A cheerful, self-deprecating politician from Indiana, Thomas
Marshall served dutifully as
Woodrow Wilson's vice president.
Remarking on his limited role, Marshall famously said, "I was the Wilson administration's spare tire - to be
used only in case of emergency."
Marshall was born in Indiana in
1854 and raised in a family of Democrats. As he liked to put it,
"Democrats, like poets, are born, not made." Admitted to the Ohio
bar in 1875 after graduating from Wabash College, Marshall was past
forty when he married Lois Kimsey. Despite a history of political
activism, he did not hold elective office until he was asked to run
for Congress from Indiana. Instead, he confessed an interest in
being governor. A genial, self-effacing man with a dry sense of
humor, Marshall insisted that his nomination -- and ultimately, his
election -- to that office in 1908 was the result of the "inability
of the leading candidates to obtain a majority of the votes at the
Marshall was an effective governor, pushing through labor reform
and other progressive legislation, yet he had no taste for
confrontation. When a hostile state supreme court blocked his
efforts to secure a much-needed new state constitution, Marshall let
the court's veto stand rather than go on the attack.
Marshall was among the field of hopefuls nominated for president
at the 1912 Democratic Convention. When Woodrow Wilson won the
partyís nomination, convention delegates chose the genial, low-key
Marshall to be his running mate since Indiana was considered a
pivotal election state. Four years later Marshall was re-elected,
becoming the first vice president in nearly a century to succeed
himself. A master of Senate rules, he presided with grace and tact,
offered his opinions prudently, and was careful not to exceed his
constitutional and legal powers.
Marshallís wit -- especially the jokes he made about his office
-- made him a popular vice president. He quipped, "Once there were
two brothers. One ran away to sea; the other was elected vice
president. And nothing was ever heard of either of them again." He
is perhaps best remembered for an offhanded remark he made while
presiding over a Senate debate. Listening to a long-winded Kansas
senator hold forth on America's needs, Marshall turned to a clerk.
"What this country needs," he said, "is a good five-cent cigar."
Although the vice president's duties were largely ceremonial, the
president did ask Marshall to preside over cabinet meetings while
Wilson attended the post-war peace conference in Europe. When a
stroke left Wilson incapacitated, Marshall was at first kept in the
dark about the seriousness of the presidentís condition. When the
Wilson Presidency ended in 1921, Marshall went home to Indianapolis
where he wrote and returned to the practice of law. Asked about his
plans for the future, Marshall quipped, "I don't
want to work. I don't propose to work. I wouldn't mind being Vice
President again." He died in 1925 while on a visit to