Breaking a Vice-Presidential Deadlock in the Senate
One of the unusual features of the 1896 presidential campaign that I talk about in my new book is that William Jennings Bryan had two running mates at the same time. The Democratic Convention nominated Arthur Sewell, a New York businessman who appealed to the conservative wing of the Party. The Populists chose Thomas Watson, an agrarian radical from Georgia. (Watson spent most of his time on the stump attacking Sewell instead of McKinley.) This meant that if Bryan had won, no vice-presidental candidate would have received a majority in the Electoral College. In that scenario, the Twelfth Amendment provides that the Senate must choose from between the top two candidates. This meant that Bryan could have ended up with McKinley’s running mate, William Hobart, as his vice-president.
The only time that a presidential candidate won a majority of the electoral vote and his vice-president did not was in 1836, when Martin Van Buren’s running mate, Richard Johnson (depicted right) came up short. Why did that happen? It was because Johnson had two children with his slave, Julia Chinn, and treated her as his common-law wife until her death. Virginia’s electors refused to vote for him as a result, but the Senate did approve him as VP. But he was not renominated by the Democrats in 1840. An interesting story that I had not heard about until recently.