On April 21st, 1789, John Adams was sworn in as the first Vice President of the United States of America.
Adams came second in the Presidential Election of 1778-79, with 34 Electoral College votes. As the candidate with the second most votes, he was appointed as the Vice President. One of the roles of the Vice President is to act as the overseer and President of the Senate, a responsibility which John Adams first carried out on this day in 1789.
During Washington’s administration, Adams was rarely consulted on legislation by the President. In fact, Adams took a backseat role until he became the President himself in 1797.
Adams set a convention for future Vice President’s, making his office into that of a president-in-waiting, as opposed to the influential political office that it was expected to be. In fact, 9 Vice Presidents have gone on to serve as the President in the history of the United States:
- In 1842 VP John Tyler succeeded William Harrison after his death from pneumonia.
- Millard Fillmore became President in 1850 upon the death of Zachary Taylor.
- After Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in 1865, he was succeeded by his VP, Andrew Jackson.
- President James Garfield was assassinated in 1881, to be replaced by VP Chester A. Arthur.
- Vice President Theodore Roosevelt found himself in the top job when President McKinley was assassinated in 1901.
- Warren Harding died of a heart attack in 1923. His VP Calvin Coolidge succeeded him.
- Harry Truman became the President in 1945 when President Franklin Roosevelt died in office.
- Following JFKs assassination in 1963, Lyndon B. Johnson ascended to the Presidency.
- The Watergate Scandal resulted in the resignation of President Richard Nixon. Subsequently, Vice President Gerald Ford became the President.
Clearly then, over the last 200 years the role of Vice President has hardly changed. Even as recently as 2000, the USA saw the the former VP Al Gore (under Bill Clinton 1992-2000) win the popular vote in the Presidential election.
The 1788-1789 election (it was held over 2 weeks due to the difficulty of transport at this time) saw George Washington elected unanimously with 100% of the popular vote and all 69 Electoral College votes from the 10 states. Washington ran unopposed in this election as he had the support of both federalist and anti-federalist politicians. It was also worth noting that no political parties had been established at this point; he ran as a nonpartisan candidate.*
[From our article February 4th; on that day, George Washington was elected as the first President of the United States]
*There may be some confusion as to how Adams won 34 Electoral College votes whilst George Washington won 69 (unanimous support). This is easily explained; before the establishment of political factions and parties, electors cast two votes for President. Every elector cast one vote for Washington and 34 cast their second vote for Adams.