11 President/Vice President Pairs Who Didn't Get Along Too Well

Throughout American political history, there have been numerous White House feuds and bad presidential pairs, which created administrations consisting of presidents who hated their vice presidents. Each of these situations was unique in its specifics, but all were fundamentally driven by the reality – especially as the American executive branch evolved in the 19th and 20th centuries – that the US vice presidency was merely a ceremonial position, rarely involved in any substantive governmental process.

Frequently exploited during an initial presidential campaign for their regional or home-state connections and quickly discarded once an administration began to wield power, any accomplished, egotistical politician would quickly become embittered by a process that reduced him to a non-entity in the post of vice president. Such an environment was bound to produce hostility and resentment, a situation that occurred many times involving American presidents and vice presidents who didn't get along.   

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  • Thomas Jefferson And Aaron Burr's Antagonism Changed The Electoral College

    In 1800, only a decade after its development, the American presidential electoral process faced a dilemma that clearly demonstrated that the elections were still a work in progress. After all votes were cast and electors designated, the two Republican Party candidates, Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr, were tied with 73 electoral votes. In those days, parties did not designate a combined ticket, so it was possible for electors to cast two votes for any of four candidates. The one with the clear majority would win, and the one who came in second would become vice president. In the 1800 election, the Republican Party decided they wanted Jefferson to win the presidency and Burr to win the vice presidency.

    However, things didn't exactly go as planned when the vote went to the House of Representatives. It took 36 ballots, but Jefferson eventually prevailed, chiefly because some of the Federalists in Congress – at the urging of Alexander Hamilton – abstained, throwing the election to Jefferson. For finishing second, Burr became the vice president but was immediately ostracized by Jefferson, who suspected that he had actually attempted to obtain the presidency for himself during the lengthy maneuvering and chicanery that went on during the election. Any of Burr's requests for official appointments in the new cabinet were ignored, and he was quickly isolated. By 1804, it was a foregone conclusion that he would be dropped from the ticket. When his unsuccessful 1804 campaign for Governor of New York was impacted negatively by Alexander Hamilton, Burr's political frustration boiled over into the notorious duel that killed the former Secretary of the Treasury and rendered the Vice President a political pariah.

    Angered by his banishment from American politics, Burr left the US and hatched a misguided plot to seize the western territories and place himself at the head of his own country. The plan never got off the ground, and Jefferson's animosity prompted a trial for treason, with the President fully intending to hang his former Vice President. Luckily for Burr, Chief Justice John Marshall, who presided over the trial, set a very high standard of guilt, and Burr was acquitted. Still, the hostility of the political establishment and the President was so great that Burr fled to Europe and did not return for four years. 

    The election of 1800 caused such turmoil that the 12th Amendment to the Constitution was passed, which would subsequently allow electors to vote for a president and vice president instead of two votes for president.

  • Andrew Jackson Literally Threatened To Kill His VP, John Calhoun

    Thomas Jefferson's legal and criminal pursuit of Aaron Burr would not be the last time a president threatened the physical well being of a vice president. John Calhoun was one of only two men to serve different presidents, a historical oddity perpetuated by the Electoral College's practice of having distinct competitions for president and vice president. Andrew Jackson and Calhoun's ticket in the 1828 campaign against John Quincy Adams was a match of convenience, and Jackson and Calhoun immediately began to clash over the issue of tariffs, which the VP felt discriminated against Southern states and favored the North.

    This dispute escalated to the point that Calhoun threatened to use the legal concept of "nullification" in which a state ignored a federal law it felt was unconstitutional. Calhoun even threatened to secede from the Union, a threat that prompted Jackson to ask Congress to pass the 1833 Force Bill, which allowed the federal government to use military action to force state compliance. By then, Calhoun was a Senator, having resigned from his White House post in December of 1832. At one point during the dispute, Jackson famously stated: “John Calhoun, if you secede from my nation I will secede your head from the rest of your body.”

    Andrew Jackson, who engaged in as many as 100 duels in his lifetime, probably wasn't kidding.

  • John F. Kennedy And Lyndon Johnson's Massive Egos Made For A Difficult Relationship

    In 1960, John F. Kennedy was nominated for President after a very contentious primary campaign in which Kennedy's chief competition was Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson. Johnson, a powerful Senator and take-no-prisoners campaigner used Kennedy's Catholic faith and health against him in his bid for the nomination. Because JFK knew the election would be difficult, he acquiesced and put Johnson on the ticket, which probably won him the election. But the Northeastern intellectuals who made up Kennedy's cabinet and administration belittled Johnson and shut him out of any meaningful role in the new government. The President rarely met with Johnson personally, and his brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, openly feuded with Johnson in public. Johnson was reduced to globetrotting around the world, an assignment that he felt was a way to humiliate him and get him out of Washington.

    His treatment would result in a deep resentment that was expressed forcefully when President Kennedy was assassinated. When Jackie Kennedy and other administration officials returned to Air Force One for the flight back to Washington after Kennedy's assassination, they were confronted with Lyndon Johnson already in the President's cabin, having refused Jackie's request to remain in this prestigious location for one last time. This attitude was the final chapter in a relationship that deeply embittered Lyndon Johnson and permanently estranged him from the Kennedys, but he didn't care. Now, he was the President.

  • Al Gore Blamed Bill Clinton For His 2000 Defeat

    By October of 2000, Al Gore and Bill Clinton were no longer even speaking to each other. Initially quite close during their two successful presidential campaigns, the two men drifted apart as the web of scandal engulfed Bill Clinton's second term. As early as 1999, Gore publicly criticized the President for his conduct concerning his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky and privately disliked the authority given to Hillary Clinton, which he felt came at his expense. Clinton began to be irritated by this attitude as well as Gore's deliberate refusal to campaign with him and believed that Gore also wanted to prove that he could get elected on his own.

    When Gore lost an excruciatingly close election in 2000, he blamed Clinton's personal conduct for the loss, igniting a tense White House confrontation in December of 2000. They would patch up their relationship after 9/11.

  • Franklin D. Roosevelt May Have Run For A Third Term To Prevent His VP From Being Elected President

    FDR initially got along well with his plainspoken Vice President, John Nance Garner. Garner, a hard-drinking, no-nonsense Texan, once claimed that the Vice Presidency wasn't "worth a pitcher of warm piss." Nicknamed "Cactus Jack" for his acerbic manner, Garner eventually soured on FDR's liberal, New Deal program, which clashed with his conservative perspective. Even worse, with the 1940 election approaching and Garner in his 70s, the former House Speaker figured that it was now or never if he ever wanted to be President. Garner also further alienated Roosevelt with isolationist foreign policy views and the belief that federal troops should have been used to put down labor strikes in the late '30s, an alternative at odds with the labor base of the Democratic Party.

    When Garner openly challenged Roosevelt, he was outmaneuvered when the President allowed himself to be "drafted" as a candidate, a strategy that enabled him to avoid scrutiny for breaking the unwritten "two term" rule that was presidential tradition. Garner essentially retired from politics and went back to Texas, thinking that he wasn't going to live much longer, anyway. Surprisingly, he lasted another 27 years and died in 1967, aged 98 years, 350 days.   

  • Fate Forced Theodore Roosevelt On William McKinley

    William McKinley never really liked Teddy Roosevelt. He felt his demands for war during his administration were really about Roosevelt wanting to get military service on his political resume. Against his better judgment, he appointed Roosevelt Assistant Secretary of the Navy, a position that Roosevelt publicly used to beat the drums for war against Spain. Behind his back, after McKinley explained his reluctance to get involved in armed conflict, Roosevelt said of the President:

    “He has all the backbone of a chocolate eclair.”

    McKinley, a veteran of the Civil War with first-hand knowledge of its horrific consequences, eventually asked Congress to declare war, and Teddy Roosevelt was commissioned as a Lieutenant Colonel in the famed "Rough Riders" contingent. He was immediately fitted in a Brooks Brothers uniform, and Roosevelt issued a press release complete with numerous photos of himself in uniform – this before he even left New York for Puerto Rico.

    Roosevelt's maneuver would have been a mere annoyance except for a development that changed American history. McKinley's trusted Vice President, Garret Hobart, was stricken with heart disease and died in December of 1899. Because Roosevelt had so alienated party bosses in NY, they were hoping to get rid of him by sticking him in the powerless office of vice president where McKinley could isolate him. Roosevelt initially did not want to run for VP but agreed, thinking that it might help him escape from potential defeat in New York politics. Predictably, Roosevelt's first six months in office were trivial and uneventful. That changed when an assassin shot and killed President McKinley in September of 1901. The man nobody wanted or liked was now the President.