Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Will The "Mother of Vice Presidents" Give Birth Again?

Update: No VP announcement, thought an Obama-Bayh ticket is still possible. One drawback: Republican governor Mitch Daniels is likely to win a second term, thanks to his almost unlimited campaign chest. Should Bayh become VP, Daniels would get to appoint his successor.

Barack Obama is coming to Elkhart Wednesday morning (August 6), and there's speculation that he may announce Indiana Senator Evan Bayh as his running mate. If that's true, he'll be following a hallowed tradition in American politics--a Hoosier vice presidential candidate.

I won't be there--I'll be in Davenport, Iowa, trying to catch up on my sleep, and then heading for work on the second shift at Galesburg, Illinois. But I'll be there in spirit. And just maybe, A Hoosier running mate may be the key to Obama's success.

The first Indiana vice president was Schuyler Colfax of South Bend, who had been Speaker of the House before agreeing to be Ulysses S. Grant's running mate in 1868. He was dropped from the ticket in 1872 because of his connection with the Crédit Mobilier of America scandal. While Colfax was never formally charged, the scandal ended his politcal career; he spent his final years giving lectures about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. He died January 13, 1885, of a heart attack, in a Mankato, Minnesota railway station, after walking nearly a mile in minus 30 degree (Fahrenheit) weather.

After the end of Reconstruction, Indiana was one of three swing states. The Democrats controlled the "Solid South" once the black vote had been suppressed, while Republicans could count on New England the Plains, and most of the upper Midwest. Whichever party took New York and either Indiana or Ohio would win the presidency. Indiana, being the smallest of the swing states, was more likely to get the vice presidential candidate.

Thomas Hendricks had been a congressman, senator, and Indiana governor before becoming Grover Cleveland's running mate in 1884. In 1872 he had received 42 electoral votes for president because Horace Greeley, the Democratic candidate, died after the November election, but before the Electoral College met. He ran for vice president in 1876 with Samuel Tilden, who won the popular vote, but lost in the Electoral College in what many believed to be a stolen election. Hendricks was a conservative Democrat with pro-southern views. His legacy as vice president is negligible, as he died just a few months after taking office. Cleveland was defeated in the 1888 election (though winning the popular vote) by Benjamin Harrison--the only Hoosier to win the presidency.

The third Hoosier VP was Charles Warren Fairbanks, the who was a U.S. senator until he became Theodore Roosevelt's vice president in 1904. The "Indiana Icicle," was a contrast to the ebullient president. His reputation as a teetotaler came to an end during his term, as "Lemonade Charlie" was seen drinking a Manhattan cocktail. Thereafter, he was "Cocktail Charlie." His name lives on, perhaps appropriately, in the city of Fairbanks, Alaska. In 1912, he ran for vice president with Charles Evans Hughes. Unfortunately for him, the Democrats nominated another Hoosier for the second office.

Thomas Riley Marshall, of Columbia City, Indiana, served as vice president for both of Woodrow Wilson's terms. As governor of Indiana, he had pushed through a child labor law, opposed Indiana's sterilization law, and opposed capital punishment, but most of his progressive legislation was thwarted in the legislature.

While Wilson kept Marshall on as vice president during his second term, the two men did not get on well; Marshall had little influence on the president. But he had some great one-liners. His most famous was when he was presiding over the Senate. After sitting through an interminable speech about "what this country needs," he is reputed to have said to the clerk, "What this country really needs is a good five cent cigar." Of his home state he said, "Indiana is the mother of Vice Presidents, home of more second-class men than any other state."

After 1920, Indiana became a solidly Republican state. Since the Franklin Roosevelt landslide of 1936, the last time the Hoosier State supported a Democrat for president was in the Johnson landslide of 1964. The only Hoosier VP since Marshall, of course, was Dan Quayle, whom George H. W. Bush chose for his youth and conservatism, not because he was from Indiana.

If Obama does name Evan Bayh as his running mate, Indiana could once again be a swing state. I'm convinced that had Al Gore made Bayh is running mate in 2000, he'd be finishing his second term. Barack Obama would do well to go to the Mother of Vice Presidents for the second spot on his ticket.


Charles Gramlich said...

I didn't know Indiana had such power.

Unknown said...

It is interesting to vote but if now I had to I wouldn't have idea what to do.

Tea N. Crumpet said...

What is a Hoosier?

Anonymous said...

When Wilson suffered his stroke in October of 1919, Marshall should have become President, but was blocked by Wilson's wife Edith.

Want to learn more about Vice President Marshall? Read "He Almost Changed the Word: The Life and Times of Thomas Riley Marshall".

Anonymous said...

I cannot fathom why anyone would want to be vice-president. Let alone a good Hoosier.

Wasn't Indiana one of those non-South states with a lot of KKK activity, maybe even now?

steve on the slow train said...

Charles--Only between about 1876 and 1920. After that, it no longer swung.

Ropi--I think you have a parliamentary system in Hungary, so the party you vote for can be more important than the individual. I know Szelsofa is very knowledgable about Hungarian and EU politics.

Tea--Basically it's somebody from Indiana. I may have to do a post on that. There's an article on the net somewhere that gives several dozen theories about where the word came from. The best guess is that it comes from the Cumberland England dialect word "hoozer," meaning something big, such as a hill or mountain. The root is the Anglo-Saxon "hoo," meaning hill. If that's true, Hoosiers are hill people. Up in the flatlands of northern Indiana the term isn't as popular as in the hilly south.

David--Welcome. The information I've read and heard is that Marshall wasn't particularly interested in assuming the presidency. Had he forced the issue, or if Edith Wilson had been less forceful, Marshall might have been in a position to defeat Harding in 1920. I'll have to check the book you mention. Thanks for the reference.

Gerry--I think it's the stepping stone principle. You can succeed the president if he dies or is incapacitated. Richard Nixon and George H.W. Bush were elected president after taking the No. 2 job. Ditto for Al Gore, though the Supreme Court overturned his victory. There's also Dick Cheney, who serves as power behind the throne.

The Klan virtually ran the state of Indiana in the early 1920s, and only after the Klan governor raped his secretary, who then took poison, did the KKK era end.

There have been sporadic attempts to revive the Klan, including one based in Elkhart County, but none have been as powerful as the one in the 1920s.

Anonymous said...

Some of the articles I read on the Web today make me wonder whether the election of Obama would give the KKK folks a much-desired boost. (Their desires, not mine!)

If Clinton were to be his veep, the woman-haters could give the KKK a run for their bedsheets, perhaps.

Shauna Roberts said...

Ohio considers itself the "Mother of Pesidents," but it's been a long time since a Buckeye became president, not since Harding in 1921.

Sustenance Scout said...

Terrific insights, Steve! Especially that Gore point. Amazing how different the world would be, if only... K.

Peter said...

I love that -- "the Mother of Vice Presidents." Here in the Mother of Presidents state, the mother is way past menopause, not having given birth since 1916 (and even then there is a maternity dispute with New Jersey).

Our governor, Tim Kaine, is also among the three most talked about veep candidates, along with Bayh and Biden. Kaine seems the weakest of the three Virginia candidates to most of us here, behind Sen. Webb and former Gov. Warner, who is now running for the U.S. Senate. Both of them have said they would not accept a veep slot. Kaine would, and, while he would make a great veep -- sharp, articulate, not flashy -- he is short on success stories here in a state with a Republican-dominated legislature in no mood to compromise. Virginia governors can't succeed themselves, so he'd have less than one four-year term under his belt. Obama likes him very much, though, and he was the first statewide officeholder anywhere to endorse Obama.

Tea N. Crumpet said...

How do you pronounce Bayh's last name?

Fairbanks isn't as interesting as the original. I lived there for five years and I still don't like it.

steve on the slow train said...

Gerry--I hope we've seen the last of the powerful Klan. But I wouldn't be surprised if it has another resurgence. The 1920s Indiana Klan was as much anti-Catholic as anti-black. The 21st Century Klans have targeted Hispanics as well as blacks and Jews.

Hillary Clinton seems not to be in contention--I understand it's the complication of Bill's role.

Shauna--Both Ohio and Virginia claim that title. I suspect both states have given us more vice presidents than Indiana, but neither has challenged the Hoosiers for the honor.

Karen--Thank you. While a lot of historians claim they don't speculate about "what if," they all do.

Peter--When I took Sarah to visit Hollins University, we visited the Wilson birthplace in Stanton. Iowa claims Herbert Hoover, even though he left the state as a teenager, was a resident of California when he became president, and retired to the bucolic setting of Midtown Manhattan.

Of the people on Obama's short list, Joe Biden has the most experience, especially in foreign policy. He does have connections to the credit card companies and the IRA--I'm not sure which is worse. I agree with you that Sen. Webb would make a strong candidate, especially against McCain.

Tea--just like "buy."

Shauna Roberts said...

When we lived in Iowa City, the biggest tourist attraction was the Herbert Hoover Birthplace Memorial. Every time someone came to visit, that's where we took them. The only thing that rivaled the Herbert Hoover Birthplace was the steam tractor show, but that only occurred once a year, and none of our visitors were lucky enough to visit at that time.

steve on the slow train said...

Shauna--You didn't take them to see the Laysan Island Diorama at Macbride Hall? Or the Old Capitol? And then there was that grotto made from Mrs. Butterworth's syrup bottles. But the Hoover museum and library is certainly a bigger draw. One bizarre thing: the library became a repository for a lot of right-wing papers, including those of journalist Westbrook Pegler.