Alvin Felzenberg: Choosing a Veep (Interview w/ Daniel Stone)

Roundup: Historians' Take

[Alvin Felzenberg is the author of "The Leaders We Deserved (And a Few We Didn't)"]

Why has the vice presidency been largely brushed over by history?
Well, when you go back to the country's founding and the constitutional convention, it was kind of an afterthought. They didn't know how to deal with the problem of succession, which is why they put it in. One vice president, Nelson Rockefeller called it standby equipment, which is not far from what it is. They wanted an executive official to be on hand in the executive branch to succeed. Then they said "Well, what is he going to do while hanging around?" They figured they'd let him preside over the Senate without having a vote. But every president has used the vice president as he has wished, some more so than others.

So the VP's role is largely defined by the president?
It's not set statutorily, but yes, it's set out by the president. For example, George Washington never asked John Adams to attend cabinet meetings. Calvin Coolidge was the first to take part in meetings. Franklin Roosevelt chose not to brief Harry Truman on the evolution of Marshall Plan.

How has the office evolved?
The modern vice presidency really began to evolve with Richard Nixon. There were three issues that created it. One, we had jet travel, so it was possible for President Eisenhower to send Nixon abroad and use him as a foreign policy tool. He was interested in the office and showed a readiness to step in at any moment, and you had a relatively young vice president who was really looked on as someone who was ready to be president...

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