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13 Things You Didn’t Know About the Vice Presidency

Sure, everybody's always talking about the presidents, but what about their second-in-command? We searched high and low to find the most interesting facts about the second highest office in the land.

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Vice President Joe Biden smiles at a young family member before speaking at the Celebration of Freedom event in Philadelphia, Friday, July 4, 2014.
Michael Candelori/Shutterstock

They are American history’s second bananas, waiting in the wings.

They are the nation’s number-twos, often overlooked, inevitably under-appreciated. In 2020, with Kamala Harris making history as the first Black and Asian-American woman to be elected Vice President of the United States, the VP race has gotten a lot more attention than usual. And they are, of course, just a heartbeat away from the most powerful job in the free world—in fact, Harris’ running mate, Joe Biden, will be the oldest person to ever assume the presidency, at 78 years old. To learn more about her predecessors, the U.S. vice presidents, keep reading.

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Tom Connally, Edwin Halsey, George Tinkham, Warren Austin, John Garner, Sam Rayburn Col. Edwin A. Halsey, far left, secretary of the Senate, takes electoral ballots out of a box as a clerk, center hands them to Sen. Tom Connally, D-Texas, as a joint session counts electoral votes for the November presidential election at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., . There wasn't any question about it, but the law requires it and the Senate and House set aside half and hour to count the votes. rep. George Tinkham, R-Mass., with beard checks the ballots with Sen. Warren R. Austin, R-Vt., seated far right. Left on top seat of Rostrum is Vice President John N, Garner. Right, beside him, is Speaker Sam Rayburn

It started as a consolation prize

From 1788 to 1800, the presidential candidate who received the second most Electoral College votes was declared the vice president. See if you can answer these 11 U.S. trivia questions about presidents that everyone gets wrong.

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President-elect George H. W. Bush holds his hands up to acknowledge the crowds applause, and ask them to allow him to continue his speech, during his victory rally with grandson, George P. Bush, right, and son George W. Bush, left, Houston, Texas

Practice makes perfect

Fourteen vice presidents have become president (eight because the president died in office, and one because the president resigned). Of the five non-“accidental” presidents—John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Martin Van Buren, Richard Nixon, and George H. W. Bush—all but Nixon were elected immediately after their term as vice president.

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Dwight Eisenhower The private swears in Vice President Richard Nixon at the White House ceremony in Washington . From left are: Chief Justice Earl Warren; Sen. William Knowland (R-Calif), administering the oath; Frank K. Sanderson, White House administrative aide; Mrs. Nixon, Vice President Richard Nixon; Mrs.Maie Eisenhower and the President Dwight Eisenhower

They weren’t officially the second in line until the 1960s

It’s hard to believe, but there was no official line of succession to the presidency until the 25th Amendment was passed in 1967. Prior to the amendment’s ratification, it was merely assumed that the vice president would assume the presidency if the president died or was removed from office. Here’s more U.S. trivia your history teacher never taught you.

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Speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin, speaks with reporters during his weekly press conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.

Paul Ryan had a quirky summer gig

As a summer job in college, Paul Ryan, who was Mitt Romney’s vice presidential running mate in 2012, worked as a salesman for Oscar Mayer and drove the company’s Wienermobile. Think that’s unbelievable? Here are 24 wacky hidden talents of U.S. presidents.

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Former Vice President Joe Biden speaks about U.S. relations with the Kremlin at the Council on Foreign Relations, in Washington
Alex Brandon/Shutterstock

Joe Biden earned the nickname “Amtrak Joe”

For more than 30 years as a senator, former Vice President Joe Biden commuted to work via Amtrak between Delaware and Washington, D.C. (about an 80-minute ride each way). As a result, he is friends with many Amtrak staff and would even host an annual Christmas dinner for Amtrak crew members. Learn what might happen if a president refuses to leave office.

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John Tyler (1790-1862) 10th President of the United States (1841-1845) circa 1841

One VP held his position for only a month

In 1841, Vice President John Tyler got the big job when William Henry Harrison died of complications from pneumonia only 32 days after taking office. Harrison’s death instigated a brief constitutional crisis (as mentioned, that amendment addressing presidential succession wouldn’t be passed for another 126 years), but it was decided that Tyler would assume the role of president. Check out these 50 astonishing facts about all 50 states.

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Vice-President John Adams. Adams was the first vice president of the United States and later went on to become the second president. An American Founding Father, Adams was a leading advocate of American independence from Great Britain
Universal History Archive/Shutterstock

John Adams had a ridiculous nickname

John Adams was the first vice president, serving under President George Washington (1789-1797). He was nicknamed “His Rotundity” because of his weight and arrogant attitude. Learn the answers to 19 questions about the American political system you’ve been too embarrassed to ask.

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Sen. Walter F. Mondale, Washington, USA
Charles Bennett/Shutterstock

The VP used to pay for his own house

Vice presidents and their families now live in the Naval Observatory. Originally the VP lived in his own private home, but in 1977, Vice President Walter Mondale became the first vice president to live in a government-supplied home when he and his family moved into the newly renovated Observatory. Don’t miss these 12 fun facts about the White House.

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American Vice President Nelson Rockefeller Addresses A Crowd At The British Museum.
Jimmy Jarrett/Shutterstock

The 1970s were tumultuous times

It took three vice presidents to complete the 1973 to 1977 vice presidential term. First, Spiro Agnew, President Nixon’s original VP, resigned following a criminal investigation. Nixon chose Gerald Ford as Agnew’s replacement, and Ford assumed the presidency after Nixon’s resignation. Finally, Nelson Rockefeller became vice president under Ford.

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Warren G. Harding Former President Warren G. Harding. DNA testing is rewriting a chapter in presidential history, this one from the Roaring '20s. AncestryDNA, a division of Ancestry.com, says genetic analysis has confirmed President Warren G. Harding fathered a child out of wedlock with his long-rumored mistress Nan Britton. She set off a scandal when she went public nearly 90 years ago with her tale of forbidden love in the White House

Some presidents were failed VP nominees

Two candidates unsuccessful in their campaigns for the vice presidency went on to become president: John Tyler and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Years before he became president, vice presidential candidate FDR and his running mate, Ohio Governor James Cox, were defeated by Warren G. Harding’s ticket in 1920. Few at the time doubted he would run for public office again.

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John Caldwell CALHOUN 1782-1850, American politician and first US-born Vice President, serving in the administrations of both John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson, photographed c. 1840-50 (Mathew Brady)
The Art Archive/Shutterstock

They didn’t all finish their terms

John C. Calhoun was the first vice president to resign from office; he quit in 1832 to run for the Senate. It would be over 100 years until a second vice president would resign: Spiro Agnew left office in 1973 following accusations of bribery and extortion from his term as governor of Maryland. Don’t miss these other 15 fascinating facts you never learned about America.

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Richard Nixon Richard Nixon, poses

Nixon dodged one scandal

Richard Nixon nearly lost his place on the Eisenhower ticket in 1952 amid concerns about a fund his backers had created to cover his political expenses. In a speech broadcast on still-novel “TV,” then-California Senator Nixon successfully defended himself. The address became known as the “Checkers speech” because Nixon assured listeners that he intended to keep one gift in question: a dog his children had named Checkers.

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Vice President Mike Pence speaks at a reception for the Organization of American States in the Indian Treaty Room at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex in Washington, as the Trump administration renewed its call Monday for the Organization of American States to suspend Venezuela and for other members to step up pressure on the country's government to restore constitutional order
Andrew Harnik/Shutterstock

The VP is “president” of the U.S. Senate

The vice president serves as the president, or presiding officer, of the U.S. Senate. The VP can only cast a vote in the Senate to break a tie. In honor of the role, the Senate halls contain busts of every vice president. Next, learn 45 astonishing facts you never knew about U.S. presidents.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest