It turns out the "second most important job in the land" has somehow been occupied by a range of weird and/or criminal elements that you probably never heard of, ranging from Elbridge Gerry (who?) to Spiro Agnew (eww). Here’s our list of the weirdest, most interesting, most entertaining VP stories in history:
Aaron Burr Shoots Alexander Hamilton
The first great Vice-Presidential scandal is still the best one, and may be the one that set the tone for the office as a whole. In 1800, Burr ran for President against Thomas Jefferson, ultimately losing when the House of Representatives, led by the hard-charging Alexander Hamilton, broke an electoral vote tie and gave Jefferson the Presidency, making Burr Vice President. Then, when Burr, still VP, was running for Governor of New York, Hamilton again helped orchestrate his loss. Embittered and angry, Burr challenged Hamilton to a duel and shot him dead in what may be the single weirdest episode in Vice-Presidential history. Things didn’t get better for Burr after that, though: he was eventually accused of treason on unrelated matters and fled to Europe.
The Schuyler Colfax Scandal
Is there anything more American than a good old tale of graft? That’s what Schuyler Colfax, Ulysses S Grant’s Vice President, got himself into in 1872 with the Credit Mobilier scandal, an ongoing criminal activity that had started during the Lincoln administration. Credit Mobilier was a shell company created by the officers of the Union Pacific Railroad to act as their contractor for the actual construction of the railway. The UP used it, however, to artificially inflate the value of the company’s stock, which could then be sold at a huge profit. A number of politicians were offered stock at discounted rates, which they then, predictably, turned around for big returns. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t go well for Vice President Colfax when it was learned that he had benefited from arrangement: though he was never accused of anything, he was unceremoniously dropped from the ticket during Grant’s reelection campaign.
Gerald Ford Not Elected President
It’s not the juiciest story, but the path that Gerald Ford took to become President is an oddity of the American political system and remains an interesting study on the functioning of American law. Spiro Agnew, the man who preceded him as Richard Nixon’s Vice President, was a bit of a crook, having accepted over $100,000 in bribes over the course of his political career. Unsurprisingly, when that small fact came to light, Agnew was forced to resign. In need of some credibility, Nixon tapped Gerald Ford, the incorruptible House Minority Leader, to fill the role, and he was duly confirmed. When Nixon was forced to resign as President, Ford took his place -- becoming the only President not elected by the American people.
Dick Cheney Pulls a Burr
Unrelated to any sort of political activity was Dick Cheney’s ignominious hunting incident of 2006, when the then-Vice President and widely accepted villain Dick Cheney accidentally shot 78-year-old attorney Harry Whittington while the two were quail hunting. Whittington survived the incident, which left him with over 200 pieces of pellet in his chest, but it’s not clear the Cheney’s reputation has: his approval rating tumbled, and to this day the incident remains fodder for all manner of satire and sarcasm....including greeting cards.
[Top pic via Flickr - Kheel Center. Burr pic via Wikmedia commons -Topory. Colfax pic via Wikimedia commons - Mathew Bradyq. Cheney pic via Flickr - Josh Hallett. Ford pic via Wikimedia Commons - David Hume Kennerly]