Abraham Lincoln selected Hannibal Hamlin as his running mate in 1860. The Maine senator had a strong record of opposing the extension of slavery and brought regional balance to the ticket. Like his predecessors, Hamlin held very little sway as vice president. His lack of power frustrated Hamlin to the point of absenteeism. In the end, Hamlin brought little to the re-election ticket, so Lincoln decided to switch running mates and opted for Tennessean Andrew Johnson in 1864.
Lincoln did not meet his running mate until after his victory. However, Hamlin had a strong Republican record. The Democrat Hamlin opposed the extension of slavery, opposed the Compromise of 1850, opposed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, and supported the Wilmont Proviso. Hamlin finally switched parties in 1856, became governor of Maine, but stepped down a month into office to join the U.S. Senate. He rarely missed a senate session.
Hamlin’s attendance record changed when he became vice president. The vice president presides over the senate, but Hamlin could not be bothered. He found the proceedings so tedious and boring, that he skipped debates. Sometimes, he fled the capitol for his home in Maine before the session ended. When he did remain in Washington, Hamlin sometimes embarrassed himself. On one occasion, Hamlin allowed a Democratic senator launch into a vicious attack upon President Lincoln. The vice president admitted he was not paying attention to the speech, ordered the senator to step down, and then ordered the sergeant at arms to remove the Democrat from the chamber.
In addition to inattentiveness, Hamlin complained about his lack of power. As a senator and state politician, he generally rewarded colleagues, allies, and friends with patronage positions. As vice president, his ability to continue the practice virtually ended. Additionally, the vice president enjoyed very little ability to act or influence events. As the war dragged on, Hamlin grew frustrated with the president’s slow pace at emancipation. Lincoln moved cautiously to bring public opinion to his side, keep Europe out of the war, and avoid inflaming the border states into secession. Despite the lack of influence, Hamlin let his views known when possible. He supported the Emancipation Proclamation, the use of black troops, and other radical measures.
Radical Republicans considered Hamlin an ally. Lincoln knew the radicals would not support his Democratic opponent in the 1864 election. Lincoln was also looking to the war’s end and southern reconstruction following a northern victory. So, the president decided to hold out an olive branch to Democrats and southerners. Tennessee native, Democrat, and War Governor Andrew Johnson replaced Hamlin on the ticket. Hamlin realized he brought little to the ticket compared to Johnson and stepped aside. The vice president campaigned vigorously for the Republican, or National Union, ticket. Lincoln’s National Union ticket won a smashing electoral victory. Hamlin’s loyalty served him well. He returned to the U.S. Senate in 1869 and served two terms. He capped his political career as Minister to Spain.
The vice presidency bored Hannibal Hamlin. He avoided or ignored senate debates, lost his power of patronage, and lacked influence on national affairs. He was not the only vice president to experience these issues. Despite this, he continued to support Lincoln electorally and offer occasional suggestions to the president. Hamlin agreed to step aside in 1864 when he realized that his presence brought little to Lincoln’s re-election bid. The party rewarded Hamlin’s loyalty after he left office.