Writer Tony Horwitz visited the Quayle Vice Presidential Learning Center in Huntington, Indiana. It is the only museum dedicated to the 47 vice-presidents of the United States. Museum director Daniel Johns admits the title of second banana is not held in high regard.
“Ridicule is an occupational hazard of the job,” Johns observes, leading me past political cartoons, newspaper invective and portraits of whiskered figures so forgotten that the museum has struggled to find anything to say or display about them. He pauses before a group portrait of Indiana’s five VPs, a number that stirs Hoosier pride—except that the first, Schuyler Colfax, took bribes in a railroad scandal and died unrecognized on a railroad platform. “His picture should be hung a little more crooked,” Johns quips. He moves on to Colfax’s successor, Henry Wilson, who died in office after soaking in a tub. Then comes William Wheeler, unknown even to the man at the top of the ticket in 1876. “Who is Wheeler?” Rutherford B. Hayes wrote upon hearing the quiet congressman suggested as his running mate. The VP museum, which once used the advertising motto “Second to One,” isn’t kind to the nation’s founders, either. It was they who are largely to blame for the rogues, also-rans and even corpses who have often filled the office. The Constitution gave almost no role to the vice president, apart from casting tie-breaking votes in the Senate. John Adams, the first to hold the job, called it “the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived.”