Thomas R. Marshall, served March 4, 1913 - March 4, 1921
Marshall (March 14, 1854 - June 1, 1925) was an American Democratic politician who served as the 28th Vice President of the United States (1913-1921) under Woodrow Wilson. A prominent lawyer in Indiana, he became an active and well known member of the Indiana Democratic Party by stumping across the state for other candidates and organizing party rallies that later helped him win election as the 27th Governor of Indiana. In office, he proposed a controversial and progressive state constitution and pressed for other progressive era reforms. The Republican minority used the state courts to block the attempt to change the constitution.
Thomas Riley Marshall was born in North Manchester, Indiana on March 14, 1854. Two years later, a sister was born, but she died in infancy. Martha had contracted tuberculosis, which Daniel believed to be the cause of their infant daughter’s poor health. While Marshall was still a young boy, his family moved several times in search of a good climate for Daniel to attempt different “outdoor cures” on Martha. They moved first to Quincy, Illinois in 1857. Daniel Marshall was a supporter of the American Union and a staunch Democrat, and took his son to the Lincoln and Douglas debate in Freeport in 1858. There the four-year-old Marshall met Stephen Douglas and Abraham Lincoln and sat on the lap of whichever candidate was not speaking. He later referred to this as one of his earliest and most cherished memories.
On settling in Princeton, Indiana, Marshall began to attend public school. His father and grandfather became embroiled in a dispute with their Methodist minister when they refused to vote Republican in the 1862 election. The minister threatened to expel them from the church, to which Marshall’s grandfather replied that he would “take his risk on hell, but not the Republican Party.” The dispute prompted the family to move again, to Fort Wayne, and convert to the Presbyterian church. In Fort Wayne, Marshall attended high school, graduating in 1869. At age fifteen his parents sent him to Wabash College, in Crawfordsville, where he received a classical education. His father advised him to study medicine or become a minister, but neither interested him; he entered the school without knowing which profession he would take upon graduation.
Marshall was elected to Phi Beta Kappa during his final year at college. He graduated in June 1873, receiving the top grade in fourteen of his thirty-six courses in a class of twenty-one students. As a result of his libel case, he had become increasingly interested in law and began seeking someone to teach him. At that time, the only way to become a lawyer in Indiana was to apprentice under a member of the Indiana bar association. His great-uncle Woodson Marshall began to help him, but soon moved away. Marshall went to live with his parents, who had moved to Columbia City. There he read law in the office of Walter Olds, a future member of the Indiana Supreme Court. He studied in the office for over a year and was admitted to the Indiana bar on April 26, 1875.
Marshall opened a law practice in Columbia City in 1876, taking on many minor cases. After gaining prominence, he accepted William F. McNagny as a partner in 1879 and began taking many criminal defense cases. The two men functioned well as partners. McNagny was better educated in law and worked out their legal arguments. Marshall, the superior orator, argued the cases before the judge and jury. Their firm became well known in the region after they handled a number of high-profile cases. In 1880 Marshall ran for public office for the first time as the Democratic candidate for his district’s prosecuting attorney. The district was a Republican stronghold, and he was defeated. About the same time, he met and began to court Kate Hooper, and the two became engaged to marry. Kate died of an illness in 1882, one day before they were to be wed. Her death was a major emotional blow to Marshall, leading him to become an alcoholic.
Marshall’s alcoholism had begun to interfere with his busy life prior to his marriage. He arrived at court hung-over on several occasions and was unable to keep his addiction secret in his small hometown. His wife helped him to overcome his drinking problem and give up liquor after she locked him in their home for two weeks to undergo a treatment regimen. Thereafter, he became active in temperance organizations and delivered several speeches about the dangers of liquor. Although he had stopped drinking, his past alcoholism was later raised by opponents during his gubernatorial election campaign.
Marshall remained active in the Democratic Party after his 1880 defeat and began stumping on behalf of other candidates and helping to organize party rallies across the state. His speeches were noted for their partisanship, but his rhetoric gradually shifted away from a conservative viewpoint in the 1890s as he began to identify himself with the growing progressive movement. He became a member of the state Democratic Central Committee in 1904, a position that raised his popularity and influence in the party.
In 1906, Marshall declined his party’s nomination to run for Congress. He did hint to state party leaders that he would be interested in running for governor in the 1908 election. He soon gained the support of several key labor unions, and was endorsed by a reporter in the Indianapolis Star. Despite this support, at the state convention he was a dark horse candidate. Party boss Thomas Taggart did not support him because of Marshall’s support of prohibition. Taggart wanted the party to nominate anti-prohibitionist Samuel Ralston, but the prohibitionist and anti-Taggart factions united with Marshall’s supporters, giving him the votes needed to win.
Marshall was inaugurated as Governor of Indiana on January 11, 1909. Since his party had been out of power for many years, its initial objective was to appoint as many Democrats as possible to patronage positions. Marshall tried to avoid becoming directly involved in the patronage system. He allowed the party’s different factions to have positions and appointed very few of his own choices. He allowed Taggart to manage the process and pick the candidates, but signed off himself on the official appointments. Although his position on patronage kept peace in his party, it prevented him from building a strong political base.
The Indiana constitution prevented Marshall from serving a consecutive term as governor. He made plans to run for a United States Senate seat after his term ended, but another opportunity presented itself during his last months as governor. Although he did not attend the 1912 Democratic National Convention in Baltimore, his name was put forward as Indiana’s choice for president. He was suggested as a compromise nominee, but William Jennings Bryan and his delegates endorsed Woodrow Wilson over Champ Clark, securing the nomination for Wilson. Indiana’s delegates lobbied to have Marshall named the vice presidential candidate in exchange for supporting Wilson. Indiana was an important swing state, and Wilson hoped that Marshall’s popularity would help him carry it in the general election. He had his delegates support Marshall, giving him the vice presidential nomination. Marshall privately turned down the nomination, assuming the job would be boring given its limited role. He changed his mind after Wilson assured him that he would be given plenty of responsibilities. During the campaign, Marshall traveled across the United States delivering speeches. The Wilson-Marshall ticket easily won the 1912 election because of the division between the Republican Party and the Progressive Party.
Marshall was not fond of Wilson, as he disagreed with him on a number of issues. Although Wilson invited Marshall to cabinet meetings, Marshall’s ideas were rarely considered for implementation, and Marshall eventually stopped attending them regularly. In 1913 Wilson took the then unheard-of step of meeting personally with members of the Senate to discuss policy. Before this, presidents used the vice president (who serves as president of the senate) as a go-between; Wilson used the opportunity to show that he did not trust Marshall with delicate business. In his memoir, Marshall’s only negative comment towards Wilson was, “I have sometimes thought that great men are the bane of civilization, they are the real cause of all the bitterness and contention which amounts to anything in the world.” Their relationship was described as one of “functioning animosity”.
Marshall was not offended by Wilson’s lack of interest in his ideas, and considered his primary constitutional duty to be in the Senate. He viewed the vice presidential office as being in the legislative branch, not the executive. While he presided in the Senate, emotions sometimes ran high, including during a debate on the Mexican border crisis in 1916. During that debate Marshall threatened to expel certain senators from the chamber for their raucous behavior, but did not carry through on the threat. On several occasions, he ordered the Senate gallery cleared. He voted eight times to break tie votes.
During Marshall’s second term, the United States entered World War I. Marshall was a reluctant supporter of the war, believing the country to be unprepared and feared it would be necessary to enact conscription. He was pleased with Wilson’s strategy to begin a military buildup before the declaration of war, and fully supported the war effort once it had begun. Shortly after the first troops began to assemble for transport to Europe, Marshall and Wilson hosted a delegation from the United Kingdom in which Marshall became privy to the primary war strategy. However, he was largely excluded from war planning and rarely received official updates on the progress of military campaigns. In most instances he received news of the war through the newspapers.
On the evening of July 2, 1915, Eric Muenter, an anarchist and onetime German professor at Harvard and Cornell universities, who opposed American support of the allied war effort, broke into the Senate chamber, laid dynamite around Marshall’s office door, and set it with a timer. The bomb exploded prematurely, just before midnight while no one was in the office. On July 5, Muenter burst into the Glen Cove, New York home of Jack Morgan, the son of J.P. Morgan, demanding that he stop the sale of weapons to the allies. Morgan told the man he was in no position to comply with his demand; Muenter struck him in the head and escaped. Muenter was later apprehended and confessed to attempted assassination of the vice president. Marshall was offered a personal security detachment after the incident, but declined it.
Marshall had his name entered as a candidate for the 1920 presidential nomination at the Democratic National Convention. He made arrangements with Thomas Taggart to have a delegation sent from Indiana to support his bid, but was unable to garner support outside of the Hoosier delegation. Ultimately he endorsed the Democratic nominees, James M. Cox as president and Franklin Delano Roosevelt as vice president, but they were defeated by the Republican ticket of Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge. On their election, Marshall sent a note to Coolidge in which he offered him his “sincere condolences” for his misfortune in being elected vice president.
While on a trip to Washington D.C., Marshall was struck by a heart attack while reading his Bible in bed on the night of June 1, 1925. His wife called for medical assistance, but he died before it arrived. A service and viewing was held in Washington two days later and was attended by many dignitaries. Marshall’s remains were returned to Indianapolis, where he lay in state for two days; thousands visited his bier. His funeral service was held June 9, and he was interred in Crown Hill Cemetery, next to the grave of his adopted son Morrison “Izzy” Marshall.
Read more about Thomas R. Marshall here.