Thomas A. Hendricks was born in Muskingum County Ohio on September 7th 1819. His father John was a farmer and ran a general store. The family moved to Indiana under the advice of if his uncle William Hendricks who was the U.S. Representative and later Governor of the state. Once the family moved Andrew Jackson appointed John Hendricks Surveyor of Public Lands. Thomas attended The Shelby County Seminary and the Greensburg Academy and went to college at Hanover. After clerking for several judges he passed the bar in 1843 and opened his law practice in Shelbyville.
In 1848 Hendricks was elected to the Indiana House of Representatives. He only served for one term but was elected Speaker during that time. He also attended the state constitutional convention and helped write the laws of the state. In 1850 he was elected to the House of Representatives as a Democrat. While in office he voted for the Kansas-Nebraska Act, expanding slave states which was unpopular with the people of Indiana and he lost the next election in 1854.
In 1855 President Pierce appointed him to the Land Office where he handled the sale of the newly opened territories in the west. He oversaw the transfer of 400,000 tracks of land and 20,000 disputed cases of ownership. When Buchanan was elected he wanted to reward the position to one of his patrons, who would be open to accepting kick backs for the President, and Hendricks was forced out of office.
Hendricks returned to Indiana where he ran for Governor but lost the 1860 election so he returned to practicing law. In 1862 the state assembly elected him to the U.S. Senate however he was part of the remaining Democratic minority following the outbreak of the Civil War and the secession of the Southern states. Although he tried to pass a number of laws they were generally blocked. After the war Hendricks voted against the Reconstruction Act and the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments feeling that it was too soon to start granting full rights to freed slaves. He also voted against the impeachment of Andrew Jackson. His actions didn’t sit well with the people of Indiana and he lost reelection in 1868.
Hendricks ran for Governor of Indiana but lost the first two tries but in 1872 he was finally won. When he came into office he found himself in the middle of an economic crisis, high unemployment led to statewide unrest and on multiple occasions he had to call out the National Guard to quell violent strikes. He also found himself having to work with a hostile Republican controlled state congres. He was successful in two areas; the first was the statehouse which was old, too small and in some cases in danger of collapsing. After years of fighting he finally managed to get the funding for a new structure that was finished after he left office, although he attended the cornerstone laying ceremony. The second was voting rights, the system had proven to be highly corrupt and the new reform guaranteed people the right to cast their ballot.
In 1876 the Democrats named Hendricks as the Vice Presidential running mate to Samuel Tilden but they lost to Rutherford B. Hays in a disputed deal that rewarded the Southern Electoral Delegates to the Republicans. The Democrats wanted to name him to the ticket in 1880 but he declined due to health reasons however when they asked the third time in 1884 he accepted. With Hendricks on the ticket the Democrats carried Indiana and a majority of New York to win the election.
Hendricks celebration was short lived as his health declined. On November 25th 1885, 8 months after taking office, he passed away. To honor him his portrait was placed on the ten dollar bill, the only Vice President who didn’t later go on to be President to be featured on U.S. currency. He was buried in Indianapolis and a statue was erected at the state capitol. The office remained vacant until the next election.
Thomas Hendricks didn’t live long enough to have an influence on the office of the Vice President. As such outside of his home state of Indiana he has mostly been forgotten by history. His only claim to fame was he was the first post Civil War Democratic Vice President.
And I promise, as Vice President You won’t hear anything from me except when duty called, and I accidentally answered.