Governors and the Vice Presidency


What’s the Precedent for a Governor as Running Mate?

by David J. Andersen and John Weingart
July 10, 2012 (updated January 2020)


From John Adams (who took office with George Washington in 1789) through Mike Pence, elected with Donald Trump in 2016, the United States has had 48 vice presidents. Sixteen of them (33%) were previously governors, including George Clinton, who served from 1805 to 1812 as the number two to two presidents (Thomas Jefferson and James Madison) and Nelson Rockefeller, who was appointed to the office 1974.

While the current vice president in a former governor, in general, in modern times, looking to the pool of governors for potential vice presidents seems largely to have gone out of style. Fully half of the first 16 and five of the next 13 had been governors. However, only three of the 18 vice presidents to serve since Calvin Coolidge ascended to the presidency in 1923 had been a state’s chief executive. In addition to Pence (IN), one, Spiro Agnew (MD), was elected and reelected in 1968 and 1972, and the other, Nelson Rockefeller (NY), was appointed in 1974.


Governors Selected To Be Vice President

1789-1864 (75 years) 1868-1920 (52 years) 1924-2016 (92 years)
1796  Thomas Jefferson (VA) 1884  Thomas A. Hendricks (IN) 1968  Spiro Agnew (MD)
1804  George Clinton (NY) 1888   Levi P. Morton (NY) 1974  Nelson Rockefeller (NY)
1812  Elbridge Gerry (MA) 1900  Theodore Roosevelt (NY) 2016  Mike Pence (IN)
1816  Daniel D. Tompkins (NY) 1912  Thomas R. Marshall
1832  Martin Van Buren (NY) 1920   Calvin Coolidge (MA)
1840  John Tyler (VA)
1860  Hannibal Hamlin (ME)
1884  Andrew Johnson (TN)

Having two governors on the same ticket is even less common. Only five teams of governors or former governors have been victorious, and none since 1912 when the Democratic governors of New Jersey and Indiana, Woodrow Wilson and Thomas R. Marshall, were elected. It has been more than 60 years since a party even put forward such a ticket; that was in 1948, when the Republican team of New York and California governors Thomas Dewey and Earl Warren was defeated by incumbent President Harry Truman and his vice presidential candidate, Senator Alben Barkley of Kentucky.

Winning Presidential Tickets with Two Governors:

  • 1804 Thomas Jefferson (VA) and George Clinton (NY)
  • 1808 James Madison (VA) and George Clinton (NY)
  • 1816 James Monroe (VA) and Daniel Tompkins (NY)
  • 1884 Grover Cleveland (NY) and Thomas Hendricks (IN)
  • 1912 Woodrow Wilson (NJ) and Thomas R. Marshall (IN)

Governors Moving from Vice President to President

Nevertheless, the vice presidency must seem a tempting role to governors and their supporters, at least in part for offering a possible springboard to a future presidency. In fact, six of the 17 governors who became president also had a stint as vice president on their resumes. Only one of the six, however – Theodore Roosevelt (NY) – had gained the number two spot on a ticket headed by another governor (William McKinley (OH).

Also sobering for governors seeking the vice presidency is that of the six governors to move from the vice presidency to the presidency, the most recent four all ascended to the office upon the death of the president. One must go back to Martin Van Buren’s victory in 1838 to find a former governor elected to the presidency after serving as vice president.


Governors who became Vice President and then President

Governor Vice President    President
Thomas Jefferson 1779-1781 (VA) 1797-1801 1801-1809
Martin Van Buren 1829 (NY) 1833-1837 1837-1841
John Tyler 1825-1827 (VA) 1841 1841-1845
Andrew Johnson 1853-1857 (TN) 1865 1865-1869
Theodore Roosevelt 1889-1890 (NY) 1901 1901-1909
Calvin Coolidge 1919-1921 (MA) 1921-1923 1923-1929

In total, nine vice presidents have been elected president, including four former governors, two of whom (Theodore Roosevelt (NY) and Calvin Coolidge (MA)) first gained the office when the president died. Of those nine, none has completed two terms as president. Richard Nixon came closest, as the only former vice-president to win two presidential elections, but he was forced to resign the office.

In conclusion, for governors setting their sights on the White House, the direct path of running at the top of the ticket has been more fruitful than making a stop to serve as vice president. This has been particularly true in recent times.

General Information on Governors Who Have Served as Vice President

Of the 16 governors who became vice-president:

  • Five served under a President who had also been a governor:
    • George Clinton (NY) served under Thomas Jefferson (VA)
    • Daniel Tompkins (NY) served under James Monroe (VA)
    • Thomas Hendricks (IN) served under Grover Cleveland (NY)
    • Theodore Roosevelt (NY) served under William McKinley (OH)
    • Thomas Marshall (IN) served under Woodrow Wilson (NJ)
  • Six went on to become president:
    • Thomas Jefferson won election in 1800, and again in 1804
    • Martin Van Buren won election in 1836
    • John Tyler ascended following President Harrison’s death in 1841
    • Andrew Johnson ascended following President Lincoln’s death in 1865
    • Theodore Roosevelt ascended following President McKinley’s death in 1901, then won election in 1904
    • Calvin Coolidge ascended following President Harding’s death in 1923, then won election in 1924
  • Eight were among the nation’s first 16 vice-presidents (1789-1865):
    • Thomas Jefferson (VA) 1797-1801
    • George Clinton (NY) 1805-1809; 1809-1812
    • Elbridge Gerry (MA) 1813-1814
    • Daniel D. Tompkins (NY) 1817-1825
    • Martin Van Buren (NY) 1833-1837
    • John Tyler (VA) 1841
    • Hannibal Hamlin (ME) 1862-1865
    • Andrew Johnson (TN) 1865
  • Five were among the nation’s next 16 vice-presidents (1869-1941)
    • Thomas A. Hendricks (IN) 1885
    • Levi P. Morton (NY) 1889-1893
    • Theodore Roosevelt (NY) 1901
    • Thomas R. Marshall (IN) 1913-1921
    • Calvin Coolidge (MA) 1921-1923
  • Three were among the nation’s most recent 16 vice-presidents (1941- 2016)
    • Spiro T. Agnew (MD) 1969-1973
    • Nelson A. Rockefeller (NY) 1974-1977 (appointed)
    • Mike Pence (IN) 2016-present
  • Six came from New York, three from Indiana, two each from Massachusetts and Virginia, and one each from Maine, Maryland and Tennessee:
    • New York (6)
      • George Clinton 1804, 1808
      • Daniel Tompkins 1816
      • Martin Van Buren 1832
      • Levi Morton 1888
      • Theodore Roosevelt 1900
      • Nelson Rockefeller 1974 (appointed)
    • Indiana (3)
      • Thomas A. Hendricks 1884
      • Thomas Marshall 1912
      • Mike Pence 2016
    • Massachusetts (2)
      • Elbridge Gerry 1812
      • Calvin Coolidge 1920
    • Virginia (2)
      • Thomas Jefferson 1795
      • John Tyler 1840
    • Maine (1)
      • Hannibal Hamlin 1860
    • Maryland (1)
      • Spiro Agnew 1968
    • Tennessee (1)
      • Andrew Johnson 1860