The original Constitution provided no mechanism for choosing a new Vice President in the event of the incumbent’s death or resignation. The current arrangement, that the President may nominate a new Vice President whenever a vacancy occurs, didn’t exist until the Twenty-Fifth Amendment was ratified in 1967 shortly after the Kennedy assassination. Sixteen of the thirty-seven pre-25th Amendment Vice Presidents (43%) either died in office, resigned, or succeeded a dead president. Of VPs 4 (George Clinton) through 21 (Thomas Hendricks), ten of them (56%) didn’t complete their terms. Some of these vacancies were remarkably long: the United States had no Vice President from November 23, 1814 to March 4, 1817; April 4, 1841 to March 4, 1845; July 9, 1850 to March 4, 1853; April 18, 1853 to March 4, 1857; April 15, 1865 to March 4, 1869; September 19, 1881 to March 4, 1885; November 25, 1885 to March 4, 1889; September 14, 1901 to March 4, 1905; and April 12, 1945 to January 20, 1949.
Section 2 of the Twenty-Fifth Amendment—that “[w]henever there is a vacancy in the office of the Vice President, the President shall nominate a Vice President who shall take office upon confirmation by a majority vote of both Houses”—has been invoked only twice in its short history. Richard Nixon nominated Congressman Gerald Ford to the office after Spiro Agnew resigned rather than endure impeachment proceedings (too bad for those of us who wonder whether Agnew would have attempted to preside over his own impeachment trial as President of the Senate). And eleven days after Ford succeeded his own nominator as president, he nominated Nelson Rockefeller of New York to be Vice President:
Although explaining to Ford that he was “just not built for standby equipment,” he eventually consented to the nomination. “It was entirely a question of there being a Constitutional crisis and a crisis of confidence on the part of the American people. . . . I felt there was a duty incumbent on any American who could do anything that would contribute to a restoration of confidence in the democratic process and in the integrity of government.” He was sworn in as Vice President on December 19, 1974, after four months of confirmation hearings. That process produced an interesting report, “Probing the Rockefeller Fortune.” (Occupy One Observatory Circle!)
Other than the passage of ordinary legislation and the proposal of constitutional amendments, the vice-presidential confirmation power represents one of only two ways in which both houses of Congress may act jointly on the same question. The other is also found in the Twenty-Fifth Amendment (Section 4): the Vice President becomes acting President if two-thirds of both houses of Congress determine (within certain temporal constraints) that the President is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.”
My own Rockefeller autograph: