Is it possible to be the vice president of the United States and be totally unknown? Apparently it is.
For example, do you know who Abe Lincoln’s first vice president was? I doubt you do. Well, let me be the first to introduce you to Vice President Hannibal Hamlin.
He was not only Lincoln’s first vice president but he was also the first Republican vice president. And since Honest Abe was perhaps our most famous president, it’s a little disconcerting that we don’t have a clue who his vice president was. That might be because Hamlin did a real good job of lying low.
You see, Hamlin was not what you’d call a hard worker. In fact, he spent most of his vice presidency with his family at his home in Maine.
Yet, had he not already worked his way out of the vice presidency by then, he might have been another one that turned down the president’s invitation to Ford’s Theater the night that John Wilkes Booth changed history.
Unfortunately, his replacement, Andrew Johnson, may have been even worse. Nevertheless, Time magazine put Hamlin atop its list of America’s worst vice presidents. So at least he achieved something of mild distinction during his time in office.
Then there are other people who should be famous but aren’t. One of whom is Nicolas Steno. He lived from 1638 to 1686 and recognized that successive layers of geological formations contain a fossil record of life in chronological order, which has led to many important discoveries. Yet, he gets no glory.
Then there is a man by the name of Cleisthenes. He created democracy in ancient Greece in 508 B.C. and should be the most famous man in the world today, since his system of governance is the most dominant in the world. But he is not.
Add to that list a man whose funeral was larger than anyone’s in U.S. history except that of President Abraham Lincoln. His name was Elisha Kane, and he was a U.S. Navy officer who was a member of two unsuccessful Arctic expeditions organized to rescue Sir John Franklin, who was a British Artic explorer that vanished while attempting to chart the Canadian Arctic.
During that search, while suffering from scurvy and at times near death, Kane penetrated farther north than any other explorer ever had. Eventually, his ship became icebound and he was forced to lead his party on an 83-day march across the frozen north. They lost only one man.
Eventually, they were rescued. But the toll on Kane’s body did him in and he died a couple of years later in 1857. That’s when they transported his body from New Orleans to Philadelphia, and every train station in between was filled with crowds. Thus, we should probably remember him today.
Then again, maybe fame isn’t the most important thing in the world.
Perhaps we can learn something from legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden, who once said, “Talent is God given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful.”