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The Worst 10 1/2* Vice Presidents

Vice President Millard Fillmore

Millard Fillmore

(1849-1850)

Millard Fillmore, who became chief executive in 1850 when President Zachary Taylor died of natural causes, was the first vice president of urban legend, though not until 43 years after his death. In a 1917 column, humorist H.L. Mencken wrote that Fillmore had introduced the first bathtub into the White House. This was an outright hoax, but people believed it, then and now.

Mencken came clean in 1949, but the story remains alive. As a part of “Fillmore Days” in Moravia, New York—near Fillmore’s birthplace—wheeled bathtubs race through the city’s streets.

Vice President William Rufus King

William Rufus King

(1853)

King served only slightly longer than Tyler. He was elected with Franklin Pierce in 1852 and served 46 days before expiring. King is best remembered as our only bachelor vice president and as the longtime roommate of James Buchanan, who in 1856 became the only bachelor elected president.

The Buchanan-King duo was known around Washington as the “Siamese twins,” and President Andrew Jackson referred to them as “Aunt Fancy and Miss Nancy.” King’s brief tenure, not his private life, places him on our list.

A footnote to the bachelors: Buchanan’s vice president, John C. Breckenridge, finished his one term and left town in 1861 to join the Confederates. He was one of two vice presidential turncoats, the other being Tyler, who served as a Confederate legislator.

Vice President Andrew Johnson

Andrew Johnson

(1865)

Johnson, a Tennessee Democrat and a tailor by trade, ran with Abraham Lincoln in 1864 on something called the National Union ticket. He got things rolling by showing up apparently inebriated for his inauguration. (Honest Abe later said, “Andy ain’t a drunkard”—possibly the only time a president publicly defended a vice president.)

When Lincoln was assassinated in April 1865, Johnson took office and found himself at loggerheads with the Republican administration. A former slave owner, Johnson displayed few concerns for the rights of recently freed slaves and was ultimately impeached by the House and put on trial in the Senate.

Johnson avoided expulsion by a single vote and in 1868 joined the growing parade of vice presidents who gained the presidency but were denied their party’s nomination.

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