John Tyler

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John Tyler
Tyler Daguerreotype (restoration).jpg
10th President of the United States
In office
April 4, 1841 – March 4, 1845
Vice President None
Preceded by William Henry Harrison
Succeeded by James K. Polk
10th Vice President of the United States
In office
March 4, 1841 – April 4, 1841
President William Henry Harrison
Preceded by Richard Johnson
Succeeded by George Dallas
23rd Governor of Virginia
In office
December 10, 1825 – March 4, 1827
Preceded by James Pleasants
Succeeded by William Giles
President pro tempore of the Senate
In office
March 3, 1835 – December 6, 1835
President Andrew Jackson
Preceded by George Poindexter
Succeeded by William King
United States Senator
from Virginia
In office
March 4, 1827 – February 29, 1836
Preceded by John Randolph
Succeeded by William Rives
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 23rd district
In office
December 17, 1816 – March 5, 1821
Preceded by John Clopton
Succeeded by Andrew Stevenson
Member-elect of the Confederate States House of Representatives from Virginia's 3rd District
In office
January 5, 1862 – January 18, 1862
Preceded by Position Established
Succeeded by James Lyons
Personal details
Born (1790-03-29)March 29, 1790
Charles City County, Virginia, U.S.
Died January 18, 1862(1862-01-18) (aged 71)
Richmond, Virginia
Resting place Hollywood Cemetery
Richmond, Virginia
Political party Independent (1841–1862)
Other political
affiliations
Democratic-Republican (Before 1825)
Democratic (1825–1834)
Whig (1834–1841)
Spouse(s) Letitia Christian
(1813–1842; her death)
Julia Gardiner
(1844–1862; his death)
Children Mary
Robert
John, Jr.
Letitia
Elizabeth
Anne Contesse
Alice
Tazewell
David Gardiner
John Alexander
Julia Gardiner
Lachlan
Lyon Gardiner
Robert Fitzwalter
Pearl
Alma mater College of William and Mary
Profession Lawyer
Religion Deism
Episcopal
Signature Cursive signature in ink
Military service
Service/branch Volunteer Military Company
Years of service 1813

John Tyler (March 29, 1790 – January 18, 1862) was the 10th President of the United States (1841–1845). A native of Virginia, Tyler served as a state legislator, governor, U.S. representative, and U.S. senator before winning election as Vice President in 1840. Although he was a Democrat, he ran on the Whig ticket with William Henry Harrison. He became president on the death of Harrison in April 1841. A firm believer in American exceptionalism and manifest destiny, President Tyler sought to strengthen and preserve the Union through territorial expansion, most famously the annexation of the independent Republic of Texas in his last days in office.

Tyler became the first Vice President to succeed to the office of President on the death of the incumbent. He was also the first of five people to serve as President without ever being elected to that office, the other four being Millard Fillmore, Andrew Johnson, Chester A. Arthur and Gerald Ford. Tyler's opposition to federalism and emphatic support of states' rights endeared him to his fellow Virginians but alienated him from most of the political allies who brought him to power in Washington. Opposition from both the Democratic and the Whig parties crippled his presidency. Near the end of his life he would side with the South in its secession from the United States.

Tyler, born to an aristocratic Virginia family of English descent, came to national prominence at a time of political upheaval. In the 1820s, the nation's only political party, the Democratic-Republicans, split into factions, most of which did not share Tyler's strict constructionist ideals. Though initially a Democrat, his opposition to Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren led him to alliance with the Whig Party. He was put on the ticket to attract disaffected Democrats.

Upon the death of President Harrison on April 4, 1841, only a month after his inauguration, a short Constitutional crisis arose over the succession process. Tyler immediately moved into the White House, took the oath of office, and assumed full presidential powers, a precedent that would govern future successions and eventually become codified in the Twenty-fifth Amendment.

As President, Tyler opposed the Whig platform and vetoed several Whig party proposals. As a result, most of his cabinet resigned, and the Whigs, dubbing him His Accidency, expelled him from the party. While he faced a stalemate on domestic policy, he still had several foreign-policy achievements, including the Webster–Ashburton Treaty with Britain and the Treaty of Wanghia with Qing China. Tyler dedicated his last two years in office to the annexation of Texas. He sought election to a full term, but he had alienated both Whigs and Democrats and his efforts to form a new party came to nothing. In the last days of his term, Congress passed the resolution authorizing the Texas annexation, which was carried out by Tyler's successor as President, James K. Polk.

Tyler essentially retired from electoral politics until the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861. He sided with the Confederate government, and won election to the Confederate House of Representatives shortly before his death.

Early life and law career

John Tyler was born on March 29, 1790. From birth he was linked to his future running mate William Henry Harrison: both were born in Charles City County, Virginia, and descended from aristocratic and politically entrenched families. The Tyler family proudly traced its lineage to colonial Williamsburg in the 17th century. John Tyler, Sr., commonly known as Judge Tyler, was a friend and college roommate of Thomas Jefferson and served in the Virginia House of Delegates alongside Benjamin Harrison V, father of William. The elder Tyler served four years as Speaker of the House of Delegates before becoming a state court judge. He subsequently served as governor and as a judge on the U.S. District Court at Richmond. His wife, Mary Marot (Armistead), was the daughter of a prominent plantation owner, Robert Booth Armistead. She died of a stroke when her son John was seven years old.1

Young Tyler was raised with his two brothers and five sisters on Greenway Plantation, a 1,200-acre (5 km2) estate with a six-room mansion his father had built.a The Tylers' forty slaves grew various crops, including wheat, corn, and tobacco.2 Judge Tyler was willing to pay high wages for tutors who would challenge his children academically.3 Tyler was an unhealthy child, thin and prone to diarrhea. Such afflictions would burden him throughout his life.4 At the age of twelve, he entered the preparatory branch of the elite College of William and Mary, continuing the Tyler family's tradition of attending the college. Tyler graduated from the school's collegiate branch in 1807, at age seventeen. Among the books that informed his economic views was Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations, and he acquired a lifelong love of Shakespeare. His political opinions were shaped by Bishop James Madison, the college's president and a cousin to the the future president of the same name; the bishop served as a second father and mentor to him.5

After graduation Tyler went on to study law with his father, who was a state judge at the time, and later with former United States Attorney General Edmund Randolph. Tyler was admitted to the bar at the age of 19, in violation of the rules: the judge who examined him neglected to ask his age. By this time his father was serving as Governor of Virginia (1808–1811), and the young Tyler started a practice in Richmond, the state capital.6 In 1813, he purchased Woodburn plantation and resided there until 1821.7

Early political career

Start in Virginia politics

In 1811, at the age of 21, Tyler was elected by his fellow Charles City County residents to the House of Delegates, the lower house of the Virginia General Assembly. He served five successive one-year terms, and sat on the Courts and Justice committee. The young politician's defining positions were on display by the end of his first term: a strong support of states' rights and opposition to a national bank. He joined fellow legislator, Benjamin W. Leigh, in pushing for the censure of U.S. senators William Branch Giles and Richard Brent of Virginia, who had voted for the recharter of the First Bank of the United States against the legislature's instructions.b9

Portrait of Letitia Christian Tyler.
Tyler married his first wife, Letitia Christian Tyler, in 1813 while serving in the Virginia House of Delegates.

In addition to infighting over the national bank, the United States was facing ongoing hostilities with Britain in the War of 1812. Tyler, like most Americans of his day, was anti-British, and at the onset of the war he urged military action in a speech to the House of Delegates. After the British capture of Hampton, Virginia in the summer of 1813, Tyler eagerly organized a small militia company of county residents to defend Richmond, but no attack came. and he dissolved the company two months later.10 That same year, his father died, and Tyler inherited thirteen slaves along with his father's plantation.11 In 1816, he resigned to serve on the Governor's Council of State, a group of eight advisers elected by the legislature.9

U.S. House of Representatives

The death of U.S. Representative John Clopton in the fall of 1816 left a vacancy in the 23rd district. Tyler sought the seat, and faced his friend and political ally Andrew Stevenson in the congressional election. As the two men did not differ politically, the race was a popularity contest.12 Tyler's political connections and campaigning skills won him the election by a slim margin. He was sworn in on December 17, 1816 to serve as a Democratic-Republicanc in the Fourteenth Congress.13

While the Democratic-Republicans had supported states' rights, in the wake of the War of 1812, many members urged a stronger central government. A majority in Congress wanted to see the Federal government help to fund internal improvements such as ports and roadways. Tyler held fast to his strict constructionist beliefs, rejecting such proposals on both constitutional and personal grounds. He believed each state should construct necessary projects within its borders using locally-generated funds. Virginia was not "in so poor a condition as to require a charitable donation from Congress," he contended.13 He was chosen to participate in an audit of the Second Bank of the United States in 1818 as part of a five-man committee, and was appalled by corruption he perceived within the bank. He argued for the revocation of the bank charter, although Congress rejected any such proposal. His first clash with General Andrew Jackson followed Jackson's 1818 invasion of Florida during the First Seminole War. While praising Jackson's character, Tyler condemned him as overzealous, and for the execution of two British subjects. Tyler was elected for a full term without opposition in early 1819.14

Tyler was a slaveholder for his entire life, at one point keeping forty slaves at Greenway.15 Although Tyler regarded slavery as an evil, and never attempted to justify it, he felt the federal government lacked the authority to abolish it, and never freed any of his slaves. The living conditions of his slaves are not well documented, but historians agree that he cared for their well-being and abstained from physical violence against them.15

The major issue of the Sixteenth Congress (1819–21) was whether Missouri should be admitted to the Union, and whether slavery would be permitted in the new state.16 Acknowledging the ills of slavery, he hoped that by letting it expand, there would be fewer slaves in the East as slave and master journeyed west, making it feasible to consider abolishing the institution in Virginia. Thus, slavery would be abolished through the action of individual states as the practice became rare, as had been done in some Northern states. Tyler voted against the Missouri Compromise, which admitted both Missouri and Maine, and forbade slavery in states formed from the northern part of the territories. It passed nevertheless. Tyler, throughout his time in Congress, voted against bills which would restrict slavery in new territories.16

Tyler declined to seek renomination in late 1820, citing ill-health. He privately acknowledged his dissatisfaction with the position, as his opposing votes were largely symbolic and did little to change the political culture in Washington; he also observed that funding his children's education would be difficult on a Congressman's low salary. He left office on March 3, 1821, endorsing his former opponent Stevenson for the seat, and returned to private law practice full-time.17

Return to state politics

Restless and bored after two years at home practicing law, Tyler sought election to the House of Delegates in 1823. Both members from Charles City County were not seeking re-election, and Tyler was elected easily that April, finishing first among the three candidates seeking the two seats.18 and served from December 1823 to December 1825. Upon taking his seat, he found the chamber thrust into debate over the impending presidential election of 1824. The congressional nominating caucus, an early system for choosing presidential candidates, was still used despite its growing unpopularity. Tyler attempted to bring the lower house to endorse the caucus system and choose William H. Crawford as the Democratic-Republican candidate. Despite the legislature's support of Crawford, opposition to the caucus system killed his proposal. Tyler's most enduring effort in this second legislative tenure was saving the College of William and Mary, which suffered from waning enrollment and risked closure. Rather than move it from rural Williamsburg to the populous capital of Richmond, as some suggested, Tyler proposed that a series of administrative and financial reforms be enacted. These were passed into law and were successful; by 1840 the school would see its highest-ever enrollment.19

An engraving of Tyler.
An engraving of Tyler in his mid-thirties (c. 1826) as Governor of Virginia.

Tyler's political fortunes were growing; he was considered in the legislative deliberation for the 1824 U.S. Senate election.20 He was nominated in December 1825 for Governor of Virginia, a position which was then appointed by the legislature. Tyler was elected 131–81 over John Floyd. The office of governor was determinately powerless under the original Virginia Constitution (1776–1830), lacking even veto authority. Tyler enjoyed a prominent oratorical platform but could do little to influence the legislature. His most visible act as governor was delivering the funeral address for President Thomas Jefferson, a Virginian, who had died on July 4, 1826.d Tyler was deeply devoted to Jefferson, and his eloquent eulogy was well received.21

Tyler's governorship was otherwise uneventful. He promoted states' rights and adamantly opposed any concentration of federal power. In order to thwart federal infrastructure proposals, he suggested Virginia actively expand its own road system. A proposal was made to expand the state's poorly funded public school system, but no significant action was taken.22 Tyler was re-elected unanimously to a second one-year term in December 1826.23

U.S. Senate

In January 1827, the General Assembly considered whether to elect U.S. Senator John Randolph for a six-year term. Randolph was a contentious figure: although he shared the staunch states' rights views held by most of the Virginia legislature, he had a reputation for fiery rhetoric and erratic behavior on the Senate floor, which put his allies in an awkward position. Furthermore, he had made enemies by fiercely opposing President John Quincy Adams and Kentucky Senator Henry Clay. The nationalists of the Democratic–Republican Party, who supported Adams and Clay, were a sizable minority in the Virginia legislature. They hoped to unseat Randolph by capturing the vote of states'-rights supporters who were uncomfortable with the senator's reputation. They approached Tyler, and promised their endorsement if he sought the seat. Tyler repeatedly declined the offer, endorsing Randolph as the best candidate, but the political pressure continued to mount. Eventually he conceded that he would accept the seat if chosen. On the day of the vote, it was argued by one assemblyman that there was no political difference between the two candidates—Tyler was simply a more agreeable character than Randolph. The incumbent's supporters, though, contended that Tyler's election would be a tacit endorsement of the Adams administration. The legislature selected Tyler in a vote of 115—110. He resigned his governorship on March 4, 1827, as his Senate term began.24

Democratic maverick

By that time of Tyler's election to the Senate, campaigning for the 1828 presidential election was in progress. Adams, the incumbent President, was challenged by General Jackson. The Democratic-Republicans had splintered into Adams' National Republicans and the Jackson's Democrats. Tyler disliked Adams for seeking to increase the power of the federal government; he feared Jackson would do the same. Still, Tyler was increasingly drawn to Jackson, hoping that he would not seek to spend as much federal money on internal improvements as Adams. In considering Jackson he wrote, "Turning to him I may at least indulge in hope; looking on Adams I must despair."25

The first session of the Twentieth Congress began in early December 1827.e Tyler served alongside his Virginia colleague and close friend Littleton Waller Tazewell, who shared his strict constructionist views and uneasy support of Jackson. Throughout his Senate service, Tyler vigorously opposed all bills which provided for national infrastructure projects, feeling these were matters for individual states to decide. He and his Southern colleagues unsuccessfully opposed the protectionist Tariff of 1828, known to its detractors as the "Tariff of Abominations". Tyler suggested that the Tariff's only positive outcome would be a national political backlash, restoring a respect for states' rights.26

Jackson was elected, and Tyler soon came to disagree with him politically. The senator was frustrated by Jackson's newly emerging spoils system, describing it as an "electioneering weapon". He voted against many of the President's nominations when they appeared to be based on patronage or did not follow constitutional procedure. Opposing the nominations of a president of his own party was considered "an act of insurgency" against his party.27 He was particularly offended by Jackson's use of the recess appointment power to name three treaty commissioners to meet with emissaries from the Ottoman Empire; Tyler introduced a bill chastising the President for this.28

Still, Tyler attempted to remain on good terms with Jackson, only opposing him on principle rather than partisanship. He defended Jackson for vetoing the Maysville Road funding project, which Jackson considered unconstitutional.29 He voted to confirm several of the President's appointments, including Jackson's future running mate Martin Van Buren as United States Minister to Britain.30 The leading issue in the 1832 presidential election was the recharter of the Second Bank of the United States, which both Tyler and Jackson opposed. Congress voted to recharter the bank in July 1832, and Jackson vetoed the bill for a mixture of constitutional and practical reasons. Tyler voted to sustain the veto and endorsed the President in his successful bid for re-election.31

Break with the party

Tyler's uneasy relationship with his party came to a head during the 22nd Congress, as the Nullification Crisis of 1832–33 began. South Carolina, threatening secession, passed the Ordinance of Nullification in November 1832, declaring the "Tariff of Abominations" null and void within its borders. This raised the constitutional question of whether states could nullify federal laws. President Jackson, who denied such a right, prepared to sign a Force Bill allowing the federal government to use military action to enforce the tariff. Tyler, who sympathized with South Carolina's reasons for nullification, rejected Jackson's use of military force against a state and gave a speech in February 1833 outlining his views. He supported Clay's Compromise Tariff, enacted that year, to gradually reduce the tariff over ten years, alleviating tensions between the states and the federal government.32

In voting against the Force Bill, Tyler knew he would permanently alienate the pro-Jackson faction of the Virginia legislature, even those who had tolerated his irregularity up to this point. This would jeopardize his re-election in February 1833, in which he faced the pro-administration Democrat James McDowell. With Clay's endorsement, Tyler was re-elected by a margin of 12 votes; several legislators who had supported him only weeks beforehand were moved to vote against him as a result of his position on the Force Bill.33

Jackson further offended Tyler by moving to dissolve the Bank by executive fiat. In September 1833, Jackson issued an executive order directing Treasury Secretary Roger B. Taney to transfer federal funds from the Bank to state-chartered banks without delay. Tyler saw this as "a flagrant assumption of power", a breach of contract, and a threat to the economy. After months of agonizing, he decided to join with Jackson's opponents in seeking to pass a renewal of the bank's charter, while still maintaining the Bank's unconstitutionality. Sitting on the Senate Finance Committee, he voted for two censure resolutions against the President in March 1834.34 By this time, Tyler had become affiliated with Clay's newly formed Whig Party, which held control of the Senate. On March 3, 1835, with only hours remaining in the congressional session, the Whigs voted him President pro tempore of the Senate as a symbolic gesture of approval.35 He is the only U.S. President to have held this office.36

Shortly thereafter, the Democrats took control of the Virginia House of Delegates. Tyler was offered a judgeship in exchange for resigning his seat, but he declined. Tyler understood what was to come: he would soon be forced by the legislature to cast a vote that went against his constitutional beliefs. Senator Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri had introduced a bill expunging the censure of Jackson. By resolution of the Democratic-controlled legislature, Tyler could be instructed to vote for the bill. If he disregarded the instructions, he would be violating his own principles: "the first act of my political life was a censure on Messrs. Giles and Brent for opposition to instructions," he noted.37 Over the next few months he sought the counsel of his friends, who gave him conflicting advice. By mid-February he felt that his Senate career was likely at an end. He issued a letter of resignation to the Vice-President, Van Buren, on February 29, 1836, saying in part:38

I shall carry with me into retirement the principles which I brought with me into public life, and by the surrender of the high station to which I was called by the voice of the people of Virginia, I shall set an example to my children which shall teach them to regard as nothing place and office, when either is to be attained or held at the sacrifice of honor.

Presidential election, 1836

While Tyler wished to attend to his private life and family, he was soon swept up in the presidential election of 1836. He had been suggested as a Vice Presidential candidate since early 1835, and the same day the Virginia Democrats issued the expunging instruction, the Virginia Whigs nominated him as their candidate. The new Whig Party was not organized enough to hold a national convention and name a single ticket against Jackson's chosen successor, Martin Van Buren. Instead, Whigs in various regions each put forth their own preferred ticket, reflecting the party's tenuous coalition: the Massachusetts Whigs nominated Daniel Webster and Francis Granger, the Anti-Masons of the Northern and border states backed William Henry Harrison and Granger, and the states' rights advocates of the middle and lower South nominated Hugh Lawson White and John Tyler.39 In Maryland, the Whig ticket was Harrison and Tyler. The Whigs hoped to deny Van Buren a majority in the Electoral College, throwing the election into the House of Representatives, where deals could be made. Tyler hoped to be one of the top two vote-getters in such a scenario, from whom the Senate, pursuant to the Twelfth Amendment, would decide the vice president.40

Following the custom of the times that candidates not appear to seek the office, Taylor remained at his Williamsburg house throughout the campaign, and did not make speeches.40 In the election, Tyler, only received 47 electoral votes in the November 1836 election trailing both Granger and the successful Democratic candidate, Richard Mentor Johnson of Kentucky. Harrison was the leading Whig candidate for president, but he lost to Van Buren.39

National figure

Tyler had been drawn into Virginia politics even as a U.S. Senator. From October 1829 to January 1830, he served as a member of the state constitutional convention, a role which he was reluctant to accept. The original Virginia Constitution gave outsize influence to the state's more conservative eastern counties, as it allocated an equal number of legislators to each county (regardless of population) and only granted suffrage to property owners. The convention gave the more populous and liberal counties of western Virginia an opportunity to expand their influence. Tyler, a slave-owner from eastern Virginia, supported the existing system. He largely remained on the sidelines during the debate, however, not wishing to alienate any of the state's political factions. He was focused on his Senate career, which required a broad base of support, and gave speeches during the convention promoting compromise and unity.41

After the 1836 election, Tyler thought his political career was at an end, and planned to return to private law practice. In the fall of 1837 a friend sold him a sizable property in Williamsburg. He had barely settled in, however, when he was again elected to the Virginia House of Delegates. He took office in 1838 and his peers unanimously elected him Speaker. Tyler was a national political figure by this point, and his third delegate service touched on such national issues as the sale of public lands.42

Tyler's successor in the Senate was William Cabell Rives, a Conservative Democrat; his term was to expire in March 1839 and the previous month, the General Assembly considered who should fill the seat. Rives had drifted away from his party, signalling a possible alliance with the Whigs. As Tyler had already fully rejected his party, he expected the Whigs would consider him as a candidate instead. Still, the Whigs found Rives a more politically expedient choice, as they hoped to ally with the Conservative Democrats in the 1840 presidential election. This strategy was supported by Whig leader Henry Clay, who admired Tyler in his pre-presidential days. With the vote split among three candidates, including Rives and Tyler, the Senate seat remained vacant for almost two years, until January 1841.43

Presidential election, 1840

Adding Tyler to the ticket

By the time the 1839 Whig National Convention in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania convened to choose the party's ticket for the following year's presidential election, the United States was in the third year of a serious recession, dubbed the Panic of 1837. President Van Buren's ineffective efforts to deal with the situation cost him public support. With the Democratic Party torn into factions, the head of the Whig ticket would likely be the next president. General Harrison, Senator Clay, and General Winfield Scott all sought the nomination. Tyler attended the convention and was with the Virginia delegation, although he had no official status. Because of bitterness over the unresolved Senate election, the Virginia delegation refused to make Tyler its favorite son candidate. Tyler himself did nothing, throughout the convention, to boost his chances to be the vice presidential nominee; if his favored candidate, Clay, was successful, he would have little chance for the second place on the ticket, as it would most likely go to a Northerner to assure geographic balance.44

The convention deadlocked among the three main candidates, with Virginia's votes going to Clay. The Kentucky senator was opposed by many Northern Whigs and some, including Pennsylvania Assemblyman Thaddeus Stevens, showed the Virginians a letter written by Scott in which he apparently displayed abolitionist sentiments. The influential Virginia delegation then announced that Harrison was its second choice, causing most supporters to abandon Scott in favor of Harrison, who gained the nomination.44

The vice presidential nomination was considered of little moment; no president had failed to complete his elected term. Not much attention was given to the choice, and the specifics of how Tyler came to gain it are unclear. Chitwood pointed out that Tyler was a logical candidate: as a Southern slaveowner, he both balanced the ticket and assuaged the fears of Southerners who felt Harrison might have abolitionist leanings. Tyler had been a vice-presidential candidate in 1836, and having him on the ticket might win Virginia, the most populous state in the South. One of the convention managers, New York publisher Thurlow Weed, alleged that "Tyler was finally taken because we could get nobody else to accept", but he did not say this until after the break between President Tyler and the Whig Party.45 When Tyler's name was submitted in the balloting, Virginia abstained from voting, but Tyler gained the nomination . His biographer Robert Seager II held that Tyler was selected because of a dearth of alternative candidates. Tyler, as president, was accused of having gained the nomination by concealing his views, and responded that he had not been asked about them. Seager concluded, "He was put on the ticket to draw the South to Harrison. No more, no less."46

General election

What has caused this great commotion, motion,
Our country through?
It is the ball a-rolling on,
For Tippecanoe and Tyler too, Tippecanoe and Tyler too.
And with them, we'll beat the little Van, Van, Van
Van is a used-up man.

A campaign song from the 1840 election.47

There was no Whig party platform; leaders decided that trying to put one together would tear the party apart. Thus, the Whigs ran on their opposition to Van Buren, and blamed him and his Democrats for the recession.48 In campaign materials, Tyler was praised for integrity in resigning over the legislature's instructions.49 Part of the strategy was to muzzle Harrison and Tyler, lest they make policy statements that alienated parts of the party. This could not entirely be done: After Tyler's Democratic rival, Vice President Johnson, made a successful speaking tour, Tyler was called upon to travel from Williamsburg to Columbus, Ohio and there address a local convention. a speech intended to assure Northeners that he did not differ in views from Harrison. In his journey of nearly two months, he made speeches at rallies. He could not avoid questions, and after being heckled into an admission that he supported the Compromise Tariff (many Whigs did not), resorted to quoting from Harrison's vague speeches, when asked if the Bank of the United States should be revived. In his two-hour speech at Columbus, he avoided the bank issue, one of the major questions of the day, entirely.50

To win the election, Whig leaders decided they had to mobilize people across the country, including women, who could not then vote. This was the first time that an American political party included women in campaign activities on a widespread scale, and women in Tyler's Virginia were active on his behalf.51 The party hoped to avoid issues and win through public enthusiasm, with torchlight processions and alcohol-fueled political rallies.52 The interest in the campaign was unprecedented, with many public events. When the Democratic press depicted Harrison as an old soldier, hoping for a pension to purchase hard cider to drink in his log cabin, the Whigs eagerly seized on the image, and the log cabin campaign was born. The facts that Harrison lived on a palatial estate along the Ohio River and Tyler was well-to-do were not publicized, but log cabin images appeared everywhere, from banners to whiskey bottles. Cider was the favored drink of many farmers and tradesmen, and Whigs claimed that Harrison preferred that drink of the common man.53 Democrats complained that the Harrison/Tyler campaign's liberal provision of hard cider at rallies was encouraging drunkenness.54

The presidential candidate's military service was emphasized, thus the campaign jingle, "Tippecanoe and Tyler too", referring to Harrison's victory at the Battle of Tippecanoe; the slogan remains well-known today. Glee clubs sprouted all over the country, singing patriotic and inspirational songs: one Democratic editor stated that he found the songfests in support of the Whig Party to be unforgettable. Among the lyrics sung by them were "We shall vote for Tyler therefore/Without a why or wherefore".53 Clay, though embittered by another defeat, was appeased by Tyler's withdrawal from the still-unresolved Senate race, which would permit the election of Rives (a Clay supporter), and campaigned in Virginia for the Harrison/Tyler ticket.52

Tyler predicted the ticket would easily take Virginia; he was embarrassed when he was proved wrong,55 but was consoled by an election victory—Harrison and Tyler won the election by an electoral vote of 234–60 and with 53 percent of the popular vote. Van Buren took only seven scattered states out of 26. The Whigs gained control of both houses of Congress.,56

Vice President

An illustration: Tyler stands on his porch in Virginia, approached by a man with an envelope. Caption reads "Tyler receiving the news of Harrison's death."
1888 illustration of Vice President Tyler receiving the news of President Harrison's death from Chief Clerk of the State Department Fletcher Webster.

As Vice President-elect, Tyler remained quietly at his home in Williamsburg. He privately expressed hopes that Harrison would prove decisive and not allow intrigue in the Cabinet, especially in the first days of the administration.57 Tyler did not participate in selecting the Cabinet, and did not recommend anyone for federal office in the new Whig administration. Harrison, beset by office seekers and the demands of Senator Clay, twice sent letters to Tyler asking his advice as to whether a Van Buren officeholder should be dismissed. In both cases, Tyler recommended against; Harrison accordingly stated, "Mr. Tyler says they ought not to be removed, and I will not remove them."58 The two men met briefly in Richmond in February, and reviewed a parade together,57 though they did not discuss politics.59

Tyler was sworn in on March 4, 1841, in the Senate chamber, and delivered a three-minute speech about states' rights before swearing in the new senators and attending President Harrison's inauguration. Following Harrison's two-hour speech on that freezing March 4, the Vice President returned to the Senate to receive the President's Cabinet appointments, returning the following day to preside over their confirmations—a total of two hours as President of the Senate. Expecting few responsibilities, he then left Washington, quietly returning to his home in Williamsburg.60 Historian Robert Seager II later wrote, "Had William Henry Harrison lived, John Tyler would undoubtedly have been as obscure as any Vice-President in American history."59

Harrison, meanwhile, struggled to keep up with the demands of Henry Clay and others who sought offices and influence in his administration. Harrison's old age and fading health were no secret during the campaign, and the question of the presidential succession was on every politician's mind. The first few weeks of the presidency took a toll on Harrison's health, and after being caught in a rainstorm in late March he came down with pneumonia and pleurisy.61 Secretary of State Daniel Webster sent word to Tyler of Harrison's illness on April 1; two days later, Richmond attorney James Lyons wrote with the news that the President had taken a turn for the worse, remarking that "I shall not be surprised to hear by tomorrow's mail that Gen'l Harrison is no more."62 Tyler determined not to travel to Washington, not wanting to appear unseemly in anticipating the President's death. At dawn on April 5, Webster's son Fletcher, Chief Clerk of the State Department, arrived at Tyler's plantation with a letter from Webster, informing the Vice President of Harrison's death the morning before.62

Presidency, 1841–1845

"His Accidency"

Portrait of Tyler.
Tyler as president, c.1841.

Harrison's unprecedented death in office caused considerable uncertainty regarding presidential succession. The Constitution of the United States stated only that:

In Case of the Removal of the President from Office, or of his Death, Resignation, or Inability to discharge the Powers and Duties of the said Office, the same shall devolve on the Vice President.63

This led to the question of whether the actual office of President "devolved" upon Vice President Tyler, or merely its powers and duties.64 The Cabinet met within an hour of Harrison's death and according to a later account, determined that Tyler would be "Vice-President acting President".65 However, by the time Tyler arrived in Washington at 4:00 a.m. on April 6, 1841, he had firmly resolved that he was now, in name and fact, the President of the United States. Acting on this determination, he had himself sworn in as President, without any qualifiers, in his hotel room. He considered the Presidential oath redundant to his oath as Vice President, but wished to quell any doubt over his accession.64

Immediately after his inauguration, Tyler called Harrison's Cabinet into a meeting, having decided to retain its members. Webster informed him of Harrison's practice of making policy by a majority vote. The Cabinet fully expected the new President to continue this practice. Tyler was astounded and immediately corrected them:

I beg your pardon, gentlemen; I am very glad to have in my Cabinet such able statesmen as you have proved yourselves to be. And I shall be pleased to avail myself of your counsel and advice. But I can never consent to being dictated to as to what I shall or shall not do. I, as President, shall be responsible for my administration. I hope to have your hearty co-operation in carrying out its measures. So long as you see fit to do this, I shall be glad to have you with me. When you think otherwise, your resignations will be accepted.66

He delivered a de facto inaugural address on April 9 reasserting his fundamental tenets of Jeffersonian democracy and limited federal power. Tyler's claim to be president was not immediately accepted by opposition members of Congress such as John Quincy Adams, who felt that Tyler should be a caretaker under the title of "Acting President", or remain Vice President in name.67 Among those who questioned Tyler's authority was Clay, who had planned to be "the real power behind a fumbling throne" while Harrison was alive, and intended the same for Tyler. Clay saw Tyler as the "Vice-President" and his presidency as a mere "regency".68

Ratification of the decision by Congress came through the customary notification that Congress makes to the president, notifying him that it is in session and available to receive messages. In both houses, unsuccessful amendments were offered to strike the word "President" in favor of language including the term "Vice President" to refer to Tyler. Both amendments failed, with Mississippi Senator Robert J. Walker contending that the idea that Tyler was still vice president and could preside over the Senate was absurd.69

Although his accession was given approval by both the Cabinet and, later, the Senate and House, Tyler's detractors (who, ironically, would eventually include many of the Cabinet members and members of Congress who had legitimized his presidency) never fully accepted him as President. He was referred to by many nicknames, including "His Accidency," a reference to his having become President, not through election, but by the accidental circumstances regarding his nomination and Harrison's death.70 However, Tyler never wavered from his conviction that he was the rightful President; when his political opponents sent correspondence to the White House addressed to the "Vice President" or "Acting President," Tyler had it returned unopened.71

Tyler's successful insistence that he was president, and not a caretaker or acting, set a precedent that would be followed seven times in the 19th and 20th centuries. It was not until 1967 that Tyler's action of assuming both the full powers and the title of the presidency was legally codified in the Twenty-fifth Amendment.72

Economic policy and party conflicts

Harrison had been expected to adhere closely to Whig Party policies and to work closely with party leaders, particularly Clay. When Tyler succeeded him, he at first was in accord with the new Whig Congress in signing into law such measures as a pre-emption bill granting "squatters' sovereignty" to settlers on public land, a Distribution Act, discussed below, a new bankruptcy law, and the repeal of the Independent Treasury enacted under Van Buren. But when it came to the great banking question, Tyler was soon at odds with the Congressional Whigs. Twice he vetoed Clay's legislation for a national banking act following the Panic of 1837. Although the second bill supposedly had been tailored to meet his stated objections in the first veto, its final version was not. This practice, designed to protect Clay from having a successful incumbent president as a rival for the Whig nomination in 1844, became known as "heading Captain Tyler," a term coined by Whig Representative John Minor Botts of Virginia. Tyler proposed an alternative fiscal plan to be known as the "Exchequer," but Clay's friends, who controlled the Congress, would have none of it.73

On September 11, 1841, following the second bank veto, members of the cabinet entered Tyler's office one by one and resigned—an orchestration by Clay to force Tyler's resignation and place his own lieutenant, Senate President Pro Tempore Samuel L. Southard, in the White House. The exception was Secretary of State Webster who remained to finalize what became the 1842 Webster-Ashburton Treaty, and to demonstrate his independence from Clay.74 Two days later, when the President did not resign or give in, the Whigs in Congress expelled Tyler from the party. Tyler was lambasted by Whig newspapers and received hundreds of letters threatening his assassination.75

Tariff and distribution debate

By mid-1841, the federal government faced a projected budget deficit of $11 million. Tyler recognized the need for higher tariffs, but wished to stay within the 20% rate created by the 1833 Compromise Tariff. He also supported a plan to distribute to the states any revenue from the sales of public land, as an emergency measure to manage the states' growing debt, even though this would cut federal revenue. The Whigs supported high protectionist tariffs and national funding of state infrastructure, and so there was enough overlap to forge a compromise. The Distribution Act of 1841 created a distribution program, with a ceiling on tariffs at 20 percent; a second bill increased tariffs to that figure on previously low-tax goods. Despite these measures, by March 1842 it had become clear that the federal government was still in dire fiscal straits. In a recommendation to Congress, Tyler lamented that it would be necessary to override the Compromise Tariff of 1833 and raise rates beyond the 20 percent limit. Under the previous deal, this would suspend the distribution program, with all revenues going to the federal government.76

The defiant Whig Congress would not raise tariffs if it would affect the distribution of funds to states. In June 1842 they passed two bills that would raise tariffs and unconditionally extend the distribution program. Believing it improper to continue distribution at a time when federal revenue shortage necessitated increasing the tariff, Tyler vetoed both bills, burning any remaining bridges between himself and the Whigs.77 Congress tried again, combining the two into one bill; Tyler vetoed it again, to the outrage of many in Congress who nevertheless failed to override the veto. As some action was necessary, Whigs in Congress passed, in each house by one vote, a bill restoring tariff levels to 1832 levels and ending the distribution program. Tyler signed the Tariff of 1842 on August 30, pocket vetoing a separate bill to restore distribution.78

Impeachment attempt

Shortly after the tariff vetoes, Whigs in the House of Representatives initiated the first impeachment proceedings against a president in American history. This was not only a matter of the Whigs supporting the Bank and tariff legislation which Tyler vetoed. Until the presidency of the Whigs' arch-enemy Andrew Jackson, Presidents vetoed bills rarely, and then generally on constitutional rather than policy grounds. So Tyler's actions also went against the Whigs' idea that the presidency should allow Congress to make policy decisions.79 John Minor Botts of Virginia, who opposed Tyler, introduced a resolution on July 10, 1842. It levied several charges against the President and called for a nine-member committee to investigate his behavior, with the expectation of a formal impeachment recommendation. Clay found this measure prematurely aggressive, favoring a more moderate progression toward Tyler's "inevitable" impeachment. The Botts bill was tabled until the following January, when it was rejected, 127-83.80

A House select committee headed by former President John Quincy Adams, who was then a member of Congress, condemned Tyler's use of the veto and assailed his character. Adams, an ardent abolitionist, disliked the President for being a slaveholder. While the committee's report did not formally recommend impeachment, it clearly established the possibility. In August 1842, by a vote of 98–90, the House endorsed the committee's report. Adams sponsored a constitutional amendment to change the two-thirds requirement to override a veto to a simple majority, but neither house passed such a measure.81 The Whigs were unable to pursue further impeachment proceedings in the subsequent 28th Congress, as in the elections of 1842 they lost control of the House (although they retained a majority in the Senate). Near the end of Tyler's term in office, on March 3, 1845, Congress overrode his veto of a minor bill relating to revenue cutters. This marked the first time any president's veto had been overridden.82

Administration and cabinet

The Tyler Cabinet83
Office Name Term
President John Tyler 1841–1845
Vice President None 1841–1845
Secretary of State Daniel Webster (W) 1841–1843
Abel P. Upshur (W) 1843–1844
John C. Calhoun (D) 1844–1845
Secretary of Treasury Thomas Ewing, Sr. (W) 1841
Walter Forward (W) 1841–1843
John C. Spencer (W) 1843–1844
George M. Bibb (D) 1844–1845
Secretary of War John Bell (W) 1841
John C. Spencer (W) 1841–1843
James M. Porter (W) 1843–1844
William Wilkins (D) 1844–1845
Attorney General John J. Crittenden (W) 1841
Hugh S. Legaré (D) 1841–1843
John Nelson (W) 1843–1845
Postmaster General Francis Granger (W) 1841
Charles A. Wickliffe (W) 1841–1845
Secretary of the Navy George E. Badger (W) 1841
Abel P. Upshur (W) 1841–1843
David Henshaw (D) 1843–1844
Thomas W. Gilmer (D) 1844
John Y. Mason (D) 1844–1845

For two years, Tyler struggled with the Whigs, eventually nominating 19 men to the six cabinet offices. When he nominated John C. Calhoun in 1844 as Secretary of State, to reform the Democrats, the gravitational swing of the Whigs to identify with "the North" and the Democrats as the party of "the South" led the way to the sectional party politics of the next decade. Tyler's final Cabinet consisted of five Southerners and one Northerner (William Wilkins, Secretary of War).

Four of Tyler's Cabinet nominees were rejected, the most of any president. These were Caleb Cushing (Treasury), David Henshaw (Navy) James Porter (War), and James S. Green (Treasury). Henshaw and Porter served as recess appointees before their rejections. Tyler aggravated this problem when he repeatedly renominated Cushing. As a result, Cushing was rejected three times in one day, March 4, 1843, the last day of the 27th Congress.84

Foreign and military affairs

Tyler's difficulties in domestic policy were matched by adept accomplishments in foreign policy. He had long been an advocate of expansionism toward the Pacific and free trade, and was fond of evoking themes of national destiny and the spread of liberty in support of these policies.85 His presidency was largely continuous with Jackson's earlier efforts to promote American commerce across the Pacific.86 Eager to compete with Great Britain in international markets, he sent lawyer Caleb Cushing to China, where he negotiated the terms of the Treaty of Wanghia (1844).87 The same year, he sent Henry Wheaton as a minister to Berlin, where he negotiated and signed a trade agreement with the German Zollverein. This treaty was rejected by the Whigs, mainly as a show of hostility toward the Tyler administration. The President also applied the Monroe Doctrine to Hawaii, told Britain not to interfere there, and began the process towards the eventual annexation of Hawaii by the United States.88

In 1842, the Secretary of State, Daniel Webster, negotiated the Webster–Ashburton Treaty with Britain which concluded where the border between Maine and Canada lay. That issue had caused tension between the United States and Britain for decades and had brought the two countries to the brink of war on several occasions. The treaty improved Anglo-American diplomatic relations.89 However, Tyler was unsuccessful in concluding a treaty with the British to fix the boundaries of Oregon.90 On Tyler's last full day in office, March 3, 1845, Florida was admitted to the Union as the 27th state.91

Tyler advocated an increase in military strength. His administration drew the praise of naval leaders, who saw a marked increase in warships. Tyler brought the long, bloody Second Seminole War to an end in 1842, and expressed interest in the forced cultural assimilation of the Native Americans.92 He also advocated the establishment of a chain of American forts from Council Bluffs, Iowa, to the Pacific.93

In May 1842, when the Dorr Rebellion in Rhode Island came to a head, Tyler pondered the request of the governor and legislature to send federal troops to help it suppress the Dorrite insurgents. The insurgents under Thomas Dorr had armed themselves and proposed to install a new state constitution. Before such acts, Rhode Island had been following the same constitutional structure that was established in 1663. Tyler called for calm on both sides, and recommended the governor enlarge the franchise to let most men vote. Tyler promised that in case an actual insurrection should break out in Rhode Island he would employ force to aid the regular, or Charter, government. He made it clear that federal assistance would be given, not to prevent, but only to put down insurrection, and would not be available until violence had been committed. After listening to reports from his confidential agents, Tyler decided that the 'lawless assemblages' had dispersed and expressed his confidence in a "temper of conciliation as well as of energy and decision." He did not send any federal forces. The rebels fled the state when the state militia marched against them.94 With their dispersion, they accepted the expansion of suffrage.

Judicial appointments

Judicial Appointments9596
Court Name Term
U.S.S.C. Samuel Nelson 1845–1872
E.D.Va. James D. Halyburton 1844–1861
D. Ind. Elisha M. Huntington 1842–1862
E.D.La.
W.D.La.f
Theodore H. McCaleb 1841–1861g
D.Vt. Samuel Prentiss 1842–1857
E.D.Pa. Archibald Randall 1842–1846
D.Mass. Peleg Sprague 1841–1865

Two vacancies occurred on the Supreme Court during Tyler's presidency, as Justices Smith Thompson and Henry Baldwin died in 1843 and 1844, respectively. Tyler, ever at odds with Congress – including the Whig-controlled Senate – nominated several men to the Supreme Court to fill these seats. However, the Senate successively voted against confirming John Canfield Spencer, Reuben Walworth, Edward King and John M. Read (King was rejected twice). One reason cited for the Senate's actions was the hope that Whig Henry Clay would fill the vacancies after winning the 1844 presidential election.84 Tyler's four unsuccessful nominees are the most by a president.95

Finally, in February 1845, with less than a month remaining in his term, Tyler's nomination of Samuel Nelson to Thompson's seat was confirmed by the Senate. Nelson's successful confirmation was a surprise. Nelson, although a Democrat, had a reputation as a careful and noncontroversial jurist. Baldwin's seat remained vacant until Polk's nominee, Robert Grier, was confirmed in 1846.95

Tyler was able to appoint only six other federal judges, all to United States district courts.96

Annexation of Texas

Tyler, an advocate of Western expansionism, made the annexation of the Republic of Texas part of his platform soon after becoming President. Texas had declared independence from Mexico in the Texas Revolution of 1836, although Mexico still refused to acknowledge it as a sovereign state. The people of Texas actively pursued joining the Union, but Jackson and Van Buren had been reluctant to inflame tensions over slavery by annexing another Southern state. Tyler, on the other hand, intended annexation to be the focal point of his administration. Secretary Webster, opposed, convinced Tyler to focus on Pacific initiatives until later in his term.97

Historical U.S. map, 1843. Most of the eastern states have been established, while the western half remains loosely divided into territories. Mexico and the Republic of Texas share a disputed border.
The boundaries of the United States and neighboring nations as they appeared in 1843. The Webster–Ashburton Treaty had formalized the border of Maine in the northeast, while the Republic of Texas in the southwest had a disputed border with Mexico. Tyler shared the Texans' desire for annexation, but it took several years of political wrangling to achieve.

Early attempts

In early 1843, having completed the Webster–Ashburton treaty and other diplomatic efforts, Tyler felt ready to pursue Texas. Now lacking a party base, he saw annexation of the republic as his only pathway to independent re-election in 1844. For the first time in his career he was willing to play "political hardball" to see it through. As a trial balloon he dispatched his ally Thomas Walker Gilmer, then a U.S. Representative from Virginia, to publish a letter defending annexation, which was well received. Despite his successful relationship with Webster, Tyler knew he would need a Secretary of State who supported the Texas initiative, and so he forced Webster's resignation and installed Hugh S. Legaré of South Carolina as an interim successor.98

With the help of newly appointed Treasury Secretary John C. Spencer, he cleared out an array of officeholders, replacing them with pro-annexation partisans, in a reversal of his former stand against patronage. He elicited the help of political organizer Michael Walsh to build a political machine in New York. In exchange for an appointment as consul to Hawaii, journalist Alexander G. Abell wrote a flattering biography, Life of John Tyler, which was printed in large quantities and given to postmasters throughout the country to distribute.99 Seeking to rehabilitate his public image, Tyler embarked on a nationwide campaign tour in the spring of 1843. The positive reception of the public at these events contrasted starkly with his ostracism back in Washington. The tour centered around the dedication of the Bunker Hill Monument in Boston, Massachusetts. Shortly after the dedication, Tyler learned of Legaré's sudden death, which dampened the festivities and forced him to cancel the rest of the tour.100

He appointed Abel P. Upshur, a popular Secretary of the Navy and close adviser, as his new Secretary of State, and nominated Gilmer to fill his former office. Tyler and Upshur began quiet negotiations with the Texas government, promising military protection from Mexico in exchange for a commitment to annexation. Secrecy was necessary, as the Constitution required Congressional approval for such military commitments. Upshur planted rumors of possible British designs on Texas to drum up support among Northern voters, who were wary of admitting a new pro-slavery state.101 By January 1844 Upshur told the Texas government that he had found a large majority of Senators in favor of an annexation treaty. The republic remained skeptical, and finalization of the treaty took until the end of February.102

USS Princeton disaster

Historical illustration of the Princeton cannon explosion, with dozens of guests aboard. Caption reads "Awful explosion of the Peace-Maker on board the U.S. steam frigate Princeton."
A lithograph of the Princeton disaster (1844).

It was only one day after completing the treaty that Upshur and Gilmer were killed in an accident. A ceremonial cruise down the Potomac River was held aboard the newly built USS Princeton on February 28, 1844. Aboard the ship were 400 guests, including Tyler and his cabinet, as was the world's largest naval gun, the "Peacemaker". The gun was ceremonially fired several times in the afternoon to the great delight of the onlookers, who then filed downstairs to offer a toast. Several hours later, Captain Robert F. Stockton was convinced by the crowd to fire one more shot. As the guests moved up to the deck, Tyler paused briefly to watch his son-in-law, William Waller, sing a ditty.103

At once an explosion was heard from above: the gun had malfunctioned. Tyler was unhurt, having remained safely below deck, but a number of others were killed instantly, including his crucial cabinet members, Gilmer and Upshur. Also killed or mortally wounded were Virgil Maxcy of Maryland, Rep. David Gardiner of New York, Commodore Beverly Kennon, Chief of Construction of the United States Navy and Tyler's black slave and body servant.103 The death of David Gardiner had a devastating effect on Gardiner's daughter, Julia, who fainted and was carried to safety by the President himself. Julia later recovered from her grief and married President Tyler.

For Tyler, any hope of completing the Texas plan before November (and with it, any hope of re-election) was instantly dashed. Historian Edward P. Crapol later wrote that "Prior to the Civil War and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln," the Princeton disaster "unquestionably was the most severe and debilitating tragedy ever to confront a President of the United States."102

Ratification and 1844 election

Historical political cartoon. Caption reads "Uncle Sam and his servants."
An anti-Tyler satire lampoons his efforts to secure a second term. Tyler pushes the door shut on opponents Clay, Polk, Calhoun, and Jackson, as Uncle Sam demands that he let Clay in.

In what the Miller Center of Public Affairs considers "a serious tactical error that ruined the scheme [of establishing political respectability for him]",104 Tyler appointed former Vice President John C. Calhoun in early March 1844 as his Secretary of State. Tyler's good friend, Virginia Representative Henry A. Wise, wrote that following the Princeton disaster, he went on his own to extend Calhoun the position through a colleague, who assumed that the offer came from the president. When Wise went to tell Tyler what he had done, the President was angry but felt that the action now had to stand. Calhoun was a leading advocate of slavery, and his attempts to get an annexation treaty passed were resisted by abolitionists as a result. When the text of the treaty was leaked to the public, it met political opposition from the Whigs, who would oppose anything that might enhance Tyler's status, as well as from foes of slavery and those who feared a confrontation with Mexico, which had announced that it would view annexation as a hostile act by the United States. Both Clay and Van Buren, the respective frontrunners for the Whig and Democratic nominations, decided in a private meeting at Van Buren's home to come out against annexation.105 Tyler sent the treaty to the Senate for ratification, accompanied by a message that extolled the benefits of annexation to the country and contained no mention of slavery.

Following Tyler's break with the Whigs in 1841, he had begun to shift back to his old Democratic party, but its members, especially the followers of Van Buren, were not ready to receive him. He knew that with little chance of election, the only way to salvage his presidency and legacy was to move public opinion in favor of the Texas issue. He formed a third party, the Democratic-Republicans, using the officeholders and political networks he had built over the previous year. A chain of pro-Tyler newspapers across the country put out editorials promoting his candidacy throughout the early months of 1844. Reports of Tyler meetings held throughout the country suggest that support for the President was not limited to officeholders, as is often inferred. The Tyler supporters, holding signs reading "Tyler and Texas!", held their nominating convention in Baltimore in May 1844, just as the Democratic Party was holding its presidential nomination. With their high visibility and energy they were able to force the Democrats' hand in favor of annexation. Ballot after ballot, Van Buren failed to win the necessary super-majority of Democratic votes, and slowly fell in the ranking. It was not until the ninth ballot that the Democrats discovered an obscure pro-annexation candidate named James K. Polk. They found him to be perfectly suited for their platform, and he was nominated with two-thirds of the vote. Tyler considered his work vindicated, and implied in an acceptance letter that annexation was his true priority rather than election.106

Tyler was unfazed when the Whig-controlled Senate rejected his treaty by a vote of 16–35 in June 1844, as he felt that annexation was now within reach. He called for Congress to annex Texas by joint resolution rather than by treaty. Former President Andrew Jackson, a staunch supporter of annexation, persuaded Polk to welcome Tyler back into the Democratic party and ordered Democratic editors to cease their attacks on him. Satisfied by these developments, Tyler dropped out of the race in August and endorsed Polk for the presidency. Polk's narrow victory over Clay in the November election was seen by the Tyler administration as a mandate for completing the resolution. Tyler announced in his annual message to Congress that "a controlling majority of the people and a large majority of the states have declared in favor of immediate annexation."107 In late February 1845, the House by a substantial margin and the Senate by a bare 27–25 majority approved a joint resolution offering terms of annexation to Texas. On March 1, three days before the end of his term, Tyler signed the bill into law.108 After some debate,109 Texas accepted the terms and entered the union on December 29, 1845, as the 28th state.

Post-presidency and death

Tyler retired to a Virginia plantation, originally named Walnut Grove (or "the Grove"), located on the James River in Charles City County, Virginia. He renamed it Sherwood Forest, in a reference to the folk legend Robin Hood, to signify that he had been "outlawed" by the Whig Party.110 He did not take farming lightly and worked hard to maintain large yields throughout the 1840s.111 His neighbors, largely Whigs, appointed him "overseer" of his road in 1847 in an effort to mock him. To their displeasure he treated the title seriously, frequently summoning his neighbors' slaves to attend to road work, and continued to bear the title even after his neighbors asked him to stop.112 He withdrew from electoral politics, rarely receiving visits from his friends. He was asked to give an occasional public speech, but was not sought out as an adviser. One notable speech was at the unveiling of a monument to Henry Clay; acknowledging the political battles between the two, he spoke highly of his former colleague, whom he had always admired for bringing about the Compromise Tariff of 1833.113

A large obelisk in a graveyard, with a bust of Tyler. The black structure visible behind the left side of Tyler's obelisk encloses the grave of James Monroe.
Tyler's grave at Hollywood Cemetery.

On the eve of the Civil War, Tyler re-entered public life as sponsor and chairman of the Virginia Peace Convention, held in Washington, D.C., in February 1861 as an effort to devise means to prevent a war. The convention sought a compromise to avoid civil war while the Confederate Constitution was being drawn up at the Montgomery Convention. When the convention's proposals were rejected by Congress, Tyler abandoned hope of compromise and saw secession as the only option. He was sanguine about a peaceful secession, predicting that a clean split of all Southern states would not result in war.114 When war ultimately broke out, Tyler unhesitatingly sided with the Confederacy and became a delegate to the Provisional Confederate Congress from February 4, 1861. He was then elected to the House of Representatives of the Confederate Congress. On January 5, 1862, he left for Richmond, Virginia, in anticipation of his congressional service, but he would not live to see the opening sessions.115

Throughout Tyler's life, he suffered from poor health. As he aged, he suffered more frequently from colds during the winter. After his exit from the White House, he fell victim to repeated cases of dysentery. He had many aches and pains in the last eight years of his life. On January 12, 1862, after complaining of chills and dizziness, he vomited and collapsed. He was revived, yet the next day he admitted to the same symptoms. He was treated for the rest of the week, but his health did not improve, and he made plans to return to Sherwood Forest on the 18th. As he lay in bed the previous night he began suffocating, and Julia summoned his doctor. Just after midnight, Tyler took a last sip of brandy, and told his doctor, "I am going. Perhaps it is best."116 It is believed that he had suffered a stroke.117 Tyler is buried in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia, in front of the gravesite of former President James Monroe, the black structure visible in the illustration behind the left side of Tyler's obelisk.118

Tyler's death was the only one in presidential history not to be officially recognized in Washington, because of his allegiance to the Confederacy. He had requested a simple burial, but Confederate President Jefferson Davis and his fellows delivered a grand, politically pointed funeral, painting Tyler as a hero to the Confederacy. Accordingly, the coffin of the tenth president of the United States was draped at the funeral with a Confederate flag.118

Family and personal life

Portrait of Letitia Christian Tyler.
Tyler's first wife,
Letitia Christian Tyler.

Tyler fathered more children than any other President in history.119 His first wife was Letitia Christian Tyler (November 12, 1790 – September 10, 1842), with whom he had eight children:120

  1. Mary Tyler (1815–1847)
  2. Robert Tyler (1816–1877)
  3. John Tyler, Jr. (1819–1896)
  4. Letitia Tyler Semple (1821–1907)
  5. Elizabeth Tyler (1823–1850)
  6. Anne Contesse Tyler (1825-1825)
  7. Alice Tyler (1827–1854)
  8. Tazewell Tyler (1830–1874)
Portrait of Julia Gardiner Tyler.
Tyler's second wife,
Julia Gardiner Tyler.

Tyler's wife Letitia died of a stroke in the White House in September 1842. His second wife was Julia Gardiner Tyler (July 23, 1820 – July 10, 1889), with whom he had seven children:121

  1. David Gardiner Tyler (1846–1927)
  2. John Alexander Tyler (1848–1883)
  3. Julia Gardiner Tyler Spencer (1849–1871)
  4. Lachlan Tyler (1851–1902)
  5. Lyon Gardiner Tyler (1853–1935)
  6. Robert Fitzwalter Tyler (1856–1927)
  7. Pearl Tyler (1860–1947)

Although Tyler's family was dear to him, during his political rise, he was often away from home for extended period. As a Southern gentleman, duty was important to Tyler, including his duties to his family. When Tyler chose not to seek re-election to the House of Representatives in 1821 because of illness, he wrote that he would soon be called upon to educate his growing family. It was difficult to practice law while away in Washington part of the year, and his plantation was more profitable when Tyler was available to manage it himself.122 By the time he entered the Senate in 1827, he had resigned himself to spending part of the year away from his growing family. Still, he sought to remain close to his children by letter.123

Early in his presidency, Tyler was attacked by abolitionist publisher Joshua Leavitt, who alleged that Tyler had fathered (and sold) several sons with his slaves, prompting a response from the Tyler administration–linked newspaper The Madisonian. A number of African American families today have an oral tradition of descent from Tyler, but no evidence of such a link has ever surfaced.124

As of January 2014, Tyler has two living grandsons through his son Lyon Gardiner Tyler. Lyon Gardiner Tyler, Jr., was born in 1924, and Harrison Ruffin Tyler was born in 1928. Harrison Tyler maintains the family home, "Sherwood Forest."125126 Tyler is the oldest former president with living grandchildren, and none of the succeeding presidents have living grandchildren until James A. Garfield, who served forty years after Tyler,127 with Abraham Lincoln and lifelong bachelor James Buchanan each having no living descendants of any kind.

Legacy

Portrait of John Tyler, by George Peter Alexander Healy created between 1859–1864; currently hanging in the Blue Room.

The Tyler presidency is generally held in low esteem by historians. Edward P. Crapol began his biography John Tyler, the Accidental President (2006) by noting: "Other biographers and historians have argued that John Tyler was a hapless and inept chief executive whose presidency was seriously flawed." In The Republican Vision of John Tyler (2003), Dan Monroe observed that the Tyler presidency "is generally ranked as one of the least successful". Robert Seager II wrote in And Tyler Too: A Biography of John and Julia Gardiner Tyler (1963) that Tyler "was neither a great President nor a great intellectual," adding that despite a few achievements, "his administration has been and must be counted an unsuccessful one by any modern measure of accomplishment".128 A survey of 65 historians, conducted by C-SPAN in 2009, ranked Tyler as 35th of 42 men to hold the office.129

Some have argued that Tyler's accomplishments and political resolve warrant a more favorable treatment. Tyler's assumption of complete presidential powers "set a hugely important precedent", according to a biographical sketch by the University of Virginia's Miller Center of Public Affairs. The article also noted that "Tyler could claim an ambitious, successful foreign policy presidency, due largely to the efforts of Secretary of State Webster." Monroe credits Tyler with "achievements like the Webster–Ashburton treaty which heralded the prospect of improved relations with Great Britain, and the annexation of Texas, which added millions of acres to the national domain." Crapol argued that Tyler "was a stronger and more effective President than generally remembered," while Seager wrote, "I find him to be a courageous, principled man, a fair and honest fighter for his beliefs. He was a President without a party."128 The book Recarving Rushmore (2009), which rated Presidents in terms of peace, prosperity, and liberty, ranked John Tyler as the best President of all time.130 At three years, 11 months, Tyler served the longest tenure of any President who was never elected to the office.

Historical ten-cent stamp with Tyler's profile.
John Tyler was featured on a U.S. postage stamp, Issue of 1938.

Tyler has been the namesake of several U.S. locations, including the city of Tyler, Texas and one of its schools, John Tyler High School,131 along with John Tyler Community College in Chesterfield, Virginia, located near Tyler's home.132 Virginia State Route 5 in Charles City County, where Tyler lived, is now known as the John Tyler Memorial Highway. While academics have both praised and criticized Tyler, the general American public has little awareness of him at all. Several writers have noted that Tyler is among the nation's most obscure presidents. As Seager remarked, "His countrymen generally remember him, if they have heard of him at all, as the rhyming end of a catchy campaign slogan."128

See also

Ancestors

References

Explanatory notes

  1. ^ Formally, only the mansion was named Greenway.
  2. ^ Senators were elected by state legislatures until 1913, and some legislatures sought to instruct their senators on certain issues. Some senators treated these instructions as binding, others did not.8
  3. ^ Contemporaries generally called this the Republican Party, but modern political writers use Democratic-Republican to distinguish it from the modern-day Republican Party.
  4. ^ At the end of the speech, Tyler briefly lauded President John Adams of Massachusetts, who had died the same day.
  5. ^ Tyler's name does not appear in the Senate voting records until late January of the following year, likely due to illness.
  6. ^ McCaleb was assigned as the judge for both the Eastern and Western Districts of Louisiana, a common practice at the time.
  7. ^ On February 13, 1845, the two District of Louisiana were re-combined into a single District; McCaleb was reassigned to this District by operation of law; on March 3, 1849, the District was again split, and McCaleb was assigned to the Eastern District only.

Bibliography

Books

Articles

Personal papers

Citations

  1. ^ Chitwood, pp. 4–7, 12; Crapol, pp. 30–31.
  2. ^ Chitwood, p. 10–11; Crapol, p. 30.
  3. ^ Leahy, pp. 325–326.
  4. ^ Seager, p. 48.
  5. ^ Chitwood, pp. 14–18; Crapol, pp. 31–34; Seager, p. 50.
  6. ^ Chitwood, pp. 20–21; Crapol, pp. 35–36.
  7. ^ Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission Staff (April 1977). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory/Nomination: Woodburn". 
  8. ^ Bybee, pp. 517–528.
  9. ^ a b Chitwood, pp. 26–30.
  10. ^ Chitwood, pp. 26–30; Crapol, p. 35.
  11. ^ Crapol, p. 61.
  12. ^ Seager, p. 60.
  13. ^ a b Chitwood, pp. 31–34.
  14. ^ Chitwood, pp. 35–40.
  15. ^ a b May, pp. 22–24; Seager, pp. 300–301; Chitwood, p. 143.
  16. ^ a b Chitwood, pp. 47–50; Crapol, pp. 37–38.
  17. ^ Chitwood, pp. 58–59; Crapol, p. 39.
  18. ^ Leahy, pp. 339–40.
  19. ^ Chitwood, pp. 60–62.
  20. ^ Chitwood, p. 76.
  21. ^ Chitwood, pp. 64–67; Crapol, pp. 39–40.
  22. ^ Chitwood, pp. 67–69.
  23. ^ Chitwood, p. 72.
  24. ^ Chitwood, pp. 73–81.
  25. ^ Chitwood, pp. 83–84; Crapol, p. 41.
  26. ^ Chitwood, pp. 86–88.
  27. ^ Chitwood, pp. 86–87, 99–106.
  28. ^ Crapol, p. 41.
  29. ^ Chitwood, pp. 99–100; Crapol, p. 41.
  30. ^ Chitwood, p. 105–106.
  31. ^ Chitwood, pp. 124–125.
  32. ^ Chitwood, pp. 112–120.
  33. ^ Chitwood, pp. 120–123.
  34. ^ Chitwood, pp. 125–128.
  35. ^ Chitwood, p. 132.
  36. ^ U.S. Senate. "President pro tempore". Retrieved April 16, 2014. 
  37. ^ Cite error: The named reference chitwood was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  38. ^ Chitwood, pp. 134.
  39. ^ a b Chitwood, pp. 147–51.
  40. ^ a b Seager, pp. 119–21.
  41. ^ Chitwood, pp. 88–98.
  42. ^ Chitwood, p. 152–53.
  43. ^ Chitwood, pp. 157–163.
  44. ^ a b Seager, pp. 132–133.
  45. ^ Peterson, pp. 26–27.
  46. ^ Seager, pp. 134–35.
  47. ^ Seager, p. 140.
  48. ^ Peterson, p. 27.
  49. ^ Leahy, p. 350.
  50. ^ Seager, pp. 137–39.
  51. ^ Rives, pp. 496, 498.
  52. ^ a b Seager, p. 135.
  53. ^ a b Crapol, pp. 17–19.
  54. ^ Rives, p. 506.
  55. ^ Seager, p. 141.
  56. ^ Peterson, pp. 29–30.
  57. ^ a b Peterson, p. 34.
  58. ^ #SeagerlSeager, p. 143.
  59. ^ a b Seager, p. 144.
  60. ^ Chitwood, pp. 200–202; Seager, pp. 144–145.
  61. ^ Chitwood, pp. 201–202; Seager, pp. 142–147.
  62. ^ a b Crapol, p. 8.
  63. ^ U.S. Const., art. II, sec. 1, cl. 5.
  64. ^ a b Chitwood, pp. 202–03.
  65. ^ Dinnerstein, p. 447.
  66. ^ Chitwood, p. 270, Seager, p. 149.
  67. ^ Chitwood, p. 203–207.
  68. ^ Seager, pp. 142, 151.
  69. ^ Dinnerstein, pp. 451–453.
  70. ^ "'His Accidency', John Tyler, Jokes of 'Being an Accident Himself'". Shapell Manuscript Collection. Shapell Manuscript Foundation. 
  71. ^ Crapol, p. 10.
  72. ^ Crapol, p. 13.
  73. ^ Chitwood, pp. 217–251 and appendices which compare the structure of the different bank bills prepared by the Congress.
  74. ^ Roseboom, p. 124.
  75. ^ Chitwood, pp. 249–251.
  76. ^ Chitwood, pp. 293–297; Seager, pp. 166–167.
  77. ^ Chitwood, pp. 297–300; Seager, p. 167.
  78. ^ Peterson, pp. 103–108.
  79. ^ The Presidents: A Reference History, edited by Henry F. Graff, 2nd edition (1996), pg. 115 (essay by Richard B. Latner).
  80. ^ Chitwood, p. 303; Seager, p. 169.
  81. ^ Chitwood, pp. 300–01; Seager, pp. 167–68.
  82. ^ Seager, p. 283.
  83. ^ Freehling.
  84. ^ a b "Powers and Procedures: Nominations". Origins & Development of the United States Senate. United States Senate. 
  85. ^ Berkin, Carol; Miller, Christopher; Cherny, Robert; Gormly, James (2011). Making America: A History of the United States. Cengage Learning. ISBN 978-0495909798. 
  86. ^ Crapol, pp. 41–43.
  87. ^ Chitwood, pp. 330–332; Seager, pp. 210–211.
  88. ^ Chitwood, pp. 332–334; Seager, p. 211.
  89. ^ Chitwood, pp. 305–316; Seager, p. 212.
  90. ^ Chitwood, pp. 335–336; Seager, p. 213.
  91. ^ "Key Events in the Presidency of John Tyler" in Freehling, American President.
  92. ^ Chitwood, p. 330.
  93. ^ "John Tyler: Foreign Affairs in Freehling, American President.
  94. ^ Chitwood, pp. 326–30.
  95. ^ a b c "Supreme Court Nominations, present–1789". United States Senate Reference. United States Senate. 
  96. ^ a b "Biographical Directory of Federal Judges". History of the Federal Judiciary. Federal Judicial Center. 
  97. ^ Crapol, pp. 176–178.
  98. ^ Crapol, pp. 180–183, 186.
  99. ^ Crapol, pp. 183–185.
  100. ^ Crapol, pp. 185–194.
  101. ^ Crapol, pp. 194–197.
  102. ^ a b Crapol, pp. 202–210.
  103. ^ a b Chitwood, pp. 396–398; Crapol, pp. 207–209; Seager, pp. 204–206.
  104. ^ "John Tyler: Domestic Affairs" in Freehling, American President.
  105. ^ Crapol, pp. 212–217.
  106. ^ Crapol, p. 218; Seager, pp. 228–229.
  107. ^ Crapol, p. 218–220; Seager, pp. 236–241, 246.
  108. ^ Crapol, p. 220; Seager, pp. 282–283.
  109. ^ The Presidents: A Reference History, edited by Henry F. Graff, 2nd edition (1996), pg. 160-61 (essay by David M. Pletcher)
  110. ^ Chitwood, pp. 408–410, uses "the Grove" as the original name; Seager, pp. 179–180, uses "Walnut Grove".
  111. ^ Chitwood, pp. 414–415.
  112. ^ Chitwood, p. 413; Seager, pp. 390–391.
  113. ^ Chitwood, pp. 423–425.
  114. ^ Chitwood, pp. 435–447; Seager, pp. 449–461.
  115. ^ Chitwood, pp. 460–464; Seager, p. 469.
  116. ^ Seager, p. 469–471.
  117. ^ Jeffrey M. Jones MD; Joni L. Jones PhD, RN. "Presidential Stroke: United States Presidents and Cerebrovascular Disease (John Tyler)". Journal CMEs. CNS Spectrums (The International Journal of Neuropsychiatric Medicine). Retrieved July 20, 2011. 
  118. ^ a b Seager, p. 472.
  119. ^ Crapol, p. 4.
  120. ^ Chitwood, p. 478.
  121. ^ Chitwood, p. 479.
  122. ^ Leahy, pp. 323–324
  123. ^ Leahy, p. 340.
  124. ^ Crapol, pp. 62–67
  125. ^ "Genealogy of John Tyler at Sherwood Forest Plantation". SherwoodForest.org. Retrieved June 19, 2009. 
  126. ^ Amira, Dan (January 27, 2012). "President John Tyler’s Grandson, Harrison Tyler, on Still Being Alive". New York. Retrieved February 10, 2012. 
  127. ^ Former President John Tyler’s (1790-1862) grandchildren still alive - Yahoo! News. News.yahoo.com (2012-01-25). Retrieved on 2013-08-17.
  128. ^ a b c Crapol, pp. 2–3:
    "John Tyler is not one of the famous or better-known American presidents. [...] Other biographers and historians have argued that John Tyler was a hapless and inept chief executive whose presidency was seriously flawed. Although acknowledging that Tyler was not a great president, I believe he was a stronger and more effective President than generally remembered."
      Miller Center, U. Va., "Impact and Legacy":
    "By claiming the right to a fully functioning and empowered presidency instead of relinquishing the office or accepting limits on his powers, Tyler set a hugely important precedent. [...] Unfortunately, Tyler proved much better at taking over the presidency than at actually being President."
      Miller Center, U. Va., "Foreign affairs":
    "In sharp contrast to his domestic policies, John Tyler's foreign policy decision making went much more smoothly. [...] Overall, Tyler could claim an ambitious, successful foreign policy presidency, due largely to the efforts of Secretary of State Webster, who served from 1841 to 1843."
      Monroe, p. 3:
    "The vicious political infighting that characterized his term probably accounts for the low regard with which the Tyler presidency has been held by historians. His presidency is generally ranked as one of the least successful, despite achievements like the Webster–Ashburton treaty which heralded the prospect of improved relations with Great Britain, and the annexation of Texas, which added millions of acres to the national domain."
      Seager, p. xiii:
    "Yet John Tyler has become one of America's most obscure Chief Executives. His countrymen generally remember him, if they have heard of him at all, as the rhyming end of a catchy campaign slogan."
      ibid, p. xvi:
    "Yet I find him to be a courageous, principled man, a fair and honest fighter for his beliefs. He was a President without a party."
    "True, he was neither a great President nor a great intellectual. [...] Save for the success of his Texas policy and his Maine Boundary treaty with Great Britain, his administration has been and must be counted an unsuccessful one by any modern measure of accomplishment."
  129. ^ "C-SPAN 2009 Historians Presidential Leadership Survey (Overall Ranking)". C-SPAN. 
  130. ^ Nikolewski, Rob (November 10, 2010). "And the best President in US history is … John Tyler. Whaaat?". New Mexican Watchdog.org. Retrieved March 25, 2012. 
  131. ^ "Tyler History". City of Tyler, Texas. 
  132. ^ "History". John Tyler Community College. 
  133. ^ "Tyler Family Papers, Group A". Special Collections Research Center, Earl Gregg Swem Library, College of William and Mary. Retrieved January 22, 2011. 

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