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By Debra Adams Simmons, HISTORY Executive Editor
The framers of the United States didn’t really have a plan for the vice president. It was a consolation prize to prevent the number two vote getter from sniping at the winner of the presidency (not that it stopped Vice President Thomas Jefferson under President John Adams).
Even after presidents began choosing their own vice presidents, the position was largely an afterthought with few clearly defined responsibilities. When Harry Truman ascended to the presidency in April 1945 after the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt, he had little idea what was going on. Truman, vice president for just four months, hadn’t even been briefed on the secret program that would create an atomic bomb. Less than four months later, Truman would order the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The vice presidency has grown over the years, Often, candidates have chosen running mates for their ability to win key constituencies or states, as Texan Lyndon B. Johnson did for John F. Kennedy.
This year, with two septuagenarians running for president, the role may be more important than ever. One hundred years after women won the right to vote, the United States may get its first woman vice president. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden (pictured above, with Senators Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris) has said he will pick a woman to be his running mate.
“They’re the nation’s most important understudy,” Erin Blakemore writes for NatGeo about VPs. “At any moment, the vice president of the United States could become the world’s most influential leader.”
The list of candidates Biden is considering includes Black women, credited with giving Biden’s floundering campaign new life in South Carolina, and a Thai American, Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois. Only two women, Geraldine Ferraro and Sarah Palin, have been running mates for the major parties, and only one woman, Hillary Clinton, was a major party nominee for president.
The current VP, former Indiana Governor Mike Pence, is the sixth Hoosier in the office. Tom Marshall, another Hoosier and VP, summarized his job this way: “Once there were two brothers. One ran away to sea; the other was elected vice president of the United States. And nothing was heard of either of them again.”
That acerbic humor did little for Marshall’s relationship with President Woodrow Wilson, who invoked a century-old version of social distancing—moving the VP’s office out of the White House.
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Instagram photo of the day
Before Stonehenge: When the moonlight shines down on the Stones of Stenness, it’s no wonder people have been drawn to this place for 5,000 years. Five of the original 12 or so stones still stand, but the henge (surrounding ditch) is gone. This stone circle is thought to be the oldest in the British Isles. (This is possibly where the Stonehenge folk got the idea.) Photographer Jim Richardson says he can imagine people bringing the bones of their ancestors here before taking them on to the Maeshowe tomb less than a mile away. “Sit here for a while and the moon can conjure magic,” Richardson says.
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Today in a minute
Longer than we thought: Barren and remote, Mexico’s Chiquihuite Cave seemed an unlikely place for anyone to live. But stone projectiles recovered from deep inside the cave may be evidence of human occupation that places people in North America around 30,000 years ago, Nat Geo’s Kristin Romey reports. That’s roughly twice as early as most current estimates for when the first humans arrived on the continent.
Remembering John Lewis: The casket of the civil rights leader was displayed in the U.S. Capitol today, the third of six days of tributes and funerals for the Georgia Democrat. Presidential candidate Joe Biden and Vice President Mike Pence were to be among those paying tribute to Lewis today. Here’s our look at how Lewis spent his life bridging political and racial divides.
Faster. Higher. Stronger: That’s the motto of the Olympics, which was supposed to be in its first full week right now. For those missing the COVID-19-delayed games, our colleagues at ESPN looked at how gymnast Simone Biles changed Olympics culture, how Dianne Durham paved the way for Black gymnasts, and the controversial ranch where gymnasts trained to be gold medalists—at a price.
Old site, new discoveries: The Roman city of Pompeii, buried in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius , was thought to have given up its secrets after centuries of excavation. But an effort to maintain the ruins yielded new clues into its demise in 79 A.D., including the remains of 12 more people and wheel tracks showing how people fled, Nat Geo’s History magazine reports. Subscribers can read the account here.
The big takeaway
Houdini needed: For four months, Lilian Segovia (above) and the rest of the Segovia Brothers Circus lived among the remains of their touring show in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Trapped under lockdown and desperate to return to Guatemala, the performers danced and begged at stoplights. “The circus,” writes Nat Geo’s Nina Strochlic, “the circus became a prison.” But the show must go on, Strochlic discovered.
Subscriber exclusive: Holographic elephants are among new circus innovations
In a few words
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On Tuesday, George Stone covers travel. If you’re not a subscriber, sign up here to also get Victoria Jaggard on science, Rachael Bale on animal news, and Whitney Johnson on photography.
The last glimpse
Following in dad’s footsteps: John Craighead was a legendary wildlife biologist. A daughter, Karen Craighead, co-authored a 1972 National Geographic article about her backcountry trek through Yellowstone with her brothers. In her mid-twenties during the trip, Karen was one of many Craighead children who would carry on her father and uncle’s passion for nature. Our senior photo archivist, Sara Manco, likes Sam Abell’s photograph of Karen and the crew carrying 40-pound packs through a meadow at Specimen Ridge (above). “This image,” Manco tells us, “is a reminder of what is still out there to explore after the pandemic is over."
This newsletter has been curated and edited by David Beard, with Jen Tse selecting the photos. Thanks for reading.