These nine veeps each took over the president’s job.
These nine veeps each took over the president’s job.

Meet the Veep!

Learn the history — and role — of America’s vice presidents.

He had been president for barely a month. After just 31 days in office, William Henry Harrison died. It was 1841. Who would lead America? No one was sure. But John Tyler stepped up. He was Harrison’s vice president — and now he said he was president.

Tyler took over and became America’s 10th president. And he set an example in U.S. history. If a president ever died, the vice president would get the top job. That has now happened eight times. The “veep” also took over once when a president .

The Role of the Vice President
So, the vice president is there just in case something happens to the president. But does he or she do anything else? Joel Goldstein is an expert on vice presidents.

“For most of our history, the vice presidency really had no significant duties,” said Goldstein. John Adams was America’s first vice president. He called it “the most office" that man had ever created. Goldstein said the job of vice president “was the most mocked position in American government."

The did give the veep one job. It said:
“The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate, but shall have no Vote, unless they be equally divided.”

That made the vice president the “president of the Senate.” That may sound important. But the veep has no vote unless there is a tie. That’s rare. In eight years as vice president, Joe Biden never cast a tiebreaking vote!

On the other hand, current Vice President Mike Pence has broken a tie 13 times. That’s more than any veep since the 1800s! For example, the Senate split 50–50 on whether to make Betsy DeVos America’s secretary of education. Pence broke the tie to give her the job.

The Growing Importance of the Vice President
“The vice presidency has changed tremendously,” said Goldstein. “The main role had been to be ready in case something happened to the president,” he admitted. “But that started to change in the 1950s.” At that time, Dwight Eisenhower was America’s president. Richard Nixon was his veep.

“President Eisenhower began to include Vice President Nixon in meetings,” explained Goldstein. “He began to send him on trips to countries,” he added. During this time, the United States and the Soviet Union were competing for support from other nations. “It was important to send high-level Americans around the globe,” said Goldstein. “The vice president took on much of that responsibility.”

Over time, the vice president took on a greater role. “Then the real change began in 1977,” said Goldstein. Walter Mondale was the vice president. “For the first time, the vice president became a close advisor for the president.” The role of the veep had shifted. Goldstein said it became about “trying to help the president be successful in governing.”

We’re seeing this today. Mike Pence works to help President Donald Trump. Pence is in charge of the White House coronavirus task force. That means it’s his job to stop the COVID-19 disease from spreading.

The Veep’s Effect in an Election
So, vice presidents can break ties in the Senate. And they now help the president run the country. Yet there’s another role of the veep that may be most important. He or she can help get the president elected!

For example, John Kennedy was from Massachusetts. When he ran for president in 1960, his running mate was Lyndon B. Johnson from Texas. Goldstein said Johnson helped Kennedy win “some of the Southern and Western states.” Kennedy needed that to win the election.

Many of America’s recent elections have been very close. The person running for vice president may have only a small effect. But Goldstein explained that even that “can make the difference between winning and losing.”

The Veep in 2020
This year, Joe Biden picked Kamala Harris to be his running mate. Goldstein called that “a wise move.” If Biden wins the election, Harris will become the first woman — and the first person of color — to be vice president.

Meanwhile, Biden is trying to make veep history of his own. Only five vice presidents first became president by winning an election. He hopes to be the sixth.

Updated October 30, 2020, 5:02 P.M. (ET)
By Russell Kahn (Russ)

Meet the Veep!

Learn the history — and role — of America’s vice presidents.

These nine veeps each took over the president’s job.
These nine veeps each took over the president’s job.

He had been president for barely a month. After just 31 days in office, William Henry Harrison died. It was 1841. Who would lead America? No one was sure. But John Tyler stepped up. He was Harrison’s vice president — and now he said he was president.

Tyler took over and became America’s 10th president. And he set an example in U.S. history. If a president ever died, the vice president would get the top job. That has now happened eight times. The “veep” also took over once when a president .

The Role of the Vice President
So, the vice president is there just in case something happens to the president. But does he or she do anything else? Joel Goldstein is an expert on vice presidents.

“For most of our history, the vice presidency really had no significant duties,” said Goldstein. John Adams was America’s first vice president. He called it “the most office" that man had ever created. Goldstein said the job of vice president “was the most mocked position in American government."

The did give the veep one job. It said:
“The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate, but shall have no Vote, unless they be equally divided.”

That made the vice president the “president of the Senate.” That may sound important. But the veep has no vote unless there is a tie. That’s rare. In eight years as vice president, Joe Biden never cast a tiebreaking vote!

On the other hand, current Vice President Mike Pence has broken a tie 13 times. That’s more than any veep since the 1800s! For example, the Senate split 50–50 on whether to make Betsy DeVos America’s secretary of education. Pence broke the tie to give her the job.

The Growing Importance of the Vice President
“The vice presidency has changed tremendously,” said Goldstein. “The main role had been to be ready in case something happened to the president,” he admitted. “But that started to change in the 1950s.” At that time, Dwight Eisenhower was America’s president. Richard Nixon was his veep.

“President Eisenhower began to include Vice President Nixon in meetings,” explained Goldstein. “He began to send him on trips to countries,” he added. During this time, the United States and the Soviet Union were competing for support from other nations. “It was important to send high-level Americans around the globe,” said Goldstein. “The vice president took on much of that responsibility.”

Over time, the vice president took on a greater role. “Then the real change began in 1977,” said Goldstein. Walter Mondale was the vice president. “For the first time, the vice president became a close advisor for the president.” The role of the veep had shifted. Goldstein said it became about “trying to help the president be successful in governing.”

We’re seeing this today. Mike Pence works to help President Donald Trump. Pence is in charge of the White House coronavirus task force. That means it’s his job to stop the COVID-19 disease from spreading.

The Veep’s Effect in an Election
So, vice presidents can break ties in the Senate. And they now help the president run the country. Yet there’s another role of the veep that may be most important. He or she can help get the president elected!

For example, John Kennedy was from Massachusetts. When he ran for president in 1960, his running mate was Lyndon B. Johnson from Texas. Goldstein said Johnson helped Kennedy win “some of the Southern and Western states.” Kennedy needed that to win the election.

Many of America’s recent elections have been very close. The person running for vice president may have only a small effect. But Goldstein explained that even that “can make the difference between winning and losing.”

The Veep in 2020
This year, Joe Biden picked Kamala Harris to be his running mate. Goldstein called that “a wise move.” If Biden wins the election, Harris will become the first woman — and the first person of color — to be vice president.

Meanwhile, Biden is trying to make veep history of his own. Only five vice presidents first became president by winning an election. He hopes to be the sixth.

Updated October 30, 2020, 5:02 P.M. (ET)
By Russell Kahn (Russ)

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