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Random Thoughts

Speaker of the House


January 13, 2023

Recently, Americans witnessed one of the most contentious (and interesting) elections for Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives in American history. Ultimately, after 15 rounds of voting, the position went to Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California.

The speaker is third in line to the presidency (after the president and vice-president). Having this prestigious job, media commentators have surmised, might make McCarthy wish to be in one of the two positions ahead of him.

But if history is a guide, being Speaker of the House may not be the stepping-stone to higher office that it might appear to be.

The only president of the United States who also served as Speaker of the House was James K. Polk, who was president from 1845 to 1849. After serving four years as speaker, however, Polk then became a state governor – a position more apt to form a pathway to the presidency than being speaker.

Two vice presidents served as Speaker of the House before being put on a national party ticket. Schuyler Colfax was Ulysses S. Grant’s first (of two) vice presidents, serving from 1869 to 1873. And John Nance Garner was Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first (of three) vice presidents, serving from 1933 to 1941.

Three other speakers have been nominated by major political parties to be one of the leaders of the executive branch of government.

Henry Clay ran for president three times as the candidate of the Whig Party and its immediate predecessors – in 1824, 1832 and 1844. James G. Blaine was the Republican Party’s presidential candidate in 1884, and Paul Ryan was that party’s vice-presidential candidate in 2012.

John Bell, another former speaker, was one of four candidates in the complicated election of 1860. A former Whig, he ran for president as the candidate of the Constitutional Union Party, carrying three southern states.

Still, being Speaker of the House is an extremely prestigious job. Whether McCarthy can be successful enough in that position to become a future nominee for president or vice president is something that time will reveal.


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