Nelson Rockefeller: The Last Non-Elected Vice President

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A Brief History

On December 19, 1974, Nelson Rockefeller was sworn in as Vice President of the United States, a job he was not elected to, to serve under President Gerald Ford, another guy not elected to the office he held, or even to the vice presidency before that!

Digging Deeper

This travesty of the so-called democracy in the United State was a result of Richard Nixon’s and Spiro Agnew’s malfeasances in office as the previous President and Vice President.  Agnew was drummed out of office when he was convicted of fraud, and Nixon resigned rather than face impeachment over the Watergate scandal.

Gerald Ford, born Leslie Lynch King, Jr., a congressman from Michigan, had been appointed by Nixon to replace the disgraced Agnew who had been elected to office with Nixon both in 1968 and 1972.  When Nixon resigned in 1974, Ford became President, and he in turn appointed Rockefeller as Vice President.

Prior to assuming the office of Vice President, Rockefeller had been Governor of New York until 1973.  Although not politically active at the time of his appointment, it is not like Rockefeller needed the work because he was a member of  the famous Rockefeller family, his grandfather being John D. Rockefeller, Sr., the co-founder of Standard Oil Company and the person believed to the richest man of all time (adjusted for inflation).

Surprisingly, for one born into fabulous wealth, Nelson Rockefeller, though a Republican, was decidedly a moderate one with liberal tendencies.  He was also a philanthropist and a patron of the arts.  His most infamous moment came only in 1979 at age 70 when he died of a heart attack while engaging in sexual relations with a 25-year-old aide in her office.  As is so often the case, the salacious details were not disclosed to the public, and it was reported that he had died alone and that he was found slumped over his desk. 

Nelson Rockefeller’s time as Vice President was relatively uneventful, but the country experienced crippling inflation and high oil prices due to the  Arab oil embargo that resulted from the 1973 Arab-Israeli War.  He was much more active as Governor of New York, where he was an anti-crime, “Law and Order” type of guy.  His time as Governor, however, was marred by the Attica prison riot and massacre; his explanation to President Nixon why 39 people had been killed was “That’s life.”  History and Headlines Fact: Rockefeller gave an unruly crowd the finger in 1976.  On another occasion, Nelson showed that he was out of touch with reality by speaking of “average guys like you and me.”  If Nelson Rockefeller considered himself an average guy, then it must be typical for average guys to have 4,100+ acre family estates with 70 miles of private roads and the ability to buy 18,000 acres in Texas for “recreation.”

All in all, the United States did not fair so badly with the two leaders it had not voted into office.  Actually, the team may well have been a lot better than some of the other duos that have been elected to the White House.  What do you think?

Note: In 2019-2020 the US is facing the impeachment of President Donald Trump,  If the Senate votes to convict him of the 2 articles he is charged with (either of them), he will be forced from office and Michael Pence, the sitting Vice President will be sworn in as our new President.  Pence with then appoint a new Vice President, one not elected by the people.  Since Pence is also under investigation, the real possibility exists that he could also be impeached if he becomes President!  (December 19, 2019)

Question for students (and subscribers): Do you believe someone that is not elected as Vice President should be allowed to ascend to the Presidency?  Let us know in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Smith, Richard Norton.  On His Own Terms: A Life of Nelson Rockefeller.  Random House, 2014.


About Author

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.