How Ex-Vice Presidents Made Ends Meet

Getty Images
Getty Images

Now that Dick Cheney is winding down his second term as one of the more controversial Vice Presidents of the United States, what next? The post-White House lives of presidents have been intensely scrutinized, but what becomes of former vice presidents? Here's what happened to a few notable ones:

1. John C. Breckenridge, The Confederacy's Secretary of War

Breckenridge, who served under James Buchanan from 1857 to 1861, didn't rest on his laurels after his stint as VP. Instead, the Kentuckian became a United States Senator on the same day he left office. This arrangement didn't last long, though; in December of that year the Senate expelled Breckenridge for supporting the Confederacy. He then joined the Confederate States Army, where he rose to the rank of Major General and fought in several major conflicts, including the Battle of Shiloh. In 1865 he became the Confederacy's Secretary of War. After the Civil War, Breckenridge returned home to Kentucky and resumed his work as a lawyer.

2. Dan Quayle, I-Banker/Author

After his stint as George H.W. Bush's second in command, Quayle returned to the private sector, most notably investment banking. He's the chairman of an international division of Cerberus Capital Management, a large private equity firm, and also spent a couple of years as a professor at the Thunderbird School of Global Management. Quayle also made his mark as a writer by penning three books, including Standing Firm: A Vice Presidential Memoir, which spent 15 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, in addition to writing a nationally syndicated column.

His political record since leaving the vice presidential residence at Number One Observatory Circle has been less rosy, though. He supposedly mulled running for governor in both his home state of Indiana in 1996 and in Arizona, where he now resides, in 2002. Both times he ultimately kept his hat out of the ring, but he did make one real campaign attempt for the Republican presidential nomination in the 2000 election. Quayle's effort didn't last long, though. At the Ames Straw poll in August 1999, he came in a dismal 8th place and quickly scrapped his campaign.

3. John Nance Garner, FDR's VP & Opponent

Many Vice Presidents are probably appreciative that their running mate helped bring them to Washington. John Nance Garner wasn't one of them, though. Although he served as Franklin Roosevelt's Vice President during FDR's first two terms, Garner didn't always agree with the New Deal's policies. Some Democratic Party leaders agreed with Garner and convinced him to run for the presidency in 1940. Garner might have had a chance at winning the Democratic nomination if his boss hadn't decided to run for a third term. Garner, undeterred, decided to gun for FDR's job anyway. Roosevelt hammered Garner in the primaries and thumped him 946-61 in the balloting for the nomination at the Democratic Convention. Although Garner obviously couldn't return to his VP post, he maintained his role in the party by offering advice to sitting Democratic leaders until his death when he was nearly 99 years old.

4. Henry Wallace, Agriculture Pioneer

Garner's successor as Roosevelt's VP had an interesting post-Washington career, too. Wallace, who had previously served as Secretary of Agriculture under Roosevelt, returned to his farm in South Salem, New York, and started trying to develop new breakthroughs in agriculture science. In addition to pioneering hybrid corn, he also co-authored a history of the grain, Corn and Its Early Fathers. Wallace was most focused, though, on creating the "perfect chicken." He may have succeeded; as late as 1990 nearly half of the eggs consumed worldwide were from Wallace's new breed.

5. Thomas A. Hendricks, Coin Legend

Grover Cleveland's running mate in the 1884 served a fairly short term in office. He took office on March 4, 1885 and then fell ill in November of the same year. Hendricks quickly passed away, but he lives on in the hearts of coin collectors everywhere. He's the only Vice President who didn't later serve as President to have his likeness on American paper money, the 1886 $10 silver certificate.

6. Schuyler Colfax, Traveling Lecturer

Colfax, who had formerly been Speaker of the House, served as Vice President during Ulysses S. Grant's first term in office, but his stint as VP didn't end so well. Colfax got caught up in the Credit Mobilier scandal, a convoluted bit of graft that involved Congressmen granting subsidies to railroads in exchange for the right to buy cheap shares of stock. Colfax may have left office in shame, but he bounced back nicely and spent his last years as a traveling lecturer. Unfortunately, this lecturing also proved fatal to him: Colfax had to walk just under a mile in -30 degree weather in 1885 to make a train connection for a lecture. Colfax made it to the depot, but the terribly cold weather brought on a fatal heart attack.

7. Aaron Burr, Hamilton's Slayer

Aaron Burr's vice presidency was perhaps the most unusual example in American history. Burr ran with Thomas Jefferson in 1800, and in doing so helped accentuate one of the flaws in the Constitution.
According to the original Constitution, members of the Electoral College cast two votes, and whoever got the second-most votes became Vice President. Jefferson and Burr's Democratic-Republican Party had figured out the best way to vote to put the two candidates in their respective offices. Something got seriously screwed up, though, and Jefferson and Burr ended up tied with 73 votes apiece. Although Congress eventually voted Jefferson into the presidency, Jefferson didn't quite trust Burr any longer, and he never really regained his footing within the administration.

After Jefferson declined to put Burr on his ticket in 1804, Burr ran unsuccessfully for governor in New York. Burr felt his old rival Alexander Hamilton was responsible for this loss, and while still serving as Vice President, famously killed Hamilton in a duel in New Jersey.

Shooting a key founding father in a duel would have ended the careers of many politicians, but Burr decided to up the ante. Instead, Burr, along with General James Wilkinson, hatched an absurdly ambitious plan to launch a military attack on Mexico, where he hoped to establish an independent country. Unfortunately, Wilkinson realized this plan was doomed and tipped off President Jefferson about what Burr was up to. Although Burr beat a treason rap for plotting the war (partially thanks to the fleet-footed legal work of his lawyer, Henry Clay), he became a much-vilified character in the U.S. He fled to Europe for four years, where he supposedly tried to talk Napoleon into invading Florida with him, and died relatively penniless in 1836.

8. Hubert H. Humphrey, Encyclopedia Man

Lyndon B. Johnson's Vice President made an unsuccessful bid for the presidency in 1968, at which point he returned home to Minnesota to serve as a professor. Humphrey held a more unusual job after leaving Washington, though; he was also chairman of the Encyclopaedia Britannica's board of consultants. Humphrey eventually got back into the political game, though, and in 1971 went back to the Senate for seven more years until his death.

10 Products for a Better Night's Sleep

Amazon/Comfort Spaces
Amazon/Comfort Spaces

Getting a full eight hours of sleep can be tough these days. If you’re having trouble catching enough Zzzs, consider giving these highly rated and recommended products a try.

1. Everlasting Comfort Pure Memory Foam Knee Pillow; $25

Everlasting Comfort Knee Pillow
Everlasting Comfort/Amazon

For side sleepers, keeping the spine, hips, and legs aligned is key to a good night’s rest—and a pain-free morning after. Everlasting Comfort’s memory foam knee pillow is ergonomically designed to fit between the knees or thighs to ensure proper alignment. One simple but game-changing feature is the removable strap, which you can fasten around one leg; this keeps the pillow in place even as you roll at night, meaning you don’t have to wake up to adjust it (or pick it up from your floor). Reviewers call the pillow “life-changing” and “the best knee pillow I’ve found.” Plus, it comes with two pairs of ear plugs.

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2. Letsfit White Noise Machine; $21

Letsfit White Noise Machine
Letsfit/Amazon

White noise machines: They’re not just for babies! This Letsfit model—which is rated 4.7 out of five with nearly 3500 reviews—has 14 potential sleep soundtracks, including three white noise tracks, to better block out everything from sirens to birds that chirp enthusiastically at dawn (although there’s also a birds track, if that’s your thing). It also has a timer function and a night light.

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3. ECLIPSE Blackout Curtains; $16

Eclipse Black Out Curtains
Eclipse/Amazon

According to the National Sleep Foundation, too much light in a room when you’re trying to snooze is a recipe for sleep disaster. These understated polyester curtains from ECLIPSE block 99 percent of light and reduce noise—plus, they’ll help you save on energy costs. "Our neighbor leaves their backyard light on all night with what I can only guess is the same kind of bulb they use on a train headlight. It shines across their yard, through ours, straight at our bedroom window," one Amazon reviewer who purchased the curtains in black wrote. "These drapes block the light completely."

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4. JALL Wake Up Light Sunrise Alarm Clock; $38

JALL Wake Up Light Sunrise Alarm Clock
JALL/Amazon

Being jarred awake by a blaring alarm clock can set the wrong mood for the rest of your day. Wake up in a more pleasant way with this clock, which gradually lights up between 10 percent and 100 percent in the 30 minutes before your alarm. You can choose between seven different colors and several natural sounds as well as a regular alarm beep, but why would you ever use that? “Since getting this clock my sleep has been much better,” one reviewer reported. “I wake up not feeling tired but refreshed.”

Buy it: Amazon

5. Philips SmartSleep Wake-Up Light; $200

Philips SmartSleep Wake-Up Light
Philips/Amazon

If you’re looking for an alarm clock with even more features, Philips’s SmartSleep Wake-Up Light is smartphone-enabled and equipped with an AmbiTrack sensor, which tracks things like bedroom temperature, humidity, and light levels, then gives recommendations for how you can get a better night’s rest.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Slumber Cloud Stratus Sheet Set; $159

Stratus sheets from Slumber Cloud.
Slumber Cloud

Being too hot or too cold can kill a good night’s sleep. The Good Housekeeping Institute rated these sheets—which are made with Outlast fibers engineered by NASA—as 2020’s best temperature-regulating sheets.

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7. Comfort Space Coolmax Sheet Set; $29-$40

Comfort Spaces Coolmax Sheets
Comfort Spaces/Amazon

If $159 sheets are out of your price range, the GHI recommends these sheets from Comfort Spaces, which are made with moisture-wicking Coolmax microfiber. Depending on the size you need, they range in price from $29 to $40.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Coop Home Goods Eden Memory Foam Pillow; $80

Coop Eden Pillow
Coop Home Goods/Amazon

This pillow—which has a 4.5-star rating on Amazon—is filled with memory foam scraps and microfiber, and comes with an extra half-pound of fill so you can add, or subtract, the amount in the pillow for ultimate comfort. As a bonus, the pillows are hypoallergenic, mite-resistant, and washable.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Baloo Weighted Blanket; $149-$169

Baloo Weighted Blanket
Baloo/Amazon

Though the science is still out on weighted blankets, some people swear by them. Wirecutter named this Baloo blanket the best, not in small part because, unlike many weighted blankets, it’s machine-washable and -dryable. It’s currently available in 12-pound ($149) twin size and 20-pound ($169) queen size. It’s rated 4.7 out of five stars on Amazon, with one reviewer reporting that “when it's spread out over you it just feels like a comfy, snuggly hug for your whole body … I've found it super relaxing for falling asleep the last few nights, and it looks nice on the end of the bed, too.” 

Buy it: Amazon 

10. Philips Smartsleep Snoring Relief Band; $200

Philips SmartSleep Snoring Relief Band
Philips/Amazon

Few things can disturb your slumber—and that of the ones you love—like loudly sawing logs. Philips’s Smartsleep Snoring Relief Band is designed for people who snore when they’re sleeping on their backs, and according to the company, 86 percent of people who used the band reported reduced snoring after a month. The device wraps around the torso and is equipped with a sensor that delivers vibrations if it detects you moving to sleep on your back; those vibrations stop when you roll onto your side. The next day, you can see how many hours you spent in bed, how many of those hours you spent on your back, and your response rate to the vibrations. The sensor has an algorithm that notes your response rate and tweaks the intensity of vibrations based on that. “This device works exactly as advertised,” one Amazon reviewer wrote. “I’d say it’s perfect.”

Buy it: Amazon

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Newly Discovered Letter From Frederick Douglass Discusses the Need for Better Monuments

"What I want to see before I die is a monument representing the negro, not couchant on his knees like a four-footed animal, but erect on his feet like a man," Frederick Douglass wrote in response to this memorial in 1876.
"What I want to see before I die is a monument representing the negro, not couchant on his knees like a four-footed animal, but erect on his feet like a man," Frederick Douglass wrote in response to this memorial in 1876.
Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress Photographs and Prints Division // No Known Restrictions on Publication

The removal of Confederate monuments across the country has prompted debates about other statues that misrepresent Civil War history. One of these is Washington, D.C.’s Emancipation Memorial, or Freedman’s Memorial, which depicts a shirtless Black man in broken shackles crouching in front of Abraham Lincoln.

As historians Jonathan W. White and Scott Sandage report for Smithsonian.com, a formerly enslaved Virginian named Charlotte Scott came up with the idea for a monument dedicated to Lincoln after hearing of his assassination in April 1865. She started a memorial fund with $5 of her own, and the rest of the money was donated by other emancipated people.

Sculptor Thomas Ball based the kneeling “freedman” on a photograph of a real person: Archer Alexander, an enslaved Missourian who had been captured in 1863 under the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. Ball intended the sculpture to depict Alexander breaking his chains and rising from his knees, symbolizing the agency and strength of emancipated people.

But in a newly unearthed letter, Frederick Douglass acknowledged the shortcomings of the scene and even offered a suggestion for improving Lincoln Park, where the statue stands. According to The Guardian, Sandage came across the letter in a search on Newspapers.com that included the word couchant—an adjective that Douglass used often.

“The negro here, though rising, is still on his knees and nude. What I want to see before I die is a monument representing the negro, not couchant on his knees like a four-footed animal, but erect on his feet like a man,” Douglass wrote to the editor of the National Republican in 1876. “There is room in Lincoln park [sic] for another monument, and I throw out this suggestion to the end that it may be taken up and acted upon.”

In 1974, another monument did join the park: a statue of Mary McLeod Bethune, a civil rights activist and teacher who founded the Daytona Normal and Industrial Institute (later Bethune-Cookman College) and the National Council of Negro Women. The Emancipation Memorial was even turned around so the monuments could face each other, though they’re located at opposite ends of the park.

mary mcleod bethune monument
Mary McLeod Bethune depicted with a couple young students in Lincoln Park.
Library of Congress, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The new addition might be a much better representation of Black agency and power than Ball’s was, but it doesn’t exactly solve the issue of promoting Lincoln as the one true emancipator—a point Douglass made both in the letter and in the address he gave at the Emancipation Memorial’s dedication ceremony in 1876.

“He was ready and willing at any time during the first years of his administration to deny, postpone, and sacrifice the rights of humanity in the colored people to promote the welfare of the white people of this country,” Douglass said in his speech. In other words, while Lincoln definitely played a critical role in abolishing slavery, that goal also took a back seat to his priority of keeping the country united. Furthermore, it wasn't until after Lincoln's death that Black people were actually granted citizenship.

The rediscovered letter to the editor reinforces Douglass’s opinions on Lincoln’s legacy and the complexity of Civil War history, and it can also be read as a broader warning against accepting a monument as an accurate portrait of any person or event.

“Admirable as is the monument by Mr. Ball in Lincoln park [sic], it does not, as it seems to me, tell the whole truth, and perhaps no one monument could be made to tell the whole truth of any subject which it might be designed to illustrate,” Douglass wrote.

[h/t Smithsonian.com]