Thursday, Aug. 21, 2008

Thomas Marshall

Thomas Marshall was not impressed by the Vice Presidency. During his inaugural speech, he promised to "acknowledge the insignificant influence of the office" and accept his second-class role "in a good-natured way." As President Woodrow Wilson's number two, he frequently complained about his "nameless, unremembered" duties and once told a bodyguard that his job was pointless because no one ever shoots a Vice President. The fact that Wilson disliked him personally probably didn't improve his attitude either.

Marshall and Wilson's relationship was one of functioning animosity — the Felix Unger and Oscar Madison of Presidential politics. While Wilson was stoic and businesslike, Marshall was full of handshakes and one-liners. He once gifted the President with a book inscribed, "From your only vice."

Marshall's lack of enthusiasm showed in his job. He stopped going to cabinet meetings after his first session, and he asked to switch offices to some place where he could put up his feet and smoke. And yet, Wilson kept him on as Vice President during his second term, asking Marshall to head the cabinet while he traveled to Europe at the end of World War I to lobby for the League of Nations. (Marshall accepted, but warned Wilson that he wouldn't be responsible for anything that happened while he was away.)

After Wilson was incapacitated by a stroke in October 1919, Marshall refused to take his place, worrying that if Wilson recovered and demanded the Presidency back, the country could erupt into a civil war. And of course, he wasn't very enthusiastic about the job. When Calvin Coolidge was elected as the next Vice President, he received a note from Marshall that read, "Please accept my sincere sympathies."

By Claire Suddath