U.S. Vice Presidents With a Connection to Massachusetts
The National Day Calendar, which always seems to find some way to celebrate, has declared August 9 “National Veep Day.” Apparently, it’s a day to celebrate the Vice Presidents of the United States, so we thought we’d take a look at the veeps that hailed from Massachusetts.
First, why is August 9 designated as National Veep Day? It’s the day in 1974 when Vice President Gerald Ford assumed the presidency from the resigning Richard Nixon. Ford had been appointed vice president in 1973 when Spiro Agnew resigned, making Ford the only person to serve as vice president and president who was never elected to either position.
Considering Massachusetts’ long political history, you’d think the Commonwealth would boast numerous men who had served as vice president over the past two-plus centuries – but believe it or not, only three vice presidents were even born in Massachusetts and only a handful of others rose to prominence in the Bay State.
John Adams, the first Vice President of the United States, was born in Massachusetts.
So too was the fifth vice president, Elbridge Gerry, who served under James Madison from 1813-1814, having died in office.
There was not another Massachusetts-born vice president until George H.W. Bush was elected along with Ronald Reagan in 1980, and that was the last Mass-born person to serve in the position.
Bush was born in Milton, Massachusetts but then his family moved to Greenwich, Connecticut the next year. Bush grew up mostly at the family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine, but came up through the political ranks in his early adulthood in Texas.
Of course, Massachusetts has sent others to the vice presidency, including Calvin Coolidge. Coolidge was born in Vermont but came up through Massachusetts politics, starting as the Mayor of Northampton and working his way up to both the Massachusetts House and Senate and eventually serving as both lieutenant governor and governor.
Hannibal Hamlin was the vice president during Abraham Lincoln’s first term. Although he was born in Paris, Maine, in 1809, at the time Maine was a district of Massachusetts, so we can claim him as one of our own.
Perhaps the most interesting vice presidential background story to emerge out of Massachusetts is that of Henry Wilson, who served under President Ulysses S. Grant.
Wilson was born in Farmington, New Hampshire in 1812 and his birth name was Jeremiah Jones Colbath. According to the book Cobbler in Congress: The Life of Henry Wilson, his father Winthrop Colbath named him after a wealthy neighbor who was also a bachelor in the hopes that the rich man might leave his son an inheritance.
The younger Colbath hated his name so much that when he was 21 years old, he successfully petitioned the New Hampshire General Court to legally change it to Henry Wilson.