Feb 082013

February 8, 1837 was a notable day in US History. On that date the Senate elected Richard Mentor Johnson to be the Vice-President by a vote of 33 to 16. Under the terms of the Twelfth Amendment, the Senate is required choose the Vice President if one of the candidates does not have an Electoral College majority. In 1836, Richard M. Johnson ran for Vice-President, but he failed to reach a majority over three other candidates by one vote. The Senate then elected him to office.

Johnson’s personal life is cited as one of the reasons that he and Martin Van Buren were not re-elected in 1840. He was a tavern owner who had children with one of his slaves. He later sold her and entered into a common law marriage with her sister. His long term financial difficulties led him to advocate that that debtors not be imprisoned. This 1843 cartoon by Asabel Langworthy depicts Johnson freeing a debtor from prison.

The practice of presidential candidates choosing a running mate began in the nineteenth century. Initially, the Constitution called for the candidate who procured the second most votes in the Electoral College would become the Vice President. The led to candidates of different parties serving as President and Vice President, as was the case in the Adams/Jefferson Administration. For the record: It wasn’t any prettier at that time than an Obama/Ryan or Bush/Gore Administration would be today! When the election between Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr ended in a tie, the House of Representatives had to cast 36 ballots in order to have a majority within their own members. Jefferson was elected only after the Federalists gave up and handed in empty ballots. The first election in which the President and Vice President were elected separately occurred in 1804. Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson were the first to run together.


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