The History of the Vice Presidency

Lucy Friedl, Staff Writer


On January 20, Kamala Harris became the first female vice president of the United States. However, many may not know the important role the vice president plays in the United States government and the interesting history behind the position.

The first vice president of the United States was John Adams, serving under George Washington from 1789 to 1797. In the early days of the United States, the person with the most votes became the president, while the person with the second most votes became the vice president.

When Thomas Jefferson became president in 1801, Aaron Burr was his vice president. Those who have seen or listened to the musical Hamilton know that Burr was the man who killed Alexander Hamilton, the first secretary of the treasury. After Hamilton died, Burr fled and was no longer vice president. Jefferson appointed George Clinton as his vice president. This decision led to future presidential candidates choosing a running mate who would become their vice president if they were elected.

During their terms as vice presidents, vice presidents serve as the president of the United States Senate. They preside over Senate meetings but cannot participate in debates or discussions.

The vice president’s role began to evolve when vice presidents began taking on more responsibility in 1972. Jimmy Carter interviewed and interrogated possible vice presidential candidates and ended up choosing Senator Walter Mondale from Minnesota. Mondale wrote a paper explaining what he envisioned for the vice president’s role, and his idea was approved. He was given an office in the West Wing with access to the Oval Office as a general presidential adviser and partner. Bill Clinton used this same method for Al Gore, George W. Bush for Dick Cheney, and Barack Obama with the current president, Joe Biden. 

In short, at the beginning of United States history, vice presidents were simply the runner-ups of the presidential election. As time went on, presidential candidates picked their running mates and ran as a ticket. Now, both the president and vice president work together as the country’s two most powerful people.