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Second Fiddles You May Not Have Heard Of

Second Fiddles You May Not Have Heard Of

Most people easily recognize the name of any American president. But some of their second-in-command VPs have been forgotten in the annals of history. Let's have a look...
Historyplex Staff
The United States has had 44 presidents since 1789, and just as many vice presidents. Some of those veeps will be remembered just as vividly as their commanders-in-chief, such as Dan Quayle for his lack of spelling skills, and Al Gore for his claims of creating the Internet. But there are quite a few American vice presidents whose names will probably never be familiar.
Richard Mentor Johnson served as VP under Martin Van Buren from 1837 to 1841. Johnson's personal affairs were the subject of many scandals among Washington society, even causing him to be described as a 'vulgar' man. He was married three times, each time to a slave. His second wife left him for a man she loved, and Johnson had her captured and then sold at a slave auction. Johnson was disliked so much that he could not get enough electoral votes to be elected by popular vote―he was elected by Congress instead.
Hannibal Hamlin served along with Abraham Lincoln from 1861 through 1864. He was nominated by the Republicans in order to balance out the ticket, because Hamlin was from the east and Lincoln was from the Midwest. Although Hamlin had some political experience, he was ambivalent about being vice president, saying that it wouldn't be hard or unpleasant, so he looked forward to the job. Although being VP during the Civil War should have made Hamlin a name to remember, he actually became virtually invisible, because Lincoln had no faith in him, and therefore ignored him completely. Hamlin went back to his farm in Maine and stayed home, going to Washington only once a year to open each new session of Congress.
William Almon Wheeler, who served with Rutherford B. Hayes from 1877 until 1881, was perhaps the most boring vice president of all. He had a reputation for total honesty―a rarity among politicians―and he was actually nominated as a joke. Hayes was from Ohio, so the delegates supporting him at the Republican convention of 1876 wanted to select a running mate for the ticket from New York, an important state in the election. They didn't care who was selected, and most of them were tired and wanted to head home. So the delegates from New York started joking among each other about which of them would be willing to fill the ticket. Someone yelled, "You take it, Cornell!", and someone else said, "You should take it, Chet!", to Chester Arthur, who would one day become president. As the delegates continued laughing, someone shouted out, "Let's give it to Wheeler!". They all thought this was hilarious, so they nominated Wheeler, and he was approved. Afterward, Hayes wrote a note to his wife saying that he was ashamed to admit it, but he had no idea who Wheeler was.
There are other vice presidents throughout history who also rank among the most forgotten men in politics. Based on the stories of these three, it's just as well that they stay that way.