|Born:||Mar. 29, 1790, Charles City County, Va.|
|Political party||Democrat, elected on Whig ticket|
|Education||College of William and Mary, B.A., 1807|
|Military service||Virginia militia, 1813 (Captain)|
|Previous public office||♦ Virginia House of Delegates, 1811-16, 1823-25, 1838-40|
♦ House of Representatives, 1817-21
♦ governor of Virginia, 1825-27
♦ U.S. Senate, 1827-36
♦ Vice President, 1841
|Died||Jan. 18, 1862, Richmond, Va.|
John Tyler was born on March 29, 1790, at Greenway Plantation in Charles City County, Va. His father, John Tyler, was governor of Virginia and a judge of the U.S. District Court. Young Tyler attended several preparatory schools and graduated from the College of William and Mary in 1807. He then studied law and was licensed to practice at the age of 19.
Born and bred to be a Virginia gentleman of the old school, he swiftly ascended in state politics. He served successively in the Virginia House of Delegates (where he was elected in 21), the U.S. House of Representatives, and the governorship of Virginia before being elected to the U.S. Senate in 1827.
During these years Tyler emerged as one of the chief proponents of the states’-rights doctrine. He opposed internal improvements at Federal expense, a tariff to protect native industries, and a national banking system.
Tyler’s senatorial tenure coincided with Andrew Jackson’s presidency. Tyler, seeking a less imperial president and a stronger states’ rights policy, joined a small group of Jacksonians who deserted the fold and eventually became known as southern states’ rights Whigs. In 1836, the Jacksonian-controlled Virginia legislature demanded and secured the Tyler’s senatorial resignation.
Tyler soon received compensation for his losses. In 1836 Tyler ran for Vice President as a regional Whig candidate but lost to the Democratic ticket. In 1840, the Whig party, seeking a southern states’ righter to balance William Henry Harrison’s more nationalistic views, nominated Tyler as Harrison’s running mate. Although opposed to the Bank, the Whigs were attracted to Tyler because they believed correctly that he could help carry Southern states. Tyler, swept into subordinate office in the famous "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too" campaign, became president when Harrison died a month after the inaugural.
President Harrison died of pneumonia within a month of taking the oath. John Tyler was in an awkward position. It was not clear from the wording of the Constitution whether the Vice President succeeded to the office of President or only exercised the “powers and duties” of the office, serving merely as acting President
Tyler delivered a de facto inaugural address on 9 April reasserting his fundamental tenets of Jeffersonian democracy and limited federal power. Tyler's claim was not immediately accepted by opposition members in Congress such as John Quincy Adams, who argued for Tyler to assume a role as a caretaker under the title of "Acting President", or remain Vice President in name. Among those who questioned Tyler's authority was Whig leader Henry Clay, who had intended to be "the real power behind a fumbling throne" and exercise considerable influence over Harrison, and who now transferred that ambition onto his close friend, Tyler. He saw Tyler as the "Vice-President" and his presidency as a mere "regency".
On 1 June, impressed by his authoritative actions, both houses of Congress passed resolutions declaring Tyler the 10th President of the United States. Tyler had thus become the first U.S. Vice President to assume the office of President upon the death of the incumbent, establishing a precedent that would be followed seven times in the 19th and 20th centuries.
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 .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.
His Accidency’s greatest problem was that Whig nationalists, in command of the party, would take no commands from a states’ righter like Tyler.
The Whig cabinet moved to take control from the President. At the first cabinet meeting, Secretary of State Daniel Webster told Tyler that his predecessor had settled questions by majority vote of the cabinet. Tyler responded that he alone would be responsible for his administration, and he called for the resignation of anyone who did not accept his view.
Tyler wanted to pursue his own domestic program, which came much closer to the ideas of the Democrats. He did not command a majority in Congress, and the Whigs proceeded to pass their own banking bill, which he vetoed twice. With the help of Democrats, Tyler’s vetoes were sustained.
As a result, the Whig cabinet resigned, and the Whig party issued a statement disassociating itself from the Tyler administration. Whigs demanded that he resign and be succeeded by the president pro tempore of the Senate who would hold office until a special election could be held. Tyler refused and made recess appointments of Democrats to his cabinet. Eventually, the Whigs passed a resolution of censure against Tyler, claiming that his veto on policy grounds was unconstitutional.
Tyler was effective even though he was a President without a party. He resolved Dorr’s Rebellion, a civil war between two political factions in Rhode Island and he reorganized the navy.
The seemingly powerless president still remained potent enough to score a triumph: a few days before he left office Congress admitted Texas to the Union.
In the early 1840s, both major parties’ leaders (Clay and Van Buren) opposed adding Texas as a slave state to the nation, fearing a possible war with Mexico and an escalation of North-South tension (or perhaps they would oppose anything that might enhance Tyler's status).
But Tyler was afraid that Texas, if not annexed, would ally with England to secure protection against Mexico and would be forced to emancipate its relatively few slaves in order to seal the English bargain. Tyler, determined to protect the South and states’ rights, secured an annexation treaty and demanded that southern states’ righters come to his aid.
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 and started promoting his candidacy throughout the early months of 1844. 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 push the Democrats 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.
Tyler was unfazed when the Whig-controlled Senate rejected his Texas 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." 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. After some debate, Texas accepted the terms and entered the union on December 29, 1845, as the 28th state.
Tyler retired to a Virginia plantation, originally named Walnut 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. He did not take farming lightly and worked hard to maintain large yields throughout the 1840s. 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. 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
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 civil war. When the convention's proposals were rejected by Congress, Tyler abandoned hope of compromise and saw secession as the only option.
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. He died on January 18, 1862
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.
Tyler fathered more children than any other President in history. His first wife was Letitia Christian Tyler (November 12, 1790 - September 10, 1842), with whom he had eight children.
Tyler's wife 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.
Early in his presidency, Tyler was attacked with allegations that he had fathered (and sold) several sons with his slaves. A number of African American families today have an oral tradition of descent from Tyler, but no evidence of such a link has ever confirmed.
As of January 2012, Tyler has two living grandsons. He is the oldest former President with living grandchildren.
John Tyler was the first Vice President to succeed to the Presidency. He established the precedent that the successor becomes President and is not a Vice President “acting as President.”
"His Accidency" was also only the second politician to switch parties before attaining the White House and the first to be driven from his party before departing Pennsylvania Avenue.
The Tyler presidency is generally held in low esteem by historians and it is ranked as one of the least successful, basically due to the deadlock in domestic policies.
Yet this partisan without a party and chief executive with almost no followers showed that a President without a shred of popular or congressional support could still exercise the power to stalemate congressional majorities. And he scored a big presidential triumph, the Texas annexation.
He was described as "a courageous, principled man, a fair and honest fighter for his beliefs." 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. In any case, Tyler was a stronger and more effective President than generally remembered.