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Forum Selecting Senior Citizens for the American Vice Presidency

  • George C. Kiser (a1)


One of the most significant trends in twentieth century America is the constant expansion of the senior citizen population (age 65 and over) – in both absolute and relative terms. While social scientists have developed a huge literature on America's older population, they have largely ignored its vast political implications. This topic is particularly timely inasmuch as senior citizen George Bush has replaced senior citizen Ronald Reagan in the Presidency, two-thirds of the Supreme Court justices are past age 65, and as usual many of the most powerful members of Congress are senior citizens. This article turns attention to the nation's eight senior citizen Vice Presidents, focusing primarily on explanations for their nomination. It also examines trends in the incidence of senior citizen Vice Presidents. Although the nation has had such Vice Presidents during each third of its history (the first one inaugurated in 1805, the most recent one in 1974), they have served with relatively greater frequency since the 1920s. Probable factors underlying this trend include continually increasing life expectancy, the growth in the senior citizen segment of the nation's population and its political mobilisation, and some decline in ageism.



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1 U. S. Bureau of the Census, Statistical Abstract of the United States: 1990 (11th edition), Washington, DC, 1990, p. 23.

2 The scattered examples include: Theodore Marmor, R., The Politics of Medicare (Chicago: Aldine Publishing Co., 1973);Aging and Public Policy: The Politics of Growing Old in America, eds. William, P. Browne and Laura, Katz Olson (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1983);Michael, Abram and Joseph, Cooper, ‘The rise of seniority in the House of Representatives,’ Polity (Fall 1968), 252–85.

3 Throughout this article, all information about the age of Presidents and Vice Presidents comes from Joseph, Nathan Kane, Facts About the Presidents: A Compilation of Biographical and Historical Information, 4th ed. (N.Y.: The H. W. Wilson Co., 1981).

4 The ages of these Congressmen (Robert Michael, Minority Leader of the House; Jim Wight, Speaker; Robert Dole, Senate minority leader; and Robert Byrd, Senate majority leader) are found in Politics in America: The iooth Congress, ed. Alan, Ehrenhalt (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly Press, 1987), pp. 1431, 1472, 467, 1611, 550.

5 Ages of Supreme Court justices from A Reference Guide to the United States Supreme Court, ed. Stephen, Elliott (N.Y.: Facts on File Publications, 1986), pp. 382–3.

6 An example is the Presidential candidacy of Alben, Barkley in 1952. See Donald, Young, American Roulette: The History and Dilemma of the Vice Presidency (N.Y.: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1972), p. 250;Polly, Ann Davis, Alben W. Barkley: Senate Majority Leader and Vice President (N.Y.: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1979), pp. 307–8.

7 Kane, , pp. 443–4. op. cit.

8 Calculated from ages found in Ibid.

9 Ibid. p. 444.

10 The two were Levi P. Morton and Thomas Marshall. See Kane, , pp. 443–4.

11 Joel, K. Goldstein, The Modern American Vice Presidency: The Transformation of a Political Institution (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1982), pp. 6683.

12 Ibid. p. 66.

13 Kane, , p. 443.

14 Klyde, Young and Lamar, Middleton, Heirs Apparent: The Vice Presidents of the United States (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1948; reprint ed., Freeport, , N.Y.: Books for Libraries Press, Biography Index Reprint Series, 1969), pp. 51–6.

15 Archibald, Laird, The Near Great – Chronicle of the Vice Presidents (North Quincy, Massachusetts: The Christopher Publishing House, 1980), p. 65.

16 Marie, D. Natoli, American Prince, American Pauper: The Contemporary Vice Presidency in Perspective (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1985), p. 4.

17 Michael, Harwood, In the Shadow of Presidents: The American Vice-Presidency and Succession System (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1966), pp. 1920.

18 Quoted in Harwood, , p. 23.

19 Kane, , p. 442.

20 Sol, Barzman, Madmen and Geniuses: The Vice-Presidents of The United States (Chicago: Follett Publishing Co., 1974), pp. 91–5.

21 Irving, Brant, The Fourth President: A Life of James Madison (Indianapolis: BobbsMerrill, 1970), p. 351;Young, , p. 21.

22 William, Plumer, William Plumer's Memorandum of Proceedings in the United States Senate: 1803–1807, ed. Everette, S. Brown (N.Y.: The Macmillan Co., 1923), pp. 450, 635.

23 Adams, J. Q., Memoirs, ed. Adams, C. F. (12 vols., Philadelphia, 18741877), 1, 385, cited inSpaulding, E. Wilder, His Excellency George Clinton. Critic of the Constitution (N.Y.: The Macmillan Co., 1938), p. 280.

24 Jefferson, , Writings, ed. Ford, P. L. (New York, 1898), IX, 327, cited inSpaulding, , p. 302.

25 Louis, Clinton Hatch, A History of the Vice-Presidency of the United States, ed. Earl, L. Shoup (N.Y.: The American Historical Library, 1934; reprint ed.,Westport, , Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1970), p. 143;Brant, , p. 487;Ralph, Ketcham, James Madison: A Biography (N.Y.: The Macmillan Co., 1971), p. 523.

26 James, T. Austin, The Life of Elbridge Gerry, Vol. II (Boston: Wells and Lilly, 1828; reprint ed., N.Y.: DeCapo Press, 1970), p. 311.

27 George, Athan Billias, Elbridge Gerry: Founding Father and Republican Statesman (N.Y.: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1976), pp. 328–9.

28 Nelson, W. Polsby and Aaron, B. Wildavsky, Presidential Elections (N.Y.: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1971), p. 153.

29 Brant, , p. 351.

30 Ketcham, , p. 523; Billias, p. 324.

31 John, M. Martin, ‘William R. King and the Vice Presidency’. Alabama Review (01 1963), 3553.

32 Young, , p. 302.

33 Barzman, , p. 246.

34 Hatch, , pp. 274, 292–3, 304–5.

35 Laird, , pp. 57–8; Presidency: 1974 (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly, 1975), pp. 43–5.

36 The senior citizen Vice Presidential nominations were: Clinton, (1804 and 1808); Gerry (1812); King (1852); 75-year old Allen Thurman (Cleveland's running-mate in 1888); 81-year-old Henry Davis (Alton Parker's running-mate in 1904); Curtis (1928 and 1932); Garner (1936); 66-year-old Charles McNary (Wendell Willkie's running-mate in 1940); Barkley (1948); and 67-year-old Lloyd Bentsen (Michael Dukakis's running-mate in 1988). Hendricks is not included here because he was not quite 65 when nominated but is included elsewhere as a senior citizen Vice President because he was 65 when inaugurated. The senior citizen Presidential nominations were:Andrew, Jackson (1832); William Henry Harrison (1840); Henry Clay (1844); LewisCass (1848); Winfred Scott (1852); James Buchanan (1856); Eisenhower (1956); and Reagan (1980 and 1984).

37 The only senior citizen President to die in office: William Henry Harrison.

38 George C. Kiser, ‘Are Senior Citizens too old for the Vice Presidency? A look at the record’. Presidential Studies Qjtarterly forthcoming.

40 Austin, , p. 383.

41 Calculated from information in Kane, , pp. 445–6, 357–8.

42 Presidential Elections Since 1789, pp. 209–15.

43 Calculated from information in Ibid.; Laird, , pp. 123, 281–2, 287, 307;Young, and Middleton, , pp. 142–4, 280–2, 285–8;Davis, , p. 1;Barzman, , pp. 215, 224, 248.

44 Hatch, , p. 301.

45 Barzman, , p. 142.

46 Young, and Middleton, , pp. 204, 205.

47 Ibid. p. 205.

48 Ibid. p. 206.

49 Young, and Middleton, , pp. 67–8.

50 Ibid. p. 68.

51 Bascom, N. Timmons, Garner of Texas: A Personal History (N.Y.: Harper & Brothers, 1948), pp. 132, 134, 135.

52 Ibid. pp. 152–7.

53 Timmons, , pp. 158–9;Ralph, G. Martin, Ballots and Bandwagons: Three Great Twentieth-Century Conventions (N.Y.: The New American Library, 1964), pp. 116–17, 136–7, 140–1, 144–6, 149–50, 158, 162–4, 176, 178–9, 183, 190–6, 201–3.

54 Timmons, , pp. 162–8; Congressional Quarterly, National Party Conventions, 1831–1984 (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly, Inc., 1987), p. 87.

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Forum Selecting Senior Citizens for the American Vice Presidency

  • George C. Kiser (a1)


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