A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from December 24, 2010
“The vice presidency is a spare tire on the automobile of government”

John Nance “Cactus Jack” Garner (1868-1967) was vice president of he United States from 1933-1941, but he never thought much of the vice presidency. On June 19, 1934, Garner was quoted as saying that a vice president “is only a spare tire on the automobile of government.” Another news report quoted Garner as calling the vice presidency a “fifth-wheel job—the spare tire on the national auto.”

The “spare tire"/"fifth wheel” analogy was not original with Garner’s June 1934 comments. An 1865 magazine article described the office of vice president as “the spare wheel in the government coach.” New York (NY) Tribune and Times articles in 1868 described the vice president as the “fifth wheel to the government coach.” A 1924 book stated: “ONE near-wit has described the Vice President as ‘the President’s spare tire.’” (The identity of the “near-wit” is not known.) A 1933 newspaper story described the vice presidency as “the executive office ‘spare tire.’”

Garner much later (1960s) said that the vice presidency is “not worth a bucket of warm spit” (or “warm piss,” as some versions have it). 


Wikiquote: John Nance Gardner
John Nance “Cactus Jack” Garner (1868-11-22 – 1967-11-07) was a Representative from Texas, the thirty-second Vice President of the United States and the forty-forth Speaker of the United States House of Representatives.

Sourced
“Not worth a bucket of warm piss.”, Describing the office of Vice President
“I gave up the second most important job in Government for eight long years as Roosevelt’s spare tire.”, Saturday Evening Post, 1963-11-02, quoted in Simpson’s Contemporary Quotations, p. 52, entry 1051, About giving up the speakership to become Vice President

Google Books
14 October 1865, U. S. Army and Navy Journal, “The Office of Vice-President,” pg. 120, col. 3:
But for his ex-officio function as President of the Senate, he might be defined as the spare wheel in the government coach.

Google Books
The Civil Service;
Report of Mr. Jenckes, of Rhode Island, from the Joint Select Committee on Retrenchment, made to the House of Representatives of the United States, May 14, 1868

By Thomas A Jenckes; United States. Congress. Joint Select Committee on Retrenchment.
Washington, DC: Government Printing Office
1868
Pg. 109:
It would greatly lessen the burden of appointments and removals which now presses heavily on the President and all the departments, and would furnish the Vice-President, who is now a sort of fifth wheel to the government coach, with something to do.

New York (NY) Times
30 October 1868, New York (NY) Times, “The Use of a Democratic President”:
Modest Gen. BLAIR, in his Tammany speech, compared the Vice-President to the fifth wheel of a coach.

Google News Archive
4 November 1899, Lewiston (ME) Daily Sun, “Garrett Hobart: Newspapers, Without Exception. Commend the Deceased Vice President,” pg. 6, col. 5:
In our politics a Vice-President is always more or less of a fifth wheel to the governmental coach, but Mr. Hobart, while never trenching upon the limitations of his position, managed on more than one occasion to render effective assistance in keeping the coach rolling.

Google News Archive
20 December 1900, Prescott (AZ) Evening Courier, pg. 3, col. 3:
WASHINGTON LETTER.
(From Our Regular Correspondent.)
Washington, Dec. 14, 1900.
Teddy’s gall is by no means a new thing, but his latest exhibition in that line staggered the old-timers around the capitol. It was a sort of advance notice that Teddy’s idea of the vice presidency would not square with the fifth wheel notion which has heretofore prevailed and of innovations to come which promise good “copy” for the correspondents.

30 August 1902, New York (NY) Times, “Books and Men”:
Burr thinks that a Vice President is very much like the fifth wheel ot a coach.

Google News Archive
18 December 1909, Newburgh (NY) Telegram, “Capital Life Hard,” pg. 6, col. 1:
The office of vice-president has come to be held by the American people as a sort of fifth wheel, for use only in case of emergency.

Google Books
December 1909, Century Magazine, pg. 208:
The Fifth Wheel in Our Government
By the Honorable Albert J. Beveridge
United States Senator from Indiana.

Google News Archive
7 August 1923, Pittsburgh (PA) Press, “Fortunate Training For Coolidge,” pg. 12, col. 1:
The Vice President had long been a figurehead in our political system, a sort of fifth wheel, except in the contingency of the President’s dying during his term of office.

Google Books
From Cornfield to Press Gallery;
Adventures and reminiscences of a veteran Washington correspondent

By Louis Ludlow and Clifford Kennedy Berryman
Washington, DC: W.F. Roberts Co.
1924
Pg. 301:
VICE PRESIDENTS I HAVE KNOWN
ONE near-wit has described the Vice President as “the President’s spare tire.” The definition is true only in a qualified sense, for unlike most other spare tires, the Vice President seldom is requisitioned for any real service.

10 August 1931, New Orleans (LA) Times-Picayune, “Mirrors of Washington” by Clinton W. Gilbert, pg. 8, col. 3:
SOMEBODY is always going to discipline George Higgins Moses, the bad boy of the Senate. George makes a wisecrack at the expense of some of his solemn colleagues or performs some mischief and at once he is going to be reduced to ranks or deprived of some of his honors or perquisites. But the threat is never carried out. About the only honor George has is the presidency pro tem of the Senate. This is a rather empty honor. The president pro tem is a sort of spare tire. If the vice-president has a puncture of something, they put the president pro tem in his place. Now Senator Nye of North Dakota threatens to put a Democrat, Senator Key Pittman, on the tire carrier in Moses’ place.

2 April 1933, Seattle (WA) Daily Times, “Uncle Sam’s Etiquet (sic) Problem,” EveryWeek Magazine, pg.?:
TECHNICALLY, the vice president gives precedence only to the president. because the chief executives now adhere to a policy of not accepting private social invitations, outside of being dined by members of the cabinet, the vice president has become more of a Washington social figure than his chief.

Yet the rank of the executive office “spare tire” has not been without dispute.

Google News Archive
20 June 1934, Pittsburgh (PA) Press, pg. 36, col. 2:
Garner, Senate Rein-Holder,
Calls His Job Unimportant

Vice-President Explains
Duties of His Office—
And Why He Likes It
Vice President Garner has decided that his present job is “unimportant.” After nearly two years in office, he calls the Vice Presidency a “fifth-wheel job—the spare tire on the national auto.”

Writing about it in the American Magazine, he says: “There’s little more than routine to the job and little enough of that. It is a virtually obscure post. I don’t get much mail. I never see any job hunters.”

20 June 1934, New Orleans (LA) Times-Picayune, pg. 24, cols. 3-4:
Faith of People
in Leadership
Declared Firm

Backing Greater Than on
Day of Election, As-
serts Garner

(by The Associated Press)
Washington, June 19.—In Vice-President Garner’s opinion, the country today has “even greater faith in the patriotism, efficiency and unselfish sincerity of the president than it had on the day it elected him so enthusiastically.”

He said so tonight in a staement issued through the Democratic national committee in which he also sought to give assurances that the confusion and excitement of the closing days of Congress did not necessarily mean a desperate clash on President Roosevelt’s policies.

“Actually, the session of Congress just closed,” he said, “was one of the calmest, most constructive and least bitter that I remember during my 30-odd years at the capitol.

“This is particularly so of the Senate, over which the vice-president functions, and which happens to be about his only function. Except that he may vote affirmatively in the event of a tie, he is only a spare tire on the automobile of government...”

3 July 1934, Seattle (WA) Daily Times, pg. 6, col. 1:
THE SPARE TIRE
NOT long ago the Hon. John Nance Garner made gentle but public plaint that the cive presidency is no more than a spare tire for the governmental machine. Mr. Garner confessed suffering some irk in the vacuity of his official status. Someone must have brought this to the attention of President Roosevelt. One of his last acts before boarding the cruiser Houston to “get away from everything” was to invite Vice President Garner to meet him in Washington next September for a conference on ways and means of further promoting the New Deal when Congress again convenes. The spare tire may be put to some use, but care should be taken not to inflate it too much.

Google Books
6 December 1937, Life magazine, “A restless Congress wants ‘Cactus Jack’ Garner to lead it,” pg. 43:
It was he who changed the Vice Presidency from a “spare tire” job into a vital office.

Google Books
A Book about American Politics
By George William Stimpson
New York, NY: Harper
1952
Pg. 522:
In 1934 he referred to the Vice President as “a spare tire on the automobile of government.”

17 March 1972, Chicago (IL) Tribune, pg. 14:
“Vice Presidents are just a spare tire on the automobile of government.”—John Nance Garner

Google News Archive
12 November 1981, Bend (OR) Bulletin, L M. Boyd column, pg. C8, col. 4:
It was John Nance Garner who described the vice-presidency of the United States as the spare tire on the automobile of government.

Google Books
Encarta Book of Quotations
By Bill Swainson
New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press
2000
Pg. 366:
Garner, John Nance (1868-1967) US vice president
A spare tire on the automobile of government.
Referring to the vice presidency. Speech (June 19, 1934}

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityGovernment/Law/Politics/Military • (0) Comments • Friday, December 24, 2010 • Permalink