William R. King, Fifteenth Vice-President of the United States

William R. King, Fifteenth Vice-President of the United States

I am constantly reminded that this thing we call politics is nothing more than a game of sorts.

And we, in modern America, assume that everything we have in our collective political experience is new.  And for the first time in American politics, that is true, in a way, with an African-American in serious contention for the top job.  But even he’s not the first to run for the coveted office.  

And with that, just so you’ll know, there really is nothing new in presidential politics.

Such as:  the opposing candidate is older, and we have elected older presidents; a number of women have competed for the presidency; affairs; liasons.  And the list, obviously, could continue.

But the vice-presidency is something about which we know very little … except, of course, when the vice-president becomes president, either by death, or by election.  The other men who have held this position, though, become lost in the fabric of American history.  

I thought it was expedient enough, then, to give us some perspective on the craziness of the political game we celebrate every four years. 

Linda Rodriguez wrote an article about our scandalous vice-presidents.  She listed ten.  I’ll give you a couple of her picks, word for word:

“Chester Arthur took office under the thickest cloud of suspicion. As a lieutenant in Senator Roscoe Conkling’s political machine, Arthur held one of the most lucrative positions in government—collector for the port of New York. For seven years, Arthur raked in approximately $40,000 annually (about $700,000 today), running a corrupt spoils system for thousands of payroll employees. With so much money and power, Arthur developed an affinity for fancy clothes and earned the nickname “the Gentleman Boss.” But his luck didn’t last. President Rutherford Hayes eventually stepped in and fired him from the post.

Even with the kickback scandal and claims that he’d been born in Canada (which should’ve disqualified him for the vice presidency), Arthur still managed to get elected on James Garfield’s 1880 ticket. After Garfield passed away 199 days into his presidency, Arthur didn’t hesitate to sign the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act. Much to the chagrin of Conkling, the Act revamped civil service by effectively killing the same patronage system that made Arthur very, very rich. In cleaning up civil service, Arthur also cleaned up his reputation, and he exited the White House a hero.”

“Andrew Johnson took his 1865 vice-presidential oath drunk as a skunk … .  Having grown up dirt poor, Johnson felt the aristocracy in Washington had abused his kinfolk. Glassy-eyed and smelling of whiskey, he reminded Congress, the Supreme Court, the Cabinet, and pretty much everyone within hearing distance that they owed their positions to “plebeians” such as himself, then kissed the Bible and staggered away.

Needless to say, his address was poorly received. The New York World opined, “To think that one frail life stands between this insolent, clownish creature and the presidency! May God bless and spare Abraham Lincoln!” Unfortunately, God didn’t. The South surrendered six days before Lincoln’s assassination, leaving Johnson to handle Reconstruction—a job he bungled so completely that Congress moved to impeach him. Johnson avoided being booted out of office by just one vote.”

And for others, you can do a little digging yourself.  William R. King, and his preferences.  John Breckendridge and Aaron Burr, and their loyalties.  Andrew Johnson and his vice-presidential inauguration.

Scandal isn’t a new thing with Americans.  It just seems that it is nothing more than a formality.


2 thoughts on “Scandal

  1. We have a statue of Garfield here in town at the end of a small park named after him. I’ve always thought Arthur should have a statue or monument somewhere, but I wonder if anybody ever created one.

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