KANSAS CITY, Mo. — On January 20, 2021, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were sworn in to the highest offices in the United States of America. The ceremony marked the beginning of the 46th administration, but there have been more vice presidents than presidents.
Harris was sworn in as the 49th Vice President. So why is there a difference of three between the two?
The answer begins in 1933 with the 32nd Vice President John Nance Garner. The former Texas Speaker of the House was second in command to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who is known for having the longest presidency in history. However, the alliance between the two democrats split, as did much of the party, in part over FDR’s plan to pack the court, according to the United States Senate.
However, “Hitler’s offensive across Western Europe in 1940 and the patriotic rallying around the president that the crisis inspired effectively precluded any challenge to Roosevelt’s nomination,” the Senate history states.
Garner did not with the primary, and soon left for his home in Texas.
FDR chose Henry Agard Wallace as the 33rd Vice President. Taking on more responsibility in the continuing administration, Wallace is regarded as the beginning of the modern VP, the Senate history states.
However, Wallace’s more liberal idealism and ties to Russia and China caused tension in the party, especially during a time of global war. Four years after he was chosen as second in command, he was ousted following internal pushes from a group of four democrats, who called themselves the “Conspiracy of the Pure in Heart,” and from FDR himself.
Wallace lost the 1944 re-election to Missouri Senator Harry S. Truman. Truman said he didn’t want to be nominated, saying, “Hell, I don’t want to be President.”
However, FDR backed Truman into a corner when he said, “…If he wants to break up the Democratic party in the middle of the war, that’s his responsibility.” FDR called Truman “the only one who had no enemies and might add a little independent strength to the ticket.”
Truman’s words against becoming president came back to haunt him only moths later. Roosevelt died on April 12, 1945, transitioning Truman from the 35th Vice President to the 33rd President. His VP, Alben W. Barkley, became the 36th Vice President.
Fast forward 76 years, and that difference of three remains.