Indiana has long legacy of VP candidates

Summer temperatures are running above average, Indiana is celebrating the birthday of its statehood, and a Hoosier governor is running for vice president of the United States.

Current events? Not really. Change everything to the past tense.

It was the summer of 1916. Hoosiers were suffering from a heat wave, the Indiana Centennial Celebration was well underway, and a former Indiana governor was running for vice president.

They say history repeats itself, but it gets even more interesting when we go back 100 years. Not only was the former governor running for the nation’s No. 2 spot, but another Indiana man was running for the same job on the opposing ticket. So, no matter which party won the election of 1916, a Hoosier would become vice president.

The odds seem to favor Indiana in the choice of presidential running mates. Five Hoosiers (so far) have been elected to the second-highest political job in the nation.

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.

Two Indiana governors have made the transition from the statehouse to the No. 2 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 U.S. 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 46 other VPs at the Dan Quayle Vice Presidential Learning Center.

Now that Gov. Mike Pence has teamed with Donald Trump, Indiana has a chance to add a sixth name to its list of vice presidents. 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. Whoever is elected vice president will undoubtedly be heard from again. Will history repeat itself and put a Hoosier in the position?

As it always does, time will tell.

James Johnson is a retired teacher who lives in Greenwood. Send comments to