The democrats hoped to pair Vice President Van Buren with a war hero for his 1836 campaign for the presidency. President Andrew Jackson supported Richard Mentor Johnson for the position. Johnson worked hard for the 1832 ticket and was the man credited with killing Tecumseh. The Van Buren-Johnson won the election on Jackson's popularity. Johnson served as a non-entity for four years and worked to advance his own interests. By 1840, he alienated a number within his own party leading Van Buren to free some electoral voters to select other candidates for the vice presidency.
Andrew Jackson’s support led Richard Mentor Johnson to the vice presidency. By 1836, Jackson controlled the hearts and minds of the Democratic Party. The nominee, Martin Van Buren, wanted William Cabel Rives, but Jackson intervened. He held a grudge against Rives and liked Johnson. Some Democrats wondered if “a lucky shot” qualified Johnson for the position while others despised the hero for his open relationship with a biracial woman. Van Buren won the election, but Johnson hurt the ticket throughout the South. In fact, Johnson did not receive enough electoral votes to win election. As a result, the U.S. Senate elected him to the position. The vote broke along party lines with Johnson winning 36-16 over Whig Francis Granger.
Vice President Johnson did little of note while in office. President Van Buren did not trust him and tended to ignore his vice president. Despite this, he supported his own interests. The slaveholder lobbied the Senate on behalf of people he owed favors to and blocked abolitionist petitions. Once the economy collapsed in 1837, Johnson ran home to run businesses to offset financial losses. This action combined with his common law marriage made Johnson a political liability.
By 1840, the Democratic Party moved to change the ticket for Van Buren’s re-election bid. Jackson urged Van Buren to drop Johnson for James K Polk. However, Van Buren demurred fearing alienating some voters. The Whigs nominated their own war hero, William Henry Harrison, and Van Buren hoped Johnson’s war record could negate his challenger. The Democrats decided not to nominate a candidate for vice president. Despite this, Johnson continued to campaign. In Cleveland, Johnson’s attack on Harrison led to an anti-Van Buren riot. Van Buren lost the election to Harrison and Johnson garnered only 48 electoral votes. The economic depression doomed Van Buren, but Johnson did not help the re-election effort.
Richard Mentor Johnson proved a liability for the Democratic Party. Jackson’s popularity offset Johnson in the 1836 election, but could not help Van Buren in 1840. The economic collapse hurt the president’s re-election bid even more than Johnson. As vice president, Johnson served his own interests and wielded little influence. Southerners disliked his interracial relationship while others smelled corruption. In the end, the war hero hurt the president, but did not cost him re-election.