Vice President

Background

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The office of the Vice President was one of the many innovations introduced in the Constitution; no such office had existed under the Articles of Confederation. The shortcomings of the Articles of Confederation illustrated the need for a strong executive to enforce the law. The position of the Vice President was introduced during the constitutional convention by the Committee of Eleven along with its plan for the Presidential election process, and their recommendation formed the basis for the Constitution's delegation of the Vice President's duties.

The Role of the Vice President Under the Constitution

The Vice President's term in office coincides with that of the president, and while in office he has two main duties under the Constitution:

  1. According to Article I, Section 3, the Vice President serves as President of the Senate; this is similar to the role filled by the President under the Articles of Confederation, but unlike the President of the Confederation Congress, the Vice President may cast a vote to break a tie.
  2. In the event that the President is removed from office, resigns, dies, or is otherwise unable to "dischargeDischarge, v. To perform; to carry out. the Powers and Duties" of his office, Article II section 1 requires the Vice President to take over as Chief Executive.1

Under the original Constitution, the Vice President was to be chosen for the office by the Electoral College, as the candidate who received the second-most number of votes; in case of a tie, the Senate was to choose the Vice President.

The Vice Presidency and the Ratification Debate

The position of Vice President and the powers delegated to it under the Constitution generated considerable controversy, both within the Constitutional Convention and during the ensuing ratification debates. Most criticisms of the Vice Presidency centered on accusations that it was improper for the Vice President to serve as President of the Senate and that the office itself served no purpose.

Echoing a widely-held apprehension, Massachusetts Anti-Federalist and Constitutional Convention delegate Elbridge Gerry listed "the Vice President being made Head of the Senate" among the 8 reasons why he refused to sign the Constitution.2 For him, such an arrangement violated the separation of powers between the branches of government; the "close intimacy that must subsist between the President & vice-president" made it "absolutely improper" for the latter to preside over the Senate. Echoing Gerry, Virginian Richard Henry Lee declared the office of the Vice President a "dangerous blending of the Legislative and Executive powers."3 Others like George Mason not only opposed it on the grounds of separation of powers, but saw it as "an encroachment on the rights of the Senate" to choose their own presiding officer.4 The Senate's prerogativePrerogative, n. A right or entitlement. to choose their own presiding officer was likewise defended by Patrick Henry at the Virginia Ratification Convention.

The utility and purpose of the Vice Presidency itself was questioned by some critics of the Constitution as well. Constitutional Convention delegate Hugh Williamson claimed that the Vice President "was not wanted, introduced only for the sake of a valuable mode of election" - a pointless byproduct of the electoral college system.5 During the Virginia ratification debate, it was described as superfluous, and opponents of ratification argued that the presidential line of succession should go to the head of an executive council.6 George Mason had made the same argument earlier at the Constitutional Convention, calling the Vice Presidency "unnecessary" as the Vice President served no purpose in the Executive branch so long as the President was alive; he proposed that the position be replaced with a council of advisers from every region of the country, the head of which could assume the Presidency in an emergency.7

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