We celebrated Presidents' Day this week. It's not much of a celebration really when you consider that we've had fourty-four of them. That comes out to something like half a hour per president – though I haven't done the precise math. What do we learn from presidents? One thing is you don't always need a vice-president.
Thomas Jefferson valued his – except for Aaron Burr, who plotted treason. But then he had George Clinton for four peaceful years. James Madison had the same Clinton for four more years, then nobody for a year or so, then Elbridge Gerry for a couple of years, then nobody for his last term in office.
So, do you need one or not? You decide. I can argue it either way.
Millard Fillmore was Zachary Taylor's vice-president for a couple of years in the 19th century but did without one when he himself became president in 1850. Franklin Pierce (1853-57) has a vice-president named William King in '53 but nobody after that. Chester A. Authur was a vice-president in 1881 then a preisdent from '81-'85 with no VP. Teddy Roosevelt had a vice for just four of his eight years as president.
FDR? Now there was a treat. Three vice-presidents: John Nance Garner, 1933-41 (useless, many said); Henry Wallace, 1941-45 (a lefty, by many accounts). Roosevelt died in 1945 and then Vice-President Harry Truman – God bless America – became president. He served with no #2 until he ran with Alben Barkley in 1948. But what a time!
Truman dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and ended, I think it's fair to say, World War II. He integrated for the first time the US Armed Forces. As an ex-president he liked reminding reporters like me that "Give 'em hell, Harry" wasn't quit the way it was: "I just told the truth and they thought it was hell." What a man!
We've had some distinguished vice-presidents; Walter Mondale comes to mind. We've had some undistinguished one; Dan Quayle comes to my mind there. But it's an interesting office. No other country has one quite like it. When a British prime minister leaves office, for instance, the Party elects a new leader.
So let's hear it for the #2s. On the whole you've probably been good for us even if you don't have your own day – or even you own 29 minutes apiece.