The average American knows very little about this nation’s vice presidents, except for those who have become president. When George Bush defeated Michael Dukakis in November 1988, he became a member of an exclusive club of incumbent vice presidents who became president. This list includes John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Martin Van Buren. Adams and Jefferson were elected prior to the formation of a modern party system so their elevation to the presidency was not as unique. Since the formation of the second party system in the 1820s, only Martin Van Buren and George Bush have successfully run for president while serving as vice president. This study will attempt to explain why and how Van Buren and Bush were able to achieve the seemingly impossible elevation to the presidency. This study will also make some predictions surrounding Vice President Al Gore’s attempt in 2000 to join Van Buren and Bush.
The rise of Van Buren and Bush to the presidency will be carefully studied with a focus on their respective years as vice president. The vice presidency will be analyzed to answer several questions. First, what is the dilemma that faces a vice president with presidential ambitions? Was this dilemma created with the office of vice president in 1787? How has the vice presidency evolved in these two centuries under the Constitution? Have these changes helped or hindered the presidential ambitions of a vice president?
Martin Van Buren and George Bush were not the only incumbent vice presidents to run for president since Thomas Jefferson’s victory in 1800. I will briefly analyze the unsuccessful campaigns of John C. Breckinridge in