Founding Father James Madison, the fourth president of the United States, had two vice presidents who served under him during his two presidential terms in the White House.
James Madison had no Vice-President for a time.
There were two periods of time where he had no vice president, as both of his vice presidents died while in office. Both vice presidents of James Madison were lesser-known Founding Fathers who left an impact on the fledgling United States of America and American history in their own right.
George Clinton (1809-1812)
George Clinton was James Madison’s first vice president and one of only two vice presidents to hold the office under two different presidential administrations. He was a steadfast patriot who served in the Continental Army, was friends with George Washington, and supported the Declaration of Independence.
Before the electoral college elected James Madison, Clinton served as vice president under Thomas Jefferson between 1805 and 1809. Clinton was offered a place on the ticket after Aaron Burr, having fallen out of favor with Jefferson, was removed. However, Clinton was not viewed as very effective in the role, as he presided over the Senate but wasn’t especially interested in the proceedings, nor did he maintain order well.
James Madison’s First Vice President
Despite Clinton’s opposition to President James Madison, he was nonetheless re-elected to be vice president when Madison won the presidential election of 1808. However, he did not even attend Madison’s inauguration, resentful that he had been unsupported in his desire to become president himself and was left with the vice presidency.
Clinton continued to oppose Madison during his term as vice president. Two notable instances were when he helped sink Albert Gallatin’s appointment to the office of Secretary of State and when he stopped a proposed recharter of the First Bank of the United States by casting the tie-breaking vote.
Clinton died from a heart attack on April 20, 1812, becoming the first vice president to die in office. Until Madison was sworn in for his second term in 1813, Madison did not have a vice president because there was not yet a policy for filling a vacancy.
Previous Political Career
Before becoming vice president, Clinton served as the first governor of New York during the Revolutionary War. Having served 21 years in the office, he remains the longest-serving chief executive in the state’s history.
While initially a supporter of a strong federal government, Clinton later opposed the idea because he felt it would be detrimental to the interests of his state. He famously refused to sign the United States Constitution because he thought it took too much power away from the states.
Elbridge Gerry (1813-1814)
Elbridge Gerry was one of the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence. He attended the Constitutional Convention but refused to sign the new governing document because it did not include a Bill of Rights and outlaw slavery.
James Madison’s Second Vice President
Gerry wanted a federal position near the end of his career primarily because he was experiencing financial troubles. So, he asked Madison for one.
He was nominated as Madison’s running mate in the 1812 presidential election after Madison’s first choice John Langdon turned it down. Gerry was selected as a safe choice who wasn’t expected to make waves or emerge as a presidency rival against James Monroe.
At the time, the vice president wasn’t expected to have many responsibilities, and therefore Gerry did not make much of note while he held the office. However, he, along with Madison, supported war with Great Britain in the War of 1812.
Gerry did use his power while presiding over the Senate to directly prevent Senator William Giles, who advocated peace with Britain, from becoming president pro tempore of the Senate and therefore third in line to the presidency.
Gerry died shortly after falling ill on November 23, 1814, at the age of 70, leaving the vice president’s office vacant yet again. Like Clinton before him, the position remained unfilled for the remainder of his term.
Madison opted to leave the White House and not run for a third term and instead supported James Monroe, who would be the next president.
Governor of Massachusetts
Outside of his time as vice president, Gerry was also the governor of Massachusetts, a position he pursued unsuccessfully for years before finally winning the election in 1810.
He was notably partisan as governor when his party was not fully in power and even engaged in investigations for libel against him in Federalist publications.
The term for the political practice of “gerrymandering” comes from Gerry’s name. It was first used in a political cartoon published in 1812 by the Boston Gazette. Ironically, Gerry was reportedly unhappy about creating districts in such a partisan fashion but signed the legislation that allowed it to proceed.
The controversy over redistricting, among other factors, led to his defeat when he ran again for the governorship in 1812. However, this paved the way for him to be chosen to run for vice president under Madison.
The XYZ Affair
Gerry was also known for his involvement in the XYZ Affair, a political conflict between the United States and France between 1797-1798.
It resulted from the tension between Republican France and the United States due to the French seizure of American ships and the United States signing the Jay Treaty with France’s enemy, Great Britain. Gerry was one of the American diplomats sent to France to conduct negotiations.
Talks, however, were undermined by threats of bribery and war from French officials. Initially blamed for allowing the discussions to break down, Gerry’s reputation was vindicated in 1799 when his written correspondence with French Foreign Minister Talleyrand was published. His efforts to prevent war are largely considered the reason hostilities eased.
While vice presidents have historically not been as well-remembered as people who were president, their contributions to America have always been important. The vice presidents of President Madison left their indelible marks on history, both before and during their time in the role.