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Today in History: Resignation of Vice President John C. Calhoun

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Late in life graphic of John C. Calhoun, no date. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, //

On this day in 1832, John C. Calhoun submitted his resignation as the seventh Vice President of the United States.  First elected to the House of Representatives in 1810, he would spend almost all of the remainder of his life serving in either the executive or legislative branches.  He had a towering intellect, an overweening ambition, and a strong sense of the rectitude of his positions.  Although widely acknowledged during his career as one of the foremost and most talented of national political leaders, his maladroit political maneuvers kept him from fulfilling his greatest ambition, which was to be elected president

Calhoun had first been elected vice president in 1824, but did not owe any particular loyalty to John Quincy Adams, the newly elected president.  In 1828, he agreed to support Andrew Jackson and was selected by Jackson as his running mate.  Relations between Jackson and his vice president, however, were never warm and quickly soured over personal conflicts and disputes about policy.  In 1832, Calhoun was not selected by Jackson to be his running mate for his second term, so his job as vice president was scheduled to end in early March 1833.  Calhoun however was interested in returning to the Senate in order to participate in the debate over the scope of powers of the federal government.  As the leading national politician from South Carolina, Calhoun had helped to shape that state’s challenge to national authority through the doctrine of nullification.  Although Calhoun did not originate this doctrine, and he was not even the most radical proponent, he was its most influential polemicist. He was elected to the Senate by the South Carolina Legislature to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of Robert Hayne, who had just been elected governor of the state.

As there was at this time no method for filling a vacancy in the office of the vice president, the country was without a vice president until Martin Van Buren was sworn in on March 4, 1833.  By the time Spiro Agnew resigned as vice president in 1973 this oversight had been addressed by section 2 of the 25th Amendment of the Constitution of the United States, ratified in 1967, which reads:

Whenever there is a vacancy in the office of the Vice President, the President shall nominate a Vice President who shall take office upon confirmation by a majority vote of both Houses of Congress.

Gerald Ford succeeded Agnew.

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