Indiana: Home to Vice Presidents
Maybe there’s something in the cold water that comes up from the deep wells of Indiana. Maybe it’s something that comes off the cornfields in the deep dusk of Hoosier summer evenings. Maybe it’s a magic that falls from the tall sycamore trees that line the Wabash River.
Whatever it is. It seems that Hoosiers have a habit of winning the Vice Presidency.
It started in 1868 when Schuyler Colfax won with Ulysses S. Grant. Colfax, from St. Joseph County, had been Speaker of the House during Abraham Lincoln's administration. He has the distinction of being the last person to have an official meeting with Lincoln. On April 14, 1865, Colfax walked the President to the White House door as he and Mrs. Lincoln departed for Ford's Theater.
Three Indiana governors have made the transition from the Statehouse to the number-two spot at the White House. The first was Thomas Hendricks. Governor from 1873 to 1877, he was elected in 1884 to serve as Vice President under Grover Cleveland. He died eight months later, and his office remained vacant for the remainder of the term. At the Indiana Capitol, a large statue of Hendricks stands on the southeast corner of the lawn, where locals observe that he is facing in the direction of his Shelby County home.
Twenty years later, in 1904, another Hoosier won the Vice Presidency. Charles Fairbanks of Indianapolis had never been governor, but he was serving as a United States Senator when he was chosen to run with Theodore Roosevelt. Fairbanks made friends with important people in the territory of Alaska, where a major city was named for him.
Fairbanks was back on the ballot again in 1916, this time in the second spot with former Supreme Court Justice Charles Evans Hughes at the top of the Republican ticket. That's the year the nation had two Hoosiers in the VP race. The voters went with the Democrats, giving Woodrow Wilson his second term with the sitting Vice President Thomas Marshall. Marshall, an attorney from Columbia City, was the second Indiana governor to become Vice President. He finished his term as governor in 1913 and went straight to Washington. Marshall, a congenial, unassuming gentleman, is best known for his humor. It is said that, after a long day of meetings discussing the problems of the nation, he quipped, "What this country really needs is a good five-cent cigar."
Another Senator from Indiana, Dan Quayle, became the fifth Hoosier VP in 1989 when he won with George H. W. Bush. His hometown of Huntington honors him and the nation's other VPs at the Dan Quayle Vice Presidential Learning Center.
Mike Pence grew up in the Southern Indiana city of Columbus. He was tops in his high school class and Hanover College, even farther south in Indiana. He earned a law degree and jumped into the political arena, first as a thoughtful, soft-spoken talk-show host.
Hoosiers sent him to Congress where he served 12 years in the House of Representatives.
He came home in 2012 to run for Governor. He was a player in the Statehouse for his full four years before the VP mystique kicked in.
Donald J. Trump made a visit to the Indiana Governor’s Residence and the rest, as they say, is history.
Michael R. Pence became the third Indiana Governor, and the sixth Hoosier, to become Vice President of the United States. It is a prestigious position, no doubt, but the post has a brief job description. The Constitution states only that the executive should be the presiding officer in the Senate. Other duties are pretty much up to the office holder and the President.
Long ago, someone asked Thomas Marshall to comment on the job. He answered in the form of a parable. "Once there were two brothers," he said. "One ran away to sea, and the other was elected Vice President. Neither was ever heard from again."
It was a good joke for Marshall, but the story doesn't quite hold true today. The 21st Century has brought a lot more responsibility to the office of Vice President. Mr. Trump is keeping his #2 man busy. Pence is his own man, too, and rewriting the job description. He is also a history major and well aware of the previous Hoosiers of his office. He knows he is surrounded by a cloud of witnesses.