How U.S. vice presidents went from irrelevant to influential
Despite being a heartbeat from the presidency, this role was surprisingly ill-defined throughout much of the country’s history
Former vice president and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joseph Biden has announced U.S. Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate in the 2020 presidential election. Though women have been nominated for the vice presidency, Harris is the first Black woman and first person of Indian descent to be nominated by a major political party. No woman has ever been elected vice president.
At any moment, the vice president of the United States could become the world’s most influential leader. But the role of vice presidents has evolved dramatically through the years, from irrelevant throughout much of history to a potential instrument of power today. Here’s what you need to know about the position.
From opponent to running mate
The role of vice president was a governmental afterthought—it was createdonly at the very end of the 1787 Constitutional Convention, which relegated it to a committee that handled unfinished business. The founders had planned to let the Senate leader—elected by the body itself—assume the presidency if the president were incapacitated.
But then the convention devised the Electoral College, composed of representatives from each state who would convene every four years to elect a president. The founders feared that state loyalties would never produce a frontrunning candidate under this system. In order to reduce the danger of deadlock, they required each elector to select a presidential candidate from a different state. The candidate with the most votes would become president; the runner-up would become vice president. (Here’s the difference between a caucus and a primary election.)READ MORE