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September 13, 2011 3:40PM

John Tyler, Jr. (March 29, 1790 - January 18, 1862) was the tenth President of the United States (1841-1845), and the first ever to obtain that office via succession.

A long-time Democrat-Republican, Tyler was nonetheless elected Vice President on the Whig ticket. Upon the death of President William Henry Harrison on April 4, 1841, only a month after his inauguration, the nation was briefly in a state of confusion regarding the process of succession. Ultimately the situation was settled with Tyler becoming President both in name and in fact, and Tyler took the presidential oath of office on April 6, 1841, initiating a custom that would govern future successions. It was not until 1967 that Tyler's action of assuming full powers of the presidency was legally codified in the Twenty-fifth Amendment.

Arguably the most famous and significant achievement of Tyler's administration was the annexation of the Republic of Texas in 1845. Tyler was the first president born after the adoption of the U.S. Constitution, and the only president to have held the office of President pro tempore of the Senate.

Early life

John Tyler was born on March 29, 1790 in Charles City County, Virginia, the same county where William Henry Harrison, the future President of the United States under whom Tyler would serve as Vice-President, was born.[1] Tyler's father was John Tyler, Sr. and his mother was Mary Armistead Tyler.[1] Tyler was raised, along with seven siblings, to be a part of the region's elite gentry, receiving a very good education.[1] Tyler was brought up believing that the Constitution of the United States was to be strictly interpreted, and reportedly never lost this conviction.[2] Whilst Tyler was growing up Tyler Sr., a friend of Thomas Jefferson, owned a tobacco plantation of over a thousand acres serviced by dozens of slaves, and also worked as a judge at the U.S. Circuit Court at Richmond, Virginia; Tyler Sr.'s advocacy of states' rights maintained his power.[1] When Tyler was seven years old, his mother died from a stroke, and when he was twelve he entered the preparatory branch of the College of William and Mary, enrolling into the collegiate program there three years later.[1] Tyler graduated from the college in 1807, at age seventeen.[1]

Lawyer, the War of 1812, and early political career

He went on to study law with his father, who became Governor of Virginia (1808-1811). Tyler was admitted to the bar in 1809 and commenced practice in Charles City County. Tyler supported the United States' fight against Britain during the War of 1812, and he took command of a small militia company, though he saw no action.[1] He became a member of the Virginia House of Delegates in 1811, and in 1816 was named a member of the council of state.First wife, Letitia Christian Tyler

US House of Representatives

John Tyler was elected as a Democratic-Republican to the Fourteenth Congress to fill the vacancy caused by the death of John Clopton. He was reelected to the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Congresses and served from December 17, 1816 to March 3, 1821 in the House of Representatives.

Virginia politics

Tyler declined to be a candidate for renomination to Congress in 1820 because of impaired health. Instead, he became a member of the Virginia House of Delegates from Charles City County, serving from 1823-1825. Tyler was then elected to be the Governor of Virginia (1825-1827). He was popularly known as voting against nationalist legislations and for his open opposition of the Compromise. In 1829 and 1830, he served as a member of the Virginia state constitutional convention.

U.S. Senate

Tyler was elected as a Jacksonian (later Anti-Jacksonian) to the United States Senate in 1827. He was reelected in 1833 and served from March 4, 1827, to February 29, 1836, when he resigned. He served as President pro tempore of the Senate during the Twenty-third Congress (the only President to have served as President pro tempore of the Senate), and was chairman of the Committee on the District of Columbia (Twenty-third and Twenty-fourth Congresses), as well as the Committee on Manufactures (Twenty-third Congress) and a member of the Virginia House of Delegates in 1838 from Williamsburg and was elected Speaker of the House in 1839.

1840 Presidential election

Tyler was drawn into the newly-organized Whig Party with an offer to be that party's vice-presidential nominee in 1840, as running mate to William Henry Harrison. Their campaign slogans of "Log Cabins and Hard Cider" and "Tippecanoe and Tyler too" are among the most famous in American politics. "Tippecanoe and Tyler too" not only offered the slight sectionalism that would further be apparent in the presidency of Tyler, but also the nationalism that was imperative to gain the American vote. The Whigs won the election, and Tyler was inaugurated vice-president on March 4, 1841.

Vice-Presidency 1841

Largely ignored by the men who were pressuring Harrison to give them jobs, Tyler went from Washington D.C. back to his home in Virginia shortly after the inauguration day.[3] Harrison sought little of Tyler's advice, and Tyler reportedly offered none.[3] On April 4, 1841, a month after Tyler had become Vice-President, Harrison died, and Tyler was informed at his home the next morning by the son of Harrison's Secretary of State.[3]

Presidency 1841-1845

"His Accidency"

1888 illustration of Vice President Tyler receiving the news of President Harrison's death from Chief Clerk of the State Department Fletcher Webster

Harrison's death caused considerable disarray regarding Harrison's successor. The Constitution of the United States asserted only thatIn 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

which led to the question of whether the office itself which "devolved" upon Vice-President Tyler or merely the powers and duties of the presidency. The problem was exacerbated by the fact that Harrison had been a Whig and Tyler had been a career Democrat. Tyler asserted that he was now, in name and fact, the President of the United States. Opposition members in Congress argued for Tyler to assume a role as an acting caretaker that would continue to use only the title Vice President. Others said that Tyler should be acting president. But members of the Harrison cabinet, as well as some members of Congress, feared that an acting leader's ability to successfully run the country would be compromised. They supported Tyler's claim to the office, and Tyler took the presidential oath of office on April 6, 1841, confirming his becoming the first U.S. vice president to assume the office of president upon the death of his predecessor. It was not until 1967 that Tyler's action of assuming full powers of the presidency was legally codified in the Twenty-fifth Amendment.

Despite the fact that his accession was given approval by both the Cabinet and, later, the Senate and House, Tyler's detractors 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. The rejection of Tyler went so far that he found himself accepted by no political party, making him one of only three Presidents (along with George Washington and Andrew Johnson) to have no party affiliation during part of his term.

Because of Harrison's faltering health and old age at the time of his election -- only Andrew Jackson, age seventy, had been older at the end of his second term -- the Whig Henry Clay was determined to become a "power behind the throne" and exercise great influence over the president who was also a Whig. The sudden death of Harrison and the ascencion of Tyler did not change Clay's ambition.Once Harrison was dead, Clay was even more determinded to hold sway over his successor. Amidst the constitutional uncertainties, Clay, "kept refering to Tyler as 'the Vice-President' and insisted that his administration would be more in the nature of a regency...[Tyler] quickly set the constitutional standard for later presidential successions by asserting that he was not merely "acting president" but had in fact acquired the full powers of the presidency...Tyler thundered at Clay: "Go you now, Mr. Clay, to your end of the avenue, where stands the Capitol, and there perform your duty to the country as you shall think proper. So help me God, I shall do mine at this end of it as I shall think proper. [4]

In 1842 the British author Charles Dickens called upon Tyler in the White House, writing that "he looked somewhat worn and anxious, and well he might; being at war with everybody - but the expression of his face was mild and pleasant, and his manner was remarkably unaffected, gentlemanly, and agreeable. I thought that in his whole carriage and demeanour, he became his station singularly well...."

Policies

Tyler's Presidency was rarely taken seriously in his time, as suggested by the nickname, His Accidency. Further, Tyler quickly found himself at odds with his former political supporters. Harrison had been expected to adhere closely to Whig Party policies and to work closely with Whig leaders, particularly Henry Clay. But Tyler, the life-long Democrat, shocked Congressional Whigs by vetoing virtually their entire agenda. Twice he vetoed Clay's legislation for a national banking act following the Panic of 1837, leaving the government deadlocked. Tyler was officially expelled from the Whig Party only a few months after taking office, and became known as "the man without a party." The entire cabinet he had inherited from Harrison resigned in September, with the exception of Daniel Webster, Secretary of State. Webster remained to finalize the Webster-Ashburton Treaty in 1842, as well as to demonstrate his independence from Clay.Second wife, Julia Gardiner Tyler

For two years, Tyler struggled with the Whigs, but when he nominated John C. Calhoun 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 was the first president to have a veto overridden by Congress, on a bill relating to revenue cutters and steamers. The override took place on Tyler's last full day in office, March 3, 1845.

The last year of Tyler's presidency was marred by a freak accident that killed two of his Cabinet members. During a ceremonial cruise down the Potomac River on February 28, 1844, the main gun of the USS Princeton blew up during a demonstration firing. Tyler was unhurt, but Thomas Gilmer, the Secretary of the Navy, and Abel P. Upshur, who had succeeded Daniel Webster at the State Department nine months earlier, were instantly killed. Julia Gardiner, whom Tyler had met two years earlier at a reception, and who would go on to become his second wife, was also aboard the Princeton that day. Her father, David Gardiner, was among those killed during the explosion. Upon hearing of her father's death, Gardiner fainted into the President's arms.[5] Tyler and Gardiner were married not long afterwards in New York City, on June 26, 1844.

Rhode Island's Dorr Rebellion

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 in 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. Previous to 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' were dispersing 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.[6] With their dispersion, they accepted the expansion of suffrage.

China, Hawaii, Britain, and the Native Americans

Tyler reportedly recognized the "coming importance of the Asian Pacific region to trade"[7], and sent a diplomatic mission to China, which successfully established consular and commercial relations between China and the United States, allowing the United States to gain the same trading concessions from China that Britain had.[7] Tyler also applied the Monroe Doctrine to Hawaii, told Britain not to interfere there, and begun the process of annexing Hawaii to the United States.[7] 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.[7] The issue of where the border lay had caused tension between the United States and Britain for a notable amount of time, and had brought the two countries narrowly to war with each other on several occasions.[7] The treaty improved Anglo-American diplomatic relations.[7] Tyler brought the Second Seminole War to an end in 1842, and he also advocated the establishment of a chain of American forts from Council Bluffs, Iowa, to the Pacific.[7] Tyler was unsuccessful in concluding a treaty with the British to fix the boundaries of Oregon.[7]

[edit] Impeachment attempt

Uncle Sam and his Servants

An anti-Tyler satire lampoons President Tyler's efforts to secure a second term against challengers Whig Henry Clay and Democrat James K. Polk. Clay, Polk, John C. Calhoun and Andrew Jackson attempt to get in as Tyler pushes the door shut on them. Uncle Sam demands that Tyler stop and let Clay in.

After Tyler vetoed a tariff bill in June 1842, the House of Representatives initiated the first impeachment proceedings against a president in American history. A committee headed by former president John Quincy Adams condemned Tyler's use of the veto.[8] On January 10, 1843, a resolution introduced by John Minor Botts, of Virginia, charged "John Tyler, Vice President acting as President" with nine counts of impeachable offenses, including corruption, official misconduct, and other high crimes and misdemeanors.[9] The resolution was defeated, 83-127.

In the elections of 1842, the Whigs lost control of the House (although they retained a majority in the Senate), and were therefore unable to pursue further impeachment proceedings.

Annexation of Texas

Tyler tried to form a new political party, but it needed more support before it could be established.[10] Tyler hoped to gain more support, by leading a drive for advocating the annexation of Texas by the United States.[10] Texas had declared independence from Mexico in 1836, and though Texas had succeeded in maintaining its independence as a result of its victory in the Texas Revolution, Mexico still considered it their territory, and Mexico threatened war with the United States should Tyler's wish of annexation be implemented.[10] Many Americans were worried that annexing Texas, a slave state, into the United States may upset the sectional balance within Congress.[10] Tyler believed that annexing Texas was a way he could achieve political respectability.[10] His new party, the Democratic Republicans, used the slogan "Tyler and Texas!"[10]

In what is considered "a serious tactical error that ruined the scheme [of establishing political respectability for him]"[10], Tyler appointed John C. Calhoun in 1844 as his Secretary of State.[10] Calhoun, as Secretary of State, was responsible for the negotiations with Texas over its admission to the Union.[10] The reason this is considered to be such an error, is Calhoun was an advocate of slavery, and his attempts to get an annexation treaty passed were resisted by abolitionists as a result.[10] Martin Van Buren also worked, behind the scenes of American politics, to ensure the annexation treaty was not approved, in an attempt to avenge his loss to Harrison and Tyler in the last presidential election.[10] Even with the support of Andrew Jackson for the treaty, the Senate of the United States failed to pass it.[10] Tyler wanted the issue of the annexation of Texas to be the foundation of his re-election campaign, and consequently submitted an annexation bill to the House of Representatives, and to the Senate, and both subsequently approved it.[10] Tyler signed the bill into law on March 1 1845, three days before the end of his term as President of the United States.[10]

Judicial appointments

Supreme Court

Tyler, ever at odds with Congress-including the Whig-controlled Senate-nominated several men to the Supreme Court to replace Justice Smith Thompson. However, the Senate successively voted against confirming John Canfield Spencer, Ruben Walworth, Edward King and John M. Read (King was actually rejected twice). Finally, in February 1845, with less than a month in his term, Tyler's nomination of Samuel Nelson was confirmed by the Senate. Nelson's successful confirmation was a surprise. But Nelson, although a Democrat, had a reputation as a careful and noncontroversial jurist.

Other courts

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

Judge Court Began service Ended service James Dandridge Halyburton E.D.Va. June 15, 1844 April 24, 1861 Elisha Mills Huntington D. Ind. May 2, 1842 October 26, 1862 Theodore Howard McCaleb E.D.La.

W.D.La.[11] September 3, 1841 January 28, 1861[12]

February 13, 1845 Samuel Prentiss D.Vt. April 8, 1842 January 15, 1857 Archibald Randall E.D.Pa. March 8, 1842 June 8, 1846 Peleg Sprague D.Mass. July 16, 1841 March 13, 1865

Florida

On Tyler's last full day in office, March 3, 1845, Florida was admitted to the Union.

Administration and Cabinet

Official White House portrait of John Tyler, oil on canvas, 1859 by George Peter Alexander Healy. Located in the Blue Room.

The Tyler CabinetOfficeNameTermPresidentJohn Tyler1841-1845 Vice PresidentNone1841-1845Secretary of StateDaniel Webster (W)1841-1843Abel P. Upshur (W)1843-1844John C. Calhoun (D)1844-1845Secretary of TreasuryThomas Ewing, Sr. (W)1841Walter Forward (W)1841-1843John C. Spencer (W)1843-1844George M. Bibb (D)1844-1845Secretary of WarJohn Bell (W)1841John C. Spencer (W)1841-1843James M. Porter (W)1843-1844William Wilkins (D)1844-1845Attorney GeneralJohn J. Crittenden (W)1841Hugh S. Legaré (D)1841-1843John Nelson (W)1843-1845Postmaster GeneralFrancis Granger (W)1841Charles A. Wickliffe (W)1841-1845Secretary of the NavyGeorge E. Badger (W)1841Abel P. Upshur (W)1841-1843David Henshaw (D)1843-1844Thomas W. Gilmer (D)1844John Y. Mason (D)1844-1845


Post-Presidency

Tyler retired to a Virginia plantation located on the James River in Charles City County, Virginia and originally named "Walnut Grove." He renamed it "Sherwood Forest" to signify that he had been "outlawed" by the Whig party. He withdrew from electoral politics, though his advice continued to be sought by states-rights Democrats.A daguerreotype of John Tyler circa 1850.

Tyler and the Civil War

On the eve of the Civil War, Tyler re-entered public life to sponsor and chair the Virginia Peace Convention, held in Washington, D.C. in February, 1861 as an effort to devise means to prevent the impending war. Tyler had long been an advocate of states' rights, believing that the question of a state's "free" or "slave" status ought to be decided at the state level, with no input from federal government. The convention sought a compromise to avoid civil war while the Confederate Constitution was being drawn up at the Montgomery Convention. When war broke out, Tyler unhesitatingly sided with the Confederacy, and became a delegate to the Provisional Confederate Congress in 1861. He was then elected to the House of Representatives of the Confederate Congress, but died in Richmond, Virginia before he could assume office.

Tyler's death was the only one in presidential history not to be officially mourned in Washington, because of his allegiance to the Confederacy. Tyler is also sometimes considered the only president to die outside the United States seeing that his place of death, Richmond, Virginia, was part of the Confederate States at the time. Tyler's favorite horse named "The General" is buried at his Sherwood Forest Plantation with a gravestone which reads, "Here lies the body of my good horse 'The General'. For twenty years he bore me around the circuit of my practice and in all that time he never made me blunder. Would that his master could say the same."[13]

Personal life

Marriage and children

John Tyler was married twice and had fifteen legitimate children.Tyler's grave at Hollywood Cemetery

His first wife was Letitia Christian Tyler, with whom he had eight children (Mary Tyler (1815-47); Robert Tyler (1816-77); John Tyler (1819-96); Letitia Tyler (1821-1907); Elizabeth Tyler (1823-50); Anne Contesse Tyler (1825); Alice Tyler (1827-54); Tazewell Tyler (1830-74)). Letitia died 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 (David Gardiner Tyler (1846-1927); John Alexander Tyler (1848-83); Julia Gardiner Tyler (1849-71); Lachlan Tyler (1851-1902); Lyon Gardiner Tyler (1853-1935); Robert Fitzwalter Tyler (1856-1927); Pearl Tyler (1860-1947)). His granddaughter Julia Gardiner Tyler Wilson daughter of Lyon Gardiner Tyler, was one of the founders of Kappa Delta Sorority.

Tyler was a slaveholder for his entire life. John Dunjee claimed to be the illegitimate son of John Tyler, a child of Tyler and one of his female slaves. There was also a mulatto woman who frequently traveled with the Tyler family who was alleged to be the president's daughter.

As of 2008 Tyler has one grandson, Harrison Ruffin Tyler (son of Lyon Gardiner Tyler), who is still alive. Lyon Gardiner Tyler was born in 1853 and Harrison Ruffin Tyler was born in 1928. (See: "Tyler Genealogy" at the Sherwood Forest website.) [2]

Health and death

Throughout Tyler's life, he suffered from poor health. Frequent colds occurred every winter as he aged. After his exit from the White House, he fell victim to repeated cases of dysentery. He has been quoted as having many aches and pains in the last eight years of his life. In 1862, after complaining of chills and dizziness, he vomited and collapsed during the Congress of Confederacy. He was revived, yet the next day he admitted to the same symptoms. It was likely that John Tyler died of a stroke. His final words were "I am going now, perhaps it is for the best." Tyler is buried in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia.

Legacy

According to the White House's biography of him, Tyler "strengthened the Presidency"[2], but also "increased sectional cleavage that led toward civil war".[2] Tyler was and is also considered to have, by claiming "the right to a fully functioning and empowered presidency instead of relinquishing the office or accepting limits on his powers"[14] , established a precedent for future Presidents of the United States.[14] With regards to Tyler's foreign policies, it is argued that "Tyler could claim an ambitious, successful foreign policy presidency, due largely to the efforts of Secretary of State Webster."[7] The city of Tyler, Texas is named after him.[15]

Presidential Coin of Tyler

Tyler postage stamp

From.

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