How Many Vice Presidents Have Become President?

(Last Updated On: January 20, 2021)

It’s definitely something to muse about, something you may be thinking a bit more about as former American vice president Joe Biden secured his victory in the electoral college and thus the American presidency. You’d probably think that going from vice president to president is a pretty clear upward path to progression in politics. But for many, that’s not necessarily the case. Former president Barack Obama initially chose Biden to be his vice president because Biden expressed that (at the time) he didn’t have many intentions of running for president later. Doesn’t come as a surprise then that Obama didn’t really want Biden to be president in 2016. Anyway, the point is, vice president to president isn’t as straightforward a path as it seems. But how many vice presidents have become the president of the United States?

A Chronological List of Presidential Vice Presidents

John Adams | 1796-1801 

John Adams was the first vice president of the United States, and since America was still really figuring things out wak back when, it kind of makes sense that he’d be the second president. Adams represented the Federalist Party during his tenure.

Further Reading: Who Were the Federalists and Anti-Federalists?

Thomas Jefferson | 1801-1809

Same deal as John Adams, America’s political landscape was just too small back then to really develop a large field of politicians. Jefferson and James Maadison would found the Democratic-Republican Party in the 1790s, and the former’s election to the presidency was what really pushed the Democratic-Republicans to the fore after the Federalists fell apart in 1800. Unfortunately for Jefferson, the Democratic-Republicans would meet a similar fate–fracturing into the also defunct Whig Party and setting the very early foundations for the modern Democratic Party. 

Martin Van Buren | 1837-1841

Van Buren was the 8th president of the United States, which we’ll start listing now that we’re not in sequence anymore (Adams and Jefferson were just 2nd and 3rd). He would found the Democratic Party, though it’s important to note that at this point, the Democrats were far different than what we know in 2020. No surprise, since we’re looking at like 150 years ago. Van Buren was defeated when he ran for reelection–probably in no small part due to the Panic of 1837

John Tyler | 1841-1845

John Tyler spent more time as the 10th president than he did vice president. He was elected alongside William Henry Harrison on the Whig Party ticket–though Harrison would die in April of 1841. Only a couple months into his term. So, Tyler succeeded him and became president, that was that. First one to assume the role of acting president as per the line of succession. Historians generally didn’t look back too kindly on Tyler’s presidency, who was considered neither smart nor a good executive. 

Further Reading: What Was the Whig Party? | What Is the Presidential Line of Succession?

Millard Fillmore | 1850-1853

The 13th president of the US, Fillmore assumed the role of presidency following the death of Zachary Taylor. Fillmore’s one of the big heads behind the Compromise of 1850. Which ultimately just kind of kicked the Civil War down the road for a bit. Broadly, Fillmore was really good at dodging political problems. Also known as, Fillmore was probably a really good politician. 

Andrew Johnson | 1865-1869

Coming in as the 17th United States president, Johnson assumed the role after Lincoln was assassinated. While Lincoln is broadly known for the then-Republican Party, Johnson ran alongside him as a member of the Democratic Party. Which caused a lot of problems in the then-Republican Congress, who unsurprisingly impeached him and attempted to remove Johnson from office. Johnson was acquitted, and his big selling point was the Alaska purchase

Chester A. Arthur | 1881-1885

Another vice president turned president following an assassinaiton, Republican Arthur took to the office after James A. Garfield was shot. He wasn’t very popular in life, and he served in a time where business corruption was rife in American politics. Though perhaps surprisingly, his appointments to the cabinet were rather sound by comparison. Which is pretty cool, we suppose? Other than that he was deemed pretty forgettable.

Theodore Roosevelt | 1901-1909

Roosevelt served as the 26th president after William McKinley was assassinated. He’s got a lot of political legacy behind him, being on Mount Rushmore and all that. Roosevelt would become a leader for the Republican Party known for driving anti-trusts and many Progressive Era policies. Stuff like conservation of national parks; and regulating railroads, foods, and drugs. Perhaps not what we might associate with the modern Republican Party, but championing privatization and deregulation wouldn’t really come about until Fordism did. He would later be elected to his own term. 

Also Roosevelt tried to win the 1912 Republican nomination after he grew tired of then president Taft’s conservatism. He failed and made the Bull Moose Party, which expectedly split the vote with the Democratic nominee (Wilson). Why Bull Moose? Because Roosevelt was shot in the chest while giving a speech and continued to talk for 90 minutes. He called himself a Bull Moose during the speech when commenting that he got shot. Honestly, you kind of get to do that if you take a bullet to the chest and keep speeching for another 90 minutes.

Calvin Coolidge | 1923-1929

Coolidge was the 30th American president, taking office after Willian G. Harding died in 1923. Coolidge would win reelection in 1924, with a reputation as a small-government conservative. 

Harry S. Truman | 1945-1953

After Franklin D. Roosevelt passed away, Truman became the 33rd president–representing the Democratic Party. Later, he’d win reelection for his own term. Truman was the big guy who established NATO, which is a pretty big bullet to put on your resume. As time has passed, people have taken more of a liking to Truman, though he was one of the least popular presidents when he left office in 1953. Especially after Watergate, which was an ongoing scandal when Truman passed away.

Lyndon B. Johnson | 1963-1969

Like the others before him, Lyndon B. Johnson became the 36th president after his then president was assassinated. Also, that president was John F. Kennedy. Representing the Democrats, Johnson would be elected to his own term too, like the previous vice presidents turned presidents before him. He’s been looked upon pretty kindly, often better than the presidents that followed him–including the big names Reagan and Clinton. Though to be fair, Reagan’s legacy is getting progressively less and less appealing. 

Richard Nixon | 1969-1974

37th president, Republican Richard Nixon was vice president from 1953-1961. Which makes him the first vice president to become president in a manner not immediately following the presidency they served under. You probably know Nixon for that whole Watergate thing, and also being the only president to resign.

Gerald Ford | 1974-1977

Well given that Nixon resigned, this was kind of expected. Ford would pardon Nixon following Watergate, which did a lot of damage not just to Ford, but the reputation of the presidential office as a whole. 

George H.W. Bush | 1989-1993

It’s the 41st president of the US time! HW Bush has mostly been remembered as a relatively moderate Republican, with a reputation for working across the aisle and getting a lot of bipartisan deals though. He helped pass the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, and the Immigration Act of 1990, which made legal immigration into the US a lot easier. 

Further Reading: 16 Memorable George H. W. Bush Quotes

Joe Biden | 2021-present

On January 20, 2021, Joe Biden was inaugurated as the 46th president of the United States. He is the oldest president elected and just the second Catholic elected president, following John F. Kennedy.

Know your vice presidents? See if you know your presidents by vice president here.

About the Author:

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Kyler is a content writer at Sporcle living in Seattle, and is currently studying at the University of Washington School of Law. He's been writing for Sporcle since 2019; sometimes the blog is an excellent platform to answer random personal questions he has about the world. Most of his free time is spent drinking black coffee like water.