By James H. Johnson
Can you identify these important men from history? Daniel Tompkins, Richard Johnson, George Dallas and William King.
Not quite sure? Add these names to the list: Henry Wilson, William Wheeler, Levi Morton and Garret Hobart.
Still wondering? Maybe these will help: Walter Mondale, Dan Quayle, Al Gore and Joe Biden.
Now you have it. These men were all vice presidents of the United States. Five have come from Indiana, and we are about to inaugurate No. 6. Mike Pence will soon take the oath as the 48th person to serve in the No. 2 job in the nation.
Indiana is sometimes called the “cradle of vice presidents,” although New York is quite a bit farther ahead in the VP count with 11. The Hoosier State, however, does have a fairly firm hold on the second spot, since Massachusetts is next in line with four.
To appreciate the Hoosier state’s standing, it is nice to note that, while Indiana will soon have sent six vice presidents to Washington, 28 states have sent none so far.
The nation had 16 vice presidents before the first Indiana man won the office. He was Schuyler Colfax, from South Bend, who was speaker of the house during Lincoln’s years.
In that capacity, he helped pass the 13th Amendment. Modern movie audiences met him in the highly-acclaimed “Lincoln” a few years ago. In 1868, Colfax was on the winning ticket with Ulysses S. Grant at the top.
A dozen years later an Indiana governor was chosen as the running mate for Grover Cleveland. Thomas Hendricks, of Shelbyville, had little time to enjoy his new position in Washington. He died just nine months after taking office.
Hendricks was the 21st VP. The next Hoosier in the office was No. 26. Charles W. Fairbanks, from Indianapolis, had served as a U.S. senator before Theodore Roosevelt asked him to join him in the election of 1904. Fairbanks left a lasting mark on the landscape when friends in Alaska named a major city for him.
Only eight years passed before another person from Indiana rose to the vice presidency. Thomas Marshall, another former governor, served under Woodrow Wilson through Wilson’s two terms. Marshall, from Whitley County, was a colorful personality who was known for his quips, the most famous of which is “What this nation really needs is a good five-cent cigar.”
He was an unassuming individual who was content to remain in the background. Some scholars now believe he should have become president during the many months that Wilson was disabled by a severe stroke.
Indiana’s influence in national elections waned in the 20th century. After Marshall left office, 76 years elapsed before another Hoosier was elected vice president. Quayle, a young United States senator from Huntington, was George H.W. Bush’s choice as a running mate in 1988. One of Quayle’s lasting legacies is the Vice Presidential Learning Center in his hometown.
Fourteen years have passed since Quayle left office, and this month another Indiana governor makes the transition from the Statehouse to the White House. Pence, from Bartholomew County, served 12 years in Congress and brings a good deal of Washington experience to his partnership with Donald Trump.
As governor, Pence had the duty of signing the certifications for the 11 electoral college electors who then turned around and voted for him as VP. Thomas Marshall was the last Indiana governor to have that privilege.
Those who have been following the short political career of Donald Trump might agree that Pence will have an interesting ride. Trump already has indicated that he will share the load with his No. 2 man. In an interview with a potential VP candidate, he was asked what duties he would assign to his running mate.
“Policy,” Trump responded.
“Foreign or domestic?” he was asked.
“Yes,” Trump said.
The next four years will be exciting for Indiana as Hoosiers see another of their own in Washington, just a heartbeat away from the presidency.
James H. Johnson is a retired teacher who lives in Greenwood. Send comments to [email protected].