

    Dallas entered the sunset of his vice-presidency at the three-month 
final session of the Thirtieth Congress, beginning on December 4, 1848. 
On the following day at noon, the Senate convened for the reading by its 
clerk of President Polk's State of the Union message. Dallas listened 
for a while, until boredom compelled him to turn the chair over to 
Senator William King. ``It was insufferably long, and some of its 
topics, a dissertation on the American system and one on the Veto Power 
especially, were almost ludicrous from their being misplaced and 
prolix.'' 41 This ``lame duck'' session, with its 
contentiousness and inaction, proved particularly frustrating as the 
Democrats sought to defer action on the volatile issues. ``The great 
party project of the Session is to try hard to do nothing:--leaving all 
unsettled questions, and especially the free soil one, to harass Genl. 
Taylor next winter.'' 42
    Dallas was constantly aware of his responsibilities for maintaining 
order on the Senate floor. During the contentious final session, 
Mississippi's Henry Foote constantly baited Missouri's Thomas Hart 
Benton. While Benton never hesitated to bully other adversaries, he 
inexplicably refrained from challenging the diminutive Mississippian. As 
the Senate adjourned for the day on February 10, 1849, Benton approached 
Dallas and, in a whisper, asked whether he intended to act on his 
earlier request that alcoholic beverages be banned in the Senate. Dallas 
responded by asking whether any drinking had been taking place in the 
chamber. ``Yes, in quantities, in every part, and at all times,'' 
responded the agitated Missourian. Dallas, believing that Benton's 
concern stemmed from an effort to curb Foote's behavior and ``to excuse 
his own silent disregard of it in that way,'' instructed the sergeant at 
arms to ban liquor on the Senate side of the Capitol, except for members 
claiming to require it for medicinal purposes.43
    Dallas told his wife that he was tempted to return home, leaving his 
Senate duties to a president pro tempore, but he felt obligated to 
remain at the Capitol for the important business of receiving the 
presidential electoral ballots, addressed to his attention, that were 
then arriving from the individual states. He explained that his duty was 
to ``mark on each [envelope containing a state's ballots] the day and 
manner of receiving it, and file them with the Secretary [of the 
Senate], of course without breaking the seals. If a messenger hand me 
the list, I give him a certificate to that effect, on which he is 
entitled to be paid his expenses, at the Treasury Department.'' 
    The president expressed to the vice president his ambivalence about 
his plans for the forthcoming inauguration of Zachary Taylor. If the 
planners reserved a place for him, he would attend, otherwise he would 
follow Van Buren's 1841 precedent and simply go home. Dallas said he 
would try to ``follow the proper courtesies of public life,'' unless he 
too was intentionally slighted. He examined the practice of his 
predecessors and found Richard M. Johnson to be the only vice president 
to have attended the swearing in of his successor.
    On March 2, 1849, Dallas followed the vice-presidential custom of 
delivering a farewell address to the Senate and then stepping aside so 
that the Senate could elect a president pro tempore to bridge the 
transition between administrations. In remarks more exalted in phrasing 
than the observations of his personal diary and correspondence, Dallas 
praised the Senate for the ``elevated principle and dignified tone which 
mark [its] proceedings; the frank and yet forbearing temper of its 
discussions; the mutual manifestations of conciliatory deference, so 
just and appropriate among the delegates of independent States; and the 
consequent calmness and precision of its legislative action,'' which he 
believed had ``attracted to it a very large share of veneration and 
confidence.'' He noted that, on occasion, tempers flared into ``sudden 
impulses of feeling,'' but these ``transient disturbances'' were rare 
and passed ``over the scene like flashes which do but startle, and then 
cease, [serving] only to exhibit in stronger relief the grave decorum of 
its general conduct.'' 45
    To a standing ovation, Dallas left the chamber in what he believed 
would be ``the last scene of my public life.'' He recorded in his diary 
that ``Mr. Filmore [sic] called at my chamber in the Capitol today, 
shortly I had left the Senate, and remained for an hour, making 
enquiries as to the forms of proceeding and the general duties annexed 
to the office he was about assuming. He was good enough to say that 
every body had told him I eclipsed as a presiding officer, all of my 
predecessors, and that he felt extreme diffidence in undertaking to 
follow me. Of course, after this, I took pleasure in answering all his 
questions.'' 46
    Dallas left Washington largely embittered about the price of success 
in public life, which he believed led ``almost invariably to poverty and 
ignorance. Truth, Courage, Candour, Wisdom, Firmness, Honor and Religion 
may by accident now and then be serviceable:-- but a steady perseverance 
in them leads inevitably to private life.'' 47 His only 
regret about leaving the Senate was that he would miss the ``strange 
political tableau [that] would present itself on the floor of the Senate 
Chamber . . . on the 6. of March next [if] Mr. Clay, Genl. Cass, Mr. Van 
Buren, Mr, Calhoun, Mr. Webster, and Col. Benton were grouped together! 
Such a convocation of self-imagined gods could not fail to be followed 
by much thunder and lightening.'' But, he consoled himself, ``All this 
galaxy, in the order of nature, may disappear in the course or two or 
three years. When then? Why, the Sun will still shine, the earth still 
roll upon its axis, and the worms of the Capitol be as numerous and 
phosphorescent as ever.'' 48

                               Later Years

    Dallas returned to private life until 1856, when James Buchanan 
resigned as minister to Great Britain to launch his presidential 
campaign challenging President Franklin Pierce for the Democratic 
nomination. Pierce, seeking to remove another potential rival for 
reelection, named Dallas to that prize diplomatic post. Philadelphia 
journalist John Forney, a longtime Buchanan ally who had once described 
Dallas as ``below mediocre as a public man,'' thought the sixty-four-
year-old Dallas fit the part. ``I do not know anything more charming, 
always excepting a lovely woman, than a handsome old man--one who, like 
a winter apple, is ruddy and ripe with time, and yet sound to the heart. 
Such a man was George M. Dallas.'' 49 After Buchanan won the 
presidency, he retained Dallas at the Court of St. James but conducted 
sensitive diplomatic relations with Great Britain from the White House. 
Tired and longing for the comforts of home and family, Dallas resigned 
his post in May 1861. As a states' rights Unionist, he was deeply 
saddened by the eclipse of his Democratic party and its failure to 
prevent civil war. He died at the age of seventy-two on December 31, 
                            GEORGE M. DALLAS


    1 George M. Dallas to unknown addressee, 1845 [?], in Roy 
M. Nichols, ``The Library: The Mystery of the Dallas Papers (Part I),'' 
The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 73 (July 1949): 373 
[hereafter cited as Nichols-I].
    2 Lewis A. McArthur, Oregon Geographic Names, 5th ed. 
(Portland, OR, 1982), p. 205.
    3 John M. Belohlavek, George Mifflin Dallas: Jacksonian 
Patrician (University Park, PA, 1977), pp. 13-14.
    4 Ibid. pp. 4-5.
    5 Ibid., p. 15.
    6 Ibid., p. 5.
    7 Ibid., p. 27.
    8 Ibid., p. 37.
    9 Quoted in ibid., p. 43.
    10 Bruce Ambacher, ``George M. Dallas and the Bank War,'' 
Pennsylvania History 42 (April 1975): 135.
    11 Belohlavek, p. 77.
    12 Charles Sellers, ``Election of 1844,'' in History of 
American Presidential Elections, edited by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., 
and Fred L. Israel (New York, 1971), 1:759-72.
    13 John Arthur Garraty, Silas Wright (New York, 1949), 
pp. 280-82.
    14 Belohlavek, pp. 86-88; Sellers, pp. 772-73.
    15 Belohlavek, p. 88.
    16 Sidney George Fisher quoted in ibid., p. 89.
    17 By the time of the presidential elections of 1840 and 
1844, states were increasingly selecting presidential electors by 
popular vote, rather than by vote of their legislatures. With 
presidential elections scheduled on a variety of days throughout the 
states, conditions were ripe for election fraud. Both political parties 
organized gangs of voters who moved from state to state in an attempt to 
boost tallies in close elections. Finally, in 1845 Congress established 
a uniform date for presidential elections--the first Tuesday after the 
first Monday in November. Congressional elections were not similarly 
standardized until 1872. Peter H. Argersinger, ``Electoral Processes,'' 
Encyclopedia of American Political History (New York, 1984), 2:496.
    18 Sellers, p. 795; Belohlavek, p. 97.
    19 Paul H. Beregeron, The Presidency of James K. Polk 
(Lawrence, KS, 1987), pp. 16-17.
    20 Dallas to Polk, December 15, 1845; Dallas to Sophia, 
February 14, 1845 in Nichols-I, pp. 355-60.
    21 Dallas to Robert J. Walker, November 6, 1844, quoted 
in Belohlavek, p. 100.
    22 Belohlavek, pp. 105-10.
    23 See Chapter 7 of this book, ``John C. Calhoun,'' pp. 
    24 U.S., Congress, Congressional Globe, 29th Cong., 1st 
sess., p. 20.
    25 Ibid., pp. 19-22; Belohlavek, pp. 107-9; Dallas to 
Sophia, December 9, 1845, Nichols-I, p. 370.
    26 Ingersoll had accused Webster of corruption and 
embezzlement while serving as secretary of state. Dallas to Sophia, 
April 7, 1846, Nichols-I, pp. 375-76; Roy F. Nichols, ``The Library: The 
Mystery of the Dallas Papers (Part II),'' The Pennsylvania Magazine of 
History and Biography 73 (October 1949): 480 [hereafter cited as 
    27 U.S., Congress, Senate, Journal, 29th Cong., Extra 
Session, Appendix, p. 274.
    28 Dallas to Sophia, November 27, 1845, Nichols-I, p. 
    29 Ruth Ketring Nuermberger, ``Asbury Dickins (1780-
1861): A Career in Government Service,'' The North Carolina Historical 
Review 24 (July 1947): 311-12; Dallas to Sophia, March 17, 1845, 
Nichols-I, p. 365. On March 3, 1851, the president approved a statute 
(Chapter 42) ending the practice of paying members of the previous 
Congress for mileage to attend the Senate special session beginning on 
March 4, 1853, and every four years thereafter.
    30 Nichols-I, p. 391; Nichols-II, p. 475.
    31 Dallas to Sophia, December 2, 1845, Nichols-I, p. 369.
    32 Dallas to Sophia, November 27, 1845, ibid., p. 367.
    33 Belohlavek, pp. 134-35.
    34 Ibid., pp. 135-36; Dallas to Sophia, December 10, 
1848, Nichols-II, p. 483.
    35  Senate Journal, 30th Cong., 2d sess., March 2, 1849, 
p. 294. Nineteen of the thirty votes that Dallas claimed to have cast 
have been identified in records of Senate floor proceedings. If Dallas' 
figure is accepted, he would hold the record among vice presidents for 
exercising this constitutional prerogative (although some scholars have 
credited John Adams with casting as many as thirty tie-breaking votes--
see Chapter 1, note 1). If the lower figure is accurate, it still places 
him just behind John Adams--and just ahead of John C. Calhoun--for the 
number of ties broken in a four-year period. For a list of vice-
presidential tie-breaking votes, see U.S., Congress, Senate, The Senate, 
1789-1989, by Robert C. Byrd, S. Doc., 100-20, 100th Cong., 1st sess., 
vol. 4, Historical Statistics, 1789-1992, 1993, pp. 640-46.
    36 Dallas to Sophia, July 17, 1846, Nichols-I, pp. 384-
    37 Dallas' public letter quoted in Charles John Biddle, 
Eulogy upon the Hon. George Mifflin Dallas Delivered before the Bar of 
Philadelphia, February 11, 1865 (Philadelphia, 1865), p. 36; Belohlavek, 
pp. 113-14; Dallas to Sophia, July 30, 1846, Nichols-I, p. 386.
    38 Belohlavek, p. 118.
    39 Charles McCool Snyder, The Jacksonian Heritage: 
Pennsylvania Politics, 1833-1848 (Harrisburg, PA, 1958), pp. 205-7; 
Frederick Moore Binder, James Buchanan and the American Empire 
(Cranbury, NJ, 1994), p. 91.
    40 Dallas to Sophia, June 7, 1846, Nichols-I, pp. 381-82; 
Dallas diary, January 14, 1849, Nichols-II, pp. 492-93; Belohlavek, pp. 
    41 Dallas diary, December 5, 1848, Nichols-II, p. 475.
    42 Dallas to Sophia, December 7, 1848, ibid., p. 477.
    43 Dallas diary, February 10, 1849, ibid., pp. 512-13.
    44 Dallas to Sophia, December 7, 1848; Dallas diary, 
December 8, 1848, ibid., pp. 477-78.
    45 Senate Journal, 30th Cong., 2d sess., March 2, 1849, 
pp. 293-94.
    46 Dallas diary, March 2, 1849, Nichols-II, pp. 515-16.
    47 Dallas diary, January 28, 1849, ibid., p. 501; Dallas 
diary, March 2, 1849, ibid., pp. 516-17.
    48 Dallas diary, January 28, 1849, ibid., p. 502.
    49 Belohlavek, p. 107; John W. Forney, Anecdotes of 
Public Men (New York, 1881), 2:102.

                               Chapter 12

                            MILLARD FILLMORE


                            MILLARD FILLMORE
                            MILLARD FILLMORE

                               Chapter 12

                            MILLARD FILLMORE

                     12th Vice President: 1849-1850

          I know how difficult it is to determine what is and what 
      is not in order, to restrain improper language, and yet not 
      abridge the freedom of debate. But all must see how 
      important it is that the first departure from the strict 
      rule of parliamentary decorum be checked, as a slight 
      attack, or even insinuation of a personal character, often 
      provokes a more severe retort, which brings out a more 
      disorderly reply, each Senator feeling a justification in 
      the previous aggression. There is, therefore, no point so 
      proper to interpose for the preservation of order as to 
      check the first violation of it.
                             --Millard Fillmore, April 3, 1850
    The new vice president needed a clerk. Millard Fillmore suffered 
from an eye disorder that limited his ability to read by candlelight, 
yet his official duties kept him so busy during the daytime that he had 
to put off reading and preparing his correspondence until evening. A 
clerk would be most useful. When Fillmore's immediate predecessor, 
George Dallas, took office in 1845, no funding was provided for a vice-
presidential clerk because there had been no vice president since 1841, 
when John Tyler had succeeded to the presidency after the death of 
William Henry Harrison. Senator Willie Mangum (W-NC), who had fulfilled 
the office's major constitutional function as Senate president pro 
tempore from 1842 to 1845, had considered his duties too light to 
justify continuing the perquisite that Vice President Richard M. Johnson 
had enjoyed during his 1837-1841 term. Aware of these precedents, 
Fillmore asked Mangum, one of the Whig party's senior senators, to 
introduce the necessary authorizing resolution. When Mangum did so, a 
Democratic senator immediately objected, noting that former Vice 
President Dallas had gotten along just fine without a clerk. Mangum 
responded by citing the example of Vice President Johnson, also a 
Democrat. The Democratic senator withdrew his objection and Fillmore got 
his clerk. From this experience, Fillmore may have learned both how much 
the Senate valued precedent and how little some of its members regarded 
the office of vice president.1
    Millard Fillmore rose to the vice-presidency, in part, because he 
was from New York. In presidential elections from 1812 to 1968, that 
state had the nation's largest congressional delegation and therefore 
was entitled to cast more votes in the electoral college than any other 
state. New York's electoral riches account for the fact that, during the 
century from 1801 to 1901, eight of the twenty-two vice presidents 
called that state home. In designing a presidential ticket that would 
attract large blocks of electoral votes, the national parties always 
paid very careful attention to New York political leaders.
    Millard Fillmore would occupy the nation's second highest office for 
fewer than seventeen months. During his brief tenure, he suffered the 
fate of other vice presidents: his president ignored him, his state's 
party leaders undercut him, and the Senate over which he presided barely 
tolerated him. Yet the office benefitted him, just as he improved it. 
The experience ratified and extended his stature as a significant 
national figure. When Zachary Taylor's death thrust Fillmore into the 
presidency, few seriously doubted that he was up to the job. His close 
relations with senators at a time when the Senate served as the final 
arbiter of crucial national policy issues eased passage of the vital 
compromise legislation that staved off national political disintegration 
for another decade. To his role as the Senate's president, Fillmore 
brought a deep knowledge and understanding of the institution's rules, 
precedents, and culture. Aware that the incendiary climate in the Senate 
chamber during 1850 could foster an explosion of devastating national 
consequence, he insisted on order, decorum, and fair play. For his 
successors, he provided a valuable example, couched in the spirit of 
Thomas Jefferson a half century earlier.

                               Early Years

    Millard Fillmore was born on January 7, 1800, into an impoverished 
farm family in the central New York frontier town of Locke. The second 
of Nathaniel and Phoebe Fillmore's nine children, Millard found little 
time for formal schooling and had barely learned to read by the age of 
seventeen. As a youth he worked on his father's farm--developing a 
muscular chest and broad shoulders that would remain a distinguishing 
physical characteristic for years to come--and he served apprenticeships 
to a cloth dresser and a textile mill operator. Aware of his educational 
deficiencies, young Millard struggled to improve his reading skills, 
carrying a dictionary on his daily rounds.2 At age nineteen, 
he enrolled in a small academy in the town of New Hope, where he engaged 
in his first formal education, as well as a budding relationship with 
Abigail Powers, a local minister's daughter. When Millard returned to 
the central New York tenant farm, the judge who owned the property 
recognized his potential and provided him with essential financial and 
educational support to pursue a legal career. Young Fillmore taught in a 
local school and saved enough money to buy out the time remaining in his 
textile mill apprenticeship. When, before long, personal differences 
caused Millard and the judge to part ways, the young man once more 
returned to work on his father's farm. In 1820, the elder Fillmore moved 
his family west to the town of Aurora, eighteen miles from Buffalo. 
There Millard resumed his work as a teacher and as a law clerk, until he 
was admitted to the New York bar in 1824. He then opened a small law 
practice in East Aurora and in 1826 married Abigail Powers.3
    In 1830 Millard and Abigail settled in Buffalo, the thriving western 
terminus of the Erie Canal. His practice flourished, as the local 
business community came to recognize him as an energetic, careful, and 
talented lawyer. An impressive figure, Fillmore stood six feet tall and 
handsome, with sparkling blue eyes, a pinkish complexion, a jovial and 
kindly demeanor, and polished manners. He enjoyed dressing in the latest 
fashions, displaying impeccable good taste that masked his humble 
origins. The Fillmore family, which now included a son and daughter, 
rose rapidly in Buffalo society. Millard and Abigail regularly 
entertained the city's elite and others with whom he associated in 
founding and promoting local educational, cultural, and civic 
    Buffalo's proximity to major water transportation routes predisposed 
Fillmore to be a strong supporter of John Quincy Adams' National 
Republicans and Henry Clay's ``American System'' of internal 
improvements, tariffs, and national bank. In 1828, Fillmore met Albany 
editor and political boss Thurlow Weed. Weed saw in Fillmore a natural 
politician and assisted his campaign, as a National Republican, for a 
seat in the state assembly. Despite the strong contrary tide that swept 
Democrat Andrew Jackson into the White House, Fillmore won his race. 
Over the next few years, he rose to leadership in western New York's 
newly emerging Whig party, sponsoring legislation beneficial to 
transportation, as well as financial and educational enterprises. 
Fillmore and Weed would remain close allies for many years.4

                     In the House of Representatives

    In 1832, Anti-Mason and National Republican party voters in the 
congressional district that encompassed Buffalo elected Fillmore to the 
U.S. House of Representatives. There he served a single term and 
dedicated himself to merging those two parties into a strong Whig party 
in opposition to President Jackson's policies. Maneuvering to repair ill 
feelings between his supporting party factions, Fillmore removed himself 
from a reelection bid in 1834, but reentered the contest in 1836. He 
resumed his seat in the House the following year and served there until 
1843.5 When the Whigs took control of the White House and 
both houses of Congress for the first time in 1841, Fillmore's allies in 
the House nominated him for the post of Speaker. Although he came in 
second to a candidate supported by Henry Clay, he was subsequently 
elected chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means, a powerful position 
at this time of national financial crisis. His major accomplishment as 
chairman was to steer through his chamber's rough waters, and against 
the force of President John Tyler's opposition, the protective Tariff of 
1842, a key revenue-raising component of his party's plan for economic 
recovery. The heads of executive branch agencies came to fear the 
chairman's quietly efficient scrutiny of their budget requests, as he 
routinely returned their spending estimates heavily marked in red pencil 
with notes asking for thorough justification of matters great and 
small.6 At the end of the Twenty-seventh Congress, in March 
1843, Fillmore again abandoned the political and social life of 
Washington, which he heartily disliked, for the quiet pleasures of 

                   Neither Vice President nor Governor

    Whig party elder statesman John Quincy Adams visited Buffalo in the 
summer of 1843 to praise publicly his former house colleague's 
achievements and to urge him to return to government service. Still 
enjoying the high regard of his party allies as a result of his 
successful management of the 1842 tariff, Fillmore had decided to launch 
a behind-the-scenes campaign for the Whig party's 1844 vice-presidential 
nomination. He learned, however, that state party strategist Thurlow 
Weed coveted that spot for his close ally, former New York governor 
William Seward, against whom Fillmore ``harbored a jealousy that had in 
it something of the petulance of a child.'' 7 To derail this 
scheme, Fillmore made a bargain with John Collier of Binghamton, a New 
York City-supported antagonist of the party's Weed-Seward Albany 
faction. Fillmore would support Collier for governor and Collier would 
put his influence behind Fillmore's vice-presidential quest. The plan 
fell apart when Seward declared he had no interest in the number two 
position. To protect against the election of his enemy Collier, Weed 
urged Fillmore to shift his focus and seek the governorship. Fillmore 
initially refused. Weed then quietly went to work to sabotage any 
chances that his faction-ridden party would award Fillmore its vice-
presidential nomination. He hinted to delegates at the Whigs' Baltimore 
convention that Seward would accept a draft, while loudly proclaiming 
that no Whig but Fillmore could win the governorship. Seeing through 
Weed's machinations, Fillmore wrote an ally: ``I need not tell you that 
I have no desire to run for governor. . . . I am not willing to be 
treacherously killed by this pretended kindness. . . . Do not suppose 
for a moment that I think they desire my nomination for governor.'' 
8 Weed's tactics succeeded in denying Fillmore the vice-
presidential nomination, as Theodore Frelinghuysen won a third-ballot 
nomination to join Henry Clay on the party's ticket.
    Henry Clay made northern antislavery Whigs nervous. Soon after 
receiving the party's presidential nomination with a vow of opposition 
to the annexation of Texas, which seemed certain to become a slave 
state, he shifted to a more ambivalent stance. As abolitionists among 
New York's Whigs began to explore alliances with other parties, Weed 
redoubled his efforts to solidify the state party by putting Fillmore at 
the top of its ticket in the race for governor. Under Weed's pressure, 
John Collier withdrew in favor of Fillmore, who then received the 
unanimous nomination of the New York state Whig convention. Aware that 
the governorship could be a way station on the road to greater national 
ambitions, Fillmore set aside his earlier reluctance. He ran a strong 
campaign based on his opposition to Texas annexation, which he believed 
would benefit slaveholders at the expense of the rest of the country. 
Fillmore's views, however, proved unpopular with many voters, 
particularly recent immigrants who resented his party's nativist, anti-
Catholic stance. In vain did Fillmore try to appeal to foreign-born 
voters by working to create a German-language newspaper in Buffalo. He 
lost by ten thousand votes to Democrat Silas Wright, who earlier in the 
year had turned down his party's nomination as vice president in favor 
of this race.
    The disaffection of New York's antislavery Whigs accounted for 
Fillmore's defeat, and the loss of that pivotal state also cost Henry 
Clay the presidency. Despite his setback, Fillmore emerged as his 
party's state leader, much to the irritation of Seward and Weed, who 
feared the New York Whig party's center of influence would thereby shift 
westward from their Albany power base to Fillmore's in Buffalo. Thus 
began a politically destructive geographical and ideological 
polarization between Fillmore in the state's western districts and the 
Seward-Weed forces in the east.9

                      Ambition for National Office

    In his earlier life, Fillmore had shown no compelling ambition for 
public office, despite the evidence of his 1844 vice-presidential and 
gubernatorial campaigns. Twice he had given up his seat in the U.S. 
House of Representatives for other goals, and the center of his personal 
and political universe seemed to be the city of Buffalo, where his law 
practice was flourishing. By 1847, however, as in 1844, Fillmore had 
grown restless away from the larger state and national arenas. He had 
become deeply hostile toward President James K. Polk, whose 
administration was reversing Whig economic gains. In addition, the 
president was leading the nation in a war with Mexico aimed at acquiring 
western territories, presumably to feed slavery's insatiable appetite. 
In this frame of mind, Fillmore readily accepted his party's nomination 
for the influential post of state comptroller. (He would have preferred 
a U.S. Senate seat, but none was available.) By a wide margin over his 
Democratic opponent, Fillmore won the election, and his political star 
again began to rise. In Albany, he built a record of accomplishment that 
enlarged his already considerable popularity. While comptroller, 
Fillmore retained a national presence, regularly denouncing President 
Polk's war with Mexico, so that by 1848, northern Whigs had come to view 
the New York comptroller as a logical vice-presidential choice to 
balance the likely presidential candidacy of war hero General Zachary 

                      The June 1848 Whig Convention

    When the Whigs gathered at Philadelphia in June 1848, party leaders 
expected that General Taylor would win their presidential nomination. A 
Louisiana slaveholder, Taylor lacked partisan political experience and 
commitment. He had never voted in a presidential election, but he was an 
obviously electable military hero and had the important support of the 
southern or ``Cotton Whig'' branch of the party. Despite unhappiness 
among the party's antislavery elements in the North and West, and a 
sputtering effort to revive Henry Clay's candidacy (Clay lamented, ``I 
wish I could slay a Mexican.'' 11), Taylor gained the Whig 
nomination on the fourth ballot.
    Following the selection of Taylor, convention chairman John Collier, 
a New Yorker and skillful parliamentary tactician, took the rostrum and 
gained control of Henry Clay's disappointed and angry forces, who 
threatened to disrupt the convention. Assuring the agitated delegates 
that New York would actively support Taylor, Collier presented a peace 
offering--a ``surprise'' candidate for vice president. On hearing the 
name of Millard Fillmore, many opponents of Taylor set aside their 
reservations and joined to support the new ticket. By the second ballot, 
the prize was Fillmore's.12 Although Collier had skillfully 
associated Fillmore with Clay, playing on his well-established advocacy 
of Whig legislative programs, the nominee was by no means broadly 
sympathetic to the Kentucky statesman. However, the nervous delegates 
were in no mood for an extended examination of Fillmore's beliefs. 
Collier saw that Fillmore would balance the ticket and block fellow New 
Yorkers Seward and Weed, whose wishes for a return to a larger role in 
Whig affairs threatened to further polarize that party's factions. Weed 
reluctantly acquiesced to the nomination, while Seward remained deeply 
concerned. 13
    The same contentiousness reflected in the 1848 convention's 
proceedings made it inadvisable for party leaders to develop a specific 
platform. Instead, the Whig candidates devised their positions to fit 
the prejudices of specific regions. Candidate Fillmore told southern 
audiences that he ``regarded slavery as an evil, but one with which the 
National Government had nothing to do.'' Under the Constitution, he 
contended, ``the whole power over that question was vested in the 
several states where the institution was tolerated. If they regarded it 
as a blessing, they had a constitutional right to enjoy it; and if they 
regarded it as an evil, they had the power and knew best how to apply 
the remedy.'' As for Congress, Fillmore concluded that it had no power 
to interfere with slavery in the states where it existed. He dodged 
entirely the more ominous issue of slavery in the 
    In the weeks after the national convention, Thurlow Weed and other 
northern Whig leaders who suspected Taylor of Democratic sympathies 
considered moves to undercut his candidacy by influencing state party 
conventions to select panels of unpledged presidential electors. 
Fillmore defused this subversive strategy by persuading Taylor to write 
and publish a letter in which he distanced himself from his vocal 
Democratic supporters. In the so-called Allison Letter, Taylor asserted 
that Congress, not the president, should control the nation's policy 
agenda. ``The personal opinions of the individual who may happen to 
occupy the executive chair ought not to control the action of Congress 
upon questions of domestic policy; nor ought his objections to be 
interposed where questions of constitutional power have been settled by 
the various departments of government, and acquiesced in by the 
people.'' 15
    Thanks in great measure to the influence of the Allison Letter and 
Fillmore's hard work, as well as to the Free Soil party candidacy of 
Martin Van Buren that divided traditional northern Democratic ranks, the 
Taylor-Fillmore ticket won New York state by a narrow margin, providing 
barely enough electoral votes to swing the election to the 
Whigs.16 Expressing a common belief that the Whigs had sold 
out their principles with the selection of Taylor, journalist Horace 
Greeley, a Seward-Weed ally, concluded that the party was ``at once 
triumphant and undone.'' 17

                          A New Administration

    Millard Fillmore shared Zachary Taylor's belief in a strong 
legislature and a compliant executive. In a letter written immediately 
after his election, he explained that in all areas not directly covered 
by the Constitution, ``as to all other questions of mere policy, where 
Congress has the constitutional right to legislate, the will of the 
people, as expressed through their representatives in Congress, is to 
control, and that will is not to be defeated by the arbitrary 
interposition of the [executive] veto power.'' By adhering to this 
classic Whig doctrine, Taylor and Fillmore hoped to avoid the roiling 
sectional controversies that could easily wreck their administration, 
leaving them to the people's representatives in Congress. With guarded 
optimism, Fillmore saw the 1848 election ``as putting an end to all 
ideas of disunion. It raises up a national party, occupying a middle 
ground, and leaves the fanatics and disunionists, north and south, 
without the hope of destroying the fair fabric of our constitution.'' 
18 Yet, even as he wrote this, secessionist conventions were 
gathering in the South and antislavery societies in the North were 
stating their legislative demands. As word of the revolutions sweeping 
Europe reached the United States, it became clear that the political 
climate in the months ahead would hardly be free of grave challenges to 
the nation's constitutional order.
    In the months before taking his oath of office, Fillmore had reason 
to believe his would be an active vice-presidency. Thurlow Weed heard 
that President-elect Taylor, fearing the unaccustomed administrative 
burdens that awaited him, had said ``I wish Mr. Fillmore would take all 
of the business into his own hands.'' The ill-informed Taylor believed 
that the vice president would be an official member of his cabinet. Weed 
worried that Fillmore would use his new position to take control of New 
York state's lucrative federal patronage appointments, which would 
surely accelerate the political decline of that state's once-potent 
Weed-Seward political faction.19
    In a typically crafty move to rescue their fortunes, Weed lobbied 
Fillmore to support Seward's candidacy for the Senate over that of John 
Collier, who had engineered Fillmore's vice-presidential nomination. In 
return, Weed promised full consultation in all state patronage matters. 
Anxious to secure his own political base in New York before moving onto 
the national stage, Fillmore abandoned Collier and yielded to Weed's 
entreaties, despite his misgivings based on twenty years of experience 
with the duplicitous political boss. As a result of Fillmore's shift, 
Seward obtained the necessary votes in the state legislature to win the 
Senate seat. He headed to Washington with the vice president-elect after 
both men, at a dinner with Weed in Albany, had agreed to consult with 
one another from time to time on the state's rich federal patronage. 
Outwardly cordial to Fillmore, Seward harbored a dark plot, conceived by 
Weed, to sabotage Fillmore's control over New York's federal 
appointments. Fillmore would pay dearly for his abandonment of 
    In 1849, March 4 fell on a Sunday. In observance of the Christian 
sabbath, President-elect Taylor chose to defer his public oath-taking to 
the following day.21 Thus, on a cloudy and brisk Monday 
morning, Fillmore met Vice President George Dallas at Willard's Hotel on 
Pennsylvania Avenue, the preferred lodging place of both men. At 11 
a.m., the two men set out for Capitol Hill in an open carriage. 
Onlookers on Pennsylvania Avenue had difficulty telling the present and 
future vice presidents apart. Both were large, clean-shaven men, dressed 
in somber black with full heads of white hair. Only Fillmore's muscular 
torso, pink face, and sparkling blue eyes distinguished him. At this 
point in the transition process, as the president-elect was making key 
appointments to his cabinet and thereby setting the tone of his 
administration, Taylor and Fillmore had met only for social occasions. 
Yet, Fillmore seemed unconcerned that Taylor had not bothered to take 
advantage of his broad knowledge of party leaders and 
    An honor guard of senators escorted Fillmore into the mobbed Senate 
chamber where Vice President Dallas led him to the presiding officer's 
chair. Chief Justice Roger Taney administered the oath of office, and 
the new vice president delivered a brief inaugural address. Fillmore 
confessed his inexperience in the customs and procedures of legislative 
bodies and asked senators for their ``indulgent forbearance.'' In 
cheerful words that he would soon have cause to reconsider, Fillmore 
observed that ``the senate is composed of eminent statesmen, equally 
distinguished for their high intellectual endowments and their amenity 
of manners, whose persuasive eloquence is so happily tempered with 
habitual courtesy, as to relieve your presiding officer from all that 
would be painful in the discharge of his duty, and render his position 
as agreeable as it must be instructive.'' 23 When he 
concluded his remarks, President Polk and General Taylor, after an 
awkward delay, entered the chamber and took their assigned seats. 
Pausing only briefly, the presidential party then formed ranks and 
proceeded with the senators to the inaugural platform on the Capitol's 
eastern portico.
    In the weeks following the inauguration, Fillmore began to realize 
that on patronage matters Weed and Seward had already succeeded in 
weakening his limited influence with the new president. When the 
important post of marshal for New York's northern district opened, 
Seward and Weed, without consulting the vice president, sent word to 
Secretary of State John Clayton that they and Fillmore had agreed on 
P.V. Kellogg. Clayton forwarded Kellogg's name to the president, who 
made the selection. Learning of their duplicity, Fillmore asked Taylor 
to rescind the appointment, but the president refused to do so without 
consulting Clayton. Weed rushed to Washington and advised the president 
that Fillmore's anger reflected a parochial dispute between state 
factions that could best be avoided by placing New York's patronage 
recommendations in other hands. He suggested Governor Hamilton Fish, a 
``neutral'' figure who was actually firmly within the Weed-Seward camp. 
Taylor naively agreed.24 The extent of Weed's victory became 
clear when Fillmore recommended John Collier for the post of New York 
naval officer. Taylor ignored the request and appointed a Weed ally to 
that coveted position. The ultimate Fillmore defeat occurred in the vice 
president's own political back yard with the appointment of a Weed-
Seward crony as collector for the port of Buffalo. A Buffalo newspaper 
under Weed's control gloated, ``We could put up a cow against a Fillmore 
nominee and defeat him.'' Reflecting on his lowly status, Fillmore wrote 
Harvard President Edward Everett that since he had ``no favors to 
bestow, either legislative or official,'' he expected a restful 
    By November 1849, as Congress was about to convene for the first 
regular session of the Taylor administration, Fillmore complained to the 
president that the administration's appointments, influenced by Weed and 
Seward, were destroying his influence in New York. He asked the 
president whether in the future he would be ``treated as a friend or 
foe?'' Taylor promised to do better--and soon forgot his promise.

             The ``Memorable Senate of that fearful epoch''

    Departing Vice President George M. Dallas had regretted that he 
would not be present in the presiding officer's chair in December 1849 
to witness the constellation of illustrious figures among the sixty-
member Senate of the Thirty-first Congress. Together again for what 
would prove to be their last legislative session were the members of the 
already legendary ``Great Triumvirate.'' Returning from a seven-year 
absence, Henry Clay, whose initial Senate service dated back forty-three 
years to 1806, had been the Whig party's preeminent legislative leader. 
Daniel Webster, an eighteen-year Senate veteran, had taken a sabbatical 
to be secretary of state in the first Whig administration under Harrison 
and Tyler. And John C. Calhoun, gaunt, ill, and unlikely to survive the 
session, had been vice president in the John Quincy Adams and Andrew 
Jackson administrations, as well as Webster's successor as secretary of 
state in the Tyler presidency. Each of these men was by then identified 
as the congressional personification of his region. Also present among 
this eminent assembly were Stephen A. Douglas, the ``Little Giant'' of 
Illinois; Michigan's Lewis Cass, the recently defeated Democratic 
presidential candidate; Henry Foote and Jefferson Davis of Mississippi; 
Missouri's Thomas Hart Benton, approaching a thirty-year record of 
Senate service; Seward of New York; Salmon P. Chase of Ohio, an eventual 
U.S. chief justice; the fiery Sam Houston of Texas; and--at a lesser 
level of eminence--the Dodges, Henry of Wisconsin and Augustus Caesar of 
Iowa, the Senate's only father-son team.26
    The 1848 treaty concluding the war with Mexico added to the nation's 
land mass 500,000 square miles of new western territories, including 
present-day California, Nevada, Utah, and much of New Mexico, Arizona, 
Wyoming, and Colorado. Confronting Congress and the new Taylor 
administration in 1849 was the explosive issue of how these territories 
would be organized with respect to slavery. Northern ``free soil'' 
advocates insisted that slavery be contained in the states where it 
already existed. Southern planters and their allies believed that their 
region's economic system should be allowed to operate without such 
crippling restrictions. In the 1848 presidential campaign, Democratic 
candidate Lewis Cass had supported the doctrine of ``popular 
sovereignty,'' under which the residents of the territories would decide 
the issue for themselves. Former President Martin Van Buren, running as 
the Free Soil party candidate, demanded support for the 1846 Wilmot 
Proviso. This amendment to an appropriations bill had failed to pass the 
Senate, but it provided a rallying cry for antislavery forces by 
proposing the prohibition of slavery in the territory acquired from 
Mexico. The Whigs, standing on no platform, had simply ducked the issue 
during the election campaign. Southerners who at first had believed a 
Louisiana slaveholder would be a sympathetic president, soon had cause 
for concern when Taylor began to take advice from Senator Seward and 
other antislavery Whigs.
    In his December 24, 1849, annual message to the newly convened 
Congress, Taylor sought to defuse this portentous issue by proposing 
that California and New Mexico apply immediately for statehood, 
bypassing the territorial stage and the Wilmot Proviso controversy. As 
Mexico had prohibited slavery in these regions, there would be few 
slaveholders to vote in favor of that institution. In fact, California 
had already approved a constitution that prohibited slavery. Southern 
members of Congress realized that the admission of an additional free 
state would destroy the balance between slave and free states that had 
made the Senate the principal forum for debate on the slavery issue 
since the 1820 Missouri Compromise. Taylor's message only further 
inflamed the festering controversy among southerners, who argued that if 
the territories had been taken with the blood of all Americans, they 
should not be closed to those citizens choosing to move with their 
property to those regions. Southern members introduced legislation 
designed to preserve the balance of new states and to toughen fugitive 
slave laws.
    Conflicting northern proposals prompted Henry Clay in January 1850, 
with the assistance of Democrat Stephen A. Douglas, to fashion an 
``Omnibus Bill,'' a series of eight measures to address the slavery and 
territorial issues that collectively became known as the ``Compromise of 
1850.'' In the weeks that followed, the compelling oratory of Clay, 
Webster, Calhoun, and others drew capacity crowds to the Senate chamber. 
On March 7, Daniel Webster opened his classic address with these 
memorable lines of national reconciliation--and political suicide--
addressed to Senate President Fillmore: ``Mr. President, I wish to speak 
to-day, not as a Massachusetts man, nor as a northern man, but as an 
American.'' Four days later, Seward rose to denounce the proposed 
compromise. Acknowledging that the Constitution protected slavery, he 
asserted, ``But, there is a higher law than the Constitution, which 
regulates our authority over the domain, and devotes it to the same 
noble purposes.'' These speeches drew new battle lines, with Seward and 
the mortally ill Calhoun representing their sections' hard-liners, while 
Webster and Clay sought a middle way. Suddenly secession seemed a real 

                      Obligation to Preserve Order

    The death of John C. Calhoun on March 31 removed a tenacious 
opponent of the compromise. Fillmore presided at the statesman's funeral 
in the Senate chamber on April 2. On the following day, responding to 
the deeply unsettled atmosphere, the vice president took an 
extraordinary step for a presiding officer--he addressed the Senate. His 
topic: the vice president's ``powers and duties to preserve order.'' 
28 Speaking in a solemn manner, Fillmore stated that when he 
had first entered the office, he had assumed he would not be called on 
to maintain order in a body with such a strong reputation for courtesy 
and deference. He soon realized that he had been naive. To arm himself 
against the challenge of recurring disorderly behavior, he had consulted 
old Senate records and manuals of parliamentary practice for guidance. 
He discovered, to no one's surprise, that the Constitution conferred on 
the vice president the general, if not express, power to maintain order. 
Rules 16 and 17, adopted during the First Congress in 1789, had defined 
the vice president's constitutional prerogatives. He alone possessed the 
authority to call a member to order, and his decision was to be 
considered final, not subject to appeal to the full Senate. In 1828 the 
Senate had adopted a rule that broadened the chamber's responsibility 
for taking notice of unruly senators, while weakening the vice 
president's role. Rule 6 provided that either the vice president or a 
senator could take action to silence a disorderly senator. When a 
senator called another senator to order, the offending words were to be 
written down so that the vice president could review them. Then the vice 
president would rule on the merits of the question, subject to an appeal 
to the Senate to confirm or override that ruling. The Senate adopted 
this rule after Vice President John C. Calhoun, in 1826, declared that 
he lacked authority to call a senator to order. He also objected to the 
arbitrary practice of not permitting an appeal to the full 
    Fillmore acknowledged that senators were generally unwilling ``to 
appear as volunteers in the discharge of such an invidious duty'' as 
calling other senators to order. This reluctance placed a greater 
obligation on the vice president to exercise that power. The House of 
Representatives had recognized the unequal nature of the responsibility 
in the wording of its comparable rule, which provided that ``the Speaker 
shall, or a member may, call to order.'' Fillmore concluded that, 
although some might charge him with impeding freedom of debate, he would 
do his duty to contain the first spark of disorder before it ignited a 
conflagration that would be more difficult to bring under control. ``[A] 
slight attack, or even insinuation, of a personal character, often 
provokes a more severe retort, which brings out a more disorderly reply, 
each Senator feeling a justification in the previous aggression.'' 
30 Exactly two weeks after Fillmore spoke these words, an 
altercation of historic proportions on the Senate floor dramatically 
validated his concern.
    On Saturday, April 17, 1850, the Senate resumed its consideration of 
the volatile legislation related to the slavery issue and California 
statehood. Mississippi's senior senator, Henry S. Foote, made a motion 
to refer the various proposals to a special thirteen-member committee, 
which would reshape them into a new legislative plan. Since Missouri's 
Thomas Hart Benton favored compromise but disliked Henry Clay's specific 
plan, he offered an amendment to undercut Foote's motion. Seated in his 
accustomed place at the dais, Vice President Fillmore ruled that 
Benton's motion was in order, citing as his authority Thomas Jefferson's 
Manual of Parliamentary Practice (Section 35.2). Henry Clay rose in 
anger, charging that Fillmore's ruling was an attack on the Senate's 
``power,'' ``consistency,'' and ``dignity.'' He demanded that the Senate 
vote to reverse the decision.
    Clay's complaint triggered an extended debate and a fiery exchange 
in which Benton charged Foote and his southern allies with alarming the 
country ``without reason, and against reason.'' 31 Foote, who 
had been goading Benton for weeks, responded by asserting that Benton 
had unfairly maligned the ``action of a band of patriots, worthy of the 
highest laudation, and who will be held in veneration when their 
calumniators, no matter who they may be, will be objects of general 
loathing and contempt.'' 32 As Foote sharpened his reference 
to Benton, ``a gentleman long denominated the oldest member of the 
Senate--the father of the Senate,'' the burly sixty-eight-year-old 
Missourian rose from his seat separated from Foote by four desks on the 
rear row of the Democratic side, shoved back his chair, and advanced on 
the diminutive forty-six-year-old senator. Foote stepped away from 
Benton and into the chamber's nearby center aisle. He removed a ``five-
barrelled'' pistol from his pocket, cocked the weapon, and pointed it at 
the floor. The Senate exploded in pandemonium. As alarmed senators 
called for order and blocked Benton's advance, the ``father of the 
Senate'' shrieked ``I have no pistols! Let him fire! Stand out of the 
way, and let the assassin fire!'' Foote handed over his pistol to a 
fellow senator, while Benton demanded to be searched to prove that he 
had no weapon. Fillmore called for order, but the chamber would not be 
quieted. As several senators shouted ``Be cool!'' Benton and Foote 
angrily hurled justifications of their actions. Accepting that no 
further business would be transacted that day, Fillmore recognized a 
senator who moved to adjourn. Despite his earnest preparations, the vice 
president now understood the near impossibility of maintaining order in 
such a deeply fractured Senate.33
    On the following day, agreeing to Foote's interrupted proposal, the 
Senate appointed the Select Committee of Thirteen to prepare a suitable 
compromise measure. The committee reported on May 8, but for the 
remainder of the spring and into the summer the Senate heatedly debated 
the slavery-related issues that underlay the Benton-Foote controversy. 
Vice President Fillmore's estrangement from the Taylor administration 
deepened during this period and he turned his creative energies to 
service on the newly established Smithsonian Institution's board of 
    On the Fourth of July, President Taylor celebrated the holiday by 
laying a ceremonial stone at the partially constructed Washington 
Monument and listening to a lengthy speech of reconciliation by Senator 
Henry Foote. Suffering from extended exposure to the sun, the president 
returned to the White House, ate some raw fruit and vegetables, which he 
washed down with large amounts of iced milk. He soon fell ill with the 
symptoms of acute gastroenteritis, which his doctors diagnosed as 
``cholera morbus.'' Under their treatment, his condition worsened. On 
July 7, 1850, Fillmore was called from the dais in the Senate chamber to 
the White House to keep vigil outside the president's bedroom. Late in 
the evening of July 9, a cabinet messenger went to Fillmore's quarters 
in the Willard Hotel to inform the sleepless vice president that Taylor 
was dead.34

                           President Fillmore

    On the morning of July 10 a presidential messenger carried into the 
Senate chamber a letter in which Millard Fillmore announced the ``most 
afflicting bereavement'' of President Taylor's death and his own 
intention to take the presidential oath at noon in the House chamber. 
This time, unlike the first unplanned presidential transition less than 
a decade earlier, no one seriously questioned Fillmore's right to take 
on the full powers of the presidency. At the appointed hour, before a 
joint session of Congress, Fillmore took his presidential oath. Later in 
the day, the entire Taylor cabinet resigned to give the new chief 
executive the opportunity to set his own course.
    As president, Fillmore moved to end the stalemate over the western 
lands issue. By the end of July, Clay's omnibus compromise bill was 
dead, replaced by a series of individual bills that Senator Stephen 
Douglas had proposed as a means to achieve Clay's objectives. Working 
closely and tactfully with legislative leaders, Fillmore succeeded in 
shaping these measures to be acceptable to all regions and sentiments. 
Within a few weeks, the individual bills became law. Passage of this 
Compromise of 1850 resulted in a major political realignment, which 
placed fatal pressures on the Whig party. Northern Whigs were furious 
about the Fugitive Slave Act, one of the laws enacted as part of the 
compromise, which Fillmore had only reluctantly signed. Thus, while 
Whigs in the South urged moderation, their northern counterparts 
embraced antislavery politics. A modern observer of the Whig party in 
1850 characterized its many divisions, including the Seward-Fillmore 
animosity, as manifesting ``the inescapable tension within Whiggery 
between progress and stability, between moral urgency and social 
order.'' 35
    Against this dark political landscape, Fillmore decided once again 
that he preferred the charms of life in Buffalo to the contentiousness 
of the nation's capital. Throughout 1851, the president let it be known 
that he would not seek a full term in 1852, hoping to advance Daniel 
Webster's candidacy. Webster, however, was too frail to attract the 
serious support of Whig national convention delegates. At the last 
minute, Fillmore half-heartedly decided to run, in order to prevent the 
nomination of Mexican War hero General Winfield Scott, the candidate of 
Fillmore's archenemy, William Seward. At the convention, delegates 
deadlocked between Seward, Scott, and Webster. After forty-six ballots, 
Fillmore tried to strike a bargain with Webster. The aging statesman, 
the weakest of the three, refused to transfer his delegates. They and 
others ultimately shifted to Scott, giving him the nomination on the 
fifty-third ballot.  In the general election, southern Whigs abandoned 
their party to give the election to the Democratic candidate, New 
Hampshire's Franklin Pierce. The Whig party would never again be a 
significant national political force.
    Anticipating his return to a happy life in Buffalo, Fillmore left a 
chilled White House on a bitterly cold March 4, 1853, to attend Pierce's 
inauguration. His wife, Abigail, who had suffered poor health for many 
months, stood through the extended proceedings with other dignitaries in 
the slush and lightly falling snow. The next day, she complained of cold 
symptoms, which developed into pneumonia. Her condition worsened and she 
died on March 30. Fillmore returned to Buffalo, where in July 1854 his 
favorite daughter, Mary Abigail, died at the age of twenty-two. Grief-
stricken and seeking a diversion, he reentered the national political 
arena by accepting the 1856 presidential nomination of the anti-
Catholic, anti-immigrant Know-Nothing party, composed of former Whig 
moderates and conservative southern unionists. In that ill-starred 
venture, the former president carried only Maryland.
    In 1858 Fillmore married Caroline McIntosh, a wealthy Albany widow, 
and resumed his role as Buffalo's leading educator and 
philanthropist.36 He served as the first chancellor of the 
University of Buffalo and the first president of the Buffalo Historical 
Society. Millard Fillmore died at the age of seventy-four on March 8, 
                            MILLARD FILLMORE2


    1 U.S., Congress, Senate, Congressional Globe, 33d Cong., 
1st sess., pp. 4-5.
    2 Robert J. Rayback, Millard Fillmore: Biography of a 
President (Norwalk, CT, 1959), pp. 4-7.
    3 Ibid., pp. 8-15.
    4 Elbert B. Smith, The Presidencies of Zachary Taylor and 
Millard Fillmore (Lawrence, KS, 1988), pp. 44-45.
    5 Rayback, pp. 81-85.
    6 U.S., Congress, House, The Committee on Ways and Means: 
A Bicentennial History, 1789-1989, by Donald R. Kennon and Rebecca M. 
Rogers, H. Doc. 100-244, 100th Cong., 2d sess., pp. 105, 125-29.
    7 Glyndon G. Van Deusen, Thurlow Weed: Wizard of the 
Lobby (Boston, 1947), p. 127.
    8 Rayback, pp. 148-51.
    9 Ibid., pp. 155-59; Glyndon Van Deusen, William Henry 
Seward (New York, 1967), pp. 100-103.
    10 Rayback, pp. 177-78.
    11 Quoted in Gil Troy, ``Election of 1848,'' in Running 
for President: The Candidates and Their Images, ed. Arthur M. 
Schlesinger, Jr., vol. 1, (New York, 1994), p. 188.
    12 Rayback, pp. 183-86; Van Deusen, Thurlow Weed, p. 161.
    13 Thurlow Weed, Autobiography (1883), p. 585; Van 
Deusen, William Henry Seward, pp. 107-9.
    14 Rayback, pp. 186-87.
    15 W.L. Barre, The Life and Public Services of Millard 
Fillmore (New York, 1971; reprint of 1856 edition), p. 308.
    16 Smith, The Presidencies of Zachary Taylor and Millard 
Fillmore, p. 46.
    17 Troy, 1:193.
    18 Barre, p. 311.
    19 Rayback, p. 192; Van Deusen, William Henry Seward, pp. 
    20 Smith, The Presidencies of Zachary Taylor and Millard 
Fillmore, p. 165; Rayback, pp. 192-96; Van Deusen, Thurlow Weed, pp. 
165-67; Van Deusen, William Henry Seward, pp. 111-12.
    21 Twenty-eight years had passed since an inauguration 
day had fallen on a Sunday. On that occasion, in 1821, President Monroe 
had taken Chief Justice John Marshall's advice to postpone ``the oath 
until Monday unless some official duty should require its being taken on 
Sunday.'' (Stephen W. Stathis and Ronald C. Moe, ``America's Other 
Inauguration,'' Presidential Studies Quarterly, 10 (Fall 1980): 553.) 
The story that Senate President Pro Tempore David Atchison served as 
``president for a day'' on March 4, 1849, is without foundation. Since 
Atchison's Senate term expired on March 3, the Senate was without a 
president pro tempore, who under the presidential succession plan then 
in effect might have taken over. When the Senate convened on March 5 for 
the new Congress, it passed a resolution renewing Atchison's appointment 
as the temporary presiding officer. Based on the 1821 Monroe precedent, 
it was assumed that the new president began his term on March 4, but 
could not exercise the duties of the office until he had taken the 
formal oath. (George H. Haynes, ``President of the United States for a 
Single Day,'' American Historical Review 30 (January 1925): 308-10.
    22 Rayback, pp. 196-97.
    23 Barre, pp. 212-13.
    24 Rayback, pp. 200-202; Van Deusen, William Henry 
Seward, pp. 114-15.
    25 Smith, Zachary Taylor and Millard Fillmore, p. 163, 
Rayback, pp. 203-4.
    26 Barre, p. 316.
    27 This familiar story is recounted in two modern-era 
studies: William W. Freehling, The Road to Disunion: Secessionists at 
Bay, 1776-1854 (New York, 1990), Chapter 28, and Merrill D. Peterson, 
The Great Triumvirate: Webster, Clay, and Calhoun (New York, 1987), pp. 
    28 Congressional Globe, 31st Cong., 1st sess., pp. 631-
32. Out of his concern for proper decorum, Fillmore reportedly ordered 
the removal of the large urn of snuff that had traditionally been placed 
on the vice president's desk. He acted because its availability caused 
members to congregate there, talking loudly and obscuring his view of 
the chamber. (This story is drawn from the recollections of Senate 
Assistant Doorkeeper Isaac Bassett as reported in the New York Times, 
June 7, 1894.)
    29 See Chapter 7, ``John C. Calhoun,'' pp. 89-92.
    30 Congressional Globe, 31st Cong., 1st sess., p. 632.
    31 Ibid., p. 762.
    32 Ibid.
    33 Elbert B. Smith, Magnificent Missourian: The Life of 
Thomas Hart Benton (New York, 1958), pp. 271-72; Smith, The Presidencies 
of Zachary Taylor and Millard Fillmore, pp. 138-39; Congressional Globe, 
31st Cong., 1st sess., pp. 762-64.
    34 Smith, The Presidencies of Zachary Taylor and Millard 
Fillmore, pp. 156-57; Rayback, pp. 238-39.
    35 Daniel Walker Howe, The Political Culture of the 
American Whigs (Chicago, 1979), p. 207; Mark J. Stegmaier, Texas, New 
Mexico, and the Compromise of 1850: Boundary Dispute and Sectional 
Crisis (Kent, OH, 1996), p. 319.
    36 Rayback, p. 416.

                               Chapter 13

                        WILLIAM RUFUS DEVANE KING


                             WILLIAM R. KING
                             WILLIAM R. KING

                               Chapter 13

                        WILLIAM RUFUS DEVANE KING

                        13th Vice President: 1853

          The ceremony, although simple, was very sad and 
      impressive, and will never be forgotten by any who were 
      present. To see an old man, on the very verge of the grave, 
      clothed with honors which he cared not for, and invested 
      with authority which he could never exercise, was truly 
      touching. It was only by persuasion that Mr. King would go 
      through with the ceremony, as he looked on it as an idle 
      form, for he said he was conscious he would not live many 
                       --National Intelligencer, April 8, 1853
          Since the adjournment of Congress, the Vice President of 
      the United States has passed from the scenes of earth, 
      without having entered upon the duties of the station to 
      which he had been called by the voice of his countrymen. 
      Having occupied, almost continuously, for more than thirty 
      years, a seat in one or the other of the two Houses of 
      Congress, and having by his singular purity and wisdom, 
      secured unbounded confidence and universal respect, his 
      failing health was watched by the nation with painful 
      solicitude. His loss to the country, under all 
      circumstances, has been justly regarded as irreparable.
              --Franklin Pierce, December 5, 1853 1
    On April 18, 1853, death cheated William King of his life's calling. 
Experience and temperament had uniquely prepared him to be the Senate's 
constitutional presiding officer, but tuberculosis denied him that role 
as vice president.2 Between 1836 and 1850, King had won a 
record-breaking eleven elections to the post of Senate president pro 
tempore. At the time of his 1852 election to the vice-presidency, only 
one other member in the body's entire history had exceeded King's 
twenty-eight years and ten months of Senate service.3 Warm-
hearted and even-tempered, King personified balance and fairness in 
deeply disputatious times. Elected to the vice-presidential term that 
ran from March 4, 1853, to March 3, 1857, King was positioned to occupy 
center stage during such tumultuous future performances as the party 
rending 1854 struggle over the Kansas-Nebraska Act and--the single most 
dramatic act in the Senate's history--the 1856 caning of Massachusetts 
Senator Charles Sumner by a South Carolina representative. One can now 
only speculate about the calming role that this natural mediator might 
have played in such events, although, ultimately, personalities and 
minds much stronger than his would direct the fateful course to national 
disunion and civil war.
    William King was far from a genius and he had little talent as an 
orator. These qualities were so well noted during his lifetime that a 
fellow southerner, Senator Robert M. T. Hunter of Virginia, felt free to 
remark on them even in the speak-no-evil context of a funeral oration. 
Hunter was quick to acknowledge, however, that this guileless and self-
effacing man was an individual of integrity, sound judgment, and rich 
experience, who could be stern ``when the public interests or his 
personal honor required it.'' Hunter and others lamented the demise of 
such a moderate and conciliatory statesman at ``a period like this 
[April 1853], pregnant with change, and teeming, perhaps, with great and 
strange events.'' 4 Symbolic of the sectional balance that 
King tried to achieve, the Virginia senator's eulogy was followed by one 
from a longtime friend from Massachusetts, the renowned orator Edward 
Everett. Everett reminded all that when the Senate over the past several 
decades had needed a presiding officer in the absence of the vice 
president, its members ``turned spontaneously'' to Senator King. ``He 
possessed, in an eminent degree, that quickness of perception, that 
promptness of decision, that familiarity with the now complicated rules 
of congressional proceedings, and that urbanity of manner, which are 
required in a presiding officer.'' 5

                              Early Career

    William Rufus Devane King was born in Sampson County, North 
Carolina, on April 7, 1786, the second son of William King and Margaret 
Devane. His father, a wealthy planter and justice of the peace, had 
fought in the Revolutionary War, served as a delegate in the state 
convention called to ratify the U.S. Constitution, and was an occasional 
member of the North Carolina state assembly. At the time of his son's 
birth, he owned more than two dozen slaves. Young William studied at 
local academies and at the University of North Carolina Preparatory 
School, a facility established in 1795 to cater to the educational needs 
of ``raw, mostly untaught youths of diverse ages and acquirements.'' 
6 He entered the University of North Carolina in the summer 
of 1801 and proved to be a capable student, but he left that institution 
at the end of his junior year.7 Following a period of legal 
training with Fayetteville's William Duffy--one of the state's leading 
lawyers--he gained admission to the North Carolina bar in 1805. A 
Jeffersonian Republican, King served in the North Carolina legislature's 
house of commons from 1808 to 1809, and then as solicitor of the fifth 
circuit of the state superior court at Wilmington. In 1810, several 
months short of the constitutionally prescribed age of twenty-five, he 
won the Wilmington district's seat in the U.S. House of 
Representatives.8 There he joined with House Speaker Henry 
Clay, also a freshman member, John C. Calhoun, and other young, 
expansionist ``warhawks'' of the Twelfth Congress in a determined and 
successful campaign to initiate hostilities with Great Britain. In 
November 1816, King traded lawmaking for diplomacy by resigning from the 
House to serve as legation secretary under William Pinkney, recently 
appointed U.S. minister to Russia. Pinkney and King traveled first to 
the Kingdom of Naples in an unsuccessful attempt to obtain compensation 
for seized American ships. In January 1817, they reached St. Petersburg, 
where they served for a year. In February 1818, without waiting to be 
formally recalled, Pinkney and King returned to the United 
    King then moved from North Carolina to the rich economic and 
political opportunities of the newly organized Alabama Territory. In 
October 1818, he purchased 750 acres of land and created an Alabama 
River estate, ``King's Bend,'' six miles from the town of Cahaba, the 
new state capital. In March 1819, King and several others organized a 
land company and founded the nearby town of Selma, which he named for a 
site in classical legend that occupied high bluffs above a 
river.10 The town prospered because of its proximity to 
Cahaba, which remained the state's capital until 1826. The former 
congressman and diplomat rose quickly to local prominence and was 
selected as a delegate to the territory's July 1819 constitutional 
convention and then, in December 1819, as one of Alabama's first United 
States senators.

                          Senator from Alabama

    Despite his lengthy Senate service and his important role as 
conciliator in a fractious era, William King is not today counted among 
the great statesmen of the Senate's ``Golden Age.'' 11 One 
scholar of the period, mindful of King's practice of wearing a wig long 
after such coverings had gone out of fashion, dismissed him as a ``tall, 
prim, wigtopped mediocrity.'' Novelist John Updike, after his own 
extended research, took a more positive view of the slender and courtly 
statesman. Describing King's face as ``darkly handsome and smolderingly 
receptive,'' he characterized the senator as ``one of those eminences 
whose strong impression on their own times has suffered a gradual 
erasure upon the tablets of history.'' 12 A fellow senator 
offered the following assessment:
He was distinguished by the scrupulous correctness of his conduct. 
             He was remarkable for his quiet and unobtrusive, but 
             active, practical usefulness as a legislator. He was 
        emphatically a business member of the Senate, and, without 
        ostentation, originated and perfected more useful measures 
        than many who filled the public eye by greater display and 
        daily commanded the applause of a listening Senate. . . . 
        [T]o his honor be it spoken, he never vexed the ear of the 
                   Senate with ill-timed, tedious, or unnecessary 
    A moderate Democrat, King became an active supporter of Andrew 
Jackson soon after the 1825 decision of the House of Representatives to 
select John Quincy Adams over Jackson for president. In the 1828 
presidential election, Alabama cast its electoral votes for Jackson, due 
in large measure to King's efforts. King generally supported the Jackson 
administration during its stormy eight-year life, although as a 
southerner he was also associated with the ``little Senate'' group 
considered loyal to Jackson's nemesis, South Carolina's John C. 
Calhoun.14 The Alabama senator shared Jackson's hostility to 
Kentuckian Henry Clay's ``accursed American System'' of centralized 
governmental action against foreign competition through protective 
tariffs, a central banking system, and a public works program of canal 
and road-building.
    In 1831 and 1832, King used his chairmanship of the Senate Committee 
on Public Lands to advance Jackson administration land policies. 
Consistent with his long-held views on the subject, he attacked the 
notion that public lands should be priced primarily to produce large 
amounts of federal revenue (that would go ``to the East to pay the 
pensioners and support the fortifications''); he believed public lands 
should be sold only to those who actually planned to settle them. A 
reduction in land prices would simultaneously stimulate territorial 
settlement and national economic growth.15 King also 
subscribed to his region's hostility to high protective tariffs, arguing 
that high rates tax ``the many for the benefit of the few,'' but he 
opposed John C. Calhoun's theory that the South had the right to 
``nullify'' odious laws, such as the 1828 ``Tariff of Abominations.'' 
``I view [nullification] as neither peaceful nor constitutional, but 
clearly revolutionary in its character, and if persevered in, must, in 
the nature of things, result in the severance of the Union. From such a 
calamity may God in His mercy deliver us.'' When Clay early in 1833 
presented a compromise tariff bill that defused the building 
confrontation between federal force and state resistance, King, ever the 
moderate, quickly rose to support the measure. His moderation irritated 
both President Jackson and southern hard-liners, who charged that he had 
not worked hard enough to defend his region's interests.16
    King contested Henry Clay's 1832 move to recharter the Bank of the 
United States, not because he opposed the bank, but because he objected 
to Clay's political opportunism, tied to that year's presidential 
election. When, as part of that controversy, Jackson ordered the removal 
of federal funds from the bank and then refused to respond to a Clay-
inspired Senate demand for a copy of a related document, the Senate took 
the unprecedented action on March 28, 1834, of censuring the president. 
Administration partisans, led by Missouri Senator Thomas Hart Benton and 
King, launched a vigorous and ultimately successful campaign to expunge 
the censure from the Senate's journal. King, who had become widely 
respected for his knowledge of the Senate's rules and precedents, argued 
that Jackson's refusal to produce the document was in no way an assault 
on senatorial prerogatives. ``The Senate was in no danger,'' he 
asserted, ``it had never been so strong or so saucy as it was at the 
present moment; why, then, was it like the Italian beggar, continually 
wounding itself, for the purpose of exciting the commiseration and 
benevolence of the public.'' 17
    King's conflict with Clay and the dangerous tenor of the times are 
symbolized in the clash between the two men that took place in March 
1841, as the Senate, under Clay's leadership, for the first time passed 
to the control of a new Whig majority. A great battle developed over 
Senate printing patronage as Clay sought to dismiss Democrat Francis P. 
Blair, editor of the Washington Globe, as official Senate printer. Clay 
``believed the Globe to be an infamous paper, and its chief editor an 
infamous man.'' King responded that Blair's character would ``compare 
gloriously'' to that of Clay. The Kentucky senator jumped to his feet 
and shouted, ``That is false, it is a slanderous base and cowardly 
declaration and the senator knows it to be so.'' King answered 
ominously, ``Mr. President, I have no reply to make--none whatever. But 
Mr. Clay deserves a response.'' King then wrote out a challenge to a 
duel and had another senator deliver it to Clay, who belatedly realized 
what trouble his hasty words had unleashed. As Clay and King selected 
seconds and prepared for the imminent encounter, the Senate sergeant at 
arms arrested both men and turned them over to a civil authority. Clay 
posted a five-thousand-dollar bond as assurance that he would keep the 
peace, ``and particularly towards William R. King.'' Each wanted the 
matter behind him, but King insisted on ``an unequivocal apology.'' On 
March 14, 1841, Clay apologized and noted that he would have been wiser 
to have kept quiet despite the intensity of his feelings against Blair. 
King then gave his own apology, after which Clay walked to King's desk 
and said sweetly, ``King, give us a pinch of your snuff.'' King rose and 
both men shook hands as applause engulfed the chamber.18

                       Vice-Presidential Ambitions

    In the late 1830s, as a leading southern moderate among long-
serving, middle-aged senators, William King attracted attention within 
the Democratic party as a prospective vice-presidential candidate for 
the 1840 election. As early as 1838, dissatisfaction with Vice President 
Richard M. Johnson for his negative impact on the 1836 race and his 
scandalous personal life 19 caused party leaders to begin the 
search for a strong second-term running mate for President Martin Van 
Buren. King was a natural contender, having been on the national 
political stage for a quarter century and having routinely substituted 
for Johnson during the vice president's frequent absences from the 
Senate chamber. He enjoyed significant support in the electorally 
important state of Pennsylvania, thanks to his roommate and close ally 
Senator James Buchanan. Buchanan wished to thwart the 1844 presidential 
ambitions of both Senator Thomas Hart Benton and Secretary of State John 
Forsyth by blocking their paths to the vice-presidency in 1840. (In the 
closeness of their relationship in the years after 1834, King and 
Buchanan--both lifelong bachelors--became known as the ``Siamese 
twins.'' 20) King assured Buchanan that in return for the 
Pennsylvanian's help in obtaining the vice-presidency in 1840, he would 
refuse to run for the presidency in 1844, thus clearing the way for 
Buchanan. The Pennsylvania senator agreed to King's plan and circulated 
his name among leading Democratic newspaper editors. The anticipated 
renomination of President Van Buren, a New Yorker, required balancing by 
a southerner such as King. By the start of 1840, however, King's vice-
presidential chances had evaporated because he was unable to generate 
support from Democratic leaders in the influential states of North 
Carolina and Pennsylvania. At the party's national convention in 
Baltimore, a motion to give the second spot to King failed to draw 
serious interest and party leaders decided to leave the vice-
presidential selection to the individual state party 
    In 1842, King's name again surfaced as a vice-presidential contender 
for the 1844 Democratic ticket. Supporters of a presidential bid by 
South Carolina's John C. Calhoun tried without success to dissuade King, 
as there would be room for no more than one southerner on a national 
slate. But by late 1843, the stronger candidacy of former President Van 
Buren smothered Calhoun's aspirations. For Van Buren's running mate, the 
names most frequently mentioned were James K. Polk and William King. 
King's supporters argued that, as a Jacksonian and resident of a 
southern state loyal to the Democratic party (a slap at Polk's Whig-
inclined Tennessee), he deserved the vice-presidency.22 
However, in a repeat of his troubles four years earlier, King was unable 
to attract serious support in the electorally rich eastern states, so 
that his candidacy had lost its vitality by the eve of the 1844 
Baltimore convention. Meanwhile, Van Buren had destroyed his own chances 
of becoming the presidential nominee with his announcement of opposition 
to the annexation of Texas. King hoped that party leaders would fill 
that void by selecting Buchanan, in which case he would again offer 
himself for the second spot on the grounds that his presence would help 
secure essential electoral votes from the wavering state of North 
    On April 9, 1844, President Tyler ended King's preconvention 
maneuvering by appointing him minister to France. Throughout 1843 and 
into early 1844, angry with Tyler's policies, the Senate had rejected 
many of his nominations to major judicial, cabinet, and diplomatic 
posts. Among these was the appointment as minister to France of Virginia 
Representative Henry A. Wise, described by a modern historian as a 
``high-strung, tobacco-chewing extrovert.'' 23 As a result, 
this sensitive post had remained vacant for eighteen months until Tyler 
selected King, one of the Senate's most popular members. Easily 
confirmed, King left for Paris and soon succeeded in his central 
mission: to keep France from interfering with U.S. plans to annex 
    From Paris, King kept actively in touch with national and Alabama 
political developments. In April 1846 he wrote his friend James 
Buchanan, now his boss as secretary of state, ``Most sincerely do I wish 
that we had both remained in the Senate.'' 25 King therefore 
decided to run for his old Senate seat, then occupied by political rival 
and fellow Democrat Dixon H. Lewis. Desiring to return in time to 
influence the Alabama legislature's election, he left for the United 
States in November 1846. In a three-way race that included Whig leader 
Arthur Hopkins, the legislature took seventeen ballots during December 
1847 but failed to make a selection. Throughout this hotly contested 
battle between unionist and states' rights forces--a battle that one 
modern historian of Alabama labeled ``probably the most significant 
senatorial election in the antebellum period''--states rights' candidate 
Lewis led, followed by Hopkins and then unionist King. On the eighteenth 
ballot, in the only election defeat of his public career, King withdrew 
and the seat went to Lewis.26 King, however, did not have to 
wait long to fulfill his senatorial ambitions. Within seven months, 
Alabama's other Senate seat became vacant when President Polk named 
Arthur Bagby minister to Russia. On July 1, 1848, the governor appointed 
King to fill the eight months remaining in Bagby's term. Later that 
year, in a close race with his nemesis Arthur Hopkins, King won a full 

                           Compromiser in 1850

    The national mood had darkened during King's four-year absence from 
the Senate. He told James Buchanan that he had doubts about the wisdom 
of returning in those troubled days. ``A seat in the Senate is, I assure 
you, far from being desirable to me; bringing with it as it does at this 
particular time especially, great responsibility, great labor, and no 
little anxiety.'' 28 Characteristically, King tried to calm 
the brewing storm. He urged northern senators to resist intensifying 
pressures to introduce antislavery petitions. ``I speak as a senator who 
has been here many years, and as one always anxious to see the members 
of this body preserve that decorum and kindness toward each other which 
secures to the body the respect in which it is held throughout the 
country and the world.'' 29 He supported the spirit, if not 
always the specifics, of Henry Clay's compromise measures. He opposed 
admitting California without the seasoning period of territorial status 
and he believed that Congress had ``about as much constitutional power 
to prohibit slavery from going into the Territories of the United States 
as we have power to pass an act carrying slavery there.'' He believed 
that abolishing slavery in the District of Columbia would be unfair to 
the slaveholders in adjacent states, but he supported abolition of the 
slave trade there.
    As the regional positions hardened in the tumultuous early months of 
1850, King lamented the ``banefull spirit of party'' that in dividing 
the South encouraged northern extremists. In April, King's seniority and 
moderate views earned him a place as one of two southern Democratic 
representatives on the Senate's Select Committee of Thirteen, appointed 
to review Henry Clay's compromise resolutions regarding territories and 
slavery. With a majority of the committee's members, he agreed that 
slavery was a ``rightful'' subject for legislative attention, but only 
in the legislatures of states and not of territories. Thus, King took 
the view of southern conservatives that the Constitution protected 
owners in their control of slave property until a territory became a 
state.30 At home, he met bitter opposition from a faction of 
``Southern Rights'' secessionists who argued that his voting record 
better reflected the interests of Massachusetts, but an equally large 
group of supporters praised his support for compromise, union, and 
peace. He counseled patience, optimistically expecting the North to 
respect southern rights, but warning that if that section's actions 
jeopardized those rights--both constitutional and material--all southern 
men should ``hurl defiance at the fanatical crew, and unitedly determine 
to defend their rights at every hazard and every sacrifice.'' 

                           Arbiter of Decorum

    The Senate chamber in 1850 was frequently jammed to capacity as the 
major debates on slavery in the territories drew large crowds of House 
members, reporters, and the general public eager to get a glimpse of the 
likes of Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, Thomas Hart Benton, Stephen A. 
Douglas of Illinois, Sam Houston of Texas, and others of the nation's 
most notable public figures. As a frequent presiding officer, King 
regularly acted to restore decorum. In this electrically charged 
environment, he took every opportunity to remind other senators of his 
need for their support ``to put down the least movement toward disorder, 
or the slightest indulgence in personal remarks.'' 32
    In May, while Vice President Millard Fillmore was presiding, a 
senator won adoption of a routine resolution to admit a local newspaper 
reporter to the Senate floor. Dissatisfied with such flagrant 
circumvention of the Senate's floor access rules, another member 
suggested referring the matter to a committee. Several senators proposed 
that the presiding officer be allowed to issue each member one admission 
permit to award as he saw fit. According to the proposal, with a guest 
waiting at the chamber's entrance, the host senator would go to the dais 
and request his ticket from the vice president. New Jersey Senator 
William Dayton predicted there would be few takers. ``All the 
multitudinous persons who hang around the Capitol will not have the face 
to ask Senators to go to the Vice President and formally get the permit 
to allow them to come on the floor every day.'' Others laughed at the 
dilemma of a senator having to decide between male and female guests and 
the idea of such a system that would have sixty senatorial guests 
contending with sixty senators and several hundred House members for 
floor space in such cramped quarters. Senator Jefferson Davis of 
Mississippi sounded the most realistic note: ``It is utterly impossible 
to attempt to admit all who desire to come on the floor. . . . The evil 
can only be remedied by an enlarged chamber.'' As the member most 
identified with Senate decorum and tradition, King brought the debate to 
a close by moving to refer the matter to a special committee, knowing 
that another committee would soon propose the construction of new Senate 
and House chambers, each with ample public galleries.33

                         Finally Vice President

    On July 10, 1850, Zachary Taylor's death placed Millard Fillmore in 
the White House and left the vice-presidency vacant. On July 11, the 
solemn Senate set aside the practice of having each party offer a 
nomination for the president pro tempore's post and unanimously selected 
King for the vacancy. This otherwise routine act took on special 
significance, for King would be in effect the acting vice president of 
the United States. King addressed the Senate in the tone of a vice 
president offering an inaugural oration. Noting the unusual bipartisan 
support for his election, King vowed to enforce the Senate's rules 
``mildly, but firmly, and I trust impartially. . . . Should I err, I 
look to my brother Senators, in a spirit of kindness, to correct my 
errors.'' 34 Continuing in the fashion of former Vice 
President Fillmore, King worked hard to calm the angry seas that swelled 
with increasing violence on the Senate floor.
    King's long quest for the vice-presidency had resumed immediately 
after he returned from France in 1846. However, his failure that year to 
regain his Senate seat, coupled with deep ideological divisions within 
the Alabama Democratic party, denied him the support necessary to launch 
a vigorous national campaign. At the 1848 national convention in 
Baltimore, following the nomination of Michigan's Lewis Cass for the 
presidency, King's was among a half-dozen names placed before the 
delegates. On the first ballot, he came in third. On the second ballot, 
the convention selected Kentucky's General William O. Butler, a veteran 
of the War of 1812 and the Mexican War.35
    In January 1852, the Alabama state Democratic convention endorsed 
the Compromise of 1850 and directed the state's national convention 
delegates to support King for either the presidency or vice-presidency. 
At the jam-packed, tumultuous Baltimore convention, delegates selected 
Franklin Pierce on the forty-ninth ballot. In a peace gesture to the 
Buchanan wing of the party, Pierce's supporters allowed Buchanan's 
allies to fill the second position, knowing that they would select King. 
On the second ballot, with only minor opposition, King finally captured 
his prize.36 During the ensuing campaign, King's 
tuberculosis, which he believed he had contracted while in Paris, denied 
him the active behind-the-scenes role that he might otherwise have 
played, although he worked hard to assure his region's voters that New 
Hampshire's Pierce was a ``northern man with southern principles.'' 
King's deteriorating physical condition clouded the victory that came in 
November; Pierce's unwillingness to consult the vice-president-elect on 
cabinet appointments deepened his malaise.
    In November, King began to suffer from a worsening cough. A month 
later, he described himself as looking like a skeleton and told friends 
he doubted that he would ever recover. On December 20, two weeks into 
the short December-March congressional session, King resigned his Senate 
seat and made plans to regain his health away from wintertime 
Washington.37 On January 17, 1853, King left for the more 
salutary climate of Cuba, by way of Key West, Florida; he reached Havana 
in early February. Soon realizing that he would be unable to return to 
Washington in time for the March 4, 1853, inauguration, King requested 
that Congress permit him to take his oath in Cuba.38 
Consequently, for the only time in this nation's history, Congress 
passed legislation allowing the vice-president-elect to be sworn in 
outside the country. On March 24, 1853, near Matanzas, a seaport town 
sixty miles east of Havana, the gravely ill statesman, too feeble to 
stand unaided, became the nation's thirteenth vice president. Deciding 
that he would make every effort to return to the United States, King set 
sail for Mobile on April 6. He reached his Alabama plantation on April 
17, but his struggle was at an end. The sixty-seven-year-old King died 
there the following day. An opposition newspaper praised his ``purity 
and patriotism'' and concluded, ``[t]hough not, perhaps, brilliant, he 
was better--sensible, honest, never running into ultraism, but in the 
contests between the State and the federal government, maintaining the 
true conservative medium, so necessary to the preservation of the 
constitution, the rights of the States and the Republic.'' 39
                             WILLIAM R. KING


    1 U.S., Congress, Senate, Journal, 33d Cong., 1st sess., 
p. 25.
    2 On taking office as president pro tempore in January 
1837, King offered the following observations about the Senate and the 
role of its presiding officer. They are similar in tone and formulation 
to those that Vice President Aaron Burr uttered on March 2, 1805.
        The Senate of the United States, gentlemen, is, from 
    its very organization, the great conservative body in 
    this republic. Here is the strong citadel of liberty. To 
    this body the intelligent and the virtuous, throughout 
    our wide-spread country, look with confidence for an 
    unwavering and unflinching resistance to the 
    encroachments of power on the one hand, and the 
    effervescence of popular excitement on the other. Unawed 
    and unseduced, it should firmly maintain the 
    constitution in its purity, and present an impregnable 
    barrier against every attack on that sacred instrument, 
    come it from what quarter it may. The demon of faction 
    should find no abiding place in this chamber, but every 
    heart and every head should be wholly occupied in 
    advancing the general welfare, and preserving, 
    unimpaired, the national honor. To insure success, 
    gentlemen, in the discharge of our high duties, we must 
    command the confidence and receive the support of the 
    people. Calm deliberation, courtesy toward each other, 
    order and decorum in debate, will go far, very far, to 
    inspire that confidence and command that support. It 
    becomes my duty, gentlemen, to banish (if practicable) 
    from this hall all personal altercation; to check, at 
    once, every remark of a character personally offensive; 
    to preserve order, and promote harmony. . . . I 
    earnestly solicit your co-operation, gentlemen, in 
    aiding my efforts promptly to put down every species of 
    disorder. (U.S., Congress, Senate, Register of Debates 
    in Congress, 24th Cong., 2d sess., pp. 618-19.)
    3 As early as 1824, King regularly served as the chairman 
of the Committee of the Whole, a long-since-abandoned parliamentary form 
by which the full Senate could expedite its proceedings. (John Milton 
Martin, ``William Rufus King: Southern Moderate,'' Ph.D. dissertation, 
University of North Carolina, 1955, p. 81.) Prior to 1890, the Senate 
elected its president pro tempore only when the vice president was away 
from the chamber. Election to that post during the Senate's first 
century was generally considered an acknowledgment of the Senate's 
respect for the individual's judicious temperament. In later years, the 
Senate designated a permanent president pro tempore for each Congress, 
usually the senior member of the majority party. (U.S., Congress, 
Senate, The Senate, 1789-1989: Addresses on the History of the United 
States Senate, by Robert C. Byrd, S. Doc. 100-20, 100th Cong., 1st 
sess., vol. 2, 1991, Chapter 6; vol. 4, Historical Statistics, 1993, pp. 
    4 U.S., Congress, Senate, Congressional Globe, 33d Cong., 
1st sess, pp. 19-21. See also U.S., Congress, Obituary Addresses on the 
Occasion of the Death of the Hon. William R. King, of Alabama, Vice 
President of the United States, Delivered in the Senate and House of 
Representatives of the United States, Eighth of December, 1853 
(Washington, 1854), pp. 8-13, 37. Representative Sampson Harris (D-AL) 
also commented that King lacked ``many of those great attributes of 
mind, which dazzle and lead captive the admiring throng . . .'' (p. 37) 
and the National Intelligencer began its obituary, ``Not endowed with 
shining talents, though of excellent sense . . .'' (April 20, 1853).
    5 Congressional Globe, 33d Cong., 1st sess, p. 20.
    6 Martin, ``William Rufus King: Southern Moderate,'' pp. 
3-5, 11-12.
    7 No book-length biography of King exists. John Milton 
Martin, the only modern-era scholar to have given King's career serious 
consideration, prepared a 1955 doctoral dissertation (``William Rufus 
King: Southern Moderate,'' University of North Carolina) and articles in 
the early 1960s on King's role as a ``Jacksonian Senator'' and his 
multiple quests for the vice-presidency. Biographies of King's leading 
contemporaries and histories of nineteenth-century Alabama political 
life give him only passing reference. A small unorganized collection of 
his personal papers survives at the Alabama Department of Archives and 
History in Montgomery. Incomplete records at the University of North 
Carolina have led to conflicting accounts of his stay there. An error-
ridden biographical article by E.S.W. Dameron in that institution's 
University Magazine (March 1905, p. 317-22) credits him with graduating 
in 1803, but notes that the ``ravages of a century have despoiled his 
Alma Mater of all account of his college life.'' Others have accepted 
that information, including Thomas M. Owen in History of Alabama and 
Dictionary of Alabama Biography, vol. 3 (Chicago, 1921), p. 983, and Roy 
F. Nichols in ``William Rufus Devane King,'' Dictionary of American 
Biography (vol. 10, p. 406). John M. Martin, King's only reliable modern 
biographer, disagrees, indicating that he withdrew in 1804, ``William R. 
King and the Compromise of 1850,'' The North Carolina Historical Review 
39 (October 1962): 500. In his University of North Carolina doctoral 
dissertation (pp. 20-22), Martin explores the matter in greater detail 
and concludes that King felt he was sufficiently prepared to begin his 
legal studies.
    8 By the time the Twelfth Congress convened on November 
4, 1811, King had reached the required age of twenty-five. In those 
early years both houses of Congress occasionally ignored the minimum age 
requirement, which was generally applied at the time the oath of office 
was administered rather than on the date of election.
    9 Martin, ``William R. King and the Compromise of 1850,'' 
p. 500; Martin, ``William Rufus King: Southern Moderate,'' Chapter 2.
    10 Martin, ``William Rufus King: Southern Moderate,'' pp. 
61-65. King took the name ``Selma'' from the poem by James Macpherson, 
``the Song of Selma.'' Virginia O. Foscue, Place Names in Alabama 
(Tuscaloosa, AL, 1989), pp. 26-27, 125; Writers' Program, Alabama, 
Alabama: A Guide to the Deep South (WPA American Guide Series) (New 
York, 1941), pp. 47-50, 237-38.
    11 The major documentary record of his Senate service is 
found in the quasi-official proceedings of Congress, the Annals of 
Congress (1811-1816; 1819-1824), the Register of Debates in Congress 
(1824-1838), and the Congressional Globe (1833-1853). Yet even this 
record is spare, as King made few substantive speeches, preferring to 
preside rather than to debate. He never married or had children, thus 
there were no direct heirs with a vested interest in preserving a useful 
record of his service.
    12 Roy Nichols and Jeannette Nichols, ``Election of 
1852,'' in History of American Presidential Elections, 1789-1968, ed. 
Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., vol. 2 (New York, 1971), p. 942; John 
Updike, Memories of the Ford Administration (New York, 1992), pp. 227, 
    13 Congressional Globe, 31st Cong., 1st sess., p. 21.
    14 John M. Martin, ``William R. King: Jacksonian 
Senator,'' The Alabama Review 18 (October 1965): 243-45.
    15 Martin, ``William R. King: Jacksonian Senator,'' pp. 
247-51; Martin, ``William Rufus King: Southern Moderate,'' p. 77.
    16 Martin, ``William R. King: Jacksonian Senator,'' pp. 
253, 256.
    17 Ibid., p. 262.
    18 This story is derived from the account presented in 
Robert V. Remini, Henry Clay: Statesman for the Union (New York, 1991), 
p. 574. Remini consulted many sources beyond the quasi-official 
Congressional Globe (26th Cong., 2d sess., pp. 245, 247-249, 256-257), 
which was reported in the third person and without the detail that 
Remini located in contemporary newspapers, letters, and diary accounts. 
See also Martin, ``William Rufus King: Southern Moderate,'' pp. 183-86.
    19 See Chapter 9 of this volume, ``Richard Mentor 
Johnson,'' p. 129.
    20 Philip Shriver Klein, President James Buchanan 
(University Park, PA, 1962), p. 111; Novelist John Updike, in Memories 
of the Ford Administration (pp. 227-41), speculates at length on the 
nature of the intimacy between King and Buchanan.
    21 John M. Martin, ``William R. King and the Vice 
Presidency,'' The Alabama Review 16 (January 1963): 35-40; Klein, pp. 
    22 Martin, ``William R. King and the Vice Presidency,'' 
pp. 43-44.
    23 John Niven, John C. Calhoun and the Price of Union 
(Baton Rouge, LA, 1988), p. 260.
    24 St. George Leakin Sioussat, ``John Caldwell Calhoun,'' 
in American Secretaries of State and Their Diplomacy, ed. Samuel Flagg 
Bemis, vol. 5 (New York, 1928), pp. 164-65, 169, 208, 300; Martin, 
``William Rufus King: Southern Moderate,'' Chapter 7.
    25 Letter of April 30, 1846, quoted in Martin, ``William 
Rufus King: Southern Moderate,'' p. 268.
    26 William Warren Rogers, et al., Alabama: The History of 
a Deep South State (Tuscaloosa, AL, 1994), p. 155.
    27 Martin, ``William Rufus King: Southern Moderate,'' pp. 
274-81, 290-91, 300-303.
    28 Martin, ``William R. King and the Compromise of 
1850,'' p. 501.
    29 Congressional Globe, 31st Cong., 1st sess., p. 342.
    30 Remini, Henry Clay: Statesman for the Union, pp. 746-
    31 Ibid.
    32 Congressional Globe, 31st Cong., 1st sess., p. 915.
    33 Ibid., pp. 1054-55.
    34 Ibid., p. 1370.
    35 Martin, ``William R. King and the Vice Presidency,'' 
pp. 46-49.
    36 Congressional Quarterly's Guide to U.S. Elections, 3d 
ed. (Washington, DC, 1994), p. 43.
    37 Congressional Globe, 32d Cong., 2d sess., p. 89.
    38 In King's absence, Senator Lewis Cass, as the Senate's 
oldest member, administered the oath of office to newly elected 
senators. President Franklin Pierce made no reference to his absent 
running mate during his inaugural address. Congress approved the 
necessary legislation on March 2, 1853. (Congressional Globe, 32d Cong., 
2d sess., Appendix, p. 341.)
    39 Daily [Montgomery] Alabama Journal, April 20, 1853.

                               Chapter 14

                        JOHN CABELL BRECKINRIDGE


                          JOHN C. BRECKINRIDGE
                          JOHN C. BRECKINRIDGE

                               Chapter 14

                        JOHN CABELL BRECKINRIDGE

                     14th Vice President: 1857-1861

          I trust that I have the courage to lead a forlorn hope.
                                  --John C. Breckinridge, 1860
    The only vice president ever to take up arms against the government 
of the United States, John Cabell Breckinridge completed four years as 
vice president under James Buchanan, ran for president as the Southern 
Democratic candidate in 1860, and then returned to the Senate to lead 
the remnants of the Democratic party for the first congressional session 
during the Civil War. Although his cousin Mary Todd Lincoln resided in 
the White House and his home state of Kentucky remained in the Union, 
Breckinridge chose to volunteer his services to the Confederate army. 
The United States Senate formally expelled him as a traitor. When the 
Confederates were defeated, Breckinridge's personal secession forced him 
into exile abroad, bringing his promising political career to a bitter 

                     An Illustrious Political Family

    Born at ``Cabell's Dale,'' the Breckinridge family estate near 
Lexington, Kentucky, on January 16, 1821, John Cabell Breckinridge was 
named for his father and grandfather. The father, Joseph Cabell 
Breckinridge, a rising young politician, died at the state capital at 
the age of thirty-five. Left without resources, his wife took her 
children back to Cabell's Dale to live with their grandmother, known 
affectionately as ``Grandma Black Cap.'' She often regaled the children 
with stories of their grandfather, the first John Breckinridge, who, in 
addition to introducing the Kentucky Resolutions that denounced the 
Alien and Sedition Acts, had helped secure the Louisiana Purchase and 
had served during the administration of Thomas Jefferson first as a 
Senate leader and then as attorney general. The grandfather might well 
have become president one day but, like his son, he died prematurely. 
The sense of family mission that his grandmother imparted shaped young 
John C. Breckinridge's self-image and directed him towards a life in 
public office. The family also believed strongly in education, since 
Breckinridge's maternal grandfather, Samuel Stanhope Smith, had served 
as president of the College of New Jersey at Princeton, and his uncle 
Robert J. Breckinridge started Kentucky's public school system. The boy 
attended the Presbyterian Centre College in Danville, Kentucky, where he 
received his bachelor's degree at seventeen. He then attended Princeton 
before returning to Lexington to study law at Transylvania 
    A tall, strikingly handsome young man with a genial air and a 
powerful voice, considered by many ``a perfect gentleman,'' Breckinridge 
set out to make his fortune on the frontier. In 1841 he and his law 
partner Thomas W. Bullock settled in the Mississippi River town of 
Burlingame, in the Iowa Territory. There he might have entered politics 
and pursued a career relatively free from the divisive issue of slavery, 
but Iowa's fierce winter gave him influenza and made him homesick for 
Kentucky. When he returned home on a visit in 1843, he met and soon 
married Mary Cyrene Burch of Georgetown. The newlyweds settled in 
Georgetown, and Breckinridge opened a law office in 

                         A Rapid Political Rise

    When the Mexican War began, Breckinridge volunteered to serve as an 
officer in a Kentucky infantry regiment. In Mexico, Major Breckinridge 
won the support of his troops for his acts of kindness, being known to 
give up his horse to sick and footsore soldiers. After six months in 
Mexico City, he returned to Kentucky and to an almost inevitable 
political career. In 1849, while still only twenty-eight years old, he 
won a seat in the state house of representatives. In that election, as 
in all his campaigns, he demonstrated both an exceptional ability as a 
stump speaker and a politician's memory for names and faces. Shortly 
after the election, he met for the first time the Illinois legislator 
who had married his cousin Mary Todd. Abraham Lincoln, while visiting 
his wife's family in Lexington, paid courtesy calls on the city's 
lawyers. Lincoln and Breckinridge became friends, despite their 
differences in party and ideology. Breckinridge was a Jacksonian 
Democrat in a state that Senator Henry Clay had made a Whig bastion. In 
1851, Breckinridge shocked the Whig party by winning the congressional 
race in Clay's home district, a victory that also brought him to the 
attention of national Democratic leaders. He arrived in Congress shortly 
after the passage of Clay's Compromise of 1850, which had sought to 
settle the issue of slavery in the territories. Breckinridge became a 
spokesman for the proslavery Democrats, arguing that the federal 
government had no right to interfere with slavery anywhere, either in 
the District of Columbia or in any of the territories.3
    Since Breckinridge defended both the Union and slavery, people 
viewed him as a moderate. The Pennsylvania newspaper publisher and 
political adventurer John W. Forney insisted that when Breckinridge came 
to Congress ``he was in no sense an extremist.'' Forney recalled how the 
young Breckinridge spoke with great respect about Texas Senator Sam 
Houston, who denounced the dangers and evils of slavery. But Forney 
thought that Breckinridge ``was too interesting a character to be 
neglected by the able ultras of the South. They saw in his winning 
manners, attractive appearance, and rare talent for public affairs, 
exactly the elements they needed in their concealed designs against the 
country.'' People noted that his uncle, Robert Breckinridge, was a 
prominent antislavery man, and that as a state legislator Breckinridge 
had aided the Kentucky Colonization Society (a branch of the American 
Colonization Society), dedicated to gradual emancipation and the 
resettlement of free blacks outside the United States. They suspected 
that he held private concerns about the morality of slavery and that he 
supported gradual emancipation. Yet, while Breckinridge was no planter 
or large slaveholder, he owned a few household slaves and idealized the 
southern way of life. He willingly defended slavery and white supremacy 
against all critics.4

                     The Kansas-Nebraska Controversy

    In Congress, Breckinridge became an ally of Illinois Senator Stephen 
A. Douglas. When Douglas introduced the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, 
which repealed the Missouri Compromise and left the issue of slavery in 
the territories to the settlers themselves--a policy known as ``popular 
sovereignty''--Breckinridge worked hard to enact the legislation. Going 
to the White House, he served as a broker between Douglas and President 
Franklin Pierce, persuading the president to support the bill. He also 
spoke out in the House in favor of leaving the settlers ``free to form 
their own institutions, and enter the Union with or without slavery, as 
their constitutions should prescribe.'' 5
    During those debates in March 1854, the normally even-tempered 
Breckinridge exchanged angry words on the House floor with Democratic 
Representative Francis B. Cutting of New York, almost provoking a duel. 
``They were a high-strung pair,'' commented Breckinridge's friend 
Forney. Cutting accused Breckinridge of ingratitude toward the North, 
where he had raised campaign funds for his tough reelection campaign in 
1853. Breckinridge, ``his eyes flashing fire,'' interrupted Cutting's 
speech, denied his charges, denounced his language, and demanded an 
apology. When Cutting refused, Breckinridge interpreted this as a 
challenge to a duel. He proposed that they meet near Silver Spring, the 
nearby Maryland home of his friend Francis P. Blair, and that they duel 
with western rifles. The New Yorker objected that he had never handled a 
western rifle and that as the challenged party he should pick the 
weapons. Once it became clear that neither party considered himself the 
challenger, they gained a face-saving means of withdrawing from the 
``code of honor'' without fighting the duel. When the two next 
encountered each other in the House, Breckinridge looked his adversary 
in the eye and said: ``Cutting, give me a chew of tobacco!'' The New 
Yorker drew a plug of tobacco from his pocket, cut off a wad for 
Breckinridge and another for himself, and both returned to their desks 
chewing and looking happier. Those who observed the exchange compared it 
to the American Indians' practice of smoking a peace pipe.6
    Breckinridge supported the Kansas-Nebraska Act in the hope that it 
would take slavery in the territories out of national politics, but the 
act had entirely the opposite effect. Public outrage throughout the 
North caused the Whig party to collapse and new antislavery parties, the 
Republican and the American (Know-Nothing) parties, to rise in its wake. 
When the spread of Know-Nothing lodges in his district jeopardized his 
chances of reelection in 1855, Breckinridge declined to run for a third 
term. He also rejected President Pierce's nomination to serve as 
minister to Spain and negotiate American annexation of Cuba, despite the 
Senate's confirmation of his appointment. Citing his wife's poor health 
and his own precarious finances, Breckinridge returned to Kentucky. Land 
speculation in the West helped him accumulate a considerable amount of 
money during his absence from politics.7

                       The Youngest Vice President

    As the Democratic convention approached in 1856, the three leading 
contenders--President Pierce, Senator Douglas, and former Minister to 
Great Britain James Buchanan--all courted Breckinridge. He attended the 
convention as a delegate, voting first for Pierce and then switching to 
Douglas. When Douglas withdrew as a gesture toward party unity, the 
nomination went to Buchanan. The Kentucky delegation nominated former 
House Speaker Linn Boyd for vice president. Then a Louisiana delegate 
nominated Breckinridge. Gaining the floor, Breckinridge declined to run 
against his delegation's nominee, but his speech deeply impressed the 
convention. One Arkansas delegate admired ``his manner, his severely 
simple style of delivery with scarcely an ornament [or] gesture and 
deriving its force and eloquence solely from the remarkably choice ready 
flow of words, the rich voice and intonation.'' The delegate noted that 
``every member seemed riveted to his seat and each face seemed by 
magnetic influence to be directed to him.'' When Boyd ran poorly on the 
first ballot, the convention switched to Breckinridge and nominated him 
on the second ballot. Although Tennessee's Governor Andrew Johnson 
grumbled that Breckinridge's lack of national reputation would hurt the 
ticket, Buchanan's managers were pleased with the choice. They thought 
Breckinridge would appease Douglas, since the two men had been closely 
identified through their work on the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Being present 
at the convention, Breckinridge was prevailed upon to make a short 
acceptance speech, thanking the delegates for the nomination, endorsing 
Buchanan and the platform, and reaffirming his position as a ``state's 
rights man.'' The nominee was thirty-six years old--just a year over the 
constitutional minimum age for holding the office--and his election 
would make him the youngest vice president in American 
    Breckinridge spent most of the campaign in Kentucky, but he gave 
speeches in Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan, defending the Kansas-Nebraska 
Act. The election was a three-way race among the Democrats under 
Buchanan, the Republicans under John Charles Fremont, and the Know-
Nothings under former President Millard Fillmore. Denouncing the 
antislavery policies of the Republicans and Know-Nothings, Breckinridge 
described himself not as proslavery but as a defender of the people's 
constitutional right to make their own territorial laws, a position that 
caused some Deep South extremists to accuse him of harboring 
abolitionist views. In November, Democrats carried all the slaveholding 
states except Maryland (which went Know-Nothing) and enough northern 
states to win the election. Breckinridge was proud that Kentucky voted 
for a Democratic presidential ticket for the first time since 

                    Strained Relations with Buchanan

    Buchanan won the nomination and election primarily because nobody 
knew where he stood on the issues, since he had been out of the country 
for the past three years as minister to England. Although his supporters 
promoted him as ``the man for the crisis,'' Buchanan was in fact the 
worst man for the crisis. Narrow, secretive, petty, vindictive, and 
blind to corruption within his administration, he proved unable to bind 
together either the factions of his party or the regions of his nation. 
A poor winner, Buchanan distrusted his rivals for the nomination and 
refused to invite Stephen Douglas to join his cabinet or to take 
seriously Douglas' patronage requests. Similarly snubbed, Breckinridge 
quickly discovered that he held less influence with Buchanan as vice 
president than he had as a member of the House with Pierce.10
    Viewing Breckinridge as part of the Pierce-Douglas faction, Buchanan 
almost never consulted him, and rarely invited him to the White House 
for either political or social gatherings. Early in the new 
administration, when the vice president asked for a private interview 
with the president, he was told instead to call at the White House some 
evening and ask to see Buchanan's niece and hostess, Harriet Lane. 
Taking this as a rebuff, the proud Kentuckian left town without calling 
on either Miss Lane or the president. His friends reported his 
resentment to Buchanan, and in short order three of the president's 
confidants wrote to tell Breckinridge that it had been a mistake. A 
request to see Miss Lane was really a password to admit a caller to see 
her uncle. How Breckinridge could have known this, they did not explain. 
In fact, the vice president had no private meetings with the president 
for over three years.11
    The new vice president bought property in the District of Columbia 
and planned to construct, along with his good friends Senator Douglas 
and Senator Henry Rice of Minnesota, three large, expensive, connected 
houses at New Jersey Avenue and I Street that would become known as 
``Minnesota Row.'' Before the construction was completed, however, the 
friendship had become deeply strained when Douglas fell out with 
President Buchanan over slavery in Kansas. A proslavery minority there 
had sent to Washington a new territorial constitution--known as the 
Lecompton Constitution. Buchanan threw his weight behind the Lecompton 
Constitution as a device for admitting Kansas as a state and defusing 
the explosive issue of slavery in the territory. But Douglas objected 
that the Lecompton Constitution made a mockery out of popular 
sovereignty and warned that he would fight it as a fraud. Recalling the 
way Andrew Jackson had dealt with his opponents, Buchanan said, ``Mr. 
Douglas, I desire you to remember that no Democrat ever yet differed 
from an Administration of his choice without being crushed.'' To which 
Douglas replied, ``Mr. President, I wish you to remember that General 
Jackson is dead.'' Between these two poles, the vice president vainly 
sought to steer a neutral course. He sided with Buchanan on the 
Lecompton Constitution but endorsed Douglas for reelection to the 

                     An Impartial Presiding Officer

    As vice president in such a turbulent era, Breckinridge won respect 
for presiding gracefully and impartially over the Senate. On January 4, 
1859, when the Senate met for the last time in its old chamber, he used 
the occasion to deliver an eloquent appeal for national unity. During 
its half century in the chamber, the Senate had grown from thirty-two to 
sixty-four members. The expansion of the nation forced them to move to a 
new, more spacious chamber. During those years, he observed, the 
Constitution had ``survived peace and war, prosperity and adversity'' to 
protect ``the larger personal freedom compatible with public order.'' He 
recalled the legislative labors of Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, and John 
C. Calhoun, whose performance in that chamber challenged their 
successors ``to give the Union a destiny not unworthy of the past.'' He 
trusted that in the future ``another Senate, in another age, shall bear 
to a new and larger Chamber, this Constitution vigorous and inviolate, 
and that the last generation of posterity shall witness the 
deliberations of the Representatives of American States, still united, 
prosperous, and free.'' The vice president then led a procession to the 
new chamber. Walking two-by-two behind him were the political and 
military leaders of what would soon become the Union and the 
    Breckinridge counseled against secession. A famous incident, 
recounted in many memoirs of the era, took place at a dinner party that 
the vice president attended. South Carolina Representative Lawrence 
Keitt repeatedly denigrated Kentucky's compromising tendencies. 
Breckinridge responded by recalling a trip he had made through South 
Carolina, where he met a militia officer in full military regalia. ``I 
tell you, sah, we can not stand it any longer; we intend to fight,'' 
said the officer. ``And from what are you suffering?'' asked 
Breckinridge. ``Why, sah, we are suffering from the oppression of the 
Federal Government. We have suffered under it for thirty years, and will 
stand it no more.'' Turning to Keitt, Breckinridge advised him ``to 
invite some of his constituents, before undertaking the war, upon a tour 
through the North, if only for the purpose of teaching them what an 
almighty big country they will have to whip before they get through!'' 

                      A Four-Way Race for President

    Early in 1859 a New York Times correspondent in Washington wrote 
that ``Vice President Breckinridge stands deservedly high in public 
estimation, and has the character of a man slow to form resolves, but 
unceasing and inexorable in their fulfillment.'' At a time when the 
Buchanan administration was falling ``in prestige and political 
consequence, the star of the Vice President rises higher above the 
clouds.'' Later that year, Linn Boyd died while campaigning for the 
Senate, and Kentucky Democrats nominated Breckinridge for the seat, 
which would become vacant at the time Breckinridge's term as vice 
president ended. Breckinridge may also have been harboring even greater 
ambitions. Although he remained silent about the upcoming presidential 
campaign, many Democrats considered him a strong contender. In 1860, the 
Democratic convention met in Charleston, South Carolina. Stephen Douglas 
was the frontrunner, but when his supporters defeated efforts to write 
into the platform a plank protecting the right of slavery anywhere in 
the territories, the southern delegates walked out. They held their own 
convention in Baltimore and nominated Breckinridge as their presidential 
    For national balance, the breakaway Democrats selected Senator 
Joseph Lane, a Democrat from Oregon, for vice president. Lane had spent 
his youth in Kentucky and Indiana and served in the Mexican War. 
President James K. Polk had appointed him territorial governor of 
Oregon, an office he held from 1849 to 1850 before becoming Oregon's 
territorial delegate to Congress in 1851. When Oregon entered the Union 
in 1859, he was chosen one of its first senators. Lane's embrace of the 
secessionist spirit attracted him to the Southern Democrats. Had the 
four-way election of 1860 not been decided by the electoral college but 
been thrown into Congress, the Democratic majority in the outgoing 
Senate might well have elected him vice president. Instead, the race 
ended Lane's political career entirely, and Oregon became a Republican 
    Breckinridge faced a campaign against three old friends: Stephen 
Douglas, the Democratic candidate; Abraham Lincoln, the Republican; and 
John Bell of Tennessee, the Constitutional Union party candidate. He was 
not optimistic about his chances. Privately, he told Mrs. Jefferson 
Davis, ``I trust that I have the courage to lead a forlorn hope.'' At a 
dinner just before the nomination, Breckinridge talked of not accepting 
it, but Jefferson Davis persuaded him to run. Worried that a split in 
the anti-Republican vote would ensure Lincoln's victory, Davis proposed 
a scheme by which Breckinridge, Douglas, and Bell would agree to 
withdraw their candidacies in favor of a compromise candidate. 
Breckinridge and Bell agreed, but Douglas refused, arguing that northern 
Democrats would take Lincoln before they voted for any candidate that 
the southern firebrands had endorsed. The Illinois senator pointed out 
that, while not all of Breckinridge's followers were secessionists, 
every secessionist was supporting him. But Breckinridge also counted on 
the support of the last three Democratic presidential candidates, Lewis 
Cass, Franklin Pierce, and James Buchanan, as well as most of the 
northern Democratic senators and representatives. Despite these 
endorsements and the financial levies that the Buchanan administration 
made on all Democratic officeholders for him, Breckinridge failed to 
carry any northern states. In the four-way race, he placed third in the 
popular vote and second in electoral votes. Most disappointingly, he 
lost Kentucky to Bell.17

                          A Personal Secession

    Following the election, Breckinridge returned to Washington to 
preside over the Senate, hoping to persuade southerners to abandon 
secession. But in December, South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, and 
Florida left the Union. In January, Mississippi Senator Jefferson Davis 
and other southerners bid a formal farewell to the Senate. In February, 
Vice President Breckinridge led a procession of senators to the House 
chamber to count the electoral votes, and to announce the election of 
Abraham Lincoln of Illinois. On March 4, Breckinridge administered the 
oath of office to his successor, Hannibal Hamlin, who in turn swore him 
into the Senate. When President Lincoln called Congress into special 
session on July 4, 1861, to raise the arms and men necessary to fight 
the Civil War, Breckinridge returned to Washington as the leader of what 
was left of the Senate Democrats. Many in Washington doubted that he 
planned to offer much support to the Union or the war effort. 
Breckinridge seemed out of place in the wartime capital, after so many 
of his southern friends had left. On several occasions, however, he 
visited his cousin Mary Todd Lincoln at the White House.18
    During the special session, which lasted until August 6, 1861, 
Breckinridge remained firm in his belief that the Constitution strictly 
limited the powers of the federal government, regardless of secession 
and war. Although he wanted the Union restored, he preferred a peaceful 
separation rather than ``endless, aimless, devastating war, at the end 
of which I see the grave of public liberty and of personal freedom.'' 
The most dramatic moment of the session occurred on August 1, when 
Senator Breckinridge took the floor to oppose the Lincoln 
administration's expansion of martial law. As he spoke, Oregon 
Republican Senator Edward D. Baker entered the chamber, dressed in the 
blue coat of a Union army colonel. Baker had raised and was training a 
militia unit known as the California Regiment. When Breckinridge 
finished, Baker challenged him: ``These speeches of his, sown broadcast 
over the land, what meaning have they? Are they not intended for 
disorganization in our very midst?'' Baker demanded. ``Sir, are they not 
words of brilliant, polished treason, even in the very Capitol?'' Within 
months of this exchange, Senator Baker was killed while leading his 
militia at the Battle of Ball's Bluff along the Potomac River, and 
Senator Breckinridge was wearing the gray uniform of a Confederate 
    After the special session, Breckinridge returned to Kentucky to try 
to keep his state neutral. He spoke at a number of peace rallies, 
proclaiming that, if Kentucky took up arms against the Confederacy, then 
someone else must represent the state in the Senate. Despite his 
efforts, pro-Union forces won the state legislative elections. When 
another large peace rally was scheduled for September 21, the 
legislature sent a regiment to break up the meeting and arrest 
Breckinridge. Forewarned, he packed his bag and fled to Virginia. He 
could no longer find any neutral ground to stand upon, no way to endorse 
both the Union and the southern way of life. Forced to choose sides, 
Breckinridge joined his friends in the Confederacy. In Richmond he 
volunteered for military service, exchanging, as he said, his ``term of 
six years in the Senate of the United States for the musket of a 
soldier.'' On December 4, 1861, the Senate by a 36 to 0 vote expelled 
the Kentucky senator, declaring that Breckinridge, ``the traitor,'' had 
``joined the enemies of his country.'' 20

                          General Breckinridge

    Commissioned a brigadier general, and later a major general, 
Breckinridge went west to fight at Shiloh, Stone's River, Chickamauga, 
and Chattanooga. He returned east to the battle of Cold Harbor, and in 
July 1864 he and General Jubal T. Early led a dramatic raid on 
Washington, D.C. Breckinridge's troops advanced as far as Silver Spring, 
Maryland, where they sacked Francis Blair's home but did not destroy it, 
supposedly at the urging of Breckinridge, who had often been a guest 
there. Breckinridge got so close to Washington that he could see the 
newly completed Capitol dome, and General Early joked that he would 
allow him to lead the advance into the city so that he could sit in the 
vice-presidential chair again. But federal troops halted the 
Confederates, who retreated back to the Shenandoah Valley. There, at 
Winchester, Virginia, they confronted Union troops commanded by Philip 
H. Sheridan. The Confederate general John B. Gordon later recalled that 
Breckinridge was ``desperately reckless'' during that campaign, and 
``literally seemed to court death.'' When Gordon urged him to be 
careful, Breckinridge replied, ``Well, general, there is little left for 
me if our cause is to fail.'' As they rode from their defeat on the 
battlefield, Jubal T. Early turned to ask, ``General Breckinridge, what 
do you think of the `rights of the South in the territories' now?'' He 
received no answer.21
    During the closing months of the war in 1865, Jefferson Davis made 
Breckinridge his secretary of war. He performed well in this final 
government position, firing the Confederacy's bumbling commissary 
general and trying to bring order out of the chaos, but these efforts 
came too late. When General Robert E. Lee surrendered his army, 
President Davis was determined to keep on fighting, but Breckinridge 
opposed continuing the war as a guerrilla campaign. ``This has been a 
magnificent epic,'' he said; ``in God's name let it not terminate in 
farce.'' Fleeing Richmond, Breckinridge commanded the troops that 
accompanied Davis and his cabinet. Davis was captured, but Breckinridge 
evaded arrest and imprisonment by fleeing through Florida to Cuba. From 
there he sailed for England. Subsequently, the Breckinridge family 
settled in Toronto, Canada. His daughter Mary later remarked that, while 
exile was a quiet relief for her mother, it was hard on her father, 
``separated from the activities of life, and unable to do anything 
towards making a support for his family.'' In Canada he met other 
Confederate exiles, including the freed Jefferson Davis. Once, 
Breckinridge and Davis rode to Niagara. Across the river they could see 
the red stripes of the American flag, which Breckinridge viewed 
nostalgically but the more embittered Davis described as ``the gridiron 
we have been fried on.'' 22
    On Christmas Day, 1868, departing President Andrew Johnson issued a 
blanket pardon for all Confederates. John C. Breckinridge returned to 
the United States in February 1869. Stopping in many cities to visit old 
friends, he reached Lexington, Kentucky, a month later. He had not been 
back in Kentucky since he fled eight years before. In welcome, a band 
played ``Home Sweet Home,'' ``Dixie,'' and ``Hail to the Chief.'' 
Breckinridge declared himself through with politics: ``I no more feel 
the political excitements that marked the scenes of my former years than 
if I were an extinct volcano.'' Other than publicly denouncing the 
lawless violence of the Ku Klux Klan, he devoted himself entirely to 
private matters. The former vice president practiced law and became 
active in building railroads. Although he was only fifty-four, his 
health declined severely and he died on May 17, 1875. Despite his 
weakened condition at the end, Breckinridge surprised his doctor with 
his clear and strong voice. ``Why, Doctor,'' the famous stump speaker 
smiled from his deathbed, ``I can throw my voice a mile.'' 23
                          JOHN C. BRECKINRIDGE2


    1 Frank H. Heck, Proud Kentuckian: John C. Breckinridge, 
1821-1875 (Lexington, KY, 1976), pp. 1-11; James C. Klotter, The 
Breckinridges of Kentucky, 1760-1981 (Lexington, KY, 1986), pp. 95-98.
    2 Heck, pp. 11-18; Klotter, p. 101.
    3 Heck, pp. 22, 30-31; William C. Davis, Breckinridge: 
Statesman, Soldier, Symbol (Baton Rouge, LA, 1974), p. 45.
    4 John W. Forney, Anecdotes of Public Men (New York, 
1873), 2:41-42; Heck, pp. 30-31, 163-64; Klotter, p. 113.
    5 Heck, pp. 41-43.
    6 Forney, 2:301; Heck, pp. 44-46; Benjamin Perley Poore, 
Perley's Reminiscences of Sixty Years in the National Metropolis 
(Philadelphia, 1886), 1:439-42; L.A. Gobright, Recollections of Men and 
Things at Washington During The Third of a Century (Philadelphia, 1869), 
p. 138.
    7 Heck, pp. 47, 53-54; Mark W. Summers, The Plundering 
Generation: Corruption and the Crisis of the Union, 1849-1861 (New York, 
1987), p. 203.
    8 Davis, Breckinridge, p. 145; Heck, pp. 59-60; Klotter, 
p. 111.
    9 Klotter, pp. 111, 113; Heck, pp. 55-66.
    10 Frederick Moore Binder, James Buchanan and the 
American Empire (Cranbury, NJ, 1994), pp. 219-22.
    11 Ibid., p. 223; Heck, pp. 67-68; Davis, Breckinridge, 
p. 172.
    12 Heck, pp. 69-74; Davis, Breckinridge, pp. 171-72; 
Elbert B. Smith, The Presidency of James Buchanan (Lawrence, KS, 1975), 
p. 41; Forney, 1:41-42; Robert W. Johannsen, Stephen A. Douglas (New 
York, 1973), p. 652.
    13 U.S., Congress, Senate, The Old Senate Chamber: 
Proceedings in the Senate of the United States upon Vacating their old 
Chamber on January 4, 1859, S. Doc. 67, 74th Cong., 1st sess., pp. 4-15; 
Heck, pp. 75-76; Davis, Breckinridge, p. 194.
    14 Forney, 1:283-84; Poore, 2:47; Davis, Breckinridge, p. 
    15 Davis, Breckinridge, p. 197; Smith, p. 113.
    16 David M. Potter, The Impending Crisis, 1848-1861 (New 
York, 1976), p. 438; see also Margaret Jean Kelly, The Career of Joseph 
Lane (Washington, 1942).
    17 William C. Davis, Jefferson Davis: The Man and His 
Hour (New York, 1991), pp. 282-83; Heck, p. 85; Smith, pp. 124-26; 
Summers, p. 274; Lowell H. Harrison, ``John C. Breckinridge: 
Nationalist, Confederate, Kentuckian,'' The Filson Club History 
Quarterly 47 (April 1973): 128.
    18 Margaret Leech, Reveille in Washington, 1860-1865 (New 
York, 1941), pp. 32, 87. As a sign of the public confusion over 
Breckinridge's loyalties, Mathew Brady's studio produced a photograph of 
Breckinridge retouched to make him appear to be wearing a Union army 
uniform. See Susan Kismaric, American Politicians: Photographs from 1843 
to 1993 (New York, 1994), p. 66.
    19 Heck, pp. 101-2; U.S., Congress, Senate, The Senate, 
1789-1989: Addresses on the History of the United States Senate, by 
Robert C. Byrd, S. Doc. 100-20, 100th Cong., 1st sess., vol. 1, 1989, p. 
    20 Heck, pp. 101-2, 106; U.S., Congress, Senate, United 
States Senate Election, Expulsion, and Censure Cases, 1793-1990, S. Doc. 
103-33, 103d Cong., 1st sess., 1995, p. 103.
    21 Klotter, p. 127; Leech, p. 345; Heck, pp. 111, 127-28; 
Harrison, p. 136.
    22 Heck, pp. 133-34; Davis, Jefferson Davis, pp. 600-601, 
616-33, 658; Lucille Stilwell Williams, ``John Cabell Breckinridge,'' 
Register of the Kentucky State Historical Society 33 (January 1935): 29.
    23 Heck, pp. 149, 157; Davis, Breckinridge, pp. 593, 623.

                               Chapter 15

                             HANNIBAL HAMLIN


                             HANNIBAL HAMLIN
                             HANNIBAL HAMLIN

                               Chapter 15

                             HANNIBAL HAMLIN

                     15th Vice President: 1861-1865

          What can I do? The slow and unsatisfactory movements of 
      the Government do not meet with my approbation, and that is 
      known, and of course I am not consulted at all, nor do I 
      think there is much disposition in any quarter to regard any 
      counsel I may give much if at all.
                                       --Hannibal Hamlin, 1862
    The emotional issue of slavery demolished the American political 
system during the 1850s: the Whig party disintegrated; the Democrats 
divided; and the Free Soil and American (or Know-Nothing) parties 
flourished briefly and died. Emerging from the wreckage of the old 
system, the Republican party, which ran its first presidential campaign 
in 1856, drew converts from all of these parties. Within the new party 
stood men who had spent years fighting each other under different 
political banners. In constructing a presidential ticket in 1860, 
therefore, Republicans needed candidates who would reflect their complex 
construction and reinforce their new unity. They picked a presidential 
candidate, Abraham Lincoln, who was not only a westerner but a Whig who 
claimed Henry Clay as his political role model. To balance Lincoln, 
Republicans chose as their vice-presidential candidate Hannibal Hamlin, 
an easterner who had spent the bulk of his political career as a 
Democrat and who had battled Henry Clay when they served together in the 
United States Senate. Despite their differences, Lincoln and Hamlin 
shared an opposition to the expansion of slavery into the western 
territories, without being abolitionists.1


    Hannibal Hamlin owed his classical name to his grandfather Eleazer 
Hamlin, a man well read in history, who named his first son after the 
Roman general Scipio Africanus (everyone called the boy Africa) and 
called his twin sons Cyrus, after the great Persian conqueror, and 
Hannibal, after the Carthaginian general who crossed the Alps on 
elephants in his campaigns against Rome. Cyrus became a Harvard-trained 
medical doctor and moved to the village of Paris Hill, Maine, where on 
August 27, 1809, was born his son, whom he named after his brother 
Hannibal. The boy grew up in a prosperous family, living in an imposing, 
three-story white house. A natural leader among his peers, physically 
fit and athletic, Hannibal was also an avid reader. He was sent to local 
public schools and then to Hebron Academy.
    Hannibal's ambition to become a lawyer was nearly sidetracked, first 
when his elder brother took ill, forcing him to leave school to run the 
family farm, and then when his father died, requiring him, under the 
terms of his father's will, to stay home and take care of his mother 
until he turned twenty-one. When he came of age, however, Hannibal left 
home to read law at the offices of Fessenden and Deblois, under Samuel 
C. Fessenden, an outspoken abolitionist and father of Hamlin's future 
political rival, William Pitt Fessenden. The association made Hamlin an 
antislavery man and launched him into his new profession. He set up his 
own law practice and became the town attorney in Hampden, 

               Democratic Politics in Maine and Washington

    Politically, from the 1830s to the 1850s, Maine was an entrenched 
Democratic state, and the politically ambitious Hamlin joined the 
Democratic party. In 1835 he was elected to the state house of 
representatives. Described as ``tall, and gracious in figure, with 
black, piercing eyes, a skin almost olive-colored, hair smooth, thick 
and jetty, a manner always courteous and affable,'' he fit easily into 
legislative politics, became a popular member of the house, and was soon 
elected its speaker. His most notable legislative achievement was to 
lead the movement to abolish capital punishment in Maine. In 1840 he 
lost a race for the U.S. House of Representatives, but in 1843 (after 
the next election was delayed until the districts could be 
reapportioned) he won a seat in Congress. There he denounced Henry 
Clay's economic programs and voted very much as a Jacksonian Democrat. 
He became chairman of the Committee on Elections and won a coveted seat 
on the House Rules Committee. Hamlin enjoyed considerable luck in his 
career, particularly in February 1844, when he missed sailing on the 
U.S. Navy frigate Princeton, which was going to demonstrate its new 
guns. One of the guns exploded, killing Secretary of State Abel Upshur 
and several others.3
    The extension of slavery into the territories was the most 
perplexing issue to face Congress during Hamlin's long career in the 
House and Senate. His state of Maine had entered the Union as a result 
of the Missouri Compromise, which admitted one free state for every 
slave state. But in 1846, when the United States entered a war with 
Mexico, the prospects of vast new conquered territories south of the 
Missouri Compromise line raised the question of the parameters of 
slavery. Hamlin joined with other radical antislavery men in the House 
to devise an amendment that would prohibit the introduction of slavery 
into any territory taken from Mexico as a result of the war. 
Pennsylvania Representative David Wilmot was selected to introduce the 
measure, which became known as the Wilmot Proviso. Hamlin introduced his 
own version of the proviso on an army appropriations bill, much to the 
anger of Democratic President James K. Polk. ``Mr. Hamlin professes to 
be a democrat,'' the president wrote in his diary, ``but has given 
indications during the present session that he is dissatisfied, and is 
pursuing a mischievous course . . . on the slavery question.'' The 
president attributed Hamlin's stand to a patronage quarrel with the 
administration, but Hamlin stood squarely on principle. ``I have no 
doubt that the whole North will come to the position I have taken,'' he 
said. ``Some damned rascals who may be desirous of disposing of myself, 
will mutter & growl about abolitionism but I do not care the snap of my 
fingers for them all.'' 4

                         The Free Soil Challenge

    In the House, Hamlin encountered many of the men with whom he would 
serve and against whom he would contend for the rest of his long career. 
Among others, he met Representatives Abraham Lincoln of Illinois, Andrew 
Johnson of Tennessee, and Jefferson Davis of Mississippi. He and Davis 
sparred frequently in the House and Senate over slavery. Tempers between 
the two men rose to such a level that for the only time in his life 
Hamlin thought it prudent to carry a pistol for self-protection. The 
unexpected death of Senator John Fairfield from malpractice by an 
incompetent physician opened a Senate seat from Maine, which Hamlin was 
elected to fill in 1848. That same year, antislavery Whigs and Democrats 
united to form a Free Soil party that nominated Martin Van Buren for 
president. Although Hamlin approved of their antislavery platform and 
had supported Van Buren in the past, he could not bring himself to 
abandon his party--to which he owed his Senate seat. As a Democratic 
senator, Hamlin strongly opposed Henry Clay's proposed Compromise of 
1850. If the bill spread slavery into the West, he declared, ``it will 
not be with my vote.'' 5
    As a temperance man, Senator Hamlin was distressed by the drinking 
habits of his colleagues. He observed that New York Senator Silas Wright 
was never sober and even sipped whiskey while he addressed the Senate. 
Hamlin estimated that as many as a third of the senators were drunk by 
the end of a daily session and that after a long executive session (held 
behind closed doors) two-thirds of the members left inebriated. Nor did 
he approve of the ruffianly tendencies and tempers of some senators. 
After a dispute between Senator Thomas Hart Benton and Henry S. Foote, 
in which Foote pulled a pistol on the Senate floor, Hamlin wrote in 
disgust to a friend, ``Don't you think the American Senate is a 
dignified body!!!!!!!!'' 6

                        Woolheads Versus Wildcats

    The slavery issue split the Maine Democratic party into two 
factions. Hamlin's antislavery faction won the name ``Woolheads'' from 
its opponents. The Woolheads in turn labeled their adversaries, who 
opposed the Wilmot Proviso, ``Wildcats.'' In addition to the slavery 
issue, temperance also divided the two factions, with Hamlin's 
``Woolheads'' supporting prohibition laws and the ``Wildcats'' opposing 
them. In 1854, Hamlin denounced Senator Stephen Douglas' efforts to 
enact the Kansas-Nebraska bill and repeal the Missouri Compromise. 
``Shall we repeal freedom and make slavery?'' he asked. ``It comes to 
that.'' When the bill passed the Senate by a vote of 37 to 14, Hamlin 
was among only four Democrats to vote against it.7
    As political turmoil reigned, Hamlin's attention was distracted by 
the illness of his wife, Sarah Jane Hamlin. Both Hannibal and Sarah 
Hamlin loved Washington's social life of dances, receptions, card 
playing, and theater-going. The senator, she wrote home to their son, 
``has had about ten invitations a week to dine, and he enjoys them very 
much, you know how much he enjoys a good dinner.'' But Sarah's health 
declined so severely in 1855 that for a while he considered resigning 
his Senate seat. Sarah Jane Hamlin died from tuberculosis in April 1856. 
That September, Hamlin married his wife's younger half-sister, Ellen, 
who was the same age as one of his sons. Characterized as plain but 
witty and warm-hearted, she bore two more of his children and offered 
him companionship through the rest of his long life.8

                          Becoming a Republican

    To some degree, Sarah's illness provided political cover for 
Hannibal Hamlin at a time when he was under intense pressure to abandon 
the Democrats in favor of the newly formed Republican party. Republican 
leaders were anxious for the popular Hamlin to join their party to 
balance the radicals who threatened to gain control. ``We have a great 
many men in our party who go off half cocked,'' wrote the young editor 
and politico, James G. Blaine. ``They must be made to ride in the rear 
of the car instead of in the engine or else we are in constant danger of 
being thrown from the track.'' In 1856, Republicans wanted Hamlin to 
head their ticket as the Republican candidate for governor of Maine. 
Hamlin clung to his old party as long as he could, and also had no 
desire to leave the Senate. However, Republicans warned him that refusal 
to run for governor would end any chance of his being returned to the 
Senate. Hamlin agreed to run for governor, but only if the legislature 
would send him back to the Senate as soon as possible. An effective 
campaigner, Hamlin canvassed the state. Republicans won a smashing 
victory over both Whigs and Democrats, sweeping all six congressional 
districts and carrying the legislature. Since Maine's elections were 
held in September (because of the state's harsh winter weather), the 
early victory gave a psychological boost to the national Republican 
campaign that year. Hamlin won widespread credit for helping Republicans 
broaden their electoral base.9
    Inaugurated governor on January 8, 1857, Hamlin resigned on February 
25 to begin his third term as senator. In Washington he provided the 
Republicans with a strong voice against the ``doughface'' policies of 
James Buchanan's administration. (It was a decidedly Maine ``Down East'' 
voice, with Hamlin pronouncing ``now'' as ``ne-a-ow,'' for instance.) 
While boarding at the St. Charles Hotel in Washington, Hamlin became 
reacquainted and favorably impressed with Andrew Johnson of Tennessee, 
with whom he had served in the House and who had just been elected to 
the Senate. As the 1860 elections approached, some Maine Republicans 
viewed Hamlin as a possible favorite-son candidate, in case the 
frontrunner, New York Senator William Seward, should falter. But James 
G. Blaine worked the Maine delegation to the Republican National 
Convention in favor of Abraham Lincoln's nomination. On the train ride 
to Chicago, Blaine convinced Governor Lot Morrill and other delegates to 
throw their support to Lincoln. When Lincoln upset Seward, the vice-
presidential nomination was offered first to the Seward camp. The 
disappointed Seward men put no one forward for the second spot. There 
was strong support among the delegates for Cassius M. Clay, the Kentucky 
abolitionist, but Republican party leaders thought him too radical. By 
contrast, Hamlin seemed a more ``natural'' choice, more moderate, but 
with a spotless record against slavery, and a friend of Seward's in the 
Senate. Hamlin won the nomination on the second ballot.10
    The nomination came as a shock to Hannibal Hamlin. While playing 
cards in his Washington hotel room, Hamlin heard a racket in the 
corridor. The door burst open and the room filled with excited men, led 
by Indiana Congressman Schuyler Colfax, who read a telegram from the 
convention and addressed him as ``Mr. Vice-President.'' Stunned, Hamlin 
said he did not want the office, but Ohio Senator Ben Wade warned him 
that to decline would only give ammunition to the Democrats, suggesting 
that he was afraid to run on a losing ticket. Hamlin agreed, whispering 
to Wade and Colfax: ``You people have spoiled a good lone hand I held.'' 
Afterwards, writing to his wife, Hamlin explained: ``I neither expected 
or desired it. But it has been made and as a faithful man to the cause, 
it leaves me no alternative but to accept it.'' At least, he conceded, 
the duties of the office would ``not be hard or unpleasant.'' Whether in 
cards or in politics, Hamlin had a lucky streak. As Blaine observed: 
``He always turns up on the winning side.'' 11


    During the campaign, both Lincoln and Hamlin considered it prudent 
to make no speeches. However, Hamlin assured Lincoln, ``While I have 
been silent, I have never been so busy thro' the Press and by personal 
effort endeavoring to strengthen the weak points all along the line.'' 
After Maine Republicans swept the September elections, Hamlin traveled 
to Boston in October to march in a torchlight parade, accompanied by 
Maine lumberjacks, Penobscot Indians, and party stalwarts. One of the 
favorite signs combined the ticket into a single name: ``Abra/Hamlin/
coln.'' On a less friendly note, southerners denounced Lincoln and 
Hamlin as a radical abolitionists. Going even further, Robert Barnwell 
Rhett, editor of the Charleston [S.C.] Mercury, wrote that ``Hamlin is 
what we call a mulatto. He has black blood in him.'' An amused New 
Yorker, George Templeton Strong, observed that Hamlin seemed ``a 
vigorous specimen of the pure Yankee type. His complexion is so swarthy 
that I cannot wonder at the demented South for believing him a 
mulatto.'' 12
    Once the election had been won, Lincoln summoned Hamlin to meet him 
in Chicago on November 22. After some casual initial conversation--
Hamlin noted that Lincoln had started to grow a beard, and both men 
reminisced about hearing each other's speeches during their term 
together in the House of Representatives--they got down to work. Lincoln 
wanted to discuss the composition of his cabinet and knew that Hamlin, 
as a senator, had worked with and taken the measure of many of the men 
he was considering for appointment. Lincoln was especially concerned 
about attracting his former rival, William Seward, into the cabinet as 
secretary of state. When the Senate convened in December, Senator Hamlin 
carried notes from Lincoln to Seward and pressed his colleague to accept 
the offer, which he did. Hamlin also successfully promoted Gideon Welles 
of Connecticut as a New England candidate for the cabinet as secretary 
of the navy. These early dealings hinted that Hamlin might play a more 
active role in the administration than had previous vice presidents. It 
soon turned out, however, that Hamlin's usefulness to Lincoln was tied 
mostly to his role as a senior senator and subsided almost as soon as he 
vacated his Senate seat for the vice-presidency.13
    The Lincoln-Hamlin victory triggered the secession of the southern 
states. When asked by a friend from Maine what the future would hold, 
the new vice president replied, ``there's going to be a war, and a 
terrible one, just as surely as the sun will rise to-morrow.'' Congress 
was out of session and Hamlin was in Maine when word came that 
Confederates had fired on Fort Sumter. The vice president devoted 
himself to raising a Maine regiment to fight for the Union. On his way 
back to Washington, Hamlin stopped in New York City, where he complied 
with President Lincoln's request to keep him advised daily on what 
troops were leaving New York to protect the capital.14

                        ``A Contingent Somebody''

    When the Senate convened on the Fourth of July in 1861 to take the 
legislative actions necessary for raising and funding an army for the 
Union, Vice President Hamlin discovered that he had far less power and 
patronage as vice president than he had as a senator. The loss of 
patronage particularly galled Hamlin, who was ``noted for his fidelity 
to political friends.'' He also felt unhappy over being relegated to 
serving as an inactive observer of events. Hamlin considered himself the 
most unimportant man in Washington, ignored equally by the 
administration and the senators. He called his job ``a fifth wheel on a 
coach'' and identified the vice president as ``a contingent somebody.'' 
When Jessie Benton Fremont asked Hamlin to intervene in favor of a new 
military command for her husband, the vice president replied: ``What can 
I do? The slow and unsatisfactory movements of the Government do not 
meet with my approbation, and that is known, and of course I am not 
consulted at all, nor do I think there is much disposition in any 
quarter to regard any counsel I may give much if at all.'' 15
    Reflecting later on his office, Hamlin told an interviewer:
        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.
Hamlin explained that he soon saw that his office was a ``nullity'' in 
Washington. He tried not to intrude upon the president, but always gave 
Lincoln his views, and when asked, his advice.16
    Moreover, Hamlin found presiding over the Senate so boring that he 
was frequently absent. In contrast to his service as a senator, when he 
rarely missed a day of a session, as vice president he would leave for 
Maine well before the end of a session, turning his duties over to the 
president pro tempore. Hamlin's inattentiveness to Senate proceedings 
became an embarrassment when the Delaware Democrat Willard Saulsbury 
launched into a savage attack on President Lincoln as ``a weak and 
imbecile man.'' Republican senators objected that the remarks were not 
in order, but Vice President Hamlin had to admit that ``[t]he Chair was 
not listening to what the Senator from Delaware was saying, and did not 
hear the words.'' To this Saulsbury replied, ``That is the fault of the 
Chair, and not of the Senator who was addressing the Chair.'' Hamlin 
finally ordered Saulsbury to be seated for questioning the motives of 
the senators who had raised the objection, and when Saulsbury refused to 
comply, the vice president ordered the sergeant at arms to place the 
senator in custody. After a brief conversation, Saulsbury accompanied 
the assistant sergeant at arms out of the chamber.16
    Hamlin attributed Saulsbury's belligerence to his drinking. ``He was 
very drunk--beastly so on the night of the transaction,'' the vice 
president wrote. ``It was a most disgraceful scene.'' As a temperance 
man, Hamlin determined to banish liquor from the Senate chamber and 
committee rooms. The combination of his rule outlawing the sale of 
liquor in the Senate restaurant and the departure of the hard-drinking 
southern senators after secession sobered the institution. One visitor 
to the Capitol noted, ``A few Senators were seen walking with unsteady 
gait from the cloak room to their desks, but thanks to the firmness of 
Hannibal Hamlin, the Senate became a pleasant place to the sober people 
who had to live there.'' 17
    Throughout the war, Hamlin identified more with the frustrated 
congressional radicals than with the more cautious President Lincoln. 
Those around Lincoln concluded that the vice president was not in close 
sympathy with the president but ``was known as one who passively rather 
than actively strengthened a powerful cabal of Republican leaders in 
their aggressive hostility to Lincoln and his general policy.'' Lincoln 
did not appear to hold this against Hamlin. As one newspaper 
correspondent of the era observed: ``Lincoln measured the men about him 
at their value. He knew their worth, their fidelity, and in no sense 
distrusted them.'' He did not require absolute loyalty in order to use a 
person. Hamlin, for instance, was among those who pressed Lincoln hard 
to issue an emancipation proclamation. Fearing at first that such a 
measure would divide the North, Lincoln resisted until he believed he 
could use the issue as a military advantage, to give a nobler purpose to 
the war. When Lincoln first drafted a proclamation, he invited Hamlin to 
dinner and let him be the first to see the document, asking for his 
suggestions. Hamlin later described Lincoln as ``much moved at the step 
he was taking.'' 18

                         Dumped from the Ticket

    Despite Hamlin's grumbling about the powerlessness of the vice-
presidency, he was willing to stand for reelection in 1864. Hamlin 
assumed that Lincoln supported his nomination, but the president--an 
entirely pragmatic politician--doubted that Hamlin would add much 
strength to the ticket in what was sure to be a difficult reelection 
campaign, with the survival of the nation at stake. Maine would vote 
Republican whether or not Hamlin was on the ticket, and he carried 
little weight in any other state. Lincoln sent emissaries to sound out 
several prominent War Democrats, among them Tennessee's war governor, 
Andrew Johnson. As the thinking went, to nominate a southerner like 
Johnson would be a way to ``nationalize the Republican party.'' At the 
convention, to the surprise of Hamlin's supporters, the Tennessee 
governor outpolled the vice president on the first ballot and went on to 
win the nomination on the second. ``To be Vice President is clearly not 
to be anything more than a reflected greatness,'' Secretary of the 
Senate John W. Forney wrote to console Hamlin. ``You know how it is with 
the Prince of Wales or the Heir Apparent. He is waiting for somebody to 
die, and that is all of it.'' Hamlin maintained a dignified silence but 
was vexed by his defeat. Years later he wrote: ``I was dragged out of 
the Senate, against my wishes--tried to do my whole duty, and was then 
unceremoniously `whistled down the wind.' While I have never complained 
to any one, I did not fail to feel and know how I was treated.'' 
    During the summer of 1864, the lame-duck vice president briefly 
served in the Union army. When the war began in 1861, Hamlin had 
enlisted as a private in the Maine Coast Guard. His unit was called to 
active duty in 1864 and ordered to report to Fort McClary, at Kittery, 
Maine. Although Hamlin could have accepted a purely honorary place on 
the roll, he insisted upon active service. ``I am the Vice-President of 
the United States, but I am also a private citizen, and as an enlisted 
member of your company, I am bound to do my duty.'' He added, ``I aspire 
only to be a high private in the rear ranks, and keep step with the boys 
in blue.'' Promoted to corporal, Hamlin reported on July 7, drilled, and 
did guard duty and kitchen patrol along with the rest of the enlisted 
men. As vice president, however, he was assigned to officers' quarters. 
When his tour of duty ended in September, he left the company to 
campaign for the Republican ticket, first in Maine, and then down 
through New England to New York and Pennsylvania, doing what he could to 
aid Lincoln's reelection.20
    In the Vice President's Room in the Capitol on inauguration day, 
Hamlin's successor, Andrew Johnson, approached him with a request. ``Mr. 
Hamlin, I am not well, and need a stimulant,'' he said. ``Have you any 
whiskey?'' Hamlin explained that he had prohibited the sale of liquor in 
the Capitol, but when Johnson pressed his request, a messenger was sent 
to procure a bottle. Johnson poured a tumbler and downed it straight, 
then had two more drinks before going onto the Senate floor to give an 
embarrassingly drunken inaugural address. Recounting the scene later, 
Hamlin privately commented that if Johnson ordinarily drank that way, 
``he must be able to stand a great deal.''
    A few weeks after Hamlin returned to Maine, on the morning of April 
15, 1865, he encountered a group of sorrowful men on the street in 
Bangor, who informed him that Lincoln had been assassinated. Hamlin 
boarded a steamer for Washington to attend the president's funeral. At 
the White House, he stood side by side with Andrew Johnson at Lincoln's 
casket, causing those who saw them to note the irony that Hamlin had 
within a matter of weeks missed the presidency. None could have realized 
how differently the nation's history might have developed if Lincoln had 
been succeeded by Hamlin, who favored a Radical Reconstruction of the 
South, rather than by Johnson, who opposed it.21

                A Post-Vice-Presidential Political Career

    After Hamlin's defeat for renomination as vice president, Lincoln 
had considered appointing him secretary of the treasury but concluded 
that ``Hamlin has the Senate on the brain and nothing more or less will 
cure him.'' However, Hamlin was outmaneuvered for the Senate seat by his 
Maine Republican rival, William Pitt Fessenden. Massachusetts Senator 
Charles Sumner instead recommended that Hamlin be appointed collector of 
the port of Boston, and President Johnson made the nomination. In time, 
Hamlin became dismayed over Johnson's policies on Reconstruction and his 
abandonment of the rights of the freedmen. As other Republican 
officeholders resigned in protest, many looked to Hamlin to join them, 
but he held onto his collectorship. Finally, the governor of Maine wrote 
to Hamlin that his resignation would ``strike a lofty note'' and set a 
``high example'' of sacrifice for principles. Realizing that his 
political future depended upon distancing himself from Johnson, Hamlin 
abandoned the office with a blast at the president.22
    In 1868, against his wishes, Hamlin's name was put forward as a 
vice-presidential candidate on the ticket headed by U.S. Grant, but the 
nomination went to House Speaker Schuyler Colfax. At last in 1869 Hamlin 
was elected to another term in the Senate. He returned as a respected 
elder statesman and served two terms. One journalist who met Senator 
Hamlin in 1871 described him as attired in an antique blue swallow-
tailed coat with big brass buttons, the type worn by antebellum 
statesmen. Hamlin mistook the journalist for a resident of Maine ``and 
with the amiable humbug habit of many years wrung my hand warmly and 
affectionately inquired for the folks at the farm.'' The journalist took 
no offense, recognizing that ``this trick of pretending remembrance is a 
venial sin with politicians and head waiters, great and small.'' Still, 
the incident gave an indication of how Hamlin had survived in politics 
for so long.23
    In 1877, Hamlin fainted in the Senate Republican cloakroom, the 
first signs of his heart disease. He chose not to stand for reelection 
in 1880. The election that year of James Garfield as president made 
Maine's James G. Blaine secretary of state. Garfield and Blaine 
appointed Hamlin minister to Spain, a post that carried few duties and 
allowed him to make an extended tour of the European continent. The most 
amusing part of his brief diplomatic tenure was that the various foreign 
ministers he met ``seemed to regard as of great importance'' the fact 
that he had served as vice president. Hamlin retired from public service 
in 1882. He made his last public appearance at a Republican Club dinner 
at Delmonico's in honor of Lincoln's birthday in February 1891. There he 
was toasted as ``The Surviving Standard-Bearer of 1860,'' to thunderous 
applause. A few months later, on the Fourth of July in 1891, thirty 
years to the day after he convened the Senate at the start of the Civil 
War, Hannibal Hamlin walked from his home to the Tarratine Club of 
Bangor, Maine. He had founded the social club, served as its president, 
and went there every afternoon (except Sunday) to play cards. While 
seated at the card table, Hamlin collapsed and fell unconscious, dying 
that night at the age of eighty-one.24
                            HANNIBAL HAMLIN2


    1 See William E. Gienapp, The Origins of the Republican 
Party, 1852-1856 (New York, 1987).
    2 Charles Eugene Hamlin, The Life and Times of Hannibal 
Hamlin (Cambridge, MA, 1899), pp. 7-8; H. Draper Hunt, Hannibal Hamlin 
of Maine: Lincoln's First Vice-President (Syracuse, NY, 1969), pp. 1-11; 
Mark Scroggins, Hannibal: The Life of Abraham Lincoln's First Vice 
President (Lanham, MD, 1994), pp. 4-19.
    3 Hunt, pp. 23-26.
    4 Ibid., pp. 40-41; Scroggins, pp. 34-58.
    5 Hunt, pp. 44-47, 63; Hamlin, pp. 72-181; Frederick J. 
Blue, The Free Soilers: Third Party Politics, 1848-54 (Urbana, IL, 
1973), pp. 97-100.
    6 Hunt, pp. 48, 62. See description of the incident in 
Chapter 12 of this volume, ``Millard Fillmore,'' p. 175.
    7 Hunt, pp. 68, 81; Gienapp, pp. 47, 77.
    8 Hunt, pp. 84-85; Scroggins, pp. 102-5, 117-18.
    9 Gienapp, pp. 208, 390-94.
    10 Hunt, pp. 114-18, 152; John Russell Young, Men and 
Memories, Personal Reminiscences (New York, 1901), pp. 48-50; Hans L. 
Trefousse, Andrew Johnson: A Biography (New York, 1989), p. 115.
    11 Hunt, pp. 118-19; Hamlin, p. 580.
    12 Hunt, pp. 121, 125-26, 152; Hamlin, pp. 354-55, 359.
    13 Hunt, pp. 127, 133; Hamlin, pp. 366-75.
    14 Hunt, pp. 148, 153.
    15 Ibid, p. 155; Benjamin Perley Poore, Perley's 
Reminiscences of Sixty Years in the National Metropolis (Philadelphia, 
1886), 2:97-98.
    16 ``Conversation with Hon. H. Hamlin,'' April 8, 1879, 
in Michael Burlingame, ed., An Oral History of Abraham Lincoln: John G. 
Nicolay's Interviews and Essays (Carbondale, IL, 1996), pp. 67-68.
    16 Hunt, pp. 157-58.
    17 Ibid, pp. 158, 188; Hamlin, p. 497.
    18 Hunt, pp. 160, 189; Young, p. 54.
    19 David Donald, Lincoln (New York, 1995), pp. 503-6; 
Hunt, pp. 177-89; Hamlin, pp. 461-89; James G. Blaine, Twenty Years of 
Congress: From Lincoln to Garfield (Norwich, CT, 1884), p. 522; David 
Donald, Charles Sumner and the Rights of Man (New York, 1970), pp. 169-
    20 Scroggins, pp. 210-12.
    21 Hamlin, p. 497; Hunt, p. 200; Poore, pp. 159-60.
    22 Scroggins, pp. 213-15; Hunt, pp. 194, 200; Beverly 
Wilson Palmer, ed., The Selected Letters of Charles Sumner (Boston, 
1990), 2:326-27.
    23 Edward P. Mitchell, Memoirs of an Editor (New York, 
1924), p. 314.
    24 Hunt, pp. 221, 250; Eric Foner,  Reconstruction: 
America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 (New York, 1988), p. 266.

                               Chapter 16

                             ANDREW JOHNSON


                             ANDREW JOHNSON
                             ANDREW JOHNSON

                               Chapter 16

                             ANDREW JOHNSON

                        16th Vice President: 1865

          The inauguration went off very well except that the Vice 
      President Elect was too drunk to perform his duties & 
      disgraced himself & the Senate by making a drunken foolish 
                                  --Senator Zachariah Chandler
    Vice President-elect Andrew Johnson arrived in Washington ill from 
typhoid fever. The night before his March 4, 1865, inauguration, he 
fortified himself with whiskey at a party hosted by his old friend, 
Secretary of the Senate John W. Forney. The next morning, hung over and 
confronting cold, wet, and windy weather, Johnson proceeded to the 
Capitol office of Vice President Hannibal Hamlin, where he complained of 
feeling weak and asked for a tumbler of whiskey. Drinking it straight, 
he quickly consumed two more. Then, growing red in the face, Johnson 
entered the overcrowded and overheated Senate chamber. After Hamlin 
delivered a brief and stately valedictory, Johnson rose unsteadily to 
harangue the distinguished crowd about his humble origins and his 
triumph over the rebel aristocracy. In the shocked and silent audience, 
President Abraham Lincoln showed an expression of ``unutterable 
sorrow,'' while Senator Charles Sumner covered his face with his hands. 
Former Vice President Hamlin tugged vainly at Johnson's coattails, 
trying to cut short his remarks. After Johnson finally quieted, took the 
oath of office, and kissed the Bible, he tried to swear in the new 
senators, but became so confused that he had to turn the job over to a 
Senate clerk.1
    Without a doubt it had been the most inauspicious beginning to any 
vice-presidency. ``The inauguration went off very well except that the 
Vice President Elect was too drunk to perform his duties & disgraced 
himself & the Senate by making a drunken foolish speech,'' Michigan 
Republican Senator Zachariah Chandler wrote home to his wife. ``I was 
never so mortified in my life, had I been able to find a hole I would 
have dropped through it out of sight.'' Johnson presided over the Senate 
on March 6 but, still feeling unwell, he then went into seclusion at the 
home of an old friend in Silver Spring, Maryland. He returned to the 
Senate only on the last day of the special session, March 11. Rumors 
that had him on a drunken spree led some Radical Republicans to draft a 
resolution calling for Johnson's resignation. Others talked of 
impeachment. President Lincoln, however, assured callers that he still 
had confidence in Johnson, whom he had known for years, observing, ``It 
has been a severe lesson for Andy, but I do not think he will do it 
again.'' 2

                              Plebian Roots

    Lost in his muddled inaugural was Johnson's celebration of his 
dramatic rise from ``plebeian'' roots. He had been born in a log cabin 
in Raleigh, North Carolina, on December 29, 1808, to Jacob Johnson, an 
illiterate bank porter and city constable, and his wife, Mary, known as 
``Polly the Weaver'' for her work as a seamstress and laundress. When 
Andrew was three his father died. His mother remarried and later 
apprenticed her sons William and Andrew at James Selby's tailor shop. 
Young Andy Johnson was something of a hell-raiser and at fifteen he and 
his brother got into trouble by pelting a neighbor's house with pieces 
of wood. When the woman threatened to sue, the boys fled from Raleigh, 
causing their employer Selby to post a ten-dollar reward for their 
    Johnson went to Laurens, South Carolina, where he worked in a tailor 
shop. He fell in love with a local girl, but her mother objected to her 
marriage with a penniless tailor. Disappointed, he abandoned South 
Carolina and walked to Tennessee. There he worked in a tailor shop and 
in 1827 married Eliza McCardle, daughter of a Greenville shoemaker. 
Eliza did not teach her husband to read, as some stories later had it, 
but she aided his further efforts at self-education. Short, stocky, and 
swarthy, but always impeccably dressed, as befitted his trade, Johnson 
built a solid business as a tailor, invested in real estate, raised a 
growing family, joined a debating society, and won the title ``Colonel 
Johnson'' for his rank in the state militia. With his steadily 
increasing wealth and status, he also bought a few slaves. A staunch 
supporter of the Democrat Andrew Jackson, Johnson became active in local 
politics. In 1829, he won his first race as alderman. He was chosen 
mayor of Greenville in 1834 and elected to the Tennessee state 
legislature the following year. In the legislature he introduced a 
homesteading bill that would give poor men 160 acres of public land if 
they would live on it--a measure he persisted in pushing when he moved 
to the U.S. Congress, until it became federal law in 1862.4

                         A Rising Political Star

    Tennessee Democrats, spotting Andrew Johnson as a rising star and a 
pugnacious debater, sent him around the state to campaign for their 
ticket in the 1840 election. Governor James K. Polk received reports 
that Johnson was ``a strongminded man who cuts when he does cut not with 
a razor but with a case knife.'' In 1843, Johnson won election to the 
U.S. House of Representatives, where he attracted attention as an 
outspoken and unbending defender of Jeffersonian-Jacksonian principles. 
He opposed Whig programs for protective tariffs and internal 
improvements as unnecessary public expenditures. He proposed cutting the 
number of government clerks, voted against raising soldiers' pay, 
assailed military academies as aristocratic, opposed purchasing 
paintings of past presidents for the White House, and opposed accepting 
the funds bequeathed to the United States by James Smithson to create a 
Smithsonian Institution, on the grounds that if the funds were unwisely 
invested the taxpayers would have to support the enterprise. Among those 
with whom he served in Congress who had the opportunity to take his full 
measure were the Whig representative from Illinois, Abraham Lincoln, and 
the Democratic representative from Mississippi, Jefferson Davis. Johnson 
particularly sparred with Davis, whom he portrayed as part of the 
South's ``illegitimate, swaggering, bastard, scrub aristocracy.'' 
    In 1852, Tennessee elected Johnson governor. During his term he 
succeeded in enacting tax-supported public education for his state. He 
won reelection over intense opposition and served until 1856, when the 
legislature elected him to the U.S. Senate. Once more, Johnson pressed 
for passage of a Homestead bill, which he succeeded in moving through 
Congress in 1860, only to have it vetoed by President James Buchanan. 
While Johnson was preoccupied with his Homestead bill, his party was 
breaking up over the issue of slavery in the territories. In 1860, 
Johnson supported the Southern Democratic candidate, John C. 
Breckinridge, but he strenuously opposed the secessionists within his 
party. After Lincoln's election, Johnson fought to keep Tennessee in the 
Union. To Andrew Johnson, secession appeared simply a continuation of 
John C. Calhoun's discredited policy of nullification, against which his 
hero Andrew Jackson had stood his ground. Johnson threw his support 
behind Lincoln as the new embodiment of Jackson.6

                              War Democrat

    In the spring of 1861, Johnson took the train from Washington back 
to Tennessee and was mobbed at several stops in Virginia. The senator 
had to pull a pistol to defend himself. Although Union sympathies were 
strong in the eastern mountains of Tennessee, where Johnson's hometown 
of Greenville was located, he found Confederate flags flying around the 
town. There were enough Union sympathizers in Tennessee to defeat an 
effort to call a state convention to secede, but after the firing on 
Fort Sumter, sentiment in the state swung more heavily to the 
Confederates. To avoid arrest, Johnson left Tennessee and returned to 
the Senate. As the only southern senator to remain loyal to the Union 
after his state seceded, Johnson became a hero in the North. As a leader 
of the ``War Democrats,'' he denounced ``Peace Democrats'' and defended 
President Lincoln's use of wartime executive power. ``I say, Let the 
battle go on--it is Freedom's cause. . . . Do not talk about Republicans 
now; do not talk about Democrats now; do not talk about Whigs or 
Americans now; talk about your Country and the Constitution and the 
Union.'' 7
    When federal troops conquered Nashville and its immediate vicinity, 
President Lincoln sent Andrew Johnson back to Tennessee in 1862 as war 
governor. Johnson still identified himself as a Democrat, but as one who 
put the Union before party. He denounced the state's aristocratic 
planting class who had supported the war, and said that if freeing their 
slaves would help to end the war, then he was in favor of emancipation. 
``Treason,'' he said, in a much-publicized quote, ``must be made odious 
and traitors punished.'' In 1863, Tennessee held elections for a 
civilian government. Much to Johnson's chagrin, a conservative, 
proslavery candidate won the race for governor. President Lincoln wired 
Johnson to ignore the results and not recognize the new governor. ``Let 
the reconstruction be the work of such men only as can be trusted for 
the Union,'' Lincoln instructed. ``Exclude all others. . . . Get 
emancipation into your new state constitution.'' Following Lincoln's 
advice, Johnson made anyone who wished to vote take an oath of loyalty, 
which was then followed by a six-month waiting period. Since this meant 
that only those who had opposed the Confederacy could vote, Johnson's 
Radical forces swept the next state elections.8
    Lincoln faced a difficult campaign for reelection in 1864, and he 
doubted that his vice president, Maine Republican Hannibal Hamlin, would 
add much to his ticket. Officially, the president maintained a hands-off 
attitude toward the choice of a vice president, but privately he sent 
emissaries to several War Democrats as potential candidates on a fusion 
ticket. General Benjamin F. Butler let the president know he had no 
interest in the second spot, but Johnson of Tennessee and Daniel S. 
Dickinson of New York both expressed eagerness to be considered. 
Secretary of State William Seward, who counted New York as his own 
political base, wanted no part of Dickinson in the cabinet and threw his 
weight behind Johnson. The fearless, tough-minded war governor of 
Tennessee captured the imagination of the delegates. As John W. Forney 
judged Johnson's wartime record: ``His speeches were sound, his measures 
bold, his administration a fair success.'' Johnson won the nomination on 
the first ballot.9

                        Becoming a Household Word

    During the campaign, the great Republican orator Robert G. Ingersoll 
wrote to Johnson saying:
  The people want to see and hear you. The name of Andrew Johnson 
         has become a household word all over the great West, and 
        you are regarded by the people of Illinois as the grandest 
                            example of loyalty in the whole South.
    Traveling to Logansport, Indiana, in October, Johnson told the crowd 
that a Democratic newspaper had accused the Republicans of nominating 
``a rail-splitter'' at the head of their ticket and ``a boorish tailor'' 
at its tail. Rather than see this as a rebuke, Johnson took pride in 
having risen up ``from the mass of the people.'' The aristocrats were 
offended that he was a tailor, he said, but he had learned ``that if a 
man does not disgrace his profession, it never disgraces him.'' Johnson 
acquitted himself well during the campaign but at times had trouble 
restraining himself in the excitement of facing a crowd, whether hostile 
or supportive. Late in October 1864 he addressed a large rally of 
African Americans in Nashville. Johnson noted that, since Lincoln's 
emancipation proclamation had not covered territories like Tennessee 
that were already under Union control, he had issued his own 
proclamation freeing the slaves in Tennessee. He also asserted that 
society would be improved if the great plantations were divided into 
many small farms and sold to honest farmers. Looking out over the crowd 
and commenting on the storm of persecution through which his listeners 
had passed, he wished that a Moses might arise to ``lead them safely to 
their promised land of freedom and happiness.'' ``You are our Moses,'' 
shouted people in the crowd. ``We want no Moses but you!'' ``Well, 
then,'' replied Johnson, ``humble and unworthy as I am, if no other 
better shall be found, I will indeed by your Moses, and lead you through 
the Red Sea of war and bondage, to a fairer future of liberty and 
peace.'' 10

                             Vice President

    Success on the battlefield brought Lincoln and Johnson victory in 
the election of 1864. As the Civil War approached its end, the equally 
monumental challenge of reconstructing the Union lay ahead. In Congress, 
the Radical Republicans wanted a victor's peace, enforced by federal 
troops, that would allow the former Confederate states to return to the 
Union only on terms that protected the rights of the freedmen. They 
offered their plan as the Wade-Davis bill of 1864, which Lincoln killed 
by a pocket veto. Lincoln wanted to be free to pursue a more lenient, 
flexible approach to Reconstruction. Having gotten the United States 
into the Civil War during a congressional recess in 1861, Lincoln 
anticipated ending the war and reconstructing the South during the long 
recess between March and December 1865. He presumed that his new vice 
president would be in sympathy with these plans, since in July 1864 
Johnson had congratulated Lincoln on his veto of the Wade-Davis bill, 
saying that ``the real union men'' were satisfied with the president's 
    The vice president-elect hesitated in leaving Tennessee. In January 
1865, Johnson wrote to Lincoln pointing out that the final abolition of 
slavery in Tennessee could not be taken up until the new civilian 
legislature met that April. He wanted to remain as war governor until 
that time, before handing power over to the elected representatives of 
the people. Johnson suggested that his inaugural as vice president be 
delayed until April. His friend, John W. Forney, secretary of the 
Senate, had checked the records and found that several vice presidents 
(John Adams, George Clinton, Elbridge Gerry, Daniel Tompkins, Martin Van 
Buren, and William R. King) were sworn in on dates after March 4. With 
the war still underway, however, Lincoln replied that he and his cabinet 
unanimously believed that Johnson must be in Washington by March 4. Had 
Johnson not complied, he might not have taken the oath of office before 
Lincoln's death on April 14, adding more constitutional confusion to the 
aftermath of the assassination.12

                          An Assassination Plot

    During Johnson's six weeks as vice president, he faced greater 
danger than he knew. The assassination plot that would make Johnson 
president included him as a target. The circle of conspirators that John 
Wilkes Booth had gathered at Mrs. Mary Surratt's boardinghouse had at 
first planned to capture President Lincoln and whisk him off to the 
Confederacy. But the war was ending sooner than they anticipated, and 
when the attempted capture went awry, Booth decided to kill Lincoln, 
Vice President Johnson, and Secretary of State William H. Seward, 
thereby throwing the North into confusion and anarchy. Booth intended to 
kill Lincoln himself, and assigned Lewis Payne to assassinate Seward. 
For the vice president, whom he considered the least important victim, 
Booth assigned his weakest partner, George Atzerodt. A German carriage 
maker from Port Tobacco, Maryland, Atzerodt had spent the war years 
ferrying Confederates across the Potomac River to circumvent the Union 
    On the morning of April 14, 1865, Atzerodt registered at Kirkwood 
House, a hotel at the corner of Twelfth Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, 
between the White House and the Capitol. He took a room almost directly 
above the ground-floor suite occupied by the vice president. So 
incompetent at conspiracy was Atzerodt that he signed his right name to 
the hotel register. His notion of surveillance was to spend the 
afternoon in the hotel bar asking suspicious questions about the vice 
president and his guard. Sufficiently fortified with liquor, Atzerodt 
armed himself and asked the desk clerk to point out the vice president's 
suite. When informed that Johnson had just come back to his rooms, 
Atzerodt reacted in shocked surprise, and left the hotel. Shortly 
afterwards, Johnson also left for an appointment with Lincoln.
    When Booth arrived at the Kirkwood House and learned that Atzerodt 
was gone, he lost hope that this weak man would have the nerve to carry 
out his assignment. If he could not have Johnson killed, Booth 
improvised a way of discrediting him. He asked for a blank card, which 
he filled out: ``Don't wish to disturb you. Are you at home? J. Wilkes 
Booth.'' Booth assumed that Johnson would have a hard time explaining 
the card, since it suggested that the vice president was himself part of 
the conspiracy. Fortunately for Johnson, his secretary, William A. 
Browning, picked up the mail at the desk and assumed that the card was 
for him, since he had once met Booth after a performance.
    A pounding at the door later that evening awakened Andrew Johnson. 
Rather than George Atzerodt with a pistol, the excited man at the door 
was former Wisconsin Governor Leonard Farwell, who had just come from 
Ford's Theater and who exclaimed, ``Someone has shot and murdered the 
President.'' Johnson ordered Farwell to go back to the theater to find 
out what he could about the president's condition. Farwell returned with 
the District of Columbia's provost marshal, who assured Johnson and the 
crowd that had gathered in his room that President Lincoln was dying and 
that Secretary of State William Seward was dead, as part of a gigantic 
plot (in fact, Seward had been badly wounded but not killed). Johnson 
wished to leave immediately to be with the president, but the provost 
marshal urged him to wait until order had been restored in the streets. 
At dawn, Johnson, receiving word from Secretary of War Edwin Stanton 
that Lincoln was dying, insisted on going to the president's side. 
Flanked by Governor Farwell and the provost marshal, the vice president 
walked the few blocks to the Petersen house, just across from Ford's 
Theater, where Lincoln had been carried. Admitted to the bedroom where 
the cabinet and military leaders were gathered around the president's 
deathbed, Johnson stood with his hat in his hand looking down saying 
nothing. He then took Robert Lincoln's hand, whispered a few words to 
him, conversed with Stanton, and went to another parlor to pay his 
respects to Mary Todd Lincoln. Somberly, he walked back to Kirkwood 
House. There, in his parlor, at ten o'clock that morning after Lincoln's 
death, Johnson took the oath of office from Chief Justice Salmon P. 

                           A Stormy Presidency

    Lincoln's death stunned the nation and elevated the often harshly 
criticized wartime president to a sanctified martyr. In Washington, some 
Radical Republicans viewed Lincoln's death as a godsend. They held, as 
Johnson's friend Forney wrote in the Philadelphia Press, that ``a 
sterner and less gentle hand may at this juncture have been required to 
take hold of the reins of Government.'' Johnson's fiery rhetoric in the 
Senate and as war governor, his early embrace of the ``state suicide'' 
theory that secession had reduced the southern states to the status of 
territories, to be readmitted under terms set by Congress, his call for 
expropriation of plantation lands, his authorship of the Homestead Act, 
all suggested that the new president would act more sympathetically 
toward Radical Reconstruction than would Lincoln. ``Johnson, we have 
faith in you,'' the Radical Republican Senator Ben Wade told the new 
president. ``By the Gods, there will be no trouble now in running this 
government.'' 14
    Johnson also won admiration for his gallant treatment of Mrs. 
Lincoln, who was too distraught to leave the White House for more than a 
month after her husband's death. Rather than move into the White House, 
which served as the president's office as well as his residence, 
President Johnson worked out of a suite of rooms in the Treasury 
Department (marked today by a plaque on the door). However, the spirit 
of good will evaporated almost a soon as Johnson began making decisions 
regarding Reconstruction.
    Showing a strange amalgam of political courage and ``pigheaded'' 
stubbornness, Andrew Johnson confounded both his supporters and his 
adversaries. By the end of May 1865, it became clear that, like Lincoln, 
he intended to pursue a more lenient course toward Reconstruction than 
the Radicals in Congress wanted. Members of Congress grumbled when 
Johnson handed pardons to former Confederate leaders, suspected that the 
plebeian president took pride in having former aristocrats petition him. 
Congress was further shocked when the new governments formed under 
Johnson's plan enacted ``Black Codes'' that sought to regulate and 
restrict the activities of the freedmen. There was fear also that the 
former Confederate states would send Confederate officers and 
officeholders to reclaim their seats in Congress and undo the 
legislative accomplishments of the wartime Republican majorities. When 
the president opposed granting political rights to the freedmen, white 
southerners looked to him as a defender of white supremacy and as their 
protector against Radical retribution. The Democratic party considered 
Johnson as one of their own, who might be induced to return to their 
    The predominantly Republican Washington press corps had at first 
embraced President Johnson, assuring their readers that he supported 
black suffrage and other Radical measures. Forney celebrated his old 
friend as a ``practical statesman'' whose policies offered a common 
ground for ``all earnest loyalists.'' Whatever honeymoon the new 
president enjoyed with Congress and the press ended in February 1866 
when Johnson vetoed the Freedmen's Bureau bill. The veto shocked 
Republican conservatives and drove them into alliance with the Radicals 
against the president. The press and even Forney deserted Johnson. That 
fall, Johnson conducted a disastrous ``swing around the circle,'' 
campaigning by train in favor of congressional candidates who supported 
his policies. Egged on by hecklers, he made intemperate remarks that 
further alienated the voters and resulted in the election of an even 
more hostile Congress. The new Congress seized the initiative on 
Reconstruction from the president--most notably with a constitutional 
amendment giving the freedmen the right to vote--and passed legislation 
to limit his responses. Among these laws, the Tenure of Office Act 
prohibited the president from firing cabinet officers and other 
appointees without Senate approval. Johnson considered the act 
unconstitutional--as indeed the Supreme Court would later declare it--
and in February 1868 he fired his secretary of war, Edwin Stanton, for 

                    The Impeachment of Andrew Johnson

    Although Johnson's term was coming to a close and he had little 
chance of nomination by any party, the House of Representatives voted to 
impeach the president. The New York Tribune's editor Horace Greeley 
thought this a foolhardy tactic. ``Why hang a man who is bent on hanging 
himself?'' Greeley asked. But the Republican members of Congress and 
their allies in the press wanted to take no chance of the president's 
sabotaging congressional Reconstruction during his last months in 
office. Said Thaddeus Stevens, leader of the House impeachers: ``I don't 
want to hurt the man's feelings by telling him he is a rascal. I'd 
rather put it mildly, and say he hasn't got off that inaugural drunk 
yet, and just let him retire to get sobered.'' The House voted for 
impeachment, and on March 5, 1868, the United States Senate convened as 
a court to consider removing Johnson from the presidency. As the trial 
opened, the majority of the northern press favored conviction, but as 
the proceedings wound on, a profound sense of disillusionment set in 
among the correspondents, who communicated their dismay to their 
    Correspondent George Alfred Townsend described Johnson's Senate 
trial as ``a more terrible scene than the trial of Judas Iscariot might 
be before the College of Cardinals.'' Not a single Democrat countenanced 
the impeachment, he pointed out, ``It was purely within the political 
organization which had nominated the offender.'' Although Townsend was a 
Republican who considered Johnson a barrier against any settlement of 
``the Southern question,'' when he arrived at the Capitol he found none 
except Charles Sumner and Thaddeus Stevens who seemed excited over 
Johnson's policies. ``It was his abuse of the party patronage which was 
an unforgiven sin.'' Johnson took patronage away from his critics and 
purged over 1,600 postmasters. In addition, Townsend noted: ``He had 
disobeyed an act of Congress, of doubtful validity, taking away from him 
the power to make ad-interim appointments, or those made between 
sessions of Congress. This was a challenge to every member of Congress 
in the regular caucus ranks that off straight come the heads of HIS 
post-master, HIS revenue officials, HIS clerks, and HIS brothers-in-
law.'' 18
    Rather than appear in the Senate chamber personally, President 
Johnson wisely left his defense to his attorneys. Although Republicans 
enjoyed a more than two-thirds majority in the Senate at the time, seven 
Republicans--fearing impeachment's negative impact on the office of the 
presidency--broke with their party. As a result, the impeachers failed 
by a single vote to achieve the two-thirds majority necessary to convict 
the president. In the 1868 elections, Johnson endorsed the Democratic 
candidate, Horatio Seymour, and was deeply disappointed over the victory 
of the Republican, U.S. Grant. Refusing to attend Grant's inauguration, 
Johnson left the White House in March 1869, discredited but not 
disgraced. Out of office for the first time in thirty years, he could 
not stay retired. That fall he campaigned for a Senate seat from 
Tennessee and lost. Never giving up, Johnson tried again in January 1875 
and won back a seat in the Senate that had once tormented 
    The only former U.S. president ever to return to serve in the 
Senate, Johnson saw his election as a vindication and came back to 
Washington in triumph. He took his oath of office on March 5, along with 
Lincoln's other vice president, Hannibal Hamlin, reelected a senator 
from Maine. (Both men had begun their congressional service in the House 
of Representatives on the same day, thirty-two years earlier.) Hamlin in 
1866 had resigned as collector of the port of Boston as a public protest 
against Johnson's policies on Reconstruction. The oath was administered 
by Vice President Henry Wilson, who as a senator had voted for Johnson's 
conviction and for his disqualification from holding future office. When 
Johnson stepped forward to shake hands first with Hamlin and then 
Wilson, the chamber erupted into cheers. A reporter asked if he would 
use his new position to settle some old scores, to which Johnson 
replied, ``I have no enemies to punish nor friends to reward.'' The 
special session ended on March 24, and Johnson returned to Tennessee. At 
the home of a granddaughter, he suffered a stroke and died on July 31, 
1875. A marble bust of Johnson, sculpted with a typically pugnacious and 
defiant expression, looks down from the gallery at the Senate chamber, 
where he served on three occasions as a senator, briefly presided as 
vice president, and was tried and acquitted in a court of 
                             ANDREW JOHNSON


    1 H. Draper Hunt, Hannibal Hamlin of Maine: Lincoln's 
First Vice-President (Syracuse, NY, 1969), pp. 196-98; Lloyd Paul 
Stryker, Andrew Johnson: A Study in Courage (New York, 1929), p. 167.
    2 Hans L. Trefousse, Andrew Johnson: A Biography (New 
York, 1989), pp. 188-91; John W. Forney, Anecdotes of Public Men (New 
York, 1873), 1:177.
    3 Trefousse, Andrew Johnson, pp. 20-23.
    4 Ibid., pp. 35-50.
    5 Ibid, pp. 43, 51-83; Donald W. Riddle, Congressman 
Abraham Lincoln (Urbana, IL, 1957), pp. 144, 147, 159.
    6 Trefousse, Andrew Johnson, pp. 84-127; Eric Foner, 
Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 (New York, 
1988), p. 176; LeRoy P. Graf, ed., The Papers of Andrew Johnson, vol. 7, 
1864-1865 (Knoxville, TN, 1986), p. 9.
    7 Christopher Dell, Lincoln and the War Democrats: The 
Grand Erosion of Conservative Tradition (Rutherford, NJ, 1975), pp. 36-
37, 80.
    8 Ibid., pp. 202, 238-39, 289; Foner, pp. 43-44.
    9 Hunt, pp. 178-89; Trefousse, Andrew Johnson, pp. 176-
79; Stryker, pp. 121-23; Forney, 1:166-67, 2:48.
    10 Graf, ed., 7:110, 222, 251-53.
    11 Ibid., 7:30.
    12 Ibid., 7:420-21, 427.
    13 See Jim Bishop, The Day Lincoln Was Shot (New York, 
    14 Dell, p. 323; Foner, p. 177.
    15 Graf, ed., 7:639; Foner, pp. 176-216; Joel H. Silbey, 
A Respectable Minority: The Democratic Party in the Civil War Era, 1860-
1868 (New York, 1877), pp. 178-79.
    16 Donald A. Ritchie, Press Gallery: Congress and the 
Washington Correspondents (Cambridge, MA, 1991), pp. 79-90; Foner, pp. 
    17 Ritchie, pp. 83-84; Hans L. Trefousse, Impeachment of 
a President: Andrew Johnson, the Blacks, and Reconstruction (Knoxville, 
TN, 1975), pp. 146-64; Benjamin Perley Poore, Perley's Reminiscences of 
Sixty Years in the Nation's Metropolis (Philadelphia, 1886), 2:229.
    18 George Alfred Townsend, Washington, Outside and Inside 
(Hartford, CT, 1873), pp. 506-7; Foner, p. 266.
    19 Michael Les Benedict, The Impeachment and Trial of 
Andrew Johnson (New York, 1973), pp. 126-80.
    20 Trefousse, Andrew Johnson, pp. 353-79; Stryker, pp. 
805-11, Hunt, pp. 202-5.

                               Chapter 17

                             SCHUYLER COLFAX


                             SCHUYLER COLFAX
                             SCHUYLER COLFAX

                               Chapter 17

                             SCHUYLER COLFAX

                     17th Vice President: 1869-1873

          The Vice Presidency is an elegant office whose occupant 
      must find it his principal business to try to discover what 
      is the use of there being such an office at all.
                         --Indianapolis Journal, March 7, 1871
    As amiable a man who ever served in Congress, good-natured, kindly, 
cordial, and always diplomatic, Indiana's Schuyler Colfax won the 
nickname ``Smiler'' Colfax. Through two of the most tumultuous decades 
in American public life, Colfax glided smoothly from the Whig to Know-
Nothing to Republican parties, mingling easily with both conservatives 
and radicals. He rose to become Speaker of the House and vice president 
and seemed poised to achieve his goal of the presidency. Along the way, 
there were those who doubted the sincerity behind the smile and 
suspected that for all his political dexterity, Colfax stood for nothing 
save his own advancement. Those close to President Abraham Lincoln later 
revealed that he considered Speaker Colfax an untrustworthy intriguer, 
and President Ulysses S. Grant seemed relieved when the Republican 
convention dumped Vice President Colfax from the ticket in 1872. Even 
the press, which counted the Indiana editor as a colleague and pumped 
him up to national prominence, eventually turned on Colfax and shredded 
his once admirable reputation until he disappeared into the forgotten 
recesses of American history.1

                               Early Years

    Schuyler Colfax was born into a family of distinguished heritage but 
depleted circumstances. His grandfather, who had fought in the American 
Revolution and served closely with George Washington, married Hester 
Schuyler, a cousin of General Philip Schuyler, and named one of his sons 
for Washington and another for Schuyler. Schuyler Colfax, Sr., became a 
teller in a bank on New York City's Wall Street. In 1820 he married 
Hannah Stryker, the daughter of a widowed boardinghouse keeper. He died 
of tuberculosis two years later, as his wife was expecting her first 
child. Four months after his father's death, Schuyler, Jr. was born in 
New York City on March 23, 1823.
    As a boy, Colfax attended public schools until he was ten, when he 
was obliged to work as a clerk in a retail store to help support 
himself, his mother, and his grandmother. Three years later, his mother 
married George W. Matthews, and the family moved to New Carlisle, 
Indiana. Young Colfax worked in his stepfather's store, which served 
also as the village post office. Townspeople later recalled that Colfax 
would sit on barrels reading newspapers as they arrived by post. He 
borrowed whatever books he could get to provide himself with an 
education. In 1841, the family moved to South Bend, where Matthews was 
elected as the Whig candidate for county auditor and hired Schuyler as 
his deputy. Enjoying politics, the boy became active in a ``moot 
legislature,'' where he gained his first experience in debate and 
parliamentary procedure.2

                         Politics and the Press

    At sixteen, Colfax wrote to Horace Greeley, editor of the 
influential Whig newspaper, the New-York Tribune, offering to send 
occasional articles. Always open to new talent, Greeley agreed and 
published the boy's writings on Indiana politics, beginning a 
correspondence and friendship that lasted for the rest of their lives. 
Colfax also reported on the Indiana legislature for the Indiana State 
Journal, and when he was nineteen local Whigs engaged him to edit the 
South Bend Free Press. The young editor described himself as an 
``uncompromising Whig.'' He idolized Henry Clay and embraced all of the 
Whig reforms, taking a pledge of abstinence from alcoholic spirits (but 
not from the cigars he loved). In 1844 he married a childhood 
sweetheart, Evelyn Clark, and by the next year was able to purchase the 
Free Press, renaming it the St. Joseph Valley Register. The writer 
Harriet Beecher Stowe later proclaimed it ``a morally pure paper.'' 
    Advancing from the editorial page into politics, Colfax served as a 
delegate to the Whig convention of 1848 and to the convention that 
drafted a new constitution for Indiana in 1849. He led the opposition to 
a provision in the constitution that barred African Americans from 
settling in Indiana or those already in the state from purchasing land. 
Despite his efforts, this racial barrier stood until ruled 
unconstitutional as a consequence of the Thirteenth Amendment to the 
Constitution in 1865. In 1851, the Whigs chose Colfax to run for 
Congress. At that time, Indiana was a Democratic state and Colfax 
narrowly lost to the incumbent Democrat. He declined to run again in 
1852. Dismayed over the disintegration of the Whig party and offended by 
Senator Stephen A. Douglas' Kansas-Nebraska Act that repealed the 
Missouri Compromise, Colfax again ran for Congress in 1854 as an Anti-
Nebraska candidate. His friend and fellow editor Horace Greeley, who had 
served a brief term in 1849, encouraged him: ``I thought it would be a 
nuisance and a sacrifice for me to go to Congress,'' he advised Colfax, 
``but I was mistaken; it did me lasting good. I never was brought so 
palpably and tryingly into collision with the embodied scoundrelism of 
the nation as while in Congress.'' 4

                          Building a New Party

    Antislavery Whigs like Colfax sought to build a new party that 
combined the antislavery elements among the Whigs, Democrats, and Free 
Soilers, a coalition that eventually emerged as the Republican party. 
For a brief time, however, it seemed likely that a nativist 
organization, the Know-Nothings, might become the new majority party. 
The first Know-Nothing lodge in Indiana opened in early 1854 and by 
election time the party had grown, in the words of one Methodist 
minister, ``as thick as the Locusts in Egypt.'' The Know-Nothings 
opposed slavery and alcohol but turned their greatest passions against 
Catholics and immigrants. Although Colfax shared these nativist 
prejudices (arguing that ``Protestant foreigners, who are thoroughly 
Americanized'' should be admitted into the party), he made it clear that 
he would remain only if the Know-Nothings kept a firm antislavery plank 
in their platform. When the new congressman arrived in the House of 
Representatives in 1855, it was unclear which members belonged to what 
party. The New-York Tribune Almanac estimated that there were 118 Anti-
Nebraska representatives, a number that included Republicans, anti-
Nebraska Democrats, and antislavery Know-Nothings, comprising a slight 
majority of the House. By the following year, the Know-Nothings had 
already peaked and declined, and Colfax announced that he would run for 
reelection as a Republican.5
    The House of Representatives proved an ideal arena for Colfax's 
talents. Short and stocky, fair-haired, with a ready smile, he got along 
well with his colleagues in private but never hesitated to do battle 
with the opposition on the House floor. When Republicans held the 
majority, he served energetically as chairman of the Committee on Post 
Offices and Post Roads, handling the kind of patronage that built 
political organizations. Never having been a lawyer, he could put 
complex issues of the day into layman's terms. In 1856, his speech 
attacking laws passed by the proslavery legislature in Kansas became the 
most widely requested Republican campaign document. His speech raised 
warnings that it was a short step between enslaving blacks and 
suppressing the civil liberties of whites. Watching Colfax battle 
southern representatives over the slavery issue, James Dabney McCabe 
recorded that ``Mr. Colfax took an active part in the debate, giving and 
receiving hard blows with all the skill of an old gladiator.'' 
    Colfax traveled widely, spoke frequently, and helped fuse the 
various Republican and antislavery groups into a unified party for the 
1860 election. When the southern Democrats seceded and put House 
Republicans in the majority, he considered running for Speaker, but 
after testing the waters declined to be a candidate. He resumed his 
chairmanship of the Post Office Committee. Colfax took a moderate 
position on emancipation and other issues of the day, maintaining close 
ties with both wings of his party. He enjoyed direct access to President 
Lincoln and often served as a conduit of information and opinion from 
Horace Greeley and other Republican editors. He worked tirelessly on 
behalf of the Union, recruiting regiments and raising public spirits. 
Yet antiwar sentiments ran strong in Indiana and many other northern 
states, and in 1862 Colfax faced a tough campaign for reelection against 
David A. Turpie. Winning a narrow victory further elevated Colfax within 
the party at a time when many other Republicans, including House Speaker 
Galusha Grow, were defeated. When the Thirty-eighth Congress convened in 
December 1863, House Republicans--with their numbers considerably 
thinned--elected Schuyler Colfax Speaker, despite President Lincoln's 
preference for a Speaker less tied to the Radical faction of his 

                          Speaker of the House

    As Speaker of the House, Schuyler Colfax presided, in the words of 
the journalist Ben: Perley Poore, ``in rather a slap-dash-knock-'em-
down-auctioneer style, greatly in variance with the decorous dignity of 
his predecessors.'' He had studied and mastered the rules of the House, 
and both sides considered his rulings fair. Credited as being the most 
popular Speaker since Henry Clay, Colfax aspired to be as powerful as 
Clay. Certainly, he shared Clay's sense of the dramatic, once stepping 
down from the presiding officer's chair to urge the House to expel an 
Ohio Democrat who had advocated recognizing the independence of the 
Confederacy. Another time the Speaker broke precedent by requesting that 
his vote be recorded in favor of the Thirteenth Amendment. Yet with the 
exception of the power to appoint members to committees, the Speaker of 
the House was still mostly a figurehead. Observers declared the real 
power in the House to be the tough-minded Pennsylvanian Thaddeus 
Stevens, chairman of the Appropriations Committee and de facto 
Republican floor leader.8
    Washington newspaper correspondents celebrated the election of one 
of their own as Speaker and threw a dinner in his honor. ``We 
journalists and men of the newspaper press do love you, and claim you as 
bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh,'' said correspondent Sam 
Wilkeson. ``Fill your glasses, all, in an invocation to the gods for 
long life, greater success, and ever-increasing happiness to our 
editorial brother in the Speaker's Chair.'' In reply Colfax thanked the 
press for sustaining him through all his elections. Trained in 
journalism, Speaker Colfax applied the lessons of his craft to his 
political career, making himself available for interviews, planting 
stories, sending flattering notes to editors, suggesting editorials, and 
spreading patronage. A widower (his wife died in 1863) with no children, 
Colfax was free to socialize nightly with his friends on Washington's 
``Newspaper Row.'' He hoped to parlay his popularity with the press into 
a national following that would make him the first journalist to occupy 
the White House.9
    The press lavished more attention on Speaker Colfax than they had on 
Galusha Grow or any of his immediate predecessors. They praised the 
regular Friday night receptions that the Speaker and his mother held and 
commended him for the ``courtesy, dignity, and equitability which he 
exhibited in the discharge of the important duties of the chair.'' It 
was harder for the press to detect whether Speaker Colfax actually had 
any influence on specific legislation. He gave the radical firebrands 
wide latitude, while speaking with moderation himself. At one point, 
when Radical Republicans were prepared to introduce a resolution in the 
party conference that defended the Republican record and called for the 
use of black soldiers in the Union army, Colfax outflanked them with a 
motion that substituted patriotic flag waving for partisanship, calling 
instead for all loyal men to stand by the Union. His action was taken as 
an effort to give the Republican party a less vindictive image that 
would build a broader base for congressional elections.10
    On April 14, 1865, Colfax called at the White House to talk over 
Reconstruction and other matters with President Lincoln before Colfax 
left on a long tour of the western states and territories. With the war 
won, Lincoln was in an ebullient mood and held a long and pleasant 
conversation with the Speaker (whom Lincoln privately regarded as ``a 
little intriguer--plausible, aspiring beyond his capacity, and not 
trustworthy''). The president invited the Speaker to join his party at 
Ford's Theater that night, but Colfax declined. Later that evening, he 
was awakened with news that the president had been shot and rushed to 
spend the night in the room where Lincoln died.11

                        Reconstructing the South

    During the summer of 1865, Colfax toured the mining regions between 
the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific. Newspaper correspondent Albert 
Richardson, who accompanied him, recorded that the trip proved to be 
``one continuous ovation'' for Colfax, with brass bands, banquets, and 
public receptions, during which the Speaker made seventy speeches. He 
returned to a capital still uncertain over how the new President Andrew 
Johnson would handle the reconstruction of the southern states. Radicals 
in Congress trusted that Johnson would use federal troops to support 
tough policies toward the former Confederacy, but there were signs that 
Johnson favored a speedier, more lenient readmission of the states. That 
November, at a serenade to mark his return to Washington, Speaker Colfax 
made some remarks that seemed impromptu but that may have been 
prearranged. He endorsed Johnson's attempts to begin Reconstruction 
prior to congressional legislation and set as a minimum for the return 
of the southern states a guarantee that freedmen would be treated 
equally under the law. He made no mention of the radical demand that the 
freedmen also have the right to vote. The speech won widespread praise 
in the North, where it was perceived as the firm foundation of 
Republican policy on which both the president and Congress could 
    Colfax's efforts at party harmony and a moderate course of 
Reconstruction were short lived. Johnson resented Colfax's preempting 
his own statement of policy on the subject. The president's plans to 
reconstruct the South showed little regard for the rights of the 
freedmen, and he vetoed such relatively moderate congressional efforts 
as the Freedmen's Bureau bill. His action drove moderate and radical 
Republicans into an alliance that brought about congressional 
Reconstruction of the South. Finally, Johnson's dismissal of Secretary 
of War Edwin Stanton in violation of the Tenure of Office Act convinced 
even moderates like Colfax that the president must be impeached. Through 
all of these dramatic events, Colfax's most astonishing success was his 
ability to retain the support of all sides in his party and to hold 
House Republicans together. The party defections that saved Johnson took 
place in the Senate rather than the House.13

                     From Speaker to Vice President

    As the 1868 presidential election approached, Speaker Colfax 
believed the nomination of Ulysses S. Grant to be ``resistless.'' As for 
himself, he declined to run either for the Senate or for governor of 
Indiana, leaving the door open for the vice-presidential nomination. 
Colfax insisted that presiding over the House as Speaker was ``the more 
important office'' than presiding over the Senate as vice president. But 
the vice-presidency was the more direct avenue to the presidency. At the 
convention, his chief rivals for the second spot were Senate President 
pro tempore Ben Wade and Massachusetts Senator Henry Wilson. Colfax 
polled fourth on the first ballot and gained steadily with each 
subsequent ballot. The temperance forces were delighted that Colfax's 
headquarters distributed no liquor, in contrast to Senator Wade, who 
handed out spirits freely among the delegates. Among Republicans there 
was a collective sense that the abstinent Colfax would balance a ticket 
with Grant, who had been known to drink heavily.14
    Colfax stayed in Washington while the Republican convention met in 
Chicago. His good friend, William Orton, head of the Western Union 
Telegraph Company, arranged for Colfax to receive dispatches from the 
convention every ten minutes. On May 21 Colfax was in the Speaker's 
Lobby when he received Orton's telegram announcing his nomination. 
Cheers broke out, and the room quickly filled with congressmen wishing 
to offer congratulations. As he left the lobby, Colfax was greeted by 
House staff members, who ``gathered around him in the most affectionate 
manner and tendered him their regards.'' Citizens hailed him as he 
walked across the Capitol grounds. On the Senate side, Bluff Ben Wade 
received the news that he had been beaten and said, ``Well, I guess it 
will be all right; he deserves it, and he will be a good presiding 
officer.'' The news was received with seemingly universal applause. 
``His friends love him devotedly,'' wrote one admirer, ``and his 
political adversaries . . . respect him thoroughly.'' 15
    For years, Colfax had addressed Sunday schools and temperance 
revival meetings, quoting from the Bible and urging his listeners to a 
life of virtue. He won support from the religious magazines as a 
``Christian Statesman.'' One campaign biography praised his ``spotless 
integrity'' and declared, ``So pure is his personal character, that the 
venom of political enmity has never attempted to fix a stain upon it.'' 
Democrats, however, lambasted Colfax as a bigot for the anti-Catholicism 
of his Know-Nothing past. Republicans dismissed these charges as 
mudslinging and organized Irish and German Grant and Colfax Clubs to 
court the Catholic and foreign-born vote. (Although it was not known at 
the time, U.S. Grant had also once joined the Know-Nothings and 
apparently shared their anti-Catholic prejudices.) 16
    In November 1868, Grant and Colfax were narrowly elected over the 
Democratic ticket headed by New York Governor Horatio Seymour. Days 
after the election, the vice president-elect married Ellen Wade, niece 
of the Ohio senator he had defeated for the vice-presidential 
nomination. The groom was forty-five and the bride ``about thirty,'' an 
attractive and charming woman. By April 1870 their son Schuyler III was 
born. This domestic bliss would in fact contribute to Colfax's political 
undoing. As a married man, he found less time to socialize with his old 
friends in the press, and invitations to the lavish receptions at his 
new home became harder for reporters to receive, causing considerable 
resentment among his old friends on Newspaper Row, who thought he was 
putting on airs. Not a wealthy man, the new vice president could never 
say no to a gift. He grew indiscreet in his acceptance of everything 
from sterling silver to free railroad passes. In 1868 Colfax also 
accepted some railroad stocks from his friend Representative Oakes Ames, 
who promised handsome dividends. Neither suspected the political price 
that the stock would ultimately exact.17

                             Plans to Retire

    The first Speaker of the House ever elected vice president (a 
previous former Speaker, James K. Polk, had won the presidency in 1844), 
Colfax moved easily to the Senate chamber as a man long familiar with 
the ways of Capitol Hill. The Senate proved an easier body to preside 
over, leaving him with time on his hands to travel, lecture, and write 
for the press. The Indianapolis Journal observed that ``the Vice 
Presidency is an elegant office whose occupant must find it his 
principal business to try to discover what is the use of there being 
such an office at all.'' Colfax consulted periodically with President 
Grant, but, as one Democratic paper sneered, the vice president carried 
``more wind than weight.'' His distance from the president proved not to 
be a disadvantage when various scandals began to tarnish Grant and his 
administration. Speculation soon arose that Colfax would replace Grant 
in the next election. There was much surprise, therefore, when in 
September 1870, at age forty-seven, Colfax announced that he intended to 
retire at the end of his term. ``I will then have had eighteen years of 
continuous service at Washington, mostly on a stormy sea--long enough 
for any one; and my ambition is all gratified and satisfied.'' This was 
an old tactic for Colfax, who periodically before had announced his 
retirement and then changed his mind. Some believed he intended the 
announcement to further separate himself from the Grant administration 
and open the way for the presidential nomination in 1872. But the 
national press and Senator Henry Wilson took the announcement at face 
value, and before long the movement to replace him went further than 
Colfax had anticipated.18
    Colfax predictably changed his mind early in 1872 and acceded to the 
wishes of his friends that he stand for reelection on ``the old 
ticket.'' President Grant may have questioned Colfax's intentions. In 
1871 the president had sent his vice president an extraordinary letter, 
informing him that Secretary of State Hamilton Fish wished to retire and 
asking him ``in plain English'' to give up the vice-presidency for the 
State Department. Grant appeared to be removing Colfax as a potential 
rival. ``In all my heart I hope you will say yes,'' he wrote, ``though I 
confess the sacrifice you will be making.'' Colfax declined, and a year 
later when Senator Wilson challenged Colfax for renomination, the 
president chose to remain neutral in the contest.19
    For a man who had assiduously courted the press for so long, Colfax 
found himself abandoned by the Washington correspondents, who 
overwhelmingly supported Henry Wilson. Colfax's slide in the opinion of 
the Washington press corps had its roots in a dinner at the beginning of 
his term as vice president, when he had lectured them on the need to 
exercise their responsibilities prudently, since in their hands lay the 
making and unmaking of great men. The reporters had noted archly that 
Colfax, like other politicians, had never complained about the 
``making'' of their reputations, just the ``unmaking.'' Mary Clemmer 
Ames, a popular newspaper writer in Washington, attributed Colfax's 
downfall to envy within the press corps. He did not invite them to his 
dinners and receptions, so they decided to ``write him down.'' The 
naturally cynical and skeptical reporters, apparently considering the 
vice president's sanctimoniousness contradictory to his newfound riches 
and opulent lifestyle, sought to take him down a few pegs. One 
correspondent likened Colfax to ``a penny dip burning high on the altar 
among the legitimate tapers of State.'' By contrast, the reporters liked 
Senator Wilson, who leaked so freely that they dubbed him ``the official 
reporter of the [secret] executive sessions of the Senate.'' Colfax 
bitterly charged that Wilson had invited newspapermen in ``nearly every 
evening, asking them to telegraph that he was gaining steadily, that I 
did not care for it.'' When he lost the nomination, the vice president 
magnanimously shook Senator Wilson's hand, but one observer noticed that 
his famous smile had become ``a whitened skeleton of its former self.'' 
At least Colfax's defeat spared him having to run against his old 
mentor, Horace Greeley, presidential candidate that year on a fusion 
ticket of Democrats and Liberal Republicans.20

                       The Credit Mobilier Scandal

    As a man still in his forties, Colfax might well have continued his 
political career after the vice-presidency, except for his connection to 
the worst scandal in nineteenth-century U.S. political history. In 
September 1872, as the presidential campaign was getting underway, the 
New York Sun broke the four-year-old story about the Credit Mobilier, a 
finance company created to underwrite construction of the 
transcontinental Union Pacific Railroad. Since the railroad depended on 
federal subsidies, the company had recruited Massachusetts 
Representative Oakes Ames to distribute stock among the key members of 
Congress who could help them the most. Some members had paid for the 
stock at a low value, others had put no money down at all but simply let 
the generous dividends pay for the stock. On Oakes Ames' list were the 
names of both Schuyler Colfax and Henry Wilson, along with such other 
Washington luminaries as Representatives James Garfield and James G. 
Blaine. In South Bend, Indiana, Vice President Colfax made a public 
statement that completely dissociated himself from Credit Mobilier, 
assuring his listeners that he never owned a dollar of stock that he had 
not paid for.21
    On January 7, 1873, the House committee investigating the Credit 
Mobilier scandal called the vice president to testify. Ames claimed 
that, since Colfax had lacked the money to buy the stock, the stock had 
been paid for by its own inflated dividends. Ames' notes indicated that 
Colfax had received an additional $1,200 in dividends. On the stand, 
Colfax swore flatly that he had never received a dividend check from 
Ames, but his testimony was contradicted by evidence from the files of 
the House sergeant at arms. Without missing a beat, Colfax insisted that 
Ames himself must have signed and cashed the check. Then the committee 
produced evidence from Colfax's Washington bank that two days after the 
payment had been made, he had deposited $1,200 in cash--and the deposit 
slip was in Colfax's own handwriting. Taking two weeks to explain, 
Colfax claimed that he had received $200 from his stepfather (who worked 
as a clerk in the House of Representatives) and another $1,000 from 
George Nesbitt, a campaign contributor by then deceased. This story 
seemed so patently self-serving and far-fetched that even his strongest 
supporters dismissed it. Making matters worse, the committee disclosed 
evidence suggesting that Nesbitt, who manufactured stationery, had 
bribed Colfax as chairman of the House Post Office Committee in order to 
receive government contracts for envelopes. A resolution to impeach 
Colfax failed to pass by a mostly party-line vote, in part because just 
a few weeks remained in his term. The pious statesman had been exposed, 
and the public was unforgiving. Colfax left the vice-presidency in 
disgrace, becoming a symbol of the sordidness of Gilded Age politics. 
Later in 1873, when the failure of the transcontinental railroads to 
make their bond payments triggered a disastrous financial collapse on 
Wall Street, plunging the nation into a depression that lasted for the 
rest of the decade, one ruined investor muttered that it was ``all 
Schuyler Colfax's fault, damn him.'' 22

                               Later Years

    Others implicated in Credit Mobilier survived politically. Henry 
Wilson was elected vice president. James Garfield became president in 
1880, and James G. Blaine won the Republican presidential nomination, 
but not the election, in 1884. Colfax, however, returned to private life 
in South Bend, Indiana. Briefly, there was talk that his friend William 
Orton would put up the funds to enable him to purchase the prestigious 
New-York Tribune after Horace Greeley's death in 1872, but the deal fell 
through. Then a new opportunity developed. Called upon to deliver a 
short speech at the unveiling of a statue of Abraham Lincoln in 
Springfield, Illinois, Colfax discovered that the public had an 
insatiable appetite for information about their martyred president. He 
commenced a lucrative career as a public lecturer (up to $2,500 per 
speech) on his wartime relationship with Lincoln. From time to time, 
Colfax's name surfaced as a candidate for the House or the Senate, or 
for the presidential nomination, but he declined to become a candidate. 
``You can't imagine the repugnance with which I now view the service of 
the many headed public,'' he wrote, ``with all its toils, its 
innumerable exactions of all kinds, the never ending work and worry, the 
explanations about everything which the public think they have a right 
to, the lack of independence as to your goings and comings, the 
misunderstandings, the envyings, backbitings, etc., etc., etc.'' On 
January 13, 1885, on his way to a speaking engagement in Iowa, Colfax 
was stricken by a heart attack and died while waiting at a railroad 
station in Mankato, Minnesota, where the temperature dipped to thirty 
below zero. Unrecognized by those around him, the former Speaker and 
vice president was identified only by papers in his pocket.23
    Doggerel from a critical newspaper perhaps served as the epitaph for 
Schuyler Colfax's rise to national prominence and precipitous fall from 
        A beautiful smiler came in our midst,
        Too lively and fair to remain;
        They stretched him on racks till the soul of Colfax
        Flapped up into Heaven again,
        May the fate of poor Schuyler warn men of a smiler,
        Who dividends gets on the brain! 24
                             SCHUYLER COLFAX


    1 James G. Blaine, Twenty Years of Congress: From Lincoln 
to Garfield (Norwich, CT, 1884), 1:497-98; Neil MacNeil, Forge of 
Democracy: The House of Representatives (New York, 1963), p. 69; Allan 
G. Bogue, The Congressman's Civil War (New York, 1989), p. 117.
    2 Willard H. Smith, Schuyler Colfax: The Changing 
Fortunes of a Political Idol (Indianapolis, 1952), pp. 1-7; Albert D. 
Richardson, A Personal History of Ulysses S. Grant with a Portrait and 
Sketch of Schuyler Colfax (Hartford, CT, 1868), p. 553.
    3 Smith, pp. 13-16; Edward Winslow Martin [James Dabney 
McCabe], The Life and Public Service of Schuyler Colfax (New York, 
1868), p. 15.
    4 Richardson, pp. 554-55; Donald A. Ritchie, Press 
Gallery: Congress and the Washington Correspondents (Cambridge, MA, 
1991), p. 43.
    5 William E. Gienapp, The Origins of the Republican 
Party, 1852-1856 (New York, 1987), pp. 109, 180-81, 240-41, 245.
    6 Ibid, p. 359; Martin [James Dabney McCabe], p. 109.
    7 Charles Edward Russell, Blaine of Maine: His Life and 
Times (New York, 1931), p. 237; Bogue, p. 116; David Herbert Donald, 
Lincoln (New York, 1995), pp. 468-69.
    8 Benjamin Perley Poore, Perley's Reminiscences of Sixty 
Years in the National Metropolis (Philadelphia, 1887) 2:211; McNeil, pp. 
69, 171; James G. Blaine, Twenty Years of Congress: From Lincoln to 
Garfield (Norwich, CT, 1884), 1:325-26, 497-98; Albert G. Riddle, 
Recollections of War Times: Reminiscences of Men and Events in 
Washington, 1860-1865 (New York, 1895), p. 222.
    9 Ritchie, pp. 63-64, 67.
    10 Bogue, pp. 116, 125.
    11 Smith, pp. 202-9.
    12 Richardson, p. 559; Michael Les Benedict, A Compromise 
of Principle: Congressional Republicans and Reconstruction 1863-1869 
(New York, 1974), p. 130; Eric Foner, Reconstruction: America's 
Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 (New York, 1988), pp. 181, 226.
    13 Benedict, pp. 168, 255; Smith, pp. 222-26.
    14 Foner, p. 338; Smith, p. 284, Russell, p. 237.
    15 Martin [James Dabney McCabe], pp. 246-47, 253.
    16 Russell, p. 237; Richardson, p. 560; Tyler Anbinder, 
Nativism and Slavery: The Northern Know Nothings and the Politics of the 
1850s (New York, 1992), pp. 271-74.
    17 Smith, pp. 308-9, 312; Mark Wahlgren Summers, The Era 
of Good Stealings (New York, 1993), p. 66; McNeil, p. 198.
    18 Smith, pp. 316-17, 324, 326, 333; Ernest A. McKay, 
Henry Wilson: Practical Radical: A Portrait of a Politician (Port 
Washington, NY, 1971), p. 225.
    19 George S. Sirgiovanni, ``Dumping the Vice President: 
An Historical Overview and Analysis,'' Presidential Studies Quarterly 24 
(Fall 1994): 769-71.
    20 Poore, 2:243; Ritchie, pp. 96, 106; Richard H. Abbott, 
Cobbler in Congress: The Life of Henry Wilson, 1812-1875 (Lexington, KY, 
1972), p. 243; Smith, pp. 358-59; Summers, Era of Good Stealings, p. 66; 
Mark Wahlgren Summers, The Press Gang: Newspapers and Politics, 1865-
1878 (Chapel Hill, NC, 1994), pp. 152-53.
    21 Smith, pp. 369-74; Ritchie, pp. 102-3.
    22 Smith, pp. 374-416; Russell, pp. 243-45; Sean Dennis 
Cashman, America in the Gilded Age: From the Death of Lincoln to the 
Rise of Theodore Roosevelt (New York, 1984), p. 197; Summers, The Era of 
Good Stealings, pp. 52-53, 66, 242; see also W. Allan Wilbur, ``The 
Credit Mobilier Scandal, 1873,'' in Congress Investigates: A Documented 
History, 1792-1974, ed. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. and Roger Bruns (New 
York, 1975), pp. 1849-63.
    23 Merrill D. Peterson, Lincoln in American Memory (New 
York, 1994), p. 138; Smith, pp. 422, 430, 438-39; O.J. Hollister, Life 
of Schuyler Colfax (New York, 1886), pp. 385-91.
    24 Summers, The Press Gang, p. 154.

                               Chapter 18

                              HENRY WILSON


                              HENRY WILSON
                              HENRY WILSON

                               Chapter 18

                              HENRY WILSON

                     18th Vice President: 1873-1875

          He was not learned, he was not eloquent, he was not 
      logical in a high sense, he was not always consistent in his 
      political actions, and yet he gained the confidence of the 
      people, and he retained it to the end of his life.
                                     --Senator George Boutwell
    Long before public opinion polling, Vice President Henry Wilson 
earned recognition as a master at reading the public's mind. During his 
eighteen years in the United States Senate, Wilson traveled relentlessly 
through his home state of Massachusetts. A typical day would find him 
visiting shops and factories around Boston. Then he would board the 
night train to Springfield, where he would rouse some political friend 
at 2 a.m. and spend the rest of the night talking over current issues, 
departing at dawn to catch the early train to Northampton or Greenfield. 
``After a week or two spent in that way,'' his friend George F. Hoar 
never giving his own opinion, talking as if he were all things to 
        all men, seeming to hesitate and falter and be frightened, 
         so if you had met him and talked with him you would have 
              said . . . that there was no more thought, nor more 
             steadiness of purpose, or backbone in him than in an 
         easterly cloud; but at length when the time came, and he 
        had got ready, the easterly cloud seemed suddenly to have 
               been charged with an electric fire and a swift and 
        resistless bolt flashed out, and the righteous judgment of 
                     Massachusetts came from his lips.1
    Such systematic sampling of public opinion enabled Wilson to 
represent the prevailing sentiments of his constituents and to make 
remarkably accurate political prognoses. This skill helped him build 
political alliances and parties and win elections. It also added an 
element of opportunism to Wilson's political maneuvering that brought 
him distrust, even from his political allies. Yet he did not simply 
follow the winds of public opinion whichever way they blew. Throughout 
his long political career, Wilson remained remarkably consistent in his 
support for human freedom and equality of rights for all men and women 
regardless of their color or class.

                   The Rise of Jeremiah Jones Colbath

    Henry Wilson's life resembled a Dickens novel. Like Pip, David 
Copperfield, and Nicholas Nickleby, he overcame a childhood of hardship 
and privation through the strength of his character, his ambition, and 
occasional assistance from others. He was born Jeremiah Jones Colbath on 
February 16, 1812, in Farmington, New Hampshire. His shiftless and 
intemperate father named the child after a wealthy bachelor neighbor in 
vain hope of inheritance. The boy grew to hate the name, and when he 
came of age had it legally changed to Henry Wilson, inspired either by a 
biography of the Philadelphia school teacher Henry Wilson or by a 
portrait of the Rev. Henry Wilson in a volume on English clergymen. The 
Colbaths lived from hand to mouth; ``Want sat by my cradle,'' he later 
recalled. ``I know what it is to ask a mother for bread when she has 
none to give.'' 2
    When the boy was ten years old, his father apprenticed him to a 
nearby farmer, binding him to work until his twenty-first birthday. The 
apprenticeship supposedly allowed one month of school every year, so 
long as there was no work to be done, but he rarely had more than a few 
days of school at any time. Lacking formal education, he compensated by 
reading every book in the farmhouse and borrowing other books from 
neighbors. He read copiously from history, biography and philosophy. 
Also as part of his self-improvement efforts, at age nineteen he took a 
pledge of total abstinence from alcohol, which he maintained thereafter. 
In 1833 he reached twenty-one and was freed from his apprenticeship. 
Long estranged from his parents, the newly renamed Henry Wilson set out 
for new horizons. He hunted for employment in the mills of New Hampshire 
and then walked one hundred miles from Farmington to Boston. Just 
outside of Boston he settled in the town of Natick, where he learned 
shoemaking from a friend.3
    The ambitious young cobbler worked so hard that by 1836 his health 
required he get some rest. Gathering his savings, Wilson traveled to 
Washington, D.C., to see the federal government. His attention was 
caught instead by the sight of slaves laboring in the fields of Maryland 
and Virginia and of slave pens and auctions within view of the Capitol 
Building. He left Washington determined ``to give all that I had . . . 
to the cause of emancipation in America,'' he said. Wilson committed 
himself to the antislavery movement and years later took pride in 
introducing the legislation in Congress that ended slavery in the 
District of Columbia. Home from his journey, he enrolled briefly in 
three academies and then taught school for a year, falling in love with 
one of his students, Harriet Malvina Howe. They were married three years 
later, in 1840, when she turned sixteen.4

                      From Shoemaker to Politician

    Although he harbored political aspirations, Wilson returned to the 
shoemaking business. Even during the economic recession that swept the 
country in the late 1830s, he prospered. Abandoning the cobbler's bench 
himself, he hired contract laborers and supervised their work, vastly 
increasing his production. As a factory owner, Wilson was able to build 
a handsome house for his family and to devote his attention more fully 
to civic affairs.5
    An active member of the Natick Debating Society, Wilson became swept 
up in the leading reform issues of his day, temperance, educational 
reform, and antislavery, and these in turn shaped his politics. Although 
the Democratic party in Massachusetts appealed to workers and small 
businessmen like Wilson, he was drawn instead to the more upper-crust 
Whig party because it embraced the social reforms that he supported. At 
a time when the Whigs were seeking to expand their political base, 
Wilson's working-class background and image as the ``Natick Cobbler'' 
appealed to the party. During the 1830s and 1840s, the Whigs ran him 
repeatedly for the state legislature, and he won seats in its upper and 
lower houses. Unlike many other Whigs, Wilson mingled easily in the 
state's factories and saloons. He gathered political lieutenants around 
the state and invested some of his shoemaking earnings in the Boston 
Republican, which he edited from 1848 to 1851. He also joined the Natick 
militia, rising to brigadier general and proudly claiming the title 
``General Wilson'' through the rest of his long political 
    As a self-made man, Henry Wilson felt contempt for aristocrats, 
whether Boston Brahmins or southern planters. ``I for one don't want the 
endorsement of the `best society' in Boston until I am dead,'' he once 
declared, ``--for it endorses everything that is dead.'' He reserved 
even greater contempt for aristocratic southerners who lived off the 
labor of their slaves, swearing that slavery must be ended. ``Freedom 
and slavery are now arrayed against each other,'' he declared; ``we must 
destroy slavery, or it will destroy liberty.'' Although the Whigs 
promoted numerous reforms, as a national party they included many 
southerners who supported slavery. In Massachusetts, the party split 
between ``Cotton Whigs,'' with political and economic ties between the 
New England cotton mills and the southern cotton plantations, and the 
``Conscience Whigs,'' who placed freedom ahead of patronage and profits. 
Sensing the changing tides of public opinion, Wilson predicted that, if 
antislavery supporters in all the old parties could bind together to 
form a new party, they could sweep the northern elections and displace 
southerners from power in Washington. In 1848 he abandoned the Whigs for 
the new Free Soil party, which nominated Martin Van Buren for president 
on an antislavery platform.7

                          A Residue of Distrust

    The Free Soil party proved to be premature. Wary voters defeated 
Wilson in his campaigns as the Free Soil candidate for the U.S. House of 
Representatives in 1852 and governor in 1853. Sadly disappointed in 1853 
at the defeat of a new state constitution for which he had labored long 
and hard, Wilson responded by secretly joining the Order of the Star 
Spangled Banner, also known as the American or Know-Nothing party--an 
anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant, nativist movement. Given the collapse 
of the established parties, the Know-Nothings flourished briefly, 
offering Wilson an unsavory opportunity to promote his personal 
ambitions--despite the party's conflict with his political ideals of 
racial and religious equality. At the same time, Wilson called for the 
creation of ``one great Republican party'' in opposition to the Kansas-
Nebraska Act, which threatened to open the western territories to 
slavery. In 1854, he ran as the Republican candidate for governor, but 
his strange maneuvering during and after the campaign convinced many 
Republicans that Wilson had sold them out by throwing the gubernatorial 
election to the Know-Nothings in return for being elected a U.S. senator 
by the Know-Nothings in the Massachusetts legislature, with the aid of 
Free Soilers and Democrats. Although Wilson identified himself as a 
Republican, his first Senate election left a residue of distrust that he 
would spend the rest of his life trying to live down.8
    In the Senate, Henry Wilson was inevitably compared with his 
handsome, dignified, scholarly senior colleague from Massachusetts, 
Charles Sumner. An idealist and fierce foe of slavery, Sumner laced his 
speeches with classical allusions and gave every indication that he 
would appear quite natural in the toga of a Roman senator. Henry Wilson 
would have seemed ludicrous in Roman garb or in attempting to match 
Sumner's grandiloquent addresses. Listeners described Wilson instead as 
``an earnest man'' who presented ``the cold facts of a case'' without 
relying on flamboyant oratory. George Boutwell, who served with him in 
Massachusetts and national politics, judged Wilson an especially 
effective speaker during elections and estimated that during the course 
of Wilson's career he spoke to more people than anyone else alive. 
Boutwell concluded of Wilson:
 He was not learned, he was not eloquent, he was not logical in a 
        high sense, he was not always consistent in his political 
         actions, and yet he gained the confidence of the people, 
        and he retained it to the end of his life. His success may 
        have been due in part to the circumstance that he was not 
        far removed from the mass of the people in the particulars 
        named, and that he acted in a period when fidelity to the 
         cause of freedom and activity in its promotion satisfied 
                                    the public demand.9
    Despite their different backgrounds and personalities, Wilson and 
Sumner agreed strongly on their opposition to slavery and pooled their 
efforts to destroy the ``peculiar institution.'' Even when people 
distrusted Wilson's wily political maneuvering or disdained his plebeian 
roots, they gave him credit for showing backbone in his fight against 
slavery. Massachusetts returned him to the Senate for three more terms, 
until his election as vice president.

               Chairman of the Military Affairs Committee

    During the 1850s, Wilson fought from the minority. When the southern 
states seceded in 1860 and 1861 and the Republicans moved into the 
majority, Henry Wilson assumed the chairmanship of the Senate Committee 
on Military Affairs, a key legislative post during the Civil War. In the 
months that Congress stood in recess, impatient Radical Republicans 
demanded quick military action against the South. In July 1861, at the 
war's first battle, along Bull Run creek in Manassas, Virginia, Wilson 
rode out with other senators, representatives, newspaper reporters, and 
members of Washington society to witness what they anticipated would be 
a Union victory. In his carriage, Senator Wilson carried a large hamper 
of sandwiches to distribute among the troops. Unexpectedly, however, the 
Confederates routed the Union army. Wilson's carriage was crushed and he 
was forced to beat an inglorious retreat back to 
    Defeat at the ``picnic battle,'' sobered many in the North who had 
talked of a short, easy war. In seeking to assign blame for the debacle, 
rumors spread that Wilson himself might have tipped off the enemy 
through his friendly relationship with a Washington woman, Mrs. Rose 
O'Neal Greenhow. When she was arrested as a Confederate spy, ``the Wild 
Rose'' held a packet of love letters signed ``H.'' But the letters were 
not in Wilson's handwriting, and Mrs. Greenhow knew many other senators, 
members of Lincoln's cabinet, and other highly placed sources of 
    Wilson went back to Massachusetts to raise a volunteer infantry, in 
which he wore the uniform of colonel. However, once the regiment reached 
Washington, he resigned his commission and returned to his Senate seat. 
Wilson also served as a volunteer aide-de-camp to General George 
McClellan, who commanded the Union armies. When he reported to the 
general's camp, he was ordered to accompany other officers on a 
horseback inspection of the capital's fortifications. As the Boston 
newspaper correspondent Benjamin Perley Poore observed, ``Unaccustomed 
to horsemanship, the ride of thirty miles was too much for the Senator, 
who kept his bed for a week, and then resigned his staff position.'' 
Still, this brief association made Wilson more sympathetic to McClellan 
than were other Radical Republicans in Congress. The Radicals 
established a Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, in part to 
bypass Wilson's Military Affairs Committee in scrutinizing and attacking 
the various officers of the Union army. Wilson at first defended the 
army, arguing that Democratic generals were opposed to the Republican 
administration but not to the war. Over time, he grew disheartened by 
the protracted war and impatient with McClellan's overly cautious 
military tactics. However, he made it a point, as committee chair, to 
avoid public criticism of the military operations of any 

                         Wilson and the Radicals

    Henry Wilson soon stood among the inner circle of Radical 
Republicans in Congress beside Charles Sumner, Benjamin Wade, Thaddeus 
Stevens, and Henry Winter Davis. He introduced bills that freed slaves 
in the District of Columbia, permitted African Americans to join the 
Union army, and provided equal pay to black and white soldiers. Wilson 
pressed President Lincoln to issue an emancipation proclamation and 
worried that the final product left many people still enslaved in the 
border states. Known as one of the most persistent newshunters in 
Washington, Wilson brought knowledgeable newspaper reporters straight 
from the battlefield to the White House to brief the president. Despite 
his intimacy with Lincoln, Wilson considered him too moderate and 
underestimated his abilities. The senator was once overheard denouncing 
Lincoln while sitting in the White House waiting room. He hoped that 
Lincoln would withdraw from the Republican ticket in 1864 in favor of a 
more radical presidential candidate.13
    Following Lincoln's assassination, Wilson initially hoped that the 
new president, his former Senate colleague Andrew Johnson, would pursue 
the Radical Republican agenda for reconstruction of the South. He was 
deeply disappointed in Johnson's endorsement of a speedy return of the 
Confederate states to the Union without any protection for the newly 
freed slaves. When the Thirty-ninth Congress convened in December 1865, 
Wilson introduced the first civil rights initiative of the postwar 
Congress. His bill aimed at outlawing the Black Codes and other forms of 
racial discrimination in the former Confederacy but, deemed too extreme 
by the non-Radical Republicans, it was defeated. Wilson also proposed 
that the Constitution be amended to prohibit any effort to limit the 
right to vote by race.14
    Johnson's more lenient policies for Reconstruction and his veto of 
the Freedmen's Bureau bill and other congressional efforts to protect 
black southerners eventually drove moderate Republicans into an alliance 
with the Radicals. Over time, Wilson saw his objectives added to the 
Constitution as the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth amendments. He 
supported the use of federal troops to enforce congressional 
Reconstruction, to permit freedmen to vote, and to establish Republican 
governments in the southern states. When Johnson stubbornly resisted the 
Radical programs, Wilson endorsed efforts to impeach the president. He 
accused the president of ``unworthy, if not criminal'' motives in 
resisting the will of the people on Reconstruction and cast his vote to 
remove Johnson from office. However, seven moderate Republican senators 
broke ranks with their party, and the Radicals failed by a single vote 
to achieve the two-thirds necessary to remove the 

                           National Ambitions

    Prior to the presidential election of 1868, Henry Wilson made an 
extended speaking tour throughout the southern states. Many journalists 
interpreted this effort as a means of promoting himself as a 
presidential candidate. In fact, Wilson supported U.S. Grant, the hero 
of Appomattox, for president and sought the vice-presidential nomination 
for himself. Always a political mechanic bent on building coalitions, 
Wilson felt certain that the southern Republican party could survive 
only if it became biracial. ``I do not want to see a white man's party 
nor a black man's party,'' he told a black audience in New Orleans. ``I 
warn you to-night, as I do the black men of this country everywhere, to 
remember this: that while a black man is as good as a white man, a white 
man is as good as a black man. See to it while you are striving to lift 
yourselves up, that you do not strive to pull anybody else down.'' By 
urging southern blacks to take a conciliatory, nonviolent approach 
toward those who had so recently enslaved and oppressed them, Wilson 
stunned his Radical Republican colleagues in Congress. ``Wilson is a --
---------- fool!'' wrote Ohio Senator Ben Wade. Nevertheless, southern 
delegates to the Republican convention generally supported Wilson's 
    On the first ballot for vice president at the Chicago convention, 
Ben Wade led with Wilson not far behind. That ballot marked Wilson's 
peak, and he lost support steadily on subsequent ballots. When House 
Speaker Schuyler Colfax gained strength, Wilson's delegates switched to 
Colfax, giving him the nomination. Grant's election brought expectations 
that Wilson might be named to the cabinet, but the senator asked that 
his name be removed from consideration, citing his wife's critically ill 
health--she died in 1870. Still, Wilson remained an influential and 
frequently consulted senator throughout Grant's first term.

                      Grant's Second Vice President

    By Grant's inauguration in 1869, Massachusetts boasted the most 
powerful delegation in Congress. Wilson chaired the Senate Military 
Affairs Committee, while Sumner chaired Foreign Relations. In the House, 
four Massachusetts representatives chaired committees, including 
Appropriations and Foreign Affairs. Commenting on the state's two 
senators, Massachusetts Representative George F. Hoar noted that, while 
Sumner was a man of great learning, great principle, and great ego, 
``Wilson supplied almost everything that Sumner lacked.'' Wilson was the 
more practical politician, with his finger on the public pulse. He 
recognized the value of party organization and ``did not disdain the art 
and diplomacies of a partisan.'' Wilson also combined practical politics 
with a strong inclination for reform. He spoke out for civil rights for 
the freedmen, voting rights for women, federal aid to education, federal 
regulation of business, protection of women, and prohibition of liquor. 
Hoar judged that no other man in the Senate, ``not even Sumner, had more 
influence over his colleagues'' than did Henry Wilson.17
    During Grant's first term, the imperious Sumner challenged the new 
president and defeated his plans for incorporating Santo Domingo into 
the United States. President Grant retaliated by goading the Senate 
Republican caucus to remove Sumner as chair of the Foreign Relations 
Committee (Wilson spoke in defense of retaining Sumner's chairmanship). 
A wounded Sumner opposed Grant's renomination in 1872, raising concerns 
that he and his allies might bolt to the Liberal Republican-Democratic 
fusion ticket headed by the eccentric newspaper editor Horace Greeley. 
After Vice President Schuyler Colfax released word that he did not 
intend to stand for a second term, many Republican leaders calculated 
that selecting Wilson for vice president would outflank Sumner and 
strengthen Grant with workers and with the ``old anti-slavery guard.'' 
Saluting the working-class origins of their ticket, Republican posters 
showed idealized versions of Grant, ``the Galena Tanner,'' and Wilson, 
``the Natick Shoemaker,'' attired in workers' aprons.18
    Just as the presidential campaign got underway in September 1872, 
the New York Sun published news of the Credit Mobilier scandal, offering 
evidence that key members of Congress had accepted railroad stock at 
little or no cost, presumably to guarantee their support for legislation 
that would finance construction of a transcontinental line. On the list 
were the names of Grant's retiring vice president, Colfax, and his new 
running mate, Henry Wilson. Newspaper correspondent Henry Van Ness 
Boynton sent the New York Times a dispatch reporting that Senator Wilson 
had made a ``full and absolute denial'' that he had ever owned Credit 
Mobilier stock. In truth, Wilson had purchased the stock in his wife's 
name but had later returned it. Called to testify before a House 
investigating committee, Boynton recounted how he had gone to see Wilson 
to ask if he would deny the charges against him and that Wilson had 
given him an absolute denial, knowing that he would file the story that 
night. Wilson did not contradict the reporter. ``General Boynton is a 
man of character and truth,'' he told the committee, ``and I should take 
his word.'' Although the committee cleared Wilson of any wrongdoing in 
taking the stock, it concluded that the information Wilson had given the 
Times had been ``calculated to convey to the public an erroneous 
impression.'' 19

                        The Ravages of Ill Health

    The Credit Mobilier scandal did not dissuade voters from reelecting 
Grant and making Henry Wilson vice president. Wilson helped the ticket 
by embarking on an ambitious speaking tour that took him some ten 
thousand miles to deliver ninety-six addresses, ruining his health in 
the process. In May 1873, the sixty-one-year-old Wilson suffered a 
stroke that caused him to lose control of his facial muscles and to 
speak thickly whenever fatigued. Although doctors ordered him to rest, 
the advice went against his nature. A friend wrote, ``You know he was 
never still for five minutes, and it is more difficult for him than for 
most persons to sit quietly and dream away the time.'' After spending 
the summer recuperating in Massachusetts, Wilson traveled to Washington 
in December for the opening of the new Congress, but by January his poor 
health forced him to return home once again. Instead of presiding over 
the Senate, he spent his time writing a multi-volume history of the rise 
and fall of the slave power, memorializing his own role in the great 
events of the Civil War and Reconstruction.20
    Wilson's ill health kept him from playing any role of consequence as 
vice president but did not suppress his political concerns and 
ambitions. He lamented that a ``Counter-Revolution'' was overtaking 
Reconstruction and urged his old antislavery veterans to speak out 
against efforts to limit the rights of the freedmen. Wilson blamed the 
decay of Reconstruction on the Grant administration. According to 
Representative James Garfield, the vice president had asserted that 
``Grant is now more unpopular than Andrew Johnson was in his darkest 
days; that Grant's appointments had been getting worse and worse; that 
he is still struggling for a third term; in short that he is the 
millstone around the neck of our party that would sink it out of 
sight.'' Yet Wilson could not bring himself to admit that his own 
involvement in the Credit Mobilier scandal, as well as the involvement 
of other members of Congress in the many other scandals of the era, had 
dimmed the moral fervor of the antislavery movement and congressional 
Reconstruction, thus undermining public confidence in an active federal 
government. For the rest of the nineteenth century, political trends 
moved away from Wilson's cherished reforms. A new generation of genteel 
reformers advocated limited government, civil service reform, and other 
administrative solutions and abandoned support for the voting and civil 
rights of the freedmen, women's rights, and other social reforms that 
Wilson esteemed.21
    In the spring of 1875, Vice President Wilson made a six-week tour of 
the South, raising suspicions that he intended to ``advertise himself'' 
for the presidential nomination the next year. He returned home 
optimistic about the chances that the Republicans could build political 
and economic ties to conservative southerners by appointing a southern 
ex-Whig to the cabinet and by offering economic aid to southern business 
(policies later adopted by the next president, Rutherford B. Hayes). 
Although Grant desired a third term, Wilson's friends felt sure that the 
vice president could win the presidential nomination and 
    Wilson's great ambition went unfulfilled. That fall, he consulted 
Dr. William Hammond, complaining of pain in the back of his head and an 
inability to sleep. ``I enjoined rest from mental labor,'' the doctor 
noted, but the vice president replied that he could not comply with 
those wishes ``as fully as desirable.'' Dr. Hammond saw Wilson again in 
early November and noted ``vertigo, thickness of speech, twitching of 
the facial muscles, irregularity of respiration, and the action of the 
heart, slight difficulty of swallowing, and intense pain in the back of 
the head and nape of the neck.'' He observed that the vice president's 
``hands were in almost constant motion and he could not sit longer than 
a few seconds without rising and pacing the floor, or changing to 
another chair.'' Wilson insisted that he must travel to Washington for 
the new Congress but promised his doctor not to work too hard. He told a 
friend that ``he would at least be able to preside at the opening of the 
Senate, and perhaps through most of the session.'' 23
    During the nineteenth century, many members of Congress lived in 
boardinghouses and hotels where the plumbing left much to be desired. To 
accommodate them, the Capitol provided luxurious bathing rooms in its 
basement for the House and Senate. There members could soak in large 
marble tubs, enjoy a massage, and have their hair cut and beards 
trimmed. On November 10, 1875, Wilson went down to soak in the tubs. 
Soon after leaving the bath, he was struck by paralysis and carried to a 
bed in his vice-presidential office, just off the Senate floor. Within a 
few days, he felt strong enough to receive visitors and seemed to be 
gaining strength. When he awoke in his Capitol office on November 22, he 
was informed that Senator Orris Ferry of Connecticut had died. Wilson 
lamented the passing of his generation, commenting ``that makes eighty-
three dead with whom I have sat in the Senate.'' Shortly thereafter, he 
rolled over and quietly died, at age sixty-three. His body lay in state 
in the Rotunda, and his funeral was conducted in the Senate chamber, the 
vice-presidential chair arrayed in black crepe.
    In his memory, the Senate in 1885 placed a marble bust of Wilson by 
the sculptor Daniel Chester French in the room where the vice president 
died.24 There the Senate also installed a bronze plaque, with 
an inscription written by his old friend and colleague, George F. Hoar:

                              In this room

                              HENRY WILSON

                   Vice President of the United States

                    and a Senator for Eighteen Years,

                         Died November 22, 1875

         The son of a farm laborer, never at school more than twelve 
    months, in youth a journeyman shoemaker, he raised himself to the 
    high places of fame, honor and power, and by unwearied study made 
    himself an authority in the history of his country and of liberty 
    and an eloquent public speaker to whom Senate and people eagerly 
    listened. He dealt with and controlled vast public expenditure 
    during a great civil war, yet lived and died poor, and left to his 
    grateful countrymen the memory of an honorable public service, and a 
    good name far better than riches.25
                              HENRY WILSON


    1 George F. Hoar, Autobiography of Seventy Years (New 
York, 1903), 1:218.
    2 Richard H. Abbott, Cobbler in Congress: The Life of 
Henry Wilson, 1812-1875 (Lexington, KY, 1972), pp. 1-6; Elias Nason and 
Thomas Russell, The Life and Public Services of Henry Wilson, Late Vice-
President of the United States (New York, 1969; reprint of 1876 ed.), p. 
    3 Nason and Russell, pp. 18-21; Ernest A. McKay, Henry 
Wilson: Practical Radical: A Portrait of a Politician (Port Washington, 
NY, 1971), pp. 6-12.
    4 Nason and Russell, pp. 29-34; Abbott, p. 11.
    5 McKay, Henry Wilson: Practical Radical, p. 16; Abbott, 
pp. 14-15.
    6 Abbott, pp. 30, 36.
    7 Ibid, pp. 27, 53.
    8 Ibid., pp. 46-63; Ernest A. McKay, ``Henry Wilson: 
Unprincipled Know Nothing,'' Mid-America 46 (January 1964): 29-37; David 
Herbert Donald, Charles Sumner and the Coming of the Civil War (Chicago, 
1960), p. 268; William E. Gianapp, The Origins of the Republican Party, 
1852-1856 (New York, 1987), pp. 135-36.
    9 Allan G. Bogue, The Earnest Men: Republicans of the 
Civil War Senate (Ithaca, NY, 1981), pp. 33-34; Abbott, p. 18; George S. 
Boutwell, Reminiscences of Sixty Years in Public Affairs (New York, 
1968; reprint of 1902 ed.), 1:228-29.
    10 Abbott, p. 116; McKay, Henry Wilson: Practical 
Radical, pp. 146-47.
    11 Abbott, p. 117; Margaret Leech, Reveille in 
Washington, 1860-1865 (New York, 1941), pp. 134-38.
    12 Abbott, pp. 125-26; McKay, Henry Wilson: Practical 
Radical, p. 161; Benjamin Perley Poore, Perley's Reminiscences of Sixty 
Years in the National Metropolis (Philadelphia, 1887), 2:99.
    13 Wilson also introduced a bill to permit women to vote 
and hold office in the District. Bogue, pp. 109-10, 152, 167, 169; T. 
Harry Williams, Lincoln and the Radicals (Madison, WI, 1941), pp. 161, 
309, 316; J. Cutler Andrews, The North Reports the Civil War 
(Pittsburgh, 1955), p. 332.
    14 Earl M. Maltz, Civil Rights, The Constitution, and 
Congress, 1863-1869 (Lawrence, KS, 1990), pp. 43, 148; Michael Les 
Benedict, A Compromise of Principle: Congressional Republicans and 
Reconstruction, 1863-1869 (New York, 1974), p. 24.
    15 Abbott, pp. 200-202.
    16 Ibid., pp. 196-99; Benedict, pp. 259-60.
    17 Hoar, pp. 213, 215, 217-18; Abbott, p. 225. Henry 
Wilson, History of Antislavery Measures of the Thirty-Seventh and 
Thirty-Eighth Congresses (Boston, 1865); History of the Reconstruction 
Measures of the Thirty-Ninth and Fortieth Congress (Chicago, 1868); 
History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, 3 vols. 
(Boston, 1872-1877).
    18 William B. Hesseltine, Ulysses S. Grant, Politician 
(New York, 1935), pp. 276-77; McKay, Henry Wilson: Practical Radical, 
pp. 222-23.
    19 Donald A. Ritchie, Press Gallery: Congress and the 
Washington Correspondents (Cambridge, MA, 1991), pp. 105-6.
    20 Abbott, p. 249.
    21 Eric Foner, Reconstruction: America's Unfinished 
Revolution, 1863-1877 (New York, 1988), p. 527; William S. McFeely, 
Grant: A Biography (New York, 1981), p. 406; see also Mark Wahlgren 
Summers, The Era of Good Stealings (New York, 1993).
    22 Abbott, p. 255.
    23 William A. Hammond, On The Cause of Vice-President 
Wilson's Death (Cambridge, MA, 1875), pp. 7-8.
    24 In 1886 the Senate began the practice of acquiring 
marble busts of all former vice presidents.
    25 Hoar, p. 219.

                               Chapter 19

                          WILLIAM ALMON WHEELER


                           WILLIAM A. WHEELER
                           WILLIAM A. WHEELER

                               Chapter 19

                          WILLIAM ALMON WHEELER

                     19th Vice President: 1877-1881

      Who is Wheeler?
                                         --Rutherford B. Hayes
    In the wake of the Grant-era scandals, both the Republican and 
Democratic parties searched for untarnished candidates as they 
approached the presidential election of 1876. Democrats chose one of 
their most prominent leaders, New York Governor Samuel J. Tilden, who 
had won national attention by taking on the Tweed Ring in New York City. 
Republicans passed over their party's bigger names, men who had been 
stained by various exposes in the press, and settled instead on a ticket 
of Ohio Governor Rutherford B. Hayes and New York Representative William 
A. Wheeler. Although neither man was very well known to the nation, both 
had reputations for scrupulous honesty and independence. If history 
remembers William Wheeler at all, it is for his character. In his 
introduction to John F. Kennedy's Profiles in Courage, the historian 
Allan Nevins reproduced a colloquy between Wheeler and Senator Roscoe 
Conkling, the Republican political boss of New York. ``Wheeler, if you 
will act with us, there is nothing in the gift of the State of New York 
to which you may not reasonably aspire,'' Conkling tempted; to which 
Wheeler replied, ``Mr. Conkling, there is nothing in the gift of the 
State of New York which will compensate me for the forfeiture of my 
self-respect.'' 1

                          A Cautious Politician

    Among the stranger individuals to occupy the vice-presidency, 
William Almon Wheeler seems to have been scarred by his father's ill 
health, which left him neurotically obsessed with his own well-being. An 
excessively cautious politician--to the point of timidity--he straddled 
the various factions in his party, avoided all commitments, and advanced 
himself politically while covering himself with obscurity. William 
Wheeler was born on June 30, 1819, in the upstate New York town of 
Malone, near the Canadian border. His father, Almon Wheeler, had 
attended the University of Vermont and was a promising young attorney 
and local postmaster who died at the age of thirty-seven, when William 
was just eight years old. Left in debt, his mother, Eliza, took in 
boarders from the nearby Franklin Academy to support her two children. 
William attended the academy, farmed, and did whatever he could to save 
money for college. At nineteen, with the help of a loan from a friend, 
he entered the University of Vermont in Burlington. There he studied for 
two years, at times living on bread and water, until ``an affection of 
the eyes'' caused him to drop out.2
    He returned to Malone, taught school and studied law. In 1845, 
shortly after he was admitted to the bar, he married one of his former 
students, Mary King. A Whig, Wheeler was soon running for office. He 
became town clerk, school commissioner, and school inspector. In later 
years he recalled that the thirty dollars a year he earned as town 
clerk, recording deeds and laying out roads, ``were of more value to me 
than the thousands I have since attained.'' He served as district 
attorney for Franklin County from 1846 to 1849 and, from 1850 to 1851, 
served in the state assembly, where he chaired the ways and means 
committee. Joining the new Republican party, he moved to the state 
senate in 1858 and was elected its president pro tempore. Wheeler also 
conducted a private law practice until ``throat trouble'' interfered 
with his courtroom advocacy and convinced him to abandon the law in 
favor of running a local bank and serving as a railroad trustee, 
positions that he held until ``driven from business in 1865, by broken 
health.'' 3

                      A Silent Member of the House

    Wheeler was elected to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives 
from 1861 to 1863. He then returned to New York, where he chaired the 
state constitutional convention, a prestigious body whose members 
included two future presidential candidates, Horace Greeley and Samuel 
J. Tilden. Although Wheeler spoke infrequently, his words carried 
weight, and he gained high marks for fairness as presiding officer. In 
1868 he again won election to the House, where he chaired the Committee 
on Pacific Railroads. It was at this time that Iowa Representative Oakes 
Ames, acting as an agent for the Credit Mobilier, the construction 
company for the Union Pacific Railroad, began spreading railroad stock 
among high-ranking members of Congress, ``where it would do the most 
good.'' Wheeler not only refused all stocks offered to him, but resigned 
his chairmanship to avoid further temptation. In 1872, when the Credit 
Mobilier scandal broke in the newspapers, Wheeler remained clean as some 
of the most prominent members of Congress were caught with the stock. 
His rectitude even inspired him to oppose an appropriation to construct 
a post office in his home town of Malone.
    Wheeler stayed aloof from the New York state political machine run 
by Senator Roscoe Conkling. In 1872, Conkling maneuvered to make Wheeler 
Speaker of the House in place of his hated rival, James G. Blaine. 
Wheeler declined to have anything to do with the scheme and supported 
Blaine, who apparently had promised, but never delivered on the promise, 
to make Wheeler chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. Wheeler 
also cited his poor health as a reason for not putting himself forward, 
and only the persuasiveness of his wife and friends kept him from 
retiring from Congress.4
    In the House, Wheeler generally kept silent unless he was managing a 
bill, but then he always proved to be well prepared and highly 
effective. He remained in the political shadows until 1874, when as a 
member of the House Committee on Southern Affairs he investigated a 
disputed election in Louisiana. The election of 1872 had torn apart the 
Republican party in the state, with half of the party machinery 
supporting William Pitt Kellogg for governor, and the other half joining 
the Democrats on a fusion ticket. The election board declared the 
Democratic candidates the victors, but Republicans refused to concede. 
They created their own election board, which gave the governorship to 
Kellogg and a number of disputed elections to their candidates for the 
state legislature. After President Grant recognized Kellogg as governor, 
a battle erupted on the streets of New Orleans that left fifty-six 
people dead. A mob ousted Kellogg, but federal troops restored him to 

                         The Wheeler Compromise

    Traveling to Louisiana, Wheeler and other committee members heard 
highly emotional and contradictory testimony from both sides. It was 
Wheeler who forged the compromise that let Kellogg remain as governor 
and allowed the committee to arbitrate the disputed seats in the 
legislature, most of which went to the Democrats. In March 1875, the 
House endorsed the ``Wheeler compromise,'' a plan which essentially 
undid federal Reconstruction of the state and held out hope for peace 
between the North and South a decade after the Civil War had ended. When 
Louisiana Democrats violated the spirit of the compromise by unseating 
even more Republican state legislators, in order to elect a Democrat to 
the U.S. Senate, most northern politicians and newspapers ignored the 
violations. The North seemed relieved to escape the responsibilities of 
Reconstruction. Representative Wheeler observed that northerners had 
expected too much from the South and declared that it was time to admit 
the failure of efforts to promote peace with the sword. His compromise 
taught northern Republicans how to cut their losses. Thereafter the 
party concentrated on preserving its power in the North while scaling 
down its military efforts in the South, even if that meant abandoning 
the political rights of the freedmen.6
    Wheeler was content in his life as a member of the House of 
Representatives and dreamed of becoming Speaker. However, in early 1876 
some Republicans began talking of him as a candidate for president or 
vice president. The politically astute manager of the Western Associated 
Press, William Henry Smith, predicted that the GOP ticket would be Hayes 
and Wheeler. Upon hearing this forecast, Ohio Governor Rutherford B. 
Hayes wrote to his wife, ``I am ashamed to say, Who is Wheeler?'' 
Because Wheeler had served in the House from 1861 to 1863 and again from 
1869 to 1877, while Hayes had been a representative during the 
intervening years from 1865 to 1867, there had been no overlap in their 

                            A Quiet Candidate

    At the Republican convention in Cincinnati, Wheeler received a 
handful of votes for president, but the major contest was between 
Senator Conkling, House Speaker Blaine, and Governor Hayes. When 
Conkling's nomination seemed impossible, his party machine, the 
``stalwarts,'' threw their support to Hayes as the best way of stopping 
Blaine, leader of the ``half-breed'' faction. Having helped Hayes win 
the presidential nomination, the stalwarts considered the vice-
presidency theirs to name and they put forward New York Representative 
Stewart Woodford. The half-breeds, however, wanted the stalwarts off the 
ticket. Massachusetts half-breed Senator George F. Hoar promoted his 
friend Wheeler as a man of high moral character. Hoar approached the 
distinguished author James Russell Lowell, a member of the Massachusetts 
delegation, on Wheeler's behalf. When Lowell replied that he was 
unwilling to vote for anyone about whom he knew so little, Hoar 
responded, ``Mr. Lowell, Mr. Wheeler is a very sensible man. He knows 
The Bigelow Papers by heart.'' Lowell, the author of The Bigelow Papers, 
said nothing but later was overheard telling other delegates, ``I 
understand that Mr. Wheeler is a very sensible man.'' 8
    Former Vermont Senator and Representative Luke Poland placed 
Wheeler's name in nomination, while Conkling's lieutenant Tom Platt 
nominated Woodford. The publicity Wheeler had received for his 
compromise, coupled with his independence from the Conkling machine, 
appealed to the delegates, who voted for him overwhelmingly. When the 
roll call of the states reached New York, the stalwarts realized they 
were about to lose and withdrew Woodford's name. The New York delegation 
voted unanimously for Wheeler--a bitter pill for Conkling's supporters 
to swallow.9
    During the campaign, Democrats vainly sought scandals in the pasts 
of the Republican candidates but could find nothing that would tar 
Wheeler's reputation. One campaign biography boasted that, at the time 
when it was fashionable for congressmen ``to dabble in railroad stocks 
and bonds,'' Wheeler had neither bought nor sold a share of stock or a 
single bond in any Pacific railroad. He had served his country in 
Congress for ten years without adding to the personal wealth that he 
brought to Washington. ``With simple tastes,'' his biographer extolled, 
``he has never been greedy of gain either for its own sake or for the 
luxury it would buy. As a legislator, the thought never occurred to him 
that his influence could bring riches, and not the shadow of a stain 
rests on his name.'' Wheeler had also voted against the ``salary 
grab''--an unpopular attempt by members of Congress to raise their pay 
retroactively--and refused the increase in his own salary.10
    Wheeler also appealed to the professional songwriters, who in 1876 
were just taking over the business of writing campaign songs from the 
amateurs who had long prevailed. The Tin Pan Alley men leaned towards 
puns, alliteration and other word-plays in their songs. Thus the sheet 
music for ``We'll Go for Hayes! We'll Wheel'er in on Time'' showed 
Wheeler pushing Hayes in a wheelbarrow toward the White 
    While Wheeler did not detract from the ticket, he added little to it 
and even refused to campaign. The Democratic vice-presidential nominee 
Thomas Hendricks spoke in the swing state of Indiana, but Wheeler 
declined all invitations from the Republicans. In a remarkable reply to 
James G. Blaine's invitation to speak to a series of mass meetings in 
Maine, Wheeler cited his frailty and insomnia as excuses:
    I greatly regret my physical inability to do little in the way of 
speaking in his canvass. But I have no reserve of strength to draw upon. 
I was driven from business in 1865, by broken health and have never been 
strong since. . . . My trouble for years has been wakefulness at night. 
No resident of the grave or a lunatic asylum has suffered more from this 
cause than I have. Speaking, and the presence of crowds, excite me and 
intensify my wakefulness. . . . Gov. Hayes wrote me, asking me to go to 
Indiana and Ohio, to which I answered as I write you. . . . I regret 
that I was nominated. You know I did not want the place. I should have 
gone back to the House, and into a Republican majority. I should have 
almost to a certainty, been its Speaker, which I would greatly prefer to 
being laid away.12
    All that Wheeler would do was to issue the traditional letter of 
acceptance of his nomination. The conciliatory tone of that letter 
toward the South was seen as part of the Republicans' strategy of trying 
to detach the old southern Whigs from the southern Democrats. Candidate 
Hayes issued a similarly ambiguous endorsement of reconciliation with 
the South. At the Republican convention, the civil rights leader 
Frederick Douglass had challenged the delegates to decide whether they 
meant to uphold for blacks the rights they had written into the 
Constitution or whether they could ``get along without the vote of the 
black man in the South.'' The Hayes and Wheeler ticket suggested that 
the party had chosen the latter course.13

                         The Contested Election

    On election night, it looked as if Tilden and Hendricks had defeated 
Hayes and Wheeler, especially after Democrats captured Wheeler's home 
state of New York. Republican newspapers conceded the election, but 
Zachariah Chandler, chairman of the Republican National Committee, saw 
hope in the southern electors and dispatched telegrams to party leaders 
in those southern states still under Reconstruction rule, alerting them 
that the election was still undecided. Three southern states each sent 
two sets of electoral ballots, one set for Tilden and one set for Hayes. 
One of the disputed states was Louisiana, where only a year earlier 
Wheeler had found evidence that the state board of election had produced 
fraudulent returns. Now his election as vice president depended upon 
that same board.14
    After a specially created electoral commission awarded all of the 
disputed ballots to Hayes, a joint session of Congress still had to 
count the ballots, and there was talk of angry Democrats marching on 
Washington by the thousands to prevent this ``steal'' of the election. 
To avoid bloodshed, friends of both candidates met at the Wormley Hotel 
in Washington in late February 1877. There they agreed to a compromise 
that settled the election and ended Reconstruction. In return for Hayes' 
election, Republicans offered federal funds to build railroads through 
the ravaged South and otherwise restore the southern economy, promised 
to appoint a southerner to the cabinet, and--most important--pledged to 
remove all federal troops from the southern states. When members of the 
Democratic majority in the House of Representatives still tried to block 
the counting of the electoral ballots, a Louisiana representative 
assured them that an acceptable arrangement had been negotiated at the 
Wormley Hotel. The revolt fizzled, and at 4 a.m. on March 2, senators 
marched to the House chamber to declare Hayes president. Hayes upheld 
the bargain and removed the federal troops, abandoning black voters to 
disfranchisement and segregation.15

                      Hymn Singing and Square Talk

    Although they had not known each other before their nomination, 
Hayes and Wheeler developed an unusually friendly relationship while in 
office. The Hayes family--scorned by many Washington politicos for their 
old-fashioned manner and strict adherence to temperance--became a 
surrogate family to the lonely vice president, a sixty-year old widower 
with no children. The vice president was fond of hymn singing, and each 
Sunday evening the Hayes family invited Wheeler and a few other friends 
to the White House library, where Secretary of the Interior Carl Schurz 
played the piano and the vice president distributed copies of The 
Presbyterian Hymn and Tune Book for ``a revelry of sweet sounds and 
mingling of souls.'' 16
    Wheeler also provided Hayes with advice about appointments, 
recommending that selections be made according to ``personal character, 
recognized capacity and experience.'' He especially warned Hayes about 
the hostility that the Conkling machine exhibited toward the new 
administration. At one point, Hayes noted in his diary that Wheeler was 
critical of cabinet members who, when approached by jobseekers, 
responded equivocally. ``When there is no hope tell the man so,'' 
Wheeler asserted. ``He will be disappointed at the time, but it is the 
best way.'' Hayes observed that Wheeler was right. ``Prompt and square 
talk is in the long run safest and is just to the parties concerned. I 
must also bear this in mind.'' 17
    Despite their friendship, Hayes rarely consulted Wheeler and did not 
include him within his circle of advisers. Wheeler spent his vice-
presidency presiding over Senate debates, a job he found dull and 
monotonous, comparing his role of repeating set phrases to that of a 
parrot. During his term, he cast six tie-breaking votes, including one 
that helped his old friend William Pitt Kellogg to be seated as senator 
from Louisiana. Wheeler grew particularly frustrated at being left out 
of both cabinet meetings and party caucuses and feeling that he was 
generally ignored. The greatest trial of being vice president, he once 
commented, was attending church. ``I hear the minister praying for the 
President, his Cabinet, both Houses of Congress, the Supreme Court, the 
governors and legislatures of all the states and every individual 
heathen . . . and find myself wholly left out.'' 18

                             A Forgotten Man

    Wheeler made it easy for his nation to forget that he existed. A 
more assertive man might have risen to lead the opposition to the 
Conkling machine, but Wheeler contented himself with sneering at 
Conkling rather than challenging him. The vice president urged President 
Hayes not to appear weak and yielding to Conkling. But when Hayes took 
on Conkling by removing his lieutenants Chester A. Arthur and Alonzo 
Cornell from their lucrative posts at the New York customhouse, Wheeler 
disapproved the action because he feared it might split the party. 
Wheeler even endorsed Cornell's candidacy for governor of New 
    In December 1879, the Republican National Committee met in 
Washington, as a first step toward nominating the presidential ticket 
for 1880. Hayes had let it be known that he would not stand for a second 
term, and sentiments within the party seemed to be roughly divided 
between Grant and Blaine. In his diary Hayes commented, ``If New York 
could with a fair degree of unity, present a man like say the Vice 
President . . . he would probably be nominated.'' But there was no hope 
of the factions in New York uniting, especially over someone who opposed 
Roscoe Conkling.20 At the convention, James A. Garfield 
defeated Grant, Blaine, and other candidates on the thirty-sixth ballot 
to become the Republican nominee. He and his running mate Chester A. 
Arthur went on to win the election.
    In March 1881, Wheeler turned over the vice-presidency to his 
successor, Conkling's confederate Chet Arthur. Within months, Conkling 
launched his last great political battle against the new president. In 
May, both New York senators, Conkling and Tom Platt, dramatically 
resigned and returned to Albany, where they expected the state 
legislature to reelect them as a sign of solidarity in their patronage 
struggles with Garfield. Instead, the legislature rebelled. A number of 
candidates entered the Senate race, including former Vice President 
Wheeler. On several ballots, Wheeler ran ahead of Conkling. Although 
neither won the election, Conkling's biographer concluded that ``the 
ambition of former Vice-President Wheeler was a major contributing 
cause'' to Conkling's defeat. Crushed by his defeat and by Garfield's 
assassination, Conkling retired from politics to a lucrative Wall Street 
law practice. William A. Wheeler also retired from public life, turning 
down an appointment from President Chester Arthur to serve on a 
commission to study the tariff because, he said, his health was not up 
to it. He died on June 4, 1887, in Malone, a forgotten man.21
                          WILLIAM ALMON WHEELER


    1 John F. Kennedy, Profiles in Courage (New York, 1956), 
p. xiv.
    2 William Dean Howells, Sketch of the Life and Character 
of Rutherford B. Hayes, Also a Biographical Sketch of William A. Wheeler 
(New York, 1876), pp. 5-7; see also James T. Otten, ``Grand Old 
Partyman: William A. Wheeler and the Republican Party, 1850-1880,'' 
(Ph.D. dissertation, University of South Carolina, 1976), pp. 1-11, 285-
    3 Howells, p. 10; Keith Ian Polakoff, The Politics of 
Inertia: The Election of 1876 and the End of Reconstruction (Baton 
Rouge, LA, 1973), p. 123.
    4 Otten, pp. 63-79, 288-89.
    5 Polakoff, p. 181.
    6 Ibid; William Gillette, Retreat from Reconstruction, 
1869-1879 (Baton Rouge, LA, 1979), pp. 133, 294.
    7 Howells, p. 12; Polakoff, p. 37.
    8 Herbert Eaton, Presidential Timber: A History of 
Nominating Conventions, 1868-1960 (New York, 1964), pp. 55-59; Richard 
E. Welch, Jr., George Frisbie Hoar and the Half-Breed Republicans 
(Cambridge, MA, 1971), p. 55.
    9 Polakoff, pp. 67-68; David M. Jordan, Roscoe Conkling 
of New York: Voice in the Senate (Ithaca, NY, 1971), p. 241.
    10 Howells, pp. 16-17, 20.
    11 Irwin Silber, Songs America Voted By (Harrisburg, PA, 
1971), p. 115.
    12 Mark Wahlgren Summers, The Era of Good Stealings (New 
York, 1993), p. 281; Polakoff, p. 123.
    13 Gillette, pp. 304, 419.
    14 Ibid., p. 332; Otten, p. 218.
    15 For details of the compromise, see C. Vann Woodward, 
Reunion and Reaction; The Compromise of 1877 and the End of 
Reconstruction (New York, 1991; reprint of 1951 edition); Eric Foner, 
Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 (New York, 
1988); and Polakoff. See also Chapter 21 of this volume, ``Thomas 
Andrews Hendricks,'' p. 263.
    16 Kenneth E. Davison, The Presidency of Rutherford B. 
Hayes (Westport, CT, 1972), pp. 84-85.
    17 Otten, p. 171; T. Harry Williams, ed., Hayes: The 
Diary of a President, 1875-1881 (New York, 1964), pp. 69, 129.
    18 Howells, p. 26; Otten, pp. 176, 181, 292; U.S., 
Congress, Senate, The Senate, 1789-1989, by Robert C. Byrd, S. Doc. 100-
20, 100th Cong., 1st sess., vol. 4, Historical Statistics, 1789-1992, 
1993, p. 644.
    19 Williams, ed., p. 302; Otten, pp. 209, 256, 263.
    20 Williams, ed., pp. 256-57.
    21 Jordan, pp. 407-8; Otten, pp. 277-79.

                               Chapter 20

                           CHESTER ALAN ARTHUR


                            CHESTER A. ARTHUR
                            CHESTER A. ARTHUR

                               Chapter 20

                           CHESTER ALAN ARTHUR

                        20th Vice President: 1881

          Such an honor and opportunity comes to very few of the 
      millions of Americans, and to that man but once. No man can 
      refuse it, and I will not.
                                           --Chester A. Arthur
    Following the Civil War and Reconstruction, ``boss rule'' and 
``machine politics'' flourished in the United States, and nowhere more 
intensely than in New York, the most populated state in the Union. The 
Tweed Ring ran the Democratic party's Tammany Hall apparatus in New 
York, and an equally powerful machine operated within the state's 
Republican party. Throughout the 1870s, that party's ``stalwart'' 
faction, led by Senator Roscoe Conkling, dominated New York politics 
until it reached both its apex and nadir within the space of a few 
months in 1881. Although responsible for some of the most tawdry 
politics in American history, Conkling's machine also produced two vice 
presidents, Chester Alan Arthur and Levi P. Morton, one of whom--
Arthur--became president of the United States under tragic circumstances 
and turned against the machine and its spoilsmen.
    A spellbinding orator with a commanding presence, Senator Roscoe 
Conkling was the uncrowned leader of the Senate in an era before 
majority and minority leaders were formally designated. One woman 
newspaper correspondent described him as the most alluring politician of 
his time and ``the Apollo of the Senate.'' New York's other senator, 
Thomas C. Platt, similarly considered Conkling one of the handsomest men 
he had ever met.
He was over six feet tall, of slender build, and stood straight as 
        an arrow. . . . A curl, described as Hyperion, rolled over 
         his forehead. An imperial [air] added much to the beauty 
        of his Apollo-like appearance. His noble figure, flashing 
               eye and majestic voice made one forget that he was 
        somewhat foppish in his dress.A physical fitness fanatic, 
        Conkling boxed to keep in shape for his political battles, 
         and a journalist noted that Conkling also ``loved to use 
        words as a prize-fighter loves to use his fists.'' No one 
            admired Conkling's talents and abilities more than he 
        himself. A vain and haughty man with a monumental ego, he 
           believed himself unfettered by the rules that governed 
             lesser mortals. These impulses led him to carry on a 
        scandalous affair with Kate Chase Sprague, the wife of his 
        Senate colleague William Sprague, and to challenge openly 
                 two presidents--Rutherford B. Hayes and James A. 
                    Garfield--for power and patronage.1
    Conkling built his political machine on a rich source of patronage, 
the New York customhouse, headed by the collector of the port of New 
York. Before income taxes, the chief sources of federal revenue were the 
duties charged on imported goods. The busy port of New York served as 
the point of deposit for many imports, and its customhouse became the 
largest federal office in the government, taking in more revenue and 
handing out more jobs than any other. Since the days of Andrew Jackson, 
the ``spoils system'' had prevailed in the hiring and retention of 
federal employees. Each new administration cleaned house, regardless of 
the ability of individual civil servants, making room for its own 
appointees. As was the case at the city and state level, these federal 
jobs provided the glue that united political party organizations. Yet 
increasingly in the post-Civil War era, federal offices like the New 
York customhouse became symbols of waste, fraud, and incompetence that 
cost the government millions of dollars.2

              Political Lieutenant in the Conkling Machine

    From 1871 to 1877, the head of the New York customhouse was Roscoe 
Conkling's close ally, Chester Alan Arthur. Born in North Fairfield, 
Vermont, on October 5, 1829, Arthur was the son of a Baptist minister 
who held a succession of pastorates throughout Vermont and upstate New 
York. When his father finally settled at a church in Schenectady, young 
Arthur was able to attend Union College, from which he graduated Phi 
Beta Kappa in 1848. For a few years he taught school and was a 
principal. He then studied law and gained admission to the bar in New 
York City in 1854. During the Civil War, he became a judge advocate 
general and later the quartermaster general of the New York militia. 
Although he never saw combat, these posts enabled him to campaign as 
``General Arthur'' in his later political career.
    Arthur married Virginia-born Ellen Lewis Herndon in 1859 and 
established his family in a handsome brownstone on Lexington Avenue near 
Gramercy Park. His law practice enabled him to live in a conspicuously 
stylish fashion. At first, Arthur was identified with the conservative 
wing of his party, led by former Governor William H. Seward and Albany 
boss Thurlow Weed. But at the state convention in 1867, he entered the 
orbit of the rising political star Roscoe Conkling. An upstate 
Republican, Conkling needed alliances with New York City men and 
recruited Arthur into his organization. Conkling's biographer David 
Jordan assessed Arthur as ``a shrewd, imaginative, and meticulous 
political manager; he was a master organizer, a necessity for Conkling's 
new organization.'' The popular ``Chet'' Arthur rose quickly within the 
ranks of the machine. In 1871, President Ulysses S. Grant rewarded 
Conkling's loyalty to his administration by appointing Arthur to the 
highly lucrative post of collector of the port of New York.3
    Numerous scandals within the administration of President Ulysses S. 
Grant led Republicans to seek a less-tarnished candidate for the 1876 
contest. Chet Arthur supported Conkling's bid for the Republican 
presidential nomination, but when the nomination went instead to the 
reform-conscious governor of Ohio, Rutherford B. Hayes, Arthur threw the 
support of his office behind Hayes, raising funds and getting out voters 
to help Hayes carry New York and win the election. Rather than showing 
his gratitude, however, President Hayes appointed a commission to 
investigate the New York customhouse. When the group's report exposed 
inefficiency, graft, and a bloated payroll, Hayes issued an order 
forbidding federal officeholders to take part in political activities, 
so that the customhouse could be run under a merit system. Conkling's 
lieutenants, Arthur as collector and Alonzo Cornell as naval officer of 
the port--both members of the Republican State Committee--should have 
resigned under this order, but they refused. Hayes then fired both men 
and nominated Theodore Roosevelt, Sr. (father of the future president) 
and L. Bradford Prince to replace them. An outraged Conkling persuaded 
the Senate to reject both nominations.4

                    The Stalwarts and the Half-Breeds

    As the election of 1880 approached, Hayes chose not to seek a second 
term. Rather than become a candidate himself, Conkling threw his support 
behind former president U.S. Grant. Conkling particularly wanted to 
block the nomination of his longtime rival, Senator and former House 
Speaker James G. Blaine of Maine. Back in 1866, when they were both 
members of the House, Blaine had delivered a sarcastic speech that 
mocked Conkling's ``turkey-gobbler strut'' and ``Hyperion curl.'' 
Delighted political cartoonists had seized on these characteristics to 
mock Conkling. Although Blaine and Conkling served together in the House 
and Senate for another fourteen years, they never spoke to one another 
again. Each dedicated himself to blocking the other from becoming 
    At the national convention in June, Conkling proposed a unit rule to 
force the entire New York delegation to support Grant, but William H. 
Robertson, a Blaine supporter, led a minority of the delegation to rebel 
against the stalwarts. Robertson's faction, known dismissively as 
``half-breeds,'' joined with other independent delegates to defeat the 
unit rule. The result was an extended deadlock that was broken only when 
the Blaine forces swung their support to a darkhorse candidate, Ohio 
Representative James A. Garfield. Garfield's supporters realized that 
they needed a New Yorker on the ticket, not only for the state's large 
potential harvest of electoral votes but also to mollify Conkling. 
Garfield at first wanted Levi P. Morton, his friend from the House of 
Representatives, but Morton felt he could not accept without Conkling's 
approval. When Conkling made it clear that no friend of his should join 
the ticket, Morton declined. The Garfield forces next turned to Chet 
Arthur, who showed no such reluctance. ``Such an honor and opportunity 
comes to very few of the millions of Americans, and to that man but 
once,'' Arthur told Conkling. ``No man can refuse it, and I will not.'' 
    The selection of Chet Arthur for vice president did not pacify 
Conkling, whom Garfield knew was a man ``inspired more by his hates than 
his loves.'' In August 1880, Garfield went to New York to make peace 
with Conkling's machine. In the Fifth Avenue Hotel rooms of Levi Morton, 
Garfield met with Arthur, Platt, and other machine leaders--but not with 
Conkling, who stayed away. The Conkling men sought an understanding 
about patronage in a Garfield administration. In return for assurances 
that he would take their wishes into consideration for New York 
appointments, they agreed to raise funds for his campaign. According to 
Platt, Garfield also disavowed any close relations with Hayes' civil 
service proposals. With these guarantees, the Conkling machine threw its 
weight behind Garfield, enabling him to win a very narrow victory in 
November. It was said that, while Garfield owed his nomination to 
Blaine, he owed his election to Conkling.7
    Party reformers were chagrined at the choice of Chet Arthur, the 
recently deposed collector of the port of New York and a symbol of 
corrupt machine politics, as Garfield's running mate. Most Republican 
newspapers held the vice-presidential candidate in low esteem. One 
campaign biography devoted 533 pages to Garfield and only 21 pages--
almost as an embarrassed aside--to Arthur. Enumerating his ``good'' 
qualities, the campaign tract observed that his face was ``full, fat and 
fair,'' that he did not talk with ``offensive accents,'' that he dressed 
``in perfect good taste,'' and that he was ``fairly corpulent as his 
pictures very well suggest.'' 8 Arthur probably gained some 
public sympathy for his wife's death in 1880, which left him to raise a 
son and young daughter.

                        An Evenly Balanced Senate

    Once elected, Vice President Arthur proved crucial to his party's 
fortunes in the Senate. At the beginning of the Forty-seventh Congress, 
the party balance in the Senate was exactly equal, a situation in which 
the vice president's vote might be needed to give the Republicans a 
majority to organize the body and chair its committees. When the Senate 
met on March 4, 1881, there were 37 Republicans, 37 Democrats, and 2 
Independents. One of the Independents, former Supreme Court Justice 
David Davis, announced that he planned to vote with the Democrats to 
organize the chamber. If the other Independent, William Mahone of 
Virginia, could also be persuaded to join them, the Democrats would take 
the majority. Rumors spread that the White House was plying Mahone with 
``champagne and satisfaction,'' or promises of patronage, to win him for 
the Republicans. With a noisy mob watching from the galleries, Vice 
President Arthur directed the clerk to call the roll. When Mahone's name 
was reached, the Virginia senator, sitting on the Democratic side of the 
aisle, voted with the Republicans, giving Arthur the deciding vote. For 
his vote, Mahone received a basket of flowers from the White House, the 
chairmanship of the Agriculture Committee, and control of federal 
patronage in Virginia. Democrats, however, intended to fight the 
administration at every turn, making every vote--especially the vice 
    At this juncture, a fissure disrupted Republican ranks. Much to 
Roscoe Conkling's chagrin, President Garfield had named James G. Blaine 
as secretary of state, and from that post Blaine plotted against his 
longtime rival. While a number of offices went to Conkling men, they 
were excluded from the cabinet seats they desired--especially the 
secretary of the treasury, which had jurisdiction over the collector of 
the Port of New York. On the day before their inauguration, Arthur had 
visited Garfield, along with Senators Conkling and Platt, to plead for 
their candidate for treasury secretary. As Garfield noted in his diary, 
Conkling seemed ``full of apprehension that he had been or was to be 
cheated.'' 10

                      ``A Square Blow at Conkling''

    Conkling had good reason for apprehension. On March 23, Vice 
President Arthur, while presiding over the Senate, received a list of 
presidential nominations. His eye fell on the name of New York state 
senator William H. Robertson for collector of the port of New York, 
which, as one reporter described it, represented ``a square blow at 
Conkling.'' Arthur folded the document so that Robertson's name appeared 
uppermost and had a page deliver it to Senator Conkling. From the press 
gallery, reporters watched Conkling walk rapidly to his colleague Platt 
and hold a ``whispered conference.'' Conkling made it known that he 
considered the nomination personally offensive, and Vice President 
Arthur joined with Senators Conkling and Platt in a letter asking the 
president to withdraw Robertson's name. At the Republican caucus, 
Conkling delivered a long, eloquent, and bitter attack on the president 
for his breach of senatorial courtesy. He persuaded Senate Republicans 
to postpone the customs collectors' nominations and take up less 
controversial posts. President Garfield retaliated by withdrawing the 
nominations of five of Conkling's men. When it began to look as if 
Senate Democrats would contribute enough votes to confirm Robertson, 
Conkling and his colleague Tom Platt decided to resign from the Senate 
and return to New York, where they expected the state legislature to 
reelect them as a sign of endorsement in their power struggle with the 
    Vice President Arthur had no trouble deciding which side to take in 
this epic struggle between his president and his party boss. After the 
Senate adjourned, Arthur also journeyed to Albany, where he lobbied for 
Conkling's reelection. J. L. Connery, the editor of the New York Herald, 
which the Conkling machine courted, recalled Arthur telling him in 
confidence that Garfield had been neither honorable nor truthful. ``It 
is a hard thing to say of a President of the United States, but it is, 
unfortunately, only the truth,'' said Arthur. ``Garfield--spurred by 
Blaine, by whom he is easily led--has broken every pledge made to us; 
not only that, but he seems to have wished to do it in a most offensive 
way.'' Garfield's supporters, however, never forgave Arthur for his 
betrayal of the president.12

                      A Presidential Assassination

    The strategy of the Conkling forces unraveled when the New York 
legislature reacted negatively to the ``childish'' resignations of its 
two senators. Led by state senate president pro tempore William 
Robertson (the customs collector nominee), the half-breeds called on 
legislators to ``stand by the administration,'' and the legislature 
entered a month-long deadlock over the senatorial elections. On July 2, 
Platt withdrew from the race in a last-ditch attempt to improve 
Conkling's chances of reelection. That same day, on the brink of 
victory, President Garfield walked arm in arm with Secretary of State 
Blaine through Washington's Baltimore and Ohio railroad station. A 
crazed assassin shot the president in the back and then identified 
himself with Conkling's stalwarts. After lingering throughout the 
summer, the mortally wounded Garfield died on September 19. By then the 
New York legislature had rejected Conkling's bid for reelection. ``How 
can I speak into a grave?'' Conkling complained. ``How can I battle with 
a shroud. Silence is a duty and a doom.'' 13
    Garfield's death elevated to the presidency a man who had shared an 
apartment in Washington with Conkling and who had sided with Conkling 
against Garfield. Political observers naturally assumed that Conkling 
would dominate Chet Arthur's administration. Newspaper correspondent 
Theron Crawford later noted that Conkling ``had been in the habit of 
patronizing Mr. Arthur, and had given him political orders for so many 
years that he could not imagine this pleasure-loving, easy-going man 
capable of rebellion.'' Arthur was in New York when Garfield died, and 
it was Roscoe Conkling who carried the new president's bag to the 
station when he left for Washington.
    Less than a month later, Conkling arrived in Washington and held a 
private meeting with Arthur. Reporters speculated that the two had 
chosen a new cabinet, yet no announcement was made to the press. Neither 
man would publicly acknowledge what had transpired, but their associates 
described a stormy session. Conkling presented his patronage demands: he 
wanted William Robertson dismissed as collector and he himself was 
willing to accept a cabinet portfolio. But Conkling underestimated how 
deeply the assassination had shocked and sobered Chester Arthur. Senator 
Platt described Arthur as ``overcome with grief,'' particularly after 
newspapers quoted the assassin saying ``I am a Stalwart, and I want 
Arthur for President.'' Feeling the weight of his new office and 
calculating that public opinion would never tolerate Robertson's 
removal, the president rejected Conkling's advice. A New York Republican 
leader told a friend in the press that President Arthur felt very bitter 
over the demands Conkling had made on him. ``You can put it down for a 
fact that `Conk' wanted `Chet' to remove Robertson and appoint one of 
our fellows collector.'' When Arthur refused, Conkling stormed out, 
swearing that all of his friends had turned traitor to him.14
    Conkling's mistress, Kate Chase Sprague, tried to intercede with the 
president, reminding him of ``the vital importance of placing a robust, 
courageous, clear-headed man at the head of the Treasury,'' and arguing 
that Conkling would be a ``tower of strength'' in the cabinet. But 
Arthur offered neither a cabinet appointment nor the removal of 
Robertson as collector. Instead, Conkling went into permanent political 
exile. Although Arthur later named Conkling to the Supreme Court, his 
former leader declined. At the same time, Arthur accepted Blaine's 
resignation as secretary of state, feeling that by doing so he had 
neutralized the heads of both warring factions and could steer a course 
between them. Senator Chauncey Depew later judged that, while Arthur 
tried to govern fairly, ``he was not big enough, nor strong enough, to 
contend with the powerful men who were antagonized.'' 15

                    Support for Civil Service Reform

    Since the martyred President Garfield was regarded as a ``victim of 
that accursed greed for spoils of office,'' his death rallied public 
support behind civil service reform legislation. In Arthur's first 
annual message to Congress in December 1881, he pledged his willingness 
to enforce any reform legislation that Congress might enact modeled on 
the British civil service system. Democratic Senator George H. Pendleton 
of Ohio sponsored a measure that became known as the Pendleton Act, 
which President Arthur signed in January 1883. The Pendleton Act 
established a bipartisan Civil Service Commission to set rules by which 
federal jobs would be filled. The act placed about 14,000 jobs, about 
one-tenth of the total federal employment at the time, under civil 
service. Although by no means a complete reversal of the spoils system, 
it took a large step in that direction. As the journalist Henry Stoddard 
mused, it was a strange turn of events that a spoilsman like Chester 
Arthur should sign the first effective civil service law and also be the 
first president to veto a river and harbor appropriations bill as 
excessive ``--the bill that had come to be known as the `pork barrel' 
bill into which both parties dug deep.'' 16
    The initial reaction to Vice President Arthur's elevation to the 
presidency had been one of universal dismay: ``Chet Arthur in the White 
House!'' But, as chief executive, Chester Alan Arthur replaced Chet 
Arthur. The new president acted in a dignified manner, made strong 
appointments, and won approval for the ``elevated tone'' of his 
administration. He redecorated the White House and entertained regally. 
He became famous for his fourteen-course dinners that often kept his 
guests at the table until after midnight, consuming fine wines and rich 
foods. Overeating and underexercising did not help Arthur's health, and 
during his presidency he suffered from kidney disease that slowly sapped 
his strength. In 1884, he made himself available for renomination. 
``Arthur has given us a good administration, but it has been negatively 
rather than positively good,'' wrote one dubious journalist. ``He has 
done well, in other words, by not doing anything bad. This kind of 
goodness does not count for much in presidential campaigns.'' 
    Arthur's attempt to steer a course between the stalwarts and half-
breeds succeeded only in alienating both sides. At the Republican 
convention, the remnants of the stalwart wing (led by Tom Platt) 
supported James G. Blaine, on the grounds that Arthur had deserted them. 
When they tried to persuade Conkling, now a highly successful New York 
attorney, to emerge from his political retirement and endorse Blaine's 
presidential candidacy, Conkling acidly replied, ``No thank you, I don't 
engage in criminal practice.'' Blaine lost New York by a whisker--and 
with it the election. Grover Cleveland, who had owed his election as 
governor of New York to the split between the stalwarts and the half-
breeds, now became the first Democratic president since the Civil War. 
Chester Arthur returned to his New York law office. Rapidly declining in 
health, he died on November 17, 1886, less than two years after leaving 
the White House. He had been chosen as vice president without much 
expectation but, when thrust into the presidency, he rose to the 
occasion and conducted the office with style.18
                           CHESTER ALAN ARTHUR


    1 David J. Rothman, Politics and Power: The United States 
Senate, 1869-1901 (Cambridge, MA, 1966), pp. 27-30; Donald A. Ritchie, 
Press Gallery: Congress and the Washington Correspondents (Cambridge, 
MA, 1991), p. 156; Louis J. Lang, ed., The Autobiography of Thomas 
Collier Platt (New York, 1910), p. 55; Henry L. Stoddard, As I Knew 
Them: Presidents and Politics from Grant to Coolidge (New York, 1927), 
p. 115.
    2 Ari Hoogenboom, Outlawing the Spoils: A History of the 
Civil Service Reform Movement, 1865-1883 (Urbana, IL, 1961), pp. 1-32.
    3 David M. Jordan, Roscoe Conkling of New York: Voice in 
the Senate (Ithaca, NY, 1971), pp. 146-48.
    4 Ibid., pp. 155-78; Chester L. Barrows, William M. 
Evarts: Lawyer, Diplomat, Statesman (Chapel Hill, NC, 1941), p. 326.
    5 Ritchie, pp. 136-37.
    6 Jordan, p. 341; Stoddard, pp. 118-19; Chauncey M. 
Depew, My Memories of Eighty Years (New York, 1924), pp. 122-23.
    7 Justus D. Doenecke, The Presidencies of James A. 
Garfield & Chester A. Arthur (Lawrence, KS, 1981), pp. 26-27; Jordan, p. 
439; Lang, ed., pp. 128-32; Alfred R. Conkling, The Life and Letters of 
Roscoe Conkling, Orator, Statesman, Advocate (New York, 1889), p. 614. 
See also Chapter 22 of this volume, ``Levi P. Morton,'' p. 271.
    8 James S. Brisbin, From The Tow-Path to the White House: 
The Early Life and Public Career of James A. Garfield (Philadelphia, 
1880), pp. 546-47.
    9 ``The Great Senate Deadlock: 1881,'' Senate History 9 
(July 1984): 1, 9-10.
    10 Harry James Brown and Frederic D. Williams, eds., The 
Diary of James A. Garfield (East Lansing, MI, 1981), 4:552.
    11 Ben: Perley Poore, Perley's Reminiscences of Sixty 
Years in the National Metropolis (Philadelphia, 1886), pp. 400-402; 
Conkling, p. 640; Doenecke, p. 45.
    12 Theodore Clarke Smith, The Life and Letters of James 
Abram Garfield (New Haven, CT, 1925), 2:1128-29; T.B. Connery, ``Secret 
History of the Garfield-Conkling Tragedy,'' Cosmopolitan 23 (June 1897): 
    13 Jordan, pp. 379-409; Henry L. Stoddard, p. 114.
    14 Theron C. Crawford, James G. Blaine: A Study of His 
Life and Career, from the Standpoint of a Personal Witness of the 
Principal Events in his History (Philadelphia, 1893), p. 525; Thomas C. 
Reeves, Gentleman Boss: The Life of Chester A. Arthur (New York, 1975), 
p. 256; William C. Hudson, Random Recollections of an Old Political 
Reporter (New York, 1911), p. 127; Lang, ed., pp. 162-63.
    15 Katherine Chase Sprague to Chester A. Arthur, October 
21, 1881, Chester A. Arthur Papers, Library of Congress; Crawford, pp. 
508, 546; Depew, p. 118.
    16 Hoogenboom, pp. 213-53; Stoddard, p. 122.
    17 Poore, p. 431; Stoddard, pp. 117, 285; Francis 
Carpenter, ed., Carp's Washington (New York, 1960), p. 30; Doenecke, pp. 
76-77, 80, 183-84.
    18 Lang, ed., p. 181; Ritchie, p. 137.

                               Chapter 21

                        THOMAS ANDREWS HENDRICKS


                           THOMAS A. HENDRICKS
                           THOMAS A. HENDRICKS

                               Chapter 21

                        THOMAS ANDREWS HENDRICKS

                        21st Vice President: 1885

          There were no neutral tints in his own political colors.
                                     --Senator Daniel Voorhees
    American political parties have traditionally been coalitions of 
contradictory and contentious forces. The electoral college is largely 
responsible for the loose-knit nature of these political parties. 
Victory requires a majority of electors from throughout the nation, a 
feat nearly impossible for any party rooted in a single region or 
clustered about one ideology or interest group. To build such national 
coalitions, politicians must reach out to those with whom they may 
disagree. The Democratic party emerged from Thomas Jefferson's defense 
of the yeoman farmer against Alexander Hamilton's efforts to use the 
government to promote American industry and finance. Yet to build a 
national party, Jefferson needed to embrace New York's Tammany Hall, 
which represented urban interests. Nearly a century later, Indiana's 
Thomas A. Hendricks confronted that same split. He was a ``soft-money'' 
agrarian reformer, who ran twice for vice president on Democratic 
tickets headed by two different ``hard-money'' New York governors.

                               Early Years

    A son of the Mississippi Valley, Thomas A. Hendricks was born on a 
farm near Zanesville, Ohio, on September 7, 1819, to John and Jane 
Thomson Hendricks. When just six months old, he moved with his parents 
to Indiana, where his father's older brother, William, was a U.S. 
representative and a soon-to-be governor of that new state. Hendricks 
was raised as a staunch Presbyterian and a Jacksonian Democrat, the two 
pillars of his thinking throughout his life. He attended the 
Presbyterian-run Hanover College in Indiana, where he proved an average 
student but a skillful debater. After graduating, he went east to 
Pennsylvania to study at a law school run by one of his uncles. In 1843 
he was admitted to the bar and practiced in Shelbyville, Indiana. That 
same year, he met Eliza Morgan, a vivacious teenager from Ohio who was 
visiting in Indiana. After two years of correspondence, he felt 
financially secure enough to propose, and they were married in 1845. 
Their only child died at age three. In later years, an old neighbor said 
that he doubted whether Hendricks could have achieved his political 
success without Eliza. ``She is generous, wise and discreet. The man 
born to get on in the world always marries that kind of woman, it 
appears.'' 1

                          Slavery and Politics

    Always ambitious, Hendricks plunged into politics. He was elected to 
the Indiana house of representatives in 1848, served as a delegate to 
the state constitutional convention in 1849, and won a seat in the U.S. 
House of Representatives in 1850. A popular member of the House, he 
became a follower of Illinois Democratic Senator Stephen A. Douglas and 
supported Douglas' controversial Kansas-Nebraska Act. That statute 
repealed the Missouri Compromise and permitted residents of the 
territories to determine whether or not to permit slavery, a concept 
known as ``popular sovereignty.'' Public outrage in the North caused the 
dissolution of the old Whig party and a period of political instability 
that eventually resulted in the emergence of the new Republican party. 
Hendricks believed his vote for the Kansas-Nebraska Act reflected the 
sentiments of his constituents, although it was later cited as the cause 
of his defeat for reelection in 1854. He was opposed by a former 
Democrat representing a coalition of Free Soilers, abolitionists, 
temperance advocates, Know-Nothings, and Whigs. Hendricks denounced the 
nativism of the Know-Nothing movement and defended the rights of 
immigrants and religious minorities. Despite these admirable stands for 
minority rights, he had a blind eye on racial issues. As a delegate to 
the Indiana constitutional convention in 1849, he had led the move to 
enact ``Black Laws'' that promoted segregation and restricted the 
migration of free blacks into the state.2
    After losing his seat in Congress, Hendricks in 1855 accepted an 
appointment from President Franklin Pierce to become commissioner of the 
General Land Office in the Interior Department, a post he held through 
1859. As a Douglas Democrat, he felt increasingly out of step with the 
anti-Douglas administration of James Buchanan and resigned his office to 
return to Indiana, where in 1860 he ran unsuccessfully for governor. He 
then moved to Indianapolis to practice law.3

                          A Pro-Union Democrat

    When the Civil War erupted in 1861, the Democratic party in Indiana 
divided between peace and pro-Union factions. Jesse D. Bright, the 
president pro tempore of the U.S. Senate, led the party's peace wing, 
while Hendricks became a leading ``War Democrat.'' Bright, an imperious 
man who had tolerated no opposition in his twenty-year domination of the 
state Democratic party, was expelled from the Senate in February 1862, 
when it was discovered that he had written a letter addressed to 
Jefferson Davis as ``President of the Confederate States,'' recommending 
that the Confederacy purchase rifles from an Indiana manufacturer. 
Bright expected that the Indiana legislature would reelect him, but 
instead Judge David Turpie was chosen to fill the few months remaining 
in his term. The legislature elected Thomas Hendricks to take the seat 
during the next full term. Bright thereafter blamed Hendricks for his 
    When peace Democrats in the state legislature attempted to pass 
antiwar resolutions, pro-Union members bolted. Hendricks recognized that 
the peace movement would discredit the party, and he was sufficiently 
familiar with the legislature to be certain that there were enough pro-
Union Democrats to defeat the resolutions. Accepting both his reasoning 
and his head counting, the bolters resumed their seats and defeated the 
peace resolutions.5
    Hendricks took his oath as a U.S. senator in 1863, becoming one of 
only ten Democrats facing thirty-three Republicans. He soon assumed the 
role of his party's recognized leader in the Senate. Hendricks was a 
thorough partisan. ``There were no neutral tints in his own political 
colors,'' future Indiana Democratic Senator Daniel Voorhees later 
commented. But even Republican senators acknowledged that his speeches 
were well prepared and that his arguments were plausible--if one 
accepted all of his premises. Assessing Hendricks' Senate career, the 
journalist A.K. McClure later said, ``He was a Democratic Senator in the 
most trying times of the war, when many less faithful or less discreet 
men made hopeless shipwreck of their political future, but the record of 
Mr. Hendricks has stood the severest test and is conspicuous for its 
freedom from the partisan blunders which then and since have ranked as 
crimes.'' 6
    President Abraham Lincoln cultivated the support of War Democrats 
like Hendricks. As Congress prepared to adjourn in March 1865, Hendricks 
paid a last visit to the president, who told him, ``We have differed in 
politics, Senator Hendricks, but you have uniformly treated my 
administration with fairness.'' During the period of congressional 
Reconstruction of the South that followed the war, Hendricks never 
missed an opportunity to remind Republican senators that President 
Lincoln had opposed such radical Reconstruction measures as the Wade-
Davis bill and had wanted a speedy return of the southern states to the 
Union. Hendricks consistently opposed repealing the fugitive slave laws 
until slavery was constitutionally abolished, and he tried to prevent 
African Americans from gaining the right to vote. ``I say we are not of 
the same race,'' Hendricks declared; ``we are so different that we ought 
not to compose one political community.'' 7
    Hendricks emerged as one of the few prominent Democrats not to be 
stigmatized as a Copperhead (or southern sympathizer) during the war. As 
a result, his name arose for the 1868 Democratic presidential 
nomination. He lost the nomination to New York Governor Horatio Seymour 
but went back to Indiana, where he was nominated to run for governor. In 
the fall, both Seymour and Hendricks were defeated. Hendricks returned 
to his law practice and bided his time for a revival of Democratic 
fortunes. Looking toward the 1872 presidential election, former Iowa 
Senator A.C. Dodge recommended Hendricks as a ``worthy, able and 
excellent man.'' He believed that there was strong support throughout 
the Midwest for the Indianan, although he doubted that Hendricks would 
run well in the East. The Democrats instead nominated the eccentric 
newspaper editor Horace Greeley for president on a fusion ticket with 
liberal Republicans who opposed the corruption of the Ulysses Grant 
administration. That same year, Indiana Democrats nominated Hendricks to 
run again for governor and, while Greeley went down to a crashing 
defeat, Hendricks won the Indiana state house.8


    His victory in that important swing state made Hendricks a 
frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1876. However, 
after the panic of 1873 and the widespread economic crisis that 
followed, Hendricks became publicly identified with agrarian reform and 
``soft money.'' Currency reformers believed that postwar contractions of 
the currency had caused the economic depression and that inflation of 
the currency through issuance of greenbacks or increased minting of 
silver currency would lower farmers' costs of repaying their debts. Such 
arguments struck fear into eastern financial circles, whose members 
supported sound currency based on gold and believed that any debasing of 
the currency would rob creditors of just returns on their investments. 
The hard-money element within the Democratic party rallied behind the 
nomination of Samuel J. Tilden, known in some circles as the ``Great 
Forecloser.'' To balance Tilden, the party nominated the soft-money 
Hendricks for vice president.
    The Republican candidate, Ohio governor Rutherford B. Hayes, carried 
every midwestern state except Hendricks' Indiana. On election night, it 
appeared that the Tilden-Hendricks ticket had won both the popular and 
the electoral vote, but the outcome in three southern states still 
controlled by Reconstruction governments remained in dispute. Both 
Republicans and Democrats claimed these electoral votes. The Democrats 
needed just one more state to win, the Republicans needed all of the 
disputed votes. When a deadlock developed between the Republican Senate 
and the Democratic House over counting the electoral votes, both sides 
reluctantly agreed to set up a special electoral commission. Republicans 
gained an 8-to-7 majority on the commission, and by that straight party 
vote the commission assigned all of the disputed electoral votes to 
Hayes, who was sworn in as president. To prevent a new civil war, Tilden 
and Hendricks accepted the outcome, but thereafter Democrats charged 
that the election had been stolen from them.9

                           Hobbled by Illness

    After the electoral disappointment, Hendricks and his wife consoled 
themselves with a long journey through Europe. He returned to his law 
practice and continued to speak out on the issues of the day. Hoosiers 
were ``a speech-loving people,'' as one of Hendricks' biographers noted, 
and large crowds always showed up for his orations. In 1880, Indiana 
once again boosted Hendricks for president, but while he was vacationing 
at Hot Springs, Arkansas, Hendricks suffered a stroke. Two years later, 
he developed a lameness in one foot--a result, claimed the journalist 
Ben: Perley Poore, of Hendricks' frequent public speaking engagements:
 While speaking he was in the habit of bending forward on the tip 
        of his right foot, resting the entire weight upon it. From 
        the pressure of his right shoe a swelling arose on one of 
        his toes. . . . In twenty-four hours erysipelas [an acute 
           skin inflammation] developed, and it was only after an 
           illness of six months that he recovered. But he always 
             afterwards was somewhat lame, especially when he was 
    As the 1884 election approached, Samuel Tilden, who had also 
suffered a paralytic stroke, mentioned to a newspaper reporter that his 
old running mate Thomas Hendricks wanted a reprise of the 1876 ticket of 
Tilden and Hendricks, ``and I do not wonder, considering my weakness!'' 
Tilden announced his withdrawal from the race, which left the Democratic 
nomination wide open. No one doubted that Hendricks was available for 
the nomination in 1884, but his constant availability in every 
presidential election since 1868 had devalued his candidacy. The party 
looked for a new face to unite them and lead them to victory after so 
many years in the minority. Hendricks was dismissed as a man of 
``inordinate ambition.'' 11


    Hendricks attended the Democratic National Convention in 1884 not as 
a candidate but rather as a delegate who would nominate former Indiana 
Senator Joseph E. McDonald. His appearance at the convention drew much 
enthusiastic applause, since he represented the ``old ticket'' of 1876 
that had been robbed of victory. As the convention moved toward 
nominating the reform governor of New York, Grover Cleveland, 
Cleveland's opponents--especially New York City's Tammany Hall--
concluded that Hendricks was the only man around whom the opposition 
could be united. They planned a strategy to stampede the convention to 
Hendricks the next day. Just as Indiana swung its vote to him, Hendricks 
entered the convention hall through a door facing the delegates. The 
band struck up a tune as Tammany Hall boss John Kelly and his henchmen 
leaped from their seats and began shouting for Hendricks. As the 
delegates paraded, Hendricks sat calmly. ``To those near him,'' Indiana 
Senator Daniel Voorhees asserted, ``he simply appeared to enjoy in a 
quiet silent way the popular approval of his long and faithful 
services.'' 12
    These tactics might have worked, except that Cleveland's managers 
got wind of the conspiracy and sent messages to all the delegates 
warning them not to get caught up in any spurious demonstrations. 
Cleveland's supporters argued that New York was essential for a 
Democratic victory and that Cleveland, a hard-money reform governor, 
could attract liberal Republican voters, a group known as the mugwumps. 
These arguments prevailed, and the Hendricks boom fizzled when Illinois 
increased its vote for Cleveland, followed by enough other states to 
give Cleveland the nomination at the end of the second ballot. Hendricks 
was rewarded with the vice-presidential nomination, once again to 
balance a hard-money presidential candidate and to offer the promise of 
carrying the swing state of Indiana.13
    The prospect of victory invigorated Hendricks, and he campaigned 
valiantly, proving ``a tower of strength for the ticket'' in what has 
often been described as the ``dirtiest'' campaign in American political 
history. He attacked the incumbent Republican administration, helped 
stop a party bolt by Tammany Hall, drew large crowds to his speeches, 
and dramatically survived a late-night train wreck while campaigning in 
Illinois. Hendricks won praise as an ``urbane leader.'' He stood five 
feet nine inches tall and was described as ``well proportioned and 
stoutly built, though not corpulent.'' His once light hair had turned 
silver, and he wore ``the least of side whiskers, which are light gray, 
and his complexion is fair.'' As a speaker he was clear and forceful, 
while in conversation he was ``easy, courteous, cautious, and 

                     Vice President of the Spoilsmen

    In 1884, Democrats won their first presidential election since 1856, 
and Thomas Hendricks returned as presiding officer to the Senate where 
he had once served in a pitifully small minority. From the start, 
however, Hendricks found himself at odds with President Cleveland, a 
scrupulously honest man with good intentions but limited vision. Unlike 
Hendricks, who had long called for more government intervention in the 
economy to promote agrarian reform, Cleveland advocated laissez-faire 
economics and was a Social Darwinist who thought the slightest hint of 
government paternalism would undermine the national 
    Mugwump reformers waited to see if Cleveland would expand the Civil 
Service System recently established by the Pendleton Act, but Democrats, 
long out of power, demanded patronage. Vice President Hendricks and many 
Democratic senators, furious when Cleveland ignored the patronage 
requests of their state party organizations, considered the president's 
conduct ``treacherous.'' Cleveland dismissed these complaints as the 
howls of old Jacksonian spoilsmen and wild-eyed currency reformers, 
among whom he counted his vice president. But by midsummer 1885, 
Cleveland buckled at the threat of revolt within his party. He replaced 
his civil-service-reform-minded assistant postmaster general with former 
Illinois Congressman Adlai Stevenson, ``who understood practical 
politics.'' Given free rein, Stevenson replaced Republican postmasters 
with deserving Democrats at a fast clip, until more than 40,000 federal 
jobs changed hands.16
    The Indiana Democratic organization was particularly outspoken about 
its dissatisfaction with Cleveland's skimpy patronage, and Vice 
President Hendricks became known as ``Vice President of the spoilsmen.'' 
The label ``spoilsman'' distressed Hendricks. As one senator who knew 
him explained, Hendricks felt the charge came from those who ``had been 
wont to linger in the shade and slumber while he and the `boys,' as he 
loved sometimes to call the party workers, had borne the heat and dust 
and burden of the battle.'' 17
    In September, Hendricks left Washington to attend the thirty-fifth 
anniversary reunion of the surviving members of the constitutional 
convention of Indiana and to rest in anticipation of the coming session 
of Congress in December. While at home in Indianapolis, he died in his 
sleep on November 25, 1885.

                       Death of the Vice President

    Hendricks' death eliminated the leader of the possible rival camp to 
Cleveland's presidency, but also for the second time in a decade 
deprived the nation of a vice president for more than three years, 
raising concerns about the problem of presidential succession. If 
Cleveland should die, who would become president? The Presidential 
Succession Act of 1792 provided that the Senate's president pro tempore 
and the Speaker of the House, in that order, should succeed. There was 
concern that one of these offices might soon be filled with members of 
the opposition rather than members of Cleveland's party, since both 
posts were vacant at the time of Hendricks' sudden death and, while 
Democrats controlled the House, Republicans controlled the Senate. On 
the recommendation of Massachusetts Republican Senator George F. Hoar, 
Congress in 1886 adopted a law that eliminated congressional officers 
from the line of succession in favor of cabinet officers, in order of 
their rank. This system prevailed until 1947, when the death of a 
president had again left the vice-presidency open for almost an entire 
term, stimulating another reevaluation and a different solution to the 
    When President Cleveland ran for reelection in 1888, Democrats had 
to choose a replacement for Thomas Hendricks. The honor went to former 
Ohio Senator Allen G. Thurman. This time, Cleveland faced a Hoosier 
Republican, Senator Benjamin Harrison. Without Hendricks on the ticket, 
the Democrats failed to carry Indiana. Although Cleveland won a 
plurality of the popular vote, he lost the electoral college and with it 
the presidency.
    Hendricks' death, as the veteran journalist Ben: Perley Poore 
judged, ``removed an official around whom the disaffected Democrats 
could have crystallized into a formidable opposition,'' for Hendricks 
had not been disposed to accept being what Hannibal Hamlin had described 
as the fifth wheel on a coach.19
                        THOMAS ANDREWS HENDRICKS


    1 W.U. Hensel, ``A Biographical Sketch of Thomas A. 
Hendricks,'' in William Dorsheimer, Life and Public Services of Hon. 
Grover Cleveland (New York, 1884), pp. 184-95; John W. Holcombe and 
Hubert M. Skinner, Life and Public Services of Thomas A. Hendricks with 
Selected Speeches and Writings (Indianapolis, 1886), p. 93.
    2 Hensel, pp. 210-12; Holcombe and Skinner, pp. 117-18; 
Ralph D. Gray, ``Thomas A. Hendricks: Spokesman for the Democracy,'' in 
Gentlemen from Indiana: National Party Candidates, 1836-1940, ed. Ralph 
D. Gray (Indianapolis, 1977), p. 126.
    3 Gray, p. 128.
    4 Holcombe and Skinner, pp. 195, 245.
    5 Christopher Dell, Lincoln and the War Democrats: The 
Grand Erosion of Conservative Tradition (Rutherford, NJ, 1975), p. 201.
    6 U.S., Congress, Memorial Addresses on the Life and 
Character of Thomas A. Hendricks (Washington: Government Printing 
Office, 1886), pp. 26, 38-39; Hensel, p. 225.
    7 Holcombe and Skinner, p. 267; Hensel, p. 226; Eric 
Foner, Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 (New 
York, 1988), pp. 278-79.
    8 Horace Samuel Merrill, Bourbon Democracy of the Middle 
West, 1865-1896 (Seattle, 1967; reprint of 1953 edition), p. 71.
    9 The best account of the disputed election is Keith Ian 
Polakoff, The Politics of Inertia: The Election of 1876 and the End of 
Reconstruction (Baton Rouge, LA, 1976). See also Chapter 19 of this 
volume, ``William Almon Wheeler,'' p. 246.
    10 Hensel, pp. 279, 284; Ben: Perley Poore, Perley's 
Reminiscences of Sixty Years in the National Metropolis (Philadelphia, 
1887), 2:503-4.
    11 Herbert Eaton, Presidential Timber: A History of 
Nominating Conventions, 1868-1960 (New York, 1964), pp. 102-7; Allan 
Nevins, Grover Cleveland, A Study in Courage (New York, 1932), pp. 146-
47; Memorial Addresses, p. 25.
    12 Nevins, p. 154; Memorial Addresses, p. 29.
    13 Eaton, p. 111; Nevins, p. 154; Poore, p. 284; Richard 
E. Welch, Jr., The Presidencies of Grover Cleveland (Lawrence, KS, 
1988), pp. 28-29.
    14 Nevins, p. 177; Hensel, p. 255; Holcombe and Skinner, 
pp. 7, 363-64.
    15 Vincent P. De Santis, ``Grover Cleveland: 
Revitalization of the Presidency,'' in Six Presidents from the Empire 
State, ed. Harry J. Sievers (Tarrytown, NY, 1974), pp. 90-91.
    16 John A. Garraty, The New Commonwealth, 1877-1890 (New 
York, 1968), pp. 288-90; Horace Samuel Merrill, Bourbon Leader: Grover 
Cleveland and the Democratic Party (Boston, 1957), p. 99. See also 
Chapter 23 of this volume, ``Adlai Ewing Stevenson,'' pp. 280-81.
    17 Nevins, pp. 237, 247; Memorial Addresses, p. 63.
    18  Chester L. Barrows, William M. Evarts: Lawyer, 
Diplomat, Statesman (Chapel Hill, NC, 1941), p. 446; Richard E. Welch, 
Jr., George Frisbie Hoar and the Half-Breed Republicans (Cambridge, MA, 
1971), p. 137; John D. Feerick, From Failing Hands: The Story of 
Presidential Succession (New York, 1965), pp. 140-46.
    19 Poore, 2:503-4.

                               Chapter 22

                           LEVI PARSONS MORTON


                             LEVI P. MORTON
                             LEVI P. MORTON

                               Chapter 22

                           LEVI PARSONS MORTON

                     22nd Vice President: 1889-1893

          Business experience had taught him conservatism. He 
      never was influenced by crazy theorists.
                                     --Senator Thomas C. Platt
    Like a hero from the pages of a Horatio Alger novel, Levi P. Morton 
worked his way up by pluck and luck to fame and fortune. From a boy 
toiling in a country store, he rose to become one of the nation's 
wealthiest and most influential bankers and vice president of the United 
States. Morton might have become president as well, had his political 
acumen matched his financial ability.


    Born on May 16, 1824, in the little village of Shoreham, Vermont, 
Levi Parsons Morton was named for his uncle, the first American 
missionary to Palestine. He was the son of a Congregational preacher, 
who moved his family from church to church in New England, never 
accruing much wealth. Although young Morton wanted to attend college, 
his father was too poor to send him. An older brother advised him not to 
worry about further schooling since ``a self-taught man is worth two of 
your college boys.'' Instead, Morton took a job in a country store. 
After getting his fill of heavy manual labor, he sought respite as a 
teacher in a country school. Then he took another clerkship in the 
general store of W.W. Estabrook, in Concord, New Hampshire, where he 
learned the bookkeeper's art of calculating profit and loss.1
    Estabrook dispatched Morton to run his store in Hanover, New 
Hampshire. There the young Morton lived with the family of a Dartmouth 
College professor and met Lucy Young Kimball, whom he would eventually 
marry thirteen years later. But first he had a fortune to earn. Morton 
later recalled that he was happiest ``when I was learning how to 
accomplish things; when I was building up my business.'' When his 
employer went bankrupt, the chief creditor, James M. Beebe, came to New 
Hampshire to inspect the situation and was impressed enough with 
Morton's industriousness to invite him to join James M. Beebe & Co. in 
Boston--``the business Mecca for every Yankee boy.'' Beebe & Co., 
Boston's largest importing firm, soon took Junius Spencer Morgan as a 
partner, thus introducing Levi Morton to Morgan's son, J.P. Morgan, who 
would one day become his principal rival as a banker. In 1854, Beebe 
sent Morton to New York City to take charge of the company's operations 
there. A year later, Morton formed his own dry goods company in New 
York. Finally wealthy and secure enough to settle down, he married Lucy 
Kimball in 1856. The new Mrs. Morton disliked his Old Testament name of 
Levi and began calling her husband ``L.P,'' as he became known among 
family and friends thereafter.2

                          Banking and Politics

    Morton's chief business was importing cotton from the South for New 
England's textile industry and exporting manufactured goods from the 
North to the agricultural South. When the Civil War broke out in the 
spring of 1861, his loss of southern clients forced him to suspend 
business. For the next decade, Morton worked to pay back his own 
creditors, dollar for dollar. Although the war soon stimulated the 
northern economy and rebuilt Morton's financial base, he saw a safer and 
more profitable future in banking. In 1863, he founded a Wall Street 
banking house, later named Morton, Bliss & Co., with a London firm 
called Morton, Rose. By the end of the war, Morton's bank could 
challenge the powerful Jay Cooke & Co. for the right to handle 
government transactions. In 1873 Cooke's bank failed, leaving Morton as 
one of the preeminent bankers in the nation.3
    Morton's gracious manners and generous campaign contributions made 
him many friends in Washington, among them President Ulysses S. Grant 
and Grant's strongest supporter in Congress, Senator Roscoe Conkling of 
New York. Morton and his British partner, Sir John Rose, expanded their 
financial and political fortunes by facilitating U.S. negotiations with 
Great Britain to settle the ``Alabama Claims.'' During the war, Britain 
had violated its neutrality by allowing the construction of Confederate 
shipping on its soil. Senator Charles Sumner, chairman of the Foreign 
Relations Committee, pressed the administration to demand large-scale 
compensation from Britain, including the annexation of Canada, even if 
those claims led the two nations to war. Morton and Rose persuaded the 
British and Americans to accept international arbitration of their war 
claims; the U.S. to reduce its demands; and the British to pay $15 
million in damages, for which the house of Morton, Rose acted as 
disbursing office. When advised that the government's position would be 
strengthened by using Morton, Rose as its agent, President Grant 
questioned whether Morton's firm was strong because of the government's 
patronage rather than the other way around.4
    After his wife Lucy died in 1871, L.P. Morton married Anna 
Livingston Reade Street in 1873. Anna's connections as a member of New 
York's old Knickerbocker society helped propel Morton into New York's 
political scene. From all accounts, Anna Morton combined great charm, 
wisdom and prudence, making her admirably suited to be the wife of a 
political man. In 1876, Morton became financial chairman of the 
Republican National Committee. Aware that success in this position might 
reward him with an attractive diplomatic post, he was also considering a 
race for Congress. Morton asked his friend Whitelaw Reid, editor of the 
New-York Tribune, ``If elected, and I wanted a foreign mission, could I 
well resign and accept that, or if defeated, what then?'' adding ``I 
have never made a speech in my life.'' Reid encouraged him not to worry 
about speechmaking but advised that a resignation from a newly won 
office would create some bitterness. When Morton declared his candidacy 
for a House seat from New York's Eleventh District, a fashionable 
residential area around upper Fifth Avenue, he ran on a platform of 
sound currency based on the gold standard. That plank would remain 
consistent through his next quarter century in politics. His opponents 
pictured him as a plutocrat and ``a tool of Wall Street,'' charges that 
would similarly follow him in every election. Morton lost by a narrow 
margin but won when he ran again for the seat in 1878.5

                          The Conkling Machine

    In politics, Morton identified himself with the New York political 
faction, the ``stalwarts,'' headed by Republican Senator Roscoe 
Conkling. Opposing the stalwarts were the ``half-breed'' Republicans who 
rallied behind Senator James G. Blaine of Maine. Conkling and Blaine 
were bitter personal and political rivals, yet few substantive 
differences existed between their rival factions on the issues of the 
day. Conkling's machine was more identified with New York's financial 
interests and made sound currency its chief legislative aim, while the 
half-breeds placed more emphasis on railroads, industry, and the 
protective tariff. Both organizations, however, thrived on government 
patronage and opposed civil service reform. Morton's presence in the 
Conkling machine attested to its connections with Wall Street 
    Entering Congress in 1879, Morton acted as much as a representative 
of Morton, Bliss & Co. as he did as a representative of the Eleventh 
District, since he saw no difference between his own interests and those 
of his constituents. The newspaper reporter George Alfred Townsend 
described Morton as ``not a loquacious man, and yet an interesting 
talker, and one of the pleasantest expressions of his face is that of 
the respectful, intelligent listener.'' He stood six feet tall, 
straight-limbed and erect, and walked with ``flexible and quiet 
movements.'' With close-cropped hair and a square jaw, his face had a 
cosmopolitan appearance, ``though the New England lines are decided.'' 
The ``whole tone of his talk and character are toward tranquillity,'' 
Townsend observed. In the House, Morton was ``a close listener, a silent 
critic, a genial answerer; neither intrusive nor obtrusive.'' Since 
Morton was wealthier than his colleagues, he was able to establish his 
family in a handsome house on Lafayette Square that became a popular 
meeting place for politicos and high society. Morton won a reputation 
for his urbanity and generous hospitality. Among the friends he made was 
Representative James Garfield of Ohio.6

                      Declining the Vice-Presidency

    In 1880, Morton went to the Republican convention as a Conkling 
lieutenant, dedicated to winning a third-term nomination for Ulysses S. 
Grant. Conkling's stalwarts were equally determined to stop the 
nomination of Blaine. When a deadlock developed, Blaine's half-breeds 
threw their support to Garfield, a darkhorse candidate. Once Garfield 
won the nomination, he realized that he would need a New Yorker on the 
ticket and immediately thought of his wealthy and well-positioned 
friend, L.P. Morton. Morton scurried to find Conkling, who objected. 
When Morton declined the offer, the vice-presidential nomination went 
instead to another Conkling man, Chester A. Arthur, who had fewer 
scruples about breaking with the boss.
    Still trying to make peace with the Conkling faction, Garfield came 
to New York in August 1880 for a meeting in Morton's suite at the Fifth 
Avenue Hotel. There, Garfield promised to support the Conkling machine's 
patronage demands, which included the post of secretary of the treasury. 
The Treasury Department oversaw the New York customhouse, upon whose 
patronage the New York machine had been built. Morton agreed to chair 
Garfield's campaign finance committee, assuming that the treasury 
portfolio would be his. After winning the election, however, Garfield 
insisted that he had made no specific pledges. In December 1880, 
Garfield recorded in his diary that Morton was ``under misapprehension'' 
that he had been promised the Treasury Department. ``This was not my 
understanding and seems wholly inadmissable. It would be a congestion of 
financial power at the money centre and would create jealousy at the 
West.'' 7
    Blaine, who had been named secretary of state, pronounced Morton 
``unfit'' for the treasury, while Senator Conkling traveled to 
Garfield's home in Mentor, Ohio, to lobby for Morton. Conkling wanted to 
balance Blaine in the cabinet, to protect his organization's control 
over the New York customhouse, and to remove Morton from a hotly 
contested race for the other Senate seat from New York, which Conkling 
wanted for Tom Platt. Haughtily, Conkling told the president-elect that 
New York would rather be passed over completely in the cabinet if it 
could not obtain the Treasury Department. Even Garfield's wife Lucretia 
joined the fray when she wrote from a New York shopping trip:
Mr. [Whitelaw] Reid told me this morning that Morton had been very 
            ugly in his talk about you, using the expression that 
         seems to be so gratifying to the Conkling clique, ``That 
        Ohio man cannot be relied upon to stand by his pledges.'' 
    Shortly before the inauguration, Garfield offered Morton the 
secretaryship of the navy, which he accepted. But Conkling and Arthur 
roused Morton from his bed in the middle of the night and persuaded him 
to decline the post. The next day Garfield recorded: ``Morton broke down 
on my hands under the pressure of his N.Y. friends, who called him out 
of bed at 4 this morning to prevent his taking the Navy Dep't. . . . The 
N.Y. delegation are in a great row because I do not give the Treasury to 
that state.'' Despite his exasperation, Garfield still owed Morton 
something for his work as campaign finance chairman and settled on 
making him minister to France.9

                    Collapse of the Conkling Machine

    As president, Garfield confronted the Conkling machine by appointing 
the half-breed Republican William Robertson to be collector of the port 
of New York and head of the customhouse. His action triggered a series 
of events that culminated in the resignations of Senators Conkling and 
Platt, who expected to be reelected by the New York legislature as a 
show of support. Instead, both were defeated. In the midst of this 
monumental struggle, on July 2, 1881, President Garfield was shot by a 
deranged follower of Conkling's stalwarts. On July 20, when Morton 
sailed for France, Garfield was still lingering and recovery seemed 
possible. But on September 19, the president died, making Chester 
Arthur--and not L.P. Morton--president of the United States. Morton 
spent the next four years in the diplomatic service, attending largely 
to the ceremonies connected with France's gift of the Statue of Liberty 
to the United States. But he still harbored ambitions for a seat in the 
    By the time Morton returned to the United States, Roscoe Conkling 
had quit politics for a lucrative law practice and Tom Platt had picked 
up Conkling's leadership of the New York party. In 1884 Platt decided to 
support Blaine for president, on the grounds that Chet Arthur had 
deserted his former friends. Morton followed the Platt machine into the 
Blaine camp. He was one of the two hundred businessmen who attended the 
infamous ``millionaires' dinner'' given in Blaine's honor at Delmonico's 
restaurant on October 29, 1884. At that dinner, a Protestant minister 
rose to denounce the Democrats as the party of ``rum, Romanism, and 
rebellion.'' Blaine ignored the remark, but Democrats seized upon it and 
publicized it widely among Irish voters. Blaine lost New York by a 
narrow margin and with it the presidency.11
    Platt put Morton forward unsuccessfully for senator in 1885 and 
1887. In the former instance, Morton was perceived as the frontrunner, 
having greater resources and the full backing of Platt's machine. But 
Platt's men had made the mistake of taking all the key committee posts 
in the state assembly, causing the ``soreheads'' who had been left out 
to unite behind another candidate, who snatched away the coveted Senate 
seat. The 1887 election was a three-man race, in which another candidate 
appeared to have a better chance of winning for the stalwarts. Morton's 
withdrawal from the race, seen as an expression of his selfless sense of 
duty to his party (or faction of the party), raised his chances for the 
vice-presidential nomination in 1888.12

                            A Strange Victory

    When James G. Blaine, declining in health, made it clear he would 
not run again for president in 1888, Tom Platt threw New York's support 
to Indiana Senator Benjamin Harrison--the grandson of former President 
William Henry Harrison. Blaine recommended Harrison as the best 
candidate and suggested for vice president former Representative William 
Walter Phelps of New Jersey. However, Platt's support of Morton helped 
the banker defeat Phelps by a margin of five to one. The ticket of 
Harrison and Morton put together a strange victory in the presidential 
election. They lost the popular vote by 90,000 but still managed to beat 
the incumbent President Grover Cleveland in the electoral college, 233 
to 168. The journalist Arthur Wallace Dunn attributed the Republican 
success in 1888 to the combined political shrewdness of Republican 
National Committee chairman and Pennsylvania Senator Matt Quay and New 
York party boss Tom Platt.13
    As president, however, Benjamin Harrison would not allow Platt and 
Quay to dictate his cabinet and other federal appointments. Although 
principled, his stand against the spoilsmen alienated him from those 
most responsible for his election. A thoughtful man, Harrison was cold 
in person but articulate and compelling as a public speaker. By 
contrast, Vice President Morton was no public speaker, but ``a loveable 
personality,'' who ``filled every position with grace, dignity, and 
ability.'' In an era of greed, corruption, and excess, Harrison and 
Morton both epitomized family life and puritanical religious values. 
Harrison's cabinet was conservative and business oriented, with the 
department store magnate John Wanamaker serving as postmaster general. 
The political officeseekers ridiculed the publicity received by 
Harrison's family, particularly his granddaughter, known as Baby Ruth 
(namesake of the candy bar); they scoffed that the supposedly 
puritanical Morton owned Washington's Shoreham Hotel (which he named 
after his Vermont birthplace), where liquor was sold; and they belittled 
the attention given to Wanamaker's Sunday school teaching. As a 
spoilsmen's verse put it:

        The baby rules the White House,
            Levi runs the bar,
        Wanny runs the Sunday school,
            And dammit here we are! 14

    Due to Mrs. Harrison's illnesses and death in 1892, Anna Morton 
often entertained on behalf of the administration at the vice 
president's mansion on Scott Circle. ``Mrs. Morton became the leader of 
society in Washington, and there was never a more brilliant and popular 
leader than she,'' according to one account. ``It was her innate 
graciousness, her innate tact, and her kindness of heart . . . which won 
her admiration and respect of all.'' Morton, whose only child by his 
first marriage had died in infancy, had five daughters by his second 
wife and boasted a lively home.15

          The Businessman's Cabinet and the Millionaires' Club

    Just as Harrison's cabinet was called the ``businessman's cabinet'' 
for its inclusion of Wanamaker and the Vermont marble baron Redfield 
Proctor, the Senate over which Vice President Morton presided was dubbed 
a ``millionaires' club.'' In the late nineteenth century, businessmen 
had steadily gained control over both the Republican and Democratic 
parties and used their political positions to advance their economic 
interests. Senators became identified as spokesmen for railroads, 
timber, mining, and other industries. As California Senator George 
Hearst, who had made his millions in mining, proclaimed: ``the members 
of the Senate are the survivors of the fittest.'' It seemed appropriate, 
therefore, that the Senate's presiding officer should be one of the 
nation's most prominent bankers.16
    President Harrison considered the greatest failure of his 
administration to be its inability to pass the federal elections bill 
sponsored by Henry Cabot Lodge. Known as the ``Force bill,'' it was 
intended to force the South to permit black men to vote and thereby 
protect their civil rights. After Republican losses in the congressional 
elections of 1890, the Senate had taken up the Lodge bill again, only to 
encounter a Democratic filibuster by those who believed it would restore 
a Reconstruction-like Republican rule in the South. Harrison summoned 
Republican senators to the White House and urged them to do everything 
possible to pass the bill. But western silver Republicans believed that 
the nation's most pressing need was an inflated currency to cure 
economic ills. These Republicans joined Democrats in passing a 
resolution to take up a new currency measure in place of the elections 
    The elections bill reached the Senate floor only because of Vice 
President Morton's tie-breaking vote. But the bill immediately 
encountered another filibuster, and Morton did nothing to help 
Republican efforts to break it. Republican senators hoped to persuade 
Morton to vacate his chair, in order to allow a more sympathetic member 
to preside, but Morton insisted on being present throughout the debate. 
Because the vice president had announced that he planned to preside as a 
neutral figure and not follow the dictates of the Republican caucus, he 
was accused of doing little to maintain party discipline and compared 
unfavorably to Speaker of the House Thomas Brackett Reed, who presided 
with an iron fist. Massachusetts Senator George F. Hoar sneered at 
Morton as one of those vice presidents who ``asserted their authority 
with as little show of force as if they were presiding over a company of 
guests at their own table.'' Finally on January 22, 1891, a resolution 
to replace the elections bill with another was passed 35 to 34, and the 
elections bill died.17

                         Unceremoniously Dumped

    As the Republican convention approached in 1892, Morton's supporters 
floated his name for the presidency, but he lacked the necessary 
delegate votes. Then Secretary of State Blaine resigned from Harrison's 
cabinet to become a candidate himself. The ``Old Guard'' bosses, notably 
Pennsylvania's Quay and New York's Platt, supported Blaine, but 
President Harrison held the majority of the delegates. Morton was 
unceremoniously dumped from the ticket in favor of another New Yorker, 
his supposed friend Whitelaw Reid. President Harrison apparently had 
never cared much for his vice president--or forgiven him for his 
neutrality over the Force bill--and did not demand his renomination. At 
the same time, the ``Platt Contingent'' at the convention determined 
that a Harrison ticket was doomed to defeat, and they had better plans 
for Morton.18
    In 1894, Platt ran Morton for governor of New York, a race that he 
won handily. Platt later memorialized Morton as ``the safest Governor 
New York ever had. Business experience had taught him conservatism. He 
never was influenced by crazy theorists, but conducted his 
administration as he did his great private financial institutions.'' 
Senator Chauncey Depew similarly credited Morton as bringing to the 
governorship ``business ability which had made him one of the great 
merchants and foremost bankers.'' In 1896, Platt put the seventy-two-
year-old Governor Morton forward as New York's favorite son for the 
Republican presidential nomination, to stop the nomination of Ohio 
Governor William McKinley, whose past flirtation with free silver 
worried the gold standard men of the East. Platt organized banquets and 
planted newspaper editorials that encouraged Morton to envision himself 
in the White House. But these efforts were routed by the campaign 
strategies of the brilliant businessman-tactician Mark Hanna, who 
engineered McKinley's nomination.19
    Morton retired from politics and returned to his banking career, 
organizing the Morton Trust Company. In 1909, when Morton was in his 
eighties, an offer came from J.P. Morgan to merge the Morton bank into 
the Morgan Guaranty Trust Company. Morton deeply regretted that, as a 
result of the merger, the company bearing his name was retired from the 
business world. L.P. Morton died on his ninety-sixth birthday in 1920, 
already a long-forgotten name in both banking and politics.20
                           LEVI PARSONS MORTON


    1 Robert McNutt McElroy, Levi Parsons Morton: Banker, 
Diplomat and Statesman (New York, 1975; reprint of 1930 edition), pp. 
    2 Ibid., pp. 20-37, 39; George Alfred Townsend, ``Levi P. 
Morton: A Biography,'' in Lew Wallace, Life of Gen. Ben Harrison 
(Philadelphia, 1888), p. 361.
    3 McElroy, pp. 42, 51.
    4 David M. Jordan, Roscoe Conkling of New York: Voice in 
the Senate (Ithaca, NY, 1971), pp. 151-52; William S. McFeely, Grant, A 
Biography (New York, 1981), pp. 333, 336, 355.
    5 Royal Cortissoz, The Life of Whitelaw Reid (New York, 
1921), 1:351; McElroy, pp. 71-74.
    6 McElroy, pp. 84-88, 97; Townsend, pp. 354-55, 372.
    7 Theodore Clarke Smith, The Life and Letters of James 
Abram Garfield (New Haven, CT, 1925), 2:1047, 1055; Louis J. Lang, ed., 
The Autobiography of Thomas Collier Platt (New York, 1910), pp. 128, 
131-32. See also Chapter 20 of this volume, ``Chester Alan Arthur,'' p. 
    8 Smith, pp. 1074, 1078, 1083-84.
    9 Ibid., pp. 1090-91: Harry James Brown and Frederick D. 
Williams, The Diary of James A. Garfield (East Lansing, MI, 1981), 
4:552; Jordan, p. 376.
    10 Smith, p. 1072; Justus D. Doenecke, The Presidencies 
of James A. Garfield & Chester A. Arthur (Lawrence, KS, 1981), pp. 20-
21, 30, 95.
    11 Lang, ed., p. 181; Jordan, pp. 416-17.
    12 Chester L. Barrows, William M. Evarts: Lawyer, 
Diplomat, Statesman (Chapel Hill, NC, 1941), pp. 436-37; Lang, ed., pp. 
187-92; Paul Lancaster, Gentleman of the Press: The Life and Times of an 
Early Reporter, Julian Ralph of the Sun (Syracuse, NY, 1992), p. 141.
    13 Robert F. Wesser, ``Election of 1888,'' in History of 
American Presidential Elections, 1789-1968, ed. Arthur M. Schlesinger, 
Jr., and Fred L. Israel (New York, 1969), 2:1635; Arthur Wallace Dunn, 
From Harrison to Harding: A Personal Narrative, Covering a Third of a 
Century, 1888-1921 (Port Washington, NY, 1972; reprint of 1922 edition), 
    14 Homer Socolofsky and Allan B. Spetter, The Presidency 
of Benjamin Harrison (Lawrence, KS, 1987), pp. 19-45; Frank Carpenter, 
Carp's Washington (New York, 1960), p. 305; Chauncey M. Depew, My 
Memories of Eighty Years (New York, 1924), p. 220; Herbert Adams 
Gibbons, John Wanamaker (New York, 1926), 1:328.
    15 Great Leaders and National Issues of 1896 (New York, 
1896), p. 287.
    16 Thomas C. Corchran and William Miller, The Age of 
Enterprise: A Social History of Industrial America (New York, 1942), pp. 
    17 McElroy, pp. 188-91; Socolofsky and Spetter, pp. 64-
65; Charles W. Calhoun, ``Civil Religion and the Gilded Age Presidency: 
The Case of Benjamin Harrison,'' Presidential Studies Quarterly 23 (Fall 
1993): 658; George F. Hoar, Autobiography of Seventy Years (New York, 
1903), 2:68.
    18 McElroy, pp. 194-205; H. Wayne Morgan, From Hayes to 
McKinley: National Party Politics, 1877-1896 (Syracuse, NY, 1969), p. 
    19 Lang, ed., pp. 332-33; Depew, pp. 147, 218, 220; James 
A. Kehl, Boss Rule in the Gilded Age: Matt Quay of Pennsylvania 
(Pittsburgh, 1981), pp. 199-203; Morgan, p. 491.
    20 McElroy, p. 320.

                               Chapter 23

                          ADLAI EWING STEVENSON


                           ADLAI E. STEVENSON
                           ADLAI E. STEVENSON

                               Chapter 23

                          ADLAI EWING STEVENSON

                     23rd Vice President: 1893-1897

          ``Has Mr. Cleveland yet consulted you to that extent?'' 
      Vice President Stevenson was once asked. ``Not yet,'' he 
      replied. ``But, there are still a few weeks of my term 
    In February 1900, the Chicago American ran a photograph of former 
Vice President Adlai Stevenson holding his new grandson, Adlai Ewing 
Stevenson II. That year the grandfather was again nominated to run for 
vice president on the Democratic ticket. A half century later, the 
grandson would run twice as the Democratic nominee for president and 
gain even greater national and international prominence. Yet it was the 
grandfather who came closest to becoming president of the United 
States--when President Grover Cleveland underwent critical 


    The Stevenson family were Presbyterians from Northern Ireland who 
migrated first to Pennsylvania and then to North Carolina and Kentucky. 
Adlai E. Stevenson, son of John Turner Stevenson and Eliza Ewing 
Stevenson, was born on the family farm in Christian County, Kentucky, on 
October 23, 1835. He attended the common school in Blue Water, Kentucky, 
presided over by a ``dreaded schoolmaster,'' Mr. Caskie. Years later, 
when as vice-presidential candidate Stevenson was about to speak at a 
barbecue in Kentucky, the elderly schoolmaster approached the platform 
and inquired, ``Adlai, I came twenty miles to hear you speak; don't you 
remember me?'' Stevenson instantly replied, ``Yes, Mr. Caskie, I still 
have a few marks left to remember you by!'' 2
    In 1852, when Adlai was sixteen, frost killed the family's tobacco 
crop. His father set free their few slaves and moved to Bloomington, 
Illinois, where he operated a sawmill. Adlai worked in the mill and 
taught school, earning money for college. He attended the Presbyterian-
run Centre College in Danville, Kentucky, headed by the Reverend Lewis 
Warner Green. Adlai fell in love with Green's daughter Letitia, but 
family problems delayed their marriage for nine years. His father's 
death prompted Adlai to return to Bloomington to run the sawmill; then, 
when the Reverend Green died, Letitia and her mother moved near 
Bloomington. Mrs. Green considered the Stevensons socially inferior and 
did not favor a marriage between the young people, even though Adlai had 
studied law and had been admitted to the bar in 1858. Not until 1866 did 
Adlai and Letitia finally marry. They had three daughters and a son, 
Lewis, who became father to the later presidential 

                   A Democrat in Republican Territory

    As a young lawyer, Stevenson encountered such celebrated Illinois 
attorneys as Stephen A. Douglas and Abraham Lincoln, campaigning for 
Douglas in his 1858 Senate race against Lincoln. Stevenson also made 
speeches against the ``Know-Nothing'' movement, a nativist group opposed 
to immigrants and Catholics. That stand helped cement his support in 
Illinois' large German and Irish communities. In a predominantly 
Republican area, the Democratic Stevenson won friends through his 
storytelling and his warm and engaging personality. In 1860 at the age 
of twenty-five, he was appointed master in chancery (an aide in a court 
of equity), his first public office, which he held during the Civil War. 
In 1864 Stevenson was elected district attorney, and at the end of his 
term in 1868 he entered law practice with his cousin, James S. Ewing. 
Stevenson & Ewing became one of the state's most prominent law 
    In 1874, when Stevenson ran for the House of Representatives as a 
Democrat, local Republican newspapers painted him as a ``vile 
secessionist,'' but the continuing hardships from the economic panic of 
1873 caused voters to sweep him into office with the first Democratic 
congressional majority since the Civil War. In the presidential election 
year of 1876, however, the Republican ticket headed by Rutherford B. 
Hayes carried his district, and Stevenson was narrowly defeated for 
reelection, taking 49.6 percent of the vote. Then, in 1878, he ran on 
both the Democratic and Greenback tickets and won. Returning to a House 
from which one-third of his earlier colleagues had either voluntarily 
retired or been retired by the voters gave Stevenson a sense of the 
swiftly changing tides of politics. In 1880, again a presidential 
election year, he once more lost narrowly, and he was defeated in his 
final race for Congress in 1882.5

                     The Headsman of the Post Office

    Stevenson served as a delegate to the Democratic convention of 1884 
that nominated Grover Cleveland for president. Cleveland's reform record 
as governor of New York helped win over Republican reformers, the 
mugwumps, who enabled him to defeat the popular but scandal-ridden 
Republican candidate James G. Blaine. When Cleveland took office as 
president, the mugwumps expected him to carry out the goals of civil 
service reform rather than return to the spoilsmanship of Jacksonian 
Democracy. They felt reassured at first when Cleveland appointed an able 
Republican as postmaster of New York City. But job-hungry Democrats 
besieged the administration for patronage, and the president had to 
respond to the angry rumblings from his party on Capitol Hill.
    Particularly at stake were the 55,000 fourth-class postmasters. 
Although paying just a thousand dollars a year, these offices were 
critically important to local political operations. In small towns, the 
postmaster knew everyone, as well as the mail they received and the 
newspapers and magazines they read. This knowledge placed the 
postmasters in an excellent position to keep the national party 
organization informed on public opinion. The local postmasters would 
also distribute party literature in bulk more cheaply than if it were 
individually addressed. Former Democratic nominee Samuel J. Tilden, a 
master political organizer, reminded the Cleveland administration that 
these rural post offices essentially served as their party's local 
headquarters. To leave them in the hands of Republicans would be 
``infidelity to the principles and causes of the Administration.'' 
    When First Assistant Postmaster General Malcolm Hay, a civil service 
reformer, resigned due to ill health after only three months in office, 
Cleveland appointed the more partisan Adlai Stevenson to succeed him. 
Given free rein to remove Republican officeholders, Stevenson thoroughly 
enjoyed swinging the axe. One Republican journalist described Stevenson 
as ``an official axman who beheaded Republican officeholders with the 
precision and dispatch of the French guillotine in the days of the 
Revolution.'' Dubbed ``the Headsman'' for replacing some 40,000 
Republicans with deserving Democrats, he once ``decapitated sixty-five 
Republican postmasters in two minutes.'' Republicans protested but 
recognized that they had swung the same axe, and even the mugwumps 
realized that true civil service reform probably could not be achieved 
until greater balance was achieved between Democratic and Republican 
    Cleveland rewarded Stevenson with a judicial nomination to the 
supreme court of the District of Columbia, but Senate Republicans 
refused to confirm the man who had discharged so many of their 
postmasters. When Cleveland was defeated for reelection in 1888, 
President Benjamin Harrison appointed James S. Clarkson as first 
assistant postmaster general, and Clarkson promptly undid Stevenson's 
handiwork by replacing 32,335 of the fourth-class postmasters. When the 
Democrats chose Cleveland once again as their standard bearer in 1892, 
they appeased party regulars by the nomination of the ``headsman of the 
post-office,'' Adlai Stevenson, for vice president. As a supporter of 
using greenbacks and free silver to inflate the currency and alleviate 
economic distress in the rural districts, Stevenson balanced the ticket 
headed by Cleveland, the hard-money, gold-standard supporter. Just 
before the election, Cleveland learned that Republicans were planning a 
lurid expose of Stevenson's soft-money record. Cleveland's campaign 
manager caught Stevenson at a speaking engagement in West Virginia and 
handed him a letter endorsing sound money. Stevenson signed the letter 
and released it to the press, thus defusing the issue. The winning 
Cleveland-Stevenson ticket carried Illinois, although not Stevenson's 
home district.8
    Civil service reformers held out hope for the second Cleveland 
administration but saw Vice President Stevenson as a symbol of the 
spoils system. He never hesitated to feed names of Democrats to the Post 
Office Department. Once he called at the Treasury Department to protest 
against an appointment and was shown a letter he had written endorsing 
the candidate. Stevenson told the treasury officials not to pay 
attention to any of his written endorsements; if he really favored 
someone he would tell them personally.9

                             Silver and Gold

    While such stories about ``Uncle Adlai'' brought smiles around 
Washington, Stevenson's presence as next in line to the presidency 
frightened Cleveland's more conservative supporters. Just before 
Cleveland took office, a financial panic on Wall Street had plunged the 
nation into depression. As a staunch advocate of limited government, 
Cleveland disapproved of any government program to reduce economic 
suffering. By contrast, Vice President Stevenson represented the 
``populist doctrines'' of currency reform that were creeping into the 
Democratic party. In June 1893, after Cleveland proposed repeal of the 
Sherman Silver Purchase Act and a return to the gold standard, one of 
his hard-money supporters wrote Cleveland saying: ``I wish you had 
Congress in session now. You may not be alive in September. It would 
make a vast difference to the United States if you were not.'' The 
writer did not know that Cleveland faced a potentially fatal operation. 
A habitual cigar-smoker, Cleveland had developed cancer of the mouth 
that required immediate surgery. The president insisted that the surgery 
be kept secret to avoid another panic on Wall Street over the thought of 
a silverite like Stevenson in the White House. While on a yacht in New 
York harbor that summer, Cleveland had his entire upper jaw removed and 
replaced with an artificial device, an operation that left no outward 
scar. The cancer surgery remained secret for another quarter century. 
Cleveland's aides explained that he had merely had dental work. His vice 
president little realized how close he came to the presidency that 
    Meanwhile, a major battle loomed in the Senate over currency reform. 
In 1890, the Republican President Harrison had supported the Sherman 
Silver Purchase Act in return for silver Republicans' support of the 
protective tariff named after Ohio Representative--and future 
President--William McKinley. But in the 1890 elections the unpopular 
McKinley tariff defeated many Republicans, including McKinley, restored 
Democratic majorities in Congress, and bolstered the populist movement 
that was demanding more government intervention in railroad regulation, 
currency reform, and farm relief. Disdainful of the populists, Cleveland 
interpreted the Republican defeat as vindication of his policies. Upon 
reentering the White House in 1893, he was determined to repeal the 
Sherman Act to restore business confidence and therefore called Congress 
into extraordinary session in August to consider the issue.11
    In October 1893, efforts to repeal the Sherman Silver Purchase Act 
met with a filibuster in the Senate. Indiana Senator Daniel Voorhees, 
leader of the Cleveland Democrats, announced that the Senate would 
remain in continuous session until a vote was taken. Opponents made 
repeated calls for quorums, feigned illness, and refused to appear even 
when summoned by the Senate sergeant at arms. Those conducting the 
filibuster benefitted from the cooperation of the presiding officer. 
Vice President Stevenson refused to turn his back on the silverites, who 
had helped to nominate him, and gave no aid to the administration in 
whipping the dissenters into line. The prominent Washington 
correspondent Julian Ralph knew that the Senate had no formal cloture 
procedure but heard that it might be possible for the vice president to 
cut off debate by simply ordering a vote. Ralph asked the opinion of 
former House Speaker Thomas B. Reed, who had broken similar dilatory 
actions in the House by counting the minority as present even if they 
failed to answer the roll. Reed asserted that the vice president ``could 
do whatever he pleased if he had a majority behind him.'' But Democrat 
Isham G. Harris of Tennessee, the president pro tempore, strongly 
disagreed. ``Why, sir, I don't believe he would live to accomplish it,'' 
said Harris (who later repudiated the threatening quote when it appeared 
in the Ralph story).12
    New York Democratic Senator David Hill followed Ralph's suggestion 
by circulating a petition to force the vice president to overrule all 
dilatory motions, but it failed to attract many signers. Nor were 
Democrats able to agree on adoption of a cloture rule. Finally, the 
Senate accepted a compromise arranged by Maryland Democratic Senator 
Arthur Pue Gorman that established a gradual reduction of silver 
purchases over a three-year period. Although this agreement made 
possible passage of the repeal, President Cleveland never forgave Gorman 
for his compromise and thereafter rarely consulted this important 
Democratic leader. Repeal of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act only 
contracted the currency and further weakened the economy. Silverites 
called it the ``Crime of 1893.'' The Democrats became tagged as the 
party of the ``empty dinnerpail'' and suffered sweeping congressional 
defeats in 1894.13

                        A Notable Sense of Humor

    Adlai Stevenson enjoyed his role as vice president, presiding over 
``the most august legislative assembly known to men.'' He won praise for 
ruling in a dignified, nonpartisan manner. In personal appearance he 
stood six feet tall and was ``of fine personal bearing and uniformly 
courteous to all.'' Although he was often a guest at the White House, 
Stevenson admitted that he was less an adviser to the president than 
``the neighbor to his counsels.'' He credited the president with being 
``courteous at all times'' but noted that ``no guards were necessary to 
the preservation of his dignity. No one would have thought of undue 
familiarity.'' For his part, President Cleveland snorted that his vice 
president had surrounded himself with a coterie of free-silver men 
dubbed the ``Stevenson cabinet.'' The president even mused that the 
economy had gotten so bad and the Democratic party so divided that ``the 
logical thing for me to do . . . was to resign and hand the Executive 
branch to Mr. Stevenson,'' joking that he would try to get his friends 
jobs in Stevenson's new cabinet.14
    Toward the end of his term, ``Uncle Adlai'' was a dinner guest at 
the home of Senator Gorman. The vice president had a strong sense of 
humor, which he suppressed while presiding over the Senate but let loose 
in private. At dinner, Stevenson said he resented the familiar charge 
that vice presidents were never consulted by the president and told a 
story about Vice President John Breckinridge once being consulted by 
President James Buchanan--about the wording of his Thanksgiving message. 
``Has Mr. Cleveland yet consulted you to that extent?'' Senator Gorman 
asked. ``Not yet,'' Stevenson replied. ``But, there are still a few 
weeks of my term remaining.'' 15
    Stevenson was mentioned as a candidate to succeed Cleveland in 1896. 
Although he chaired the Illinois delegation to the Democratic National 
Convention, he gained little support. As one Democrat noted, ``the young 
men of the country are determined to have something to say during the 
next election, and are tired of these old hacks.'' Stevenson received a 
smattering of votes, but the convention was taken by storm by a thirty-
six-year-old former representative from Nebraska, William Jennings 
Bryan, who delivered his fiery ``Cross of Gold'' speech in favor of a 
free-silver plank in the platform. Not only did the Democrats repudiate 
Cleveland by embracing free silver, but they also nominated Bryan for 
president. Many Cleveland Democrats, including most Democratic 
newspapers, refused to support Bryan, but Vice President Stevenson 
loyally endorsed the ticket. In the fall, Bryan conducted the nation's 
first whistle-stop campaign, traveling extensively around the country 
and capturing people's imaginations. Although he did far better than 
expected, he lost the election to Ohio's Republican governor, William 
    A bimetallist himself, McKinley ran on a gold-standard platform. But 
McKinley wanted to enact a protective tariff, and, to win support from 
silver Republicans, he promised to appoint a bipartisan commission to 
negotiate an international agreement on bimetallism. Silverites hoped 
that a prominent Democrat might be appointed, but when their leading 
candidates declined they settled for ``a man of no particular weight,'' 
the former vice president. The work of the commission came to naught. 
Stevenson found more satisfaction as a political speaker, addressing all 
things ``purely and absolutely Democratic.'' 17
    After the 1896 election, Bryan became the titular leader of the 
Democrats and frontrunner for the nomination in 1900. Much of the 
newspaper speculation about who would run as the party's vice-
presidential candidate centered on Indiana Senator Benjamin Shively. But 
when reporter Arthur Wallace Dunn interviewed Shively at the convention, 
the senator said he ``did not want the glory of a defeat as a vice 
presidential candidate.'' A disappointed Dunn said that he still had to 
file a story on the vice-presidential nomination, and then added: ``I 
believe I'll write a piece about old Uncle Adlai.'' ``That's a good 
idea,'' said Shively. ``Stevenson is just the man. There you have it. 
Uniting the old Cleveland element with the new Bryan Democracy. You've 
got enough for one story. But say, this is more than a joke. Stevenson 
is just the man.'' For the rest of the day, Dunn heard other favorable 
remarks about Stevenson, and by that night the former vice president was 
the leading contender, since no one else was ``very anxious to be the 
tail of what they considered was a forlorn hope ticket.'' 18
    The Populists had already nominated the ticket of Bryan and Charles 
A. Towne, a silver Republican from Minnesota, with the tacit 
understanding that Towne would step aside if the Democrats nominated 
someone else. Bryan preferred his good friend Towne, but Democrats 
wanted one of their own, and the regular element of the party felt 
comfortable with Stevenson. Towne withdrew and campaigned for Bryan and 
Stevenson. As a result, Stevenson, who had run with Cleveland in 1892, 
now ran with his nemesis Bryan in 1900. Twenty-five years senior to 
Bryan, Stevenson added age and experience to the ticket. Nevertheless, 
their effort never stood a chance against the Republican ticket of 
McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt. Stevenson returned again to private 
practice in Illinois, making one last attempt at office in an 
unsuccessful race for governor in 1908. After that, he retired to 
Bloomington, where his Republican neighbors described him as ``windy but 
amusing.'' 19

                        Grandfather and Grandson

    Through Stevenson's long career, his wife Letitia was a ``keen 
observer and judge of people, and a charming hostess.'' Although 
suffering from migraine headaches and severe rheumatism that forced her 
to wear leg braces when standing at receptions, she dutifully supported 
his many political campaigns. Letitia also helped establish the 
Daughters of the American Revolution as a way of healing the divisions 
between the North and South after the Civil War. She succeeded Mrs. 
Benjamin Harrison as the DAR's second president-general. Adlai Stevenson 
II remembered his grandparents' home as ``a very formal household.'' The 
vice president addressed his wife as ``Mrs. Stevenson'' and she called 
him ``Mr. Stevenson.'' Young Adlai considered his grandfather ``one of 
the great raconteurs of his day'' and learned much about American 
history and politics from him. At his grandfather's house in Bloomington 
he met many ``distinguished Democrats'' from around the land, including 
William Jennings Bryan. He recalled that hanging on the wall was a 
lithograph, ``The Lost Bet,'' depicting a gentleman in top hat and frock 
coat paying off an election bet by pulling a wagon down a street beneath 
a banner that read: ``Grover Cleveland and Adlai E. Stevenson.'' 
    Adlai Stevenson died in Bloomington on June 14, 1914. Thirty-eight 
years later, his grandson and namesake, then serving as governor of 
Illinois, agonized over whether to make himself available for the 
Democratic nomination for president. When Adlai E. Stevenson II appeared 
on the television news show Meet the Press, a reporter from the Chicago 
Daily News pressed him for a commitment by saying: ``Wouldn't your 
grandfather, Vice President Stevenson, twirl in his grave if he saw you 
running away from a chance to be the Democratic nominee in 1952?'' 
Stevenson, who loathed giving up his governorship for what most likely 
would be a futile campaign against the war hero Dwight Eisenhower, 
blanched at the comparison and replied, ``I think we have to leave 
Grandfather lie.'' 21
                          ADLAI EWING STEVENSON


    1 Jeff Broadwater, Adlai Stevenson and American Politics: 
The Odyssey of a Cold War Liberal (New York, 1994), p. 1.
    2 Adlai E. Stevenson, Something Of Men I Have Known 
(Chicago, 1909), p. 47.
    3 Porter McKeever, Adlai Stevenson: His Life and Legacy 
(New York, 1989), pp. 15-18; Jean H. Baker, The Stevensons: A Biography 
of an American Family (New York, 1996), pp. 82-95.
    4 George Spiel, The Battle of 1900 (Chicago, 1900), p. 
475; Broadwater, p. 1.
    5 McKeever, p. 17; Stevenson, p. 47; Baker, pp. 112-22.
    6 Horace Samuel Merrill, William Freeman Vilas, 
Doctrinaire Democrat (Madison, WI, 1954), pp. 100, 102-3.
    7 David S. Barry, Forty Years in Washington (Boston, 
1924), p. 191; Solomon X. Griffin, People and Politics: Observations by 
a Massachusetts Editor (Boston, 1923), p. 307; Wayne Morgan, From Hayes 
to McKinley: National Party Politics, 1877-1896 (Syracuse, NY, 1969), p. 
446; Merrill, William Freeman Vilas, p. 105.
    8 Griffin, pp. 307, 327; McKeever, p. 17; Herbert Eaton, 
Presidential Timber: A History of Nominating Conventions, 1868-1960 (New 
York, 1964), pp. 145-47; Allan Nevins, Grover Cleveland, A Study in 
Courage (New York, 1932), pp. 504-5.
    9 Nevins, p. 518.
    10 Horace Samuel Merrill, Bourbon Democracy of the Middle 
West, 1865-1896 (Seattle, 1967; reprint of 1953 edition), pp. 216, 237; 
Morgan, p. 450; Richard E. Welch, Jr., The Presidencies of Grover 
Cleveland (Lawrence, KS, 1988), pp. 60, 106, 119; Robert H. Ferrell, 
Ill-Advised: Presidential Health and Public Trust (Columbia, MO, 1992), 
pp. 3-11.
    11 Paolo E. Coletta, ``The Democratic Party, 1884-1910,'' 
in History of U.S. Political Parties, ed. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. 
(New York, 1980), 2:996.
    12 Paul Lancaster, Gentleman of the Press: The Life and 
Times of an Early Reporter, Julian Ralph of the Sun (Syracuse, NY, 
1992), p. 221.
    13 John R. Lambert, Arthur Pue Gorman (Baton Rouge, LA, 
1953), pp. 193, 195, 199; Baker, pp. 163-71.
    14  Stevenson, pp. 63, 243-44; Spiel, p. 477; Allan 
Nevins, ed., Letters of Grover Cleveland, 1850-1908 (Boston, 1933), p. 
    15 David S. Barry, Forty Years in Washington (Boston, 
1924), pp. 191-92.
    16 Merrill, William Freeman Vilas, p. 198.
    17 Leon Burr Richardson, William E. Chandler, Republican 
(New York, 1940), p. 551; Spiel, p. 477.
    18 Arthur Wallace Dunn, From Harrison to Harding: A 
Personal Narrative, Covering a Third of a Century, 1888-1921 (Port 
Washington, NY, 1972; reprint of 1922 edition), 1:344; Baker, pp. 174-
    19 Louis W. Koenig, Bryan: A Political Biography of 
William Jennings Bryan (New York, 1971), p. 324; Broadwater, p. 2.
    20 McKeever, p. 18; John Bartlow Martin, Adlai Stevenson 
(New York, 1952)., p. 41; Baker, pp. 154-63.
    21 McKeever, p. 185.

                               Chapter 24

                         GARRET AUGUSTUS HOBART


                         GARRET AUGUSTUS HOBART
                            GARRET A. HOBART

                               Chapter 24

                         GARRET AUGUSTUS HOBART

                     24th Vice President: 1897-1899

          For the first time in my recollection, and the last for 
      that matter, the Vice President was recognized as somebody, 
      as a part of the Administration, as a part of the body over 
      which he presided.
                             --Veteran newspaper correspondent
    It seems startling that someone who never held prior office outside 
of a state legislature could be nominated and elected Vice President of 
the United States, as was Garret Augustus Hobart in 1896. By the time 
convention delegates chose the last nineteenth-century vice president, 
they had come to regard that office as little more than a ``fifth wheel 
to the executive coach.'' The nomination was in their view simply a 
device for balancing the ticket, either by ideology or by region. 
``Gus'' Hobart, an easterner chosen to run with a middle westerner, 
William McKinley of Ohio, completely shared McKinley's conservative 
political philosophy. With warm feelings for Hobart, President McKinley 
decided to rescue the vice-presidency from its low estate. McKinley so 
embraced the vice president as his friend, associate, and confidant that 
Hobart's home on Lafayette Square became known as the ``Little Cream 
White House,'' and Hobart as the ``Assistant President.'' 1


    Hobart was the descendant of a long line of clergymen, with a family 
tree that dated back to the Massachusetts Bay Colony of the early 
seventeenth century. In 1841 his father had left New England to open a 
primary school in Long Branch, New Jersey. There, on June 3, 1844, 
Garret Augustus Hobart was born. Young Hobart attended his father's 
school and then went to boarding school. As a member of the Reformed 
Church, he attended Rutgers College, which was then under that church's 
control. He graduated at the top of his class in 1863. Although the 
nation was deeply engaged in the Civil War, Hobart did not join the 
Union army. Instead, he studied law in Paterson, New Jersey, under the 
tutelage of Socrates Tuttle, a childhood friend of his father's. He 
became a lawyer in 1866, and on July 21, 1869, married Tuttle's 
daughter, Jennie. Hobart's family had long been Democrats, but marriage 
into the Republican Tuttle household converted the young man to the 
Grand Old Party.2

                      Not a Conventional Politician

    After service as clerk of a grand jury, Hobart was elected a judge 
in Paterson in 1868. In 1871, after his father-in-law became mayor, 
Hobart was appointed to the post of city counsel. The following year he 
went to the state assembly, rising speedily to become speaker in 1874. 
In 1876 he won election to the state senate, which chose him as senate 
president in 1881, according him the distinction of being the first 
person to head both houses of the New Jersey legislature. Despite these 
achievements, Hobart was no politician in the conventional sense. ``He 
was not fond of standing in the public eye,'' a friend later assessed. 
``He did not seek popularity by those methods which usually evoke the 
applause and admiration of the multitude. He was not spectacular.'' 
    A rotund, jovial, hospitable man, Hobart displayed much tact, charm, 
and ability to work with other people. These qualities, which made him 
an outstanding state legislator, should have helped him move up to the 
national legislature, if it had not been for his increasingly lucrative 
law practice in New Jersey. The many banks and railroads among his 
clients made him wealthy, and he was loath to abandon his comfortable 
family life in New Jersey for the demands of a political career in 
Washington. (The Hobart home, ``Carroll Hall,'' was reputedly the 
``largest and most sumptuous in Paterson.'') Several times Hobart stood 
for the United States Senate but never fought hard enough to win 
election from a state legislature in which he was immensely popular. He 
served instead as chairman of the State Republican Committee from 1880 
to 1891 and as a member of the party's national committee.4

                          A Homesick Candidate

    Since the Civil War, New Jersey had leaned toward Democratic 
presidential candidates. President Grover Cleveland had carried the 
state in 1892, but, during the economic depression that followed, both 
houses of the legislature and the governorship of New Jersey went 
Republican, suggesting that the state could be taken by the national 
ticket in 1896. Looking over the scene, the Democratic New York Graphic 
noted that there was no other Republican in New Jersey as strong as this 
``sturdy, bright faced, genial gentleman.'' 5
    In 1896, the New Jersey delegation went to the Republican convention 
in St. Louis determined to nominate Hobart for vice president, as a way 
of consolidating the party's recent gains within their state. When Ohio 
Governor McKinley defeated House Speaker Thomas Reed and several other 
prominent candidates for the presidential nomination, newspapers 
identified some twenty potential candidates for the vice-presidency. All 
of them were governors, cabinet members, senators, and representatives, 
with the exception of Hobart, who remained unknown outside of his state. 
Yet when the vote was taken, Hobart, who had attended the convention as 
a delegate, emerged the nominee.
    Hobart insisted that he had not sought the nomination but that it 
was handed to him as ``a tribute from my friends.'' It came equally as a 
tribute from Marcus A. Hanna, the Cleveland industrialist and political 
strategist who masterminded McKinley's nomination. Hanna wanted a ticket 
to satisfy the business interests of America, and Hobart, a corporate 
lawyer, fit that requirement perfectly. Hanna's biographer noted that, 
even if Hobart did little to strengthen the ticket, ``he did nothing to 
weaken it.'' 6
    Hobart himself felt ambivalent about the honor. Ambitious for 
national office, he was realistic enough to know what it would 
ultimately cost him. From the convention, he wrote to his wife:
     I have been too busy to be homesick, but, to tell the honest 
        truth, I am heart-sick over my own prospects. It looks to 
         me I will be nominated for Vice-President whether I want 
        it or not, and as I get nearer to the point where I may, I 
        am dismayed at the thought. . . . If I want a nomination, 
        everything is going my way. But when I realize all that it 
           means in work, worry, and loss of home and bliss, I am 
          overcome, so overcome I am simply miserable.7
    Unlike the Democratic presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan, 
who barnstormed the country making speeches, William McKinley stayed at 
home in Canton, Ohio, running his campaign from his front porch. Hobart 
similarly limited his speaking to his portico in New Jersey. McKinley 
and Hobart stood firm for the gold standard and the protective tariff. 
Bryan, for his part, ran on a ``Free Silver'' platform and attracted 
many desperate farmers and debtors to his crusade. But economic 
conditions--and corporate interests--favored the Republicans. McKinley 
won by a half million votes, or 51 percent of the total cast. His 
Republican ticket carried 23 of the 45 states, including Hobart's New 

                      The Little Cream White House

    For a running mate, McKinley had preferred Speaker Thomas B. Reed, 
with whom he had worked for many years in the House, but Reed would 
accept only the top spot on the ticket. Although McKinley and Hobart 
were strangers by comparison, the president had no difficulty warming up 
to Gus Hobart. The wealthy Hobarts leased a house at 21 Lafayette 
Square, which became known as the ``Little Cream White House.'' Built in 
1828 by Col. Ogle Tayloe, the house had hosted Washington's high society 
during the antebellum years. At the outset of the Civil War, General 
George McClellan had taken it as his headquarters. After the war, 
Pennsylvania Senator Don Cameron had remodeled and restored the old 
house. The Hobarts used it to entertain lavishly--particularly because 
President McKinley's wife was an invalid who could not shoulder the 
traditional social burdens of the White House. The president frequently 
attended Hobart's dinners and afternoon smokers, where he could meet 
informally with party leaders from Capitol Hill.8
    No previous vice president had visited the White House as often as 
Gus Hobart, due in part to the warm friendship that developed between 
Ida McKinley and Jennie Hobart. Mrs. McKinley suffered from epilepsy, 
which left her a recluse in the White House. President McKinley doted on 
his wife and grew to depend on Jennie Hobart, who visited Ida daily. 
``The President constantly turned to me to help her wherever I could,'' 
Mrs. Hobart wrote in her memoirs, ``--not because I was Second Lady, but 
because I was their good friend.'' Whenever McKinley had to be away from 
his wife in the evenings, he would entrust her to Jennie Hobart's care. 
He also invited Mrs. Hobart to White House social functions because her 
presence ``gave him confidence.'' In addition to seeing each other in 
Washington, the McKinleys and Hobarts vacationed together at Bluff Point 
on Lake Champlain.9
    McKinley looked on Hobart as a trusted adviser. Although the vice 
president was not invited to join meetings of the cabinet, the president 
and cabinet members consulted with him freely. The mutual regard between 
the two men made them, in the words of one acquaintance, ``coadjustors 
in the fixing of the policies of the Administration to an extent never 
before known.'' Arthur Wallace Dunn, a newspaper correspondent who 
covered presidents from Benjamin Harrison to Warren Harding, marveled 
that ``for the first time in my recollection, and the last for that 
matter, the Vice President was recognized as somebody, as a part of the 
Administration, and as a part of the body over which he presided.'' Dunn 
described Hobart as a ``business politician,'' whose knowledge of the 
``relations between business and politics'' made his judgments extremely 
useful. McKinley even turned to his vice president for personal 
financial advice. Having once suffered the embarrassment of declaring 
personal bankruptcy, McKinley turned over a portion of his monthly 
presidential salary, which Vice President Hobart invested for 

                         The Splendid Little War

    Although Hobart socialized more frequently and worked more closely 
with the president than had most of his predecessors, his primary 
function remained that of presiding over the Senate. In his brief, self-
deprecatory inaugural address, Hobart had told the senators that, while 
he was unfamiliar with their rules and procedures, he would work to the 
best of his abilities, feeling confident that they would indulge him as 
considerately as they had all of the previous occupants of the chair. 
Hobart's experiences presiding over the New Jersey assembly and state 
senate served him well, and he soon won favorable notices for impartial 
and informed rulings. Massachusetts Senator Henry Cabot Lodge applauded 
Hobart for abandoning his predecessors' habit of ``submitting nearly 
every question of order to the Senate,'' and instead ruling promptly on 
these points himself, ``as every presiding officer ought to do.'' One 
newspaper correspondent wrote that, initially, Hobart's ``business-like 
advice and warning intimations rather nettled many of the Senators,'' 
but that over time he appeared to captivate the Senate with his genial 
good nature.11
    Hobart settled comfortably into the job. Senate vouchers show that 
he purchased for the Vice President's Room in the Capitol silk mohair 
carpeting, Neapolitan silk curtains, Persian throw rugs, and ``a silk 
velour slumber robe'' made to match the velour cushions on his sofa. 
Hobart also ordered the grandfather clock and the imposing mahogany desk 
that his successors continue to use.12 Presiding over the 
Senate was no easy task, however. In 1898, following the unexplained 
sinking of the U.S. battleship Maine in Havana harbor, sentiment in the 
Senate swung sharply toward war with Spain, which at that time still 
ruled Cuba as a colony. President McKinley's cautious attempts to avoid 
going to war made him seem indecisive. When McKinley's friend Senator 
William Mason of Illinois announced in favor of war, a demonstration 
broke out on the Senate floor that Hobart found impossible to quiet. As 
Mrs. Hobart recalled, the vice president was ``worried to desperation'' 
over the rising rebelliousness of the Senate, and took his concerns to 
McKinley. ``Mr. President, I can no longer hold back the Senate,'' he 
warned. ``They will act without you if you do not act at once.'' 
Accepting the inevitable, McKinley called on Congress to declare that a 
state of war existed with Spain. Hobart sent the president a pen to sign 
the declaration.13
    The ``splendid little war'' with Spain was fought and won within a 
six-month period. At the conclusion of the Fifty-fifth Con