A heartbeat from the U.S. presidency, the role of a vice-president was surprisingly under-rated and ill-defined in the country’s history.

For the presidential election of 2020, a presumptive contender from the Democratic Party and former vice-president Joseph Biden has announced U.S. senator Kamala Harris to be his running mate. Though women have previously been nominated for the position of the vicepresident, Harris is the first black woman and first person of Indian origin to be nominated for this position by a majority party. No woman has ever been elected to the position of the vice-president in the U.S.

The vice president of the U.S. can, at any point of time, become the most influential leader of the world. However, the role of the vice-presidents has dramatically evolved and from being irrelevant almost throughout American history to developing into a potential instrument of power over the years. Here’s a brief about this position.

Opponent to Running Mate

The position of a vice-president was a governmental afterthought and was created to handle unfinished business at the end of the 1787 Constitutional Convention. The convention had devised the Electoral College of representatives from each state who would elect a president every four years. To prevent any deadlock in the system, the representatives were required to elect one candidate from each state. The candidate with maximum votes would become the president and the runner-up would be the vice-president.

This system swiftly broke down as presidents were paired with a diametrically opposite vice-president who opposed and started working against the president. As the parties tried to introduce the running mate system to rectify the issue, that failed to after the presidential candidates in 1801 received the same number of votes causing 35 deadlocks.

Shaken by the infirmness, the Congress passed the 12th amendment that had separate elections for president and vice-president and even then the election of a VP was a problem as a number of electors refused to vote for the presidential candidate’s running mate in 1837.

A role vaguely defined

The Constitution itself didn’t clarify the role of a Vice-president and simply mentioned that the duties of the President would “devolve” on the VP if the President died or became incapacitated. There wasn’t any provision for the VP to take over the Presidential office. Also, the Constitution lacked clarification for replacing a vice-president who was unable to finish a term. These faults were put to test when four Presidents in the 19th century died while in office and there was visible confusion about the VP taking over the President’s office.

Increase in Power

In the 20th century, President Roosevelt conferred important duties on his 3 VPs and one of them, though unprepared, took over the President’s office past Roosevelt’s untimely demise. His successor, Eisenhower, made sure that his VP was involved thoroughly in executive life and made arrangements for his VP to be ready for the Presidential role if Eisenhower became incapacitated. As Congress passed the 25th Amendment, they laid out clear terms for procuring a replacement of the VP and made sure, if the President dies or becomes incapacitated, the Vice-president immediately becomes the President.

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