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Last, or Second from the Top

Despite the current media frenzy over both major party presidential candidates' searches for running mates, if ever there was an underappreciated job, it would have to be that of vice president of the
United States.

From the superfluous "other" name on the ticket to the shadowy figure in the background whose Senate vote is used only as a tiebreaker, vice presidents have had a bad rap from day one — even the VP on the popular television series The West Wing was an unsavory character. But when it comes to the bare facts of presidential history, vice presidents end up being more important than you'd think — and as it turns out, it isn't so uncommon for that modifier to drop from the title.

Of the 43 vice presidents we've had, 14 have gone on to be president. And whatever their path to the presidency — be it election or the natural death, assassination, or resignation of their predecessor — it's rarely ordinary.

In 1801, Thomas Jefferson was the incumbent VP who ran against the incumbent president — John Adams — and won. Forty years later, John Tyler barely had time to settle into his vice-presidential duties before he was given a new (and improved) job, assuming the presidency when William Henry Harrison caught cold and died a mere 30 days into his term.

And in 1973, Gerald Ford was nominated vice president after the resignation of Spiro Agnew, only to ascend to the presidency a year later when Nixon resigned — thus becoming the first (and only) person to serve as both VP and president without having been elected to either office.

Sometimes being second best just means you're that much closer to the top.