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George Washington’s plan for national finance relied on the limitation of coined money to restrict Congress’ otherwise unlimited powers to tax and borrow and, therefore, to spend. In vetoing the renewal of a central bank and requiring all taxes and purchases of federal land to be paid in specie, President Andrew Jackson had succeeded in his goal to re-establish Washington’s constitutional system. All that remained, as Jackson left office, was to segregate the Treasury’s money balances by having the funds held in regional sub-Treasury, independent depositories not linked to any private or state-chartered bank. What would get in the way would be the first presidential campaign argued on the question of race.

The raw historical data suggests that, of everyone serving in an administration, the vice president has the best chance of becoming the next president. Thirteen of the 45 U.S. presidents have been sitting vice presidents who directly succeeded their presidents. However, this 29% distorts the actual odds that a vice president will be a successful first-time presidential candidate. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson each won as vice presidents; but it was not the first time they ran for president. (Richard Nixon is the only other vice president to win the second time he ran.) Adams and Jefferson became vice presidents not by being on a party ticket, but by getting the second most electoral votes before the 12th Amendment created paired presidential and vice presidential candidates and enacted the American political party system. Of the remaining 11 vice presidents, nine became president not by winning an election but by constitutional appointment after the sitting president died in office or resigned. John Tyler, Millard Fillmore, Andrew Johnson, Chester Arthur, Theodore Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson and Gerald Ford did not become chief executive by running as independent candidates. Only two vice presidents – Martin Van Buren and George H.W. Bush – won the first time they ran on their own for president. Twice as many lost: Richard Nixon, Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale and Al Gore.

In nominating Martin Van Buren as its candidate for president, the Democratic Party was going against what had been a sure thing. Beginning with Thomas Jefferson, every party controlling the White House had nominated its Secretary of State as the favorite to succeed the president; and all three nominees – Madison, Monroe and John Quincy Adams – had won. Van Buren had been Jackson’s Secretary of State; but he had been chosen in 1832 as vice president in order for him to preside over the Senate as its president. The break with tradition had been necessary because the tariff and money issues were going to be decided in the Senate now that Jackson had vetoed the renewal of the Second Bank of the United States’ charter and John C. Calhoun had called for nullification of those tariffs.