A Heartbeat from the Presidency: The Role of the Vice President

A Heartbeat from the Presidency: The Role of the Vice President
Letitia Tyler: Law, Politics and Govt

Skill: High School/College
Time Required: 3 - 4 class sessions


Letitia Tyler was the first wife of John Tyler, a southerner who became Vice President of the United States under President William Henry Harrison in 1841. While the role of the Vice President has often been one of anonymity, it is also the case that the Vice President stands just a heartbeat away from the Presidency.  This was the case for John Tyler, who became president when Harrison died in office, only a few weeks into his Presidency.   


The purpose of this lesson is to acquaint students with the Constitutional requirements and rules regarding the Vice Presidency and to give them a chance to research the ways in which past Vice Presidents have become Presidents. 

Materials Required:

Access to the Internet; access to print materials; art supplies. 


1.  Begin the lesson by asking students if they know how a Vice President of the United States becomes President.  As background, acquaint them with the 25th Amendment, ratified in 1967, and discuss what the Constitution had to say about the Vice Presidency prior to its passage. Students should also research the role of the Vice President, using the first web site listed below.
2.  Then tell the students that fourteen Vice Presidents have become President, and that their task is to find out which ones and under what circumstances they became President.  This lesson may be done individually if there are enough computers for all, or in groups if there are not.
3.  Using the websites listed below and others as necessary, each person or group should find all fourteen Vice Presidents who became President, and note the circumstances under which that occurred..

4.  When all students have completed the hunt for Vice Presidents, divide the class into seven groups, assigning each group the task of researching  two of the fourteen Presidents in order to decide whether or not “experience counts.”  Does having the experience of being Vice President lead to a successful Presidency? 
5.  Have each group report on their findings about their Presidents, keeping a running list of whether or not they think “their” presidents were successful and why. 
6.  Conclude the lesson with a discussion of the relative merits of experience in performing any job or occupation. 

Extending the Lesson:

This lesson could be extended by making small posters of all the Vice Presidents who became President, with a picture of the VP/President and a list of his accomplishments.

Sources & Resources:


Crapol, Edward P.  John Tyler: The Accidental President. The University of North Carolina Press, 2006.

Walker, Jane C.  John Tyler: A President of Many Firsts. Mcdonald and Woodward Publishing Co., 2001.

Witcover, Jules. The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power.  Smithsonian Books, 2014.


Heritage Guide to the Constitution of the United States” 25th Amendment, with comments.

List of All Vice Presidents

This lesson was developed by Averil McClelland, Kent State University.