Thomas R. Marshall

Thomas R. Marshall
Thomas R. Marshall

Thomas Riley Marshall (March 14, 1854June 1, 1925) was an American politician who served as the twenty-eighth Vice President of the United States of America under Woodrow Wilson from 1913 to 1921.


Early life

Marshall was born in North Manchester, Indiana, where he frequently spent time at the courthouse listening to lawyers; Marshall wrote later of listening to future President Benjamin Harrison present a case. Marshall studied law at Wabash College. He was admitted to the bar in 1875 and began his career as a lawyer in Columbia City, Indiana.

He served as Governor of Indiana from 1909 to 1913. He was a popular speaker and active in local Democratic Party politics, but was regarded only as a competent small-town lawyer when he was given the nomination as a compromise dark horse candidate. During his term he saw a child labor law and some anti-corruption legislation passed, but was not successful in passing much of his progressive platform through the state legislature, nor in raising a convention to rewrite the state constitution.

Vice Presidency

At the 1912 Democratic convention in Baltimore, Marshall's name was put in as Indiana's choice for President. For a time it looked as if Marshall might actually end up as a compromise nominee, but ultimately William Jennings Bryan agreed to endorse Woodrow Wilson; Indiana's delegates successfully lobbied to have Marshall named Vice President. He was elected on the Wilson ticket in 1912, was reelected in 1916 and served as Vice President until 1921. It is said that Marshall initially turned down the nomination, assuming the job would be boring.

Marshall was not particularly fond of Wilson, and though Wilson invited Marshall to cabinet meetings his ideas were rarely considered. In 1913 Wilson took the then unheard of step of meeting personally with members of the Senate in the Capitol building. Before this, Presidents had made a habit of using the Vice President (who serves as President of the Senate) as a go-between with the Senate; Wilson took advantage of the opportunity to show that he had no intention of trusting Marshall with delicate business. Since that time presidents have rarely relied on their VPs in dealing with the Senate.

As Marshall made little news and was viewed as something of a comic foil in Washington, a number of Democratic party insiders wanted him dumped from the 1916 ticket. Wilson, after deliberating, ultimately decided that it would demonstrate party unity if he kept Marshall on; thus in 1916 Wilson and Marshall became the first President and Vice President team to be re-elected since Monroe and Tompkins in the 1820s.

During his second term, Marshall saw the United States enter World War I. Wilson sent him out on the road, speaking across the country to encourage Americans to buy war bonds and support the war effort. This was a job to which Marshall was well suited; he had been earning extra money as a public speaker while Vice President. Also in his second term Marshall became the first Vice President to conduct cabinet meetings; Wilson left him with this responsibility while travelling in Europe to sign the Versailles treaty and push his League of Nations idea.

After suffering a more mild one the previous month, on October 2, 1919, President Woodrow Wilson suffered a severe stroke that left him partially paralyzed and almost certainly incapacitated. Though Marshall was advised that the President had suffered an infirmity and despite the requests of many to do so, Marshall did not attempt to become the first Acting President of the United States. The process for declaring a President incapacitated was unclear, and Marshall was fearful of the precedent that might be set in establishing one. While Marshall would perform ceremonial functions for the remainder of Wilson's term, he would not have opportunity to meet with Wilson to ascertain his condition until their final day in office.

Later years

Marshall returned to Indianapolis after his term as Vice President and resumed his law practice. He also wrote a number of books on the law as well as his Recollections, a memoir. In 1922-23 he served as chair of the Federal Coal Commission.

Marshall died on a visit to Washington, D.C. in 1925 and is interred in Crown Hill Cemetery, Indianapolis, Indiana.


Marshall is best known for a phrase he introduced to the American lexicon. During a Senate debate in 1917, a particularly bellicose Senator catalogued what he felt the country needed: "What this country needs is more of this; what this country needs is more of that." Marshall leaned over to a clerk and quipped, "What this country needs is a really good five-cent cigar."

The story may be apocryphal, but Marshall was known for having a quick wit. Upon his election as vice president, Marshall sent President-elect Woodrow Wilson a book, inscribed "From your only Vice." He was known to greet citizens walking by his office on the White House tour by asking them to "be kind enough to throw peanuts at me." Upon hearing of his nomination as Vice President (he was not present at the convention), Marshall quipped that he wasn't surprised, as "Indiana is the mother of Vice Presidents, home of more second-class men than any other state."

One of his favorite jokes was about a woman with two sons, one of whom ran away and went to sea and the other was elected Vice President of the United States. Neither was ever heard of again.

Preceded by:
J. Frank Hanly
Governor of Indiana
Succeeded by:
Samuel M. Ralston
Preceded by:
John W. Kern
Democratic Party Vice Presidential candidate
1912 (won), 1916 (won)
Succeeded by:
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Preceded by:
James S. Sherman
Vice President of the United States
March 4, 1913March 3, 1921
Succeeded by:
Calvin Coolidge

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