Happy 12121 (Jan 21, 2021)!
I know I’m not the only one who feels a little lighter today. It just feels nice to unplug a bit from the daily dread. A dread that sticks in the back of one’s mind even when one isn’t paying attention. For the moment anyway it has fallen out of the brain like a loose chunk of orange ear wax.
Let’s relish in it for now. Let’s see if we can hold on to that feeling. Let’s see if we can encourage that feeling in others.
I first recall hearing about Amanda Gorman on Some Good News back in the spring. To my recollection she did not recite her poetry in that episode, but in my nightly YouTube surfing I’ve definitely watched her speak before. So it was no surprise to see her impress the world with her inauguration poem, The Hill We Climb. Though it may have been a bit naive in its hope, it was beautiful in its delivery. And it had moments of necessary truth.
It’s probably uncouth to excerpt my favorite parts. I dunno, I’m no poet. The transcript is here if you’d prefer.
And yes, we are far from polished, far from pristine, but that doesn’t mean we are striving to form a union that is perfect.
We are striving to forge our union with purpose.
To compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and conditions of man.
If we’re to live up to our own time, then victory won’t lie in the blade, but in all the bridges we’ve made.
That is the promise to glade, the hill we climb.
If only we dare it’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit.
It’s the past we step into and how we repair it.
We will rebuild, reconciled and recover and every known nook over our nation.
And every corner called our country.
Our people diverse and beautiful will emerge, battered and beautiful.
When day comes, we step out of the shade of flame and unafraid, the new dawn balloons, as we free it.
For there was always light.
If only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it.
The hope of youth feels good right about now.
You may recall from your Hamilton history that the vice president used to be the runner up in the election. This began causing problems right after Washington stepped down, as the elections of 1796 and 1800 both led to vice presidents who were political opponents of the president. (Thomas Jefferson, Democratic-Republican, served as vice president to John Adams, Federalist. Then Aaron Burr served as vice present to Jefferson. Though they were the same party, they were definitely rivals.)
The Twelfth Amendment came into being to avoid electing a president and vice president who worked against each other. Under the original rules, electors in the Electoral College would actually cast two votes. These were not like today, where one vote was for president and the other for vice. There was no distinction between those two votes back then. These voting rules could lead to some pretty fun cases. If no one had a vote from a majority of electors, if multiple people had a majority, or there was a tie, the House of Representatives would hold a contingent election to choose the president. (This is somewhat similar to today, except multiple people can no longer have a majority.) If there was a tie for second-most votes, the Senate would hold their own contingent election to choose the vice president.
The amendment was ratified by 14 of 17 states, which was a clear three-fourths majority. It took quite a bit of time to get ratified. On December 22, 1803, North Carolina was first in line. It took until July 27, 1804, for Tennessee to join in. Massachusetts became the 15th state to sign on in 1961. I guess sometimes you just need to get on the record.
I’m so unfamiliar with this process and I had assumed no amendment had been ratified in my lifetime. The Twenty-seventh Amendment tells me I am wrong, however! It’s an exciting amendment:
…prohibits any law that increases or decreases the salary of members of Congress from taking effect until the start of the next set of terms of office for representatives.
This amendment was submitted by the 1st Congress and then forgotten until 1982:
…when Gregory Watson, a 19-year-old sophomore at the University of Texas at Austin, wrote a paper for a government class in which he claimed that the amendment could still be ratified. An unconvinced teaching assistant graded the paper poorly, motivating Watson to launch a nationwide campaign to complete its ratification.
Thus ratification occurred over a 206-year time frame. By 1791 six states had ratified, though in 1996 it was discovered that Kentucky had also ratified in 1792. In 1873 Ohio ratified (on the record!). Wyoming ratified in 1978 (“We heard of that amendment before Gregory Watson said it was cool.”). The slow march to ratification sped up in 1983 in Maine and the dominoes fell year-by-year until completion with a May, 1992, flurry of Missouri, Alabama, and Michigan ratification. Since then all but four states have ratified this amendment, most recently Nebraska in 2016.
After that divergence I’m finally arriving at the reason I started writing about vice presidents in the first place. I have a passing knowledge about the things above, but here’s something I had never heard of before: eighteen presidents served all or part of their terms without a vice president!
It turns out this makes a lot of sense. This is because, prior to 1965’s Twenty-fifth Amendment (yes that Twenty-fifth Amendment) there was no constitutional way for a vice president to take office before the next presidential term. James Madison’s vice presidents died in each of his two terms. When William Henry Harrison died a month into office, John Tyler became president without a vice president. Millard Fillmore, Andrew Johnson, and Chester Arthur also all took office after a presidential death and served without vice presidents. Yes, that means Lyndon Johnson did not have a vice president’s help from 1963 to 1965.
There were two more periods after that amendment that found a president without a vice president. Spiro Agnew, vice president to Richard Nixon, resigned after pleading no contest to a felony charge of tax evasion. (I did a cursory search and find it amazing to look back without discovering any evidence of him being given a pardon. Funny that.) When Nixon resigned, Gerald Ford went without a vice president from August through December until Nelson Rockefeller was confirmed despite the fact that Rockefeller gave large gifts to senior aids in the administration.
There have been forty-nine vice presidents. If you had a battle of living vice presidents versus living presidents, the vice presidents would most certainly win even though the presidents have the best athlete (45). (Did you know 45, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton were all born in the space of three months in 1946?) Joe Biden would have to sit out, I think. I would definitely bet on Walter Mondale, Dick Cheney, Dan Quayle, Al Gore, Mike Pence, and Kamala Harris.