Picking a vice president can be dicey. Although the presidential candidate is the main focus in an election, there’s a chance that a popular or particularly adept veep can help the ticket, just as a particularly unpopular or offensive candidate can hurt it.
The selection is also done with the understanding that the vice president could become president if anything happens to the elected commander-in-chief. Out of the United States’ 45 presidents, nine came to the position via vice presidential succession. In eight of those cases, it was because the previous president died. Gerald Ford is an outlier because he ascended to the presidency after Richard Nixon resigned, and also because he’s the only president who wasn’t elected via a presidential ticket. (Nixon appointed Ford in 1973 after his elected vice president, Spiro Agnew, resigned.)
Even though they can be overlooked, vice presidential candidates often have an impact whether they win or lose. Here are some of the most notable ones—for better or for worse—in U.S. history.
1. Andrew Johnson
During the Civil War’s election of 1864, Republican President Abraham Lincoln picked Democrat Andrew Johnson for his running mate as a unifying gesture. Unfortunately, the “unifying” candidate was averse to compromise. When Johnson became president after Lincoln’s assassination, the former slavery supporter vetoed the Civil Rights Act of 1866 (which Congress passed through override) and opposed the 14th Amendment.
“For the most part, historians view Andrew Johnson as the worst possible person to have served as President at the end of the American Civil War,” writes Elizabeth R. Varon, a history professor at the University of Virginia, for the university’s Miller Center. “He is viewed to have been a rigid, dictatorial racist who was unable to compromise or to accept a political reality at odds with his own ideas.”