John Adams and the Vice-Presidency

Official_Presidential_portrait_of_John_Adams_(by_John_Trumbull,_circa_1792)In reading a new book on the First Congress, one compelling point that comes across is how people can shape institutions.  We think of George Washington and how much his example made the presidency  into a powerful institution. Same thing for Hamilton at the Treasury, Madison in the House of Representatives, and Jefferson at State.

What about the vice-presidency?  Well, the first VP was John Adams, and he irritated everybody.  (Especially with his strange campaign to give the President some sort of fancy title.)  This probably accounts for why Washington ignored him, which set the template for the vice-presidency until well into the 20th century.

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2 Responses

  1. Joe says:

    Eh. Him being annoying helped but Washington was going to be inclined to be his own man anyhow & constitutionally, the only role given to the veep explicitly is to preside over the Senate. Jefferson himself focused on that while also having political reasons not to help when Adams was President. The President has a Cabinet to advise him. That also probably factored in — he had Hamilton (and for a little while Madison) as a major adviser. A more interesting time period is the second term where there seemed eventually to be more of a power vacuum where someone unlike Adams might have seized a chance.

  2. John Dereszewski says:

    Under the original constitution, where each elector cast two votes and the VP was the person who happened to finish in second place, there was little structural reason for the President to consider the VP to be part of the team. This was clearly – and apparently not surprisingly – the case after the 1796 election which placed Adams and Jefferson in the top two positions. (Incidentally, this was also a prime reason why the VP cannot preside over the Senate during a Presidential impeachment trial.) Thus, while Adams provided support for the Washington administration where we could – most of his tie-breaking votes were pro-Washington – he just could not structurally be considered a part of the team.

    One would think, however, that the role of the VP would change with the coming of the 12th Amendment, which clearly aligned the two positions to a common political party. However, with very few exceptions – Van Buren in the second Jackson administration? – the VP continued to be a non-team player. (I think it was FDR who first invited his VP to sit in on Cabinet meetings – though there may have been other such situations that I am unaware of.