John Florens | Nov 28, 2023
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John Tyler (Charles City County, March 29, 1790 - Richmond, January 18, 1862) was an American lawyer and politician who served as the 10th president of the United States from 1841 to 1845, having previously briefly served as the country's 10th vice president. Elected by the Whig Party in the election of 1840, Tyler became president upon the death of William Henry Harrison just one month after his inauguration. He was known up to that point as a supporter of states' rights, something that made him popular with the people of Virginia, yet his actions as president showed his willingness to support nationalist policies as long as they did not infringe on state powers. Even so, the unexpected circumstances of his rise to the presidency and the threat of ambitious politicians like Henry Clay alienated him from both major parties at the time. Tyler firmly believed in manifest destiny and sought to strengthen and preserve the Union through territorial expansion, most notably by annexing the Republic of Texas in his last days in office.
Tyler was born into an eminent Virginia state family, coming to national prominence during a time of political upheaval. The only party in the country in the 1820s, the Democratic-Republican, had split into two factions. He initially stayed with the Democrats, however his opposition to Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren finally caused him to migrate to the Whig Party. Tyler served as a state representative, governor of Virginia, congressman, and senator before being elected vice president in 1840. He was placed on the ticket with the goal of drawing Southern supporters of states' rights into what was then a coalition in order to thwart Van Buren's re-election.
Harrison's death made Tyler the first vice president of the United States to ascend to the presidency without having been elected to the position. He immediately took the oath of office, moved into the White House, and assumed full presidential powers with the goal of preventing any constitutional uncertainties, setting a precedent that would be used for over a century until it was eventually codified in the Twenty-Fifth Amendment. Tyler felt that most of the Whig platform was unconstitutional, vetoing several bills from his party. He believed that the president should set the policy of the country rather than deferring it to Congress, trying to avoid the Whig establishment, most notably Senator Clay. Most of Tyler's cabinet quickly resigned, with the Whig expelling him from the party and dubbing him "His Acidence." Although he was not the first president to veto bills, he was the first to have his veto overridden by Congress. Tyler was able to achieve international accomplishments despite impasses in domestic politics, such as signing the Webster-Ashburton Treaty with the United Kingdom and the Treaty of Wanghia with the Qing Dynasty.
Tyler dedicated the last two years of his presidency to the annexation of Texas. He initially sought reelection as president, but withdrew from the race after failing to gain support. Congress eventually passed a resolution during his last days in office authorizing the annexation of Texas, something that was carried out by his successor James K. Polk. Tyler sided with the Confederate States of America when the War of Secession began in 1861, being elected to the Confederate congress shortly before he died. Historians have praised Tyler's political determination, however his presidency is generally held in low esteem. Today he is considered an obscure president with little presence in the cultural memory of the United States.
John Tyler was born on March 29, 1790 in Charles City County, Virginia, United States. His family came from a long line of politicians and traced their ancestry to 17th century Williamsburg. His father, John Tyler, Sr. also called Judge Tyler, was a friend and roommate of Thomas Jefferson and served as a Virginia state legislator along with Benjamin Harrison V, father of William Henry Harrison. Tyler Sr. was president of the Virginia House of Delegates for four years before becoming a state judge. He was then elected governor and served as a judge on the Richmond District Court. His wife Mary Marot Armistead was the daughter of Robert Booth Armistead, a prominent farmer. She died of a stroke when Tyler was seven years old.
Tyler had two brothers and five sisters and grew up on Greenway Plantation, a 1,200-acre property with a six-room house built by his father. The family's forty slaves grew various crops, including wheat, corn, and tobacco. Tyler Sr. was willing to pay high for tutors who would challenge his children academically. Tyler was a sickly child, thin and prone to suffering from diarrhea; such problems would affect him for the rest of his life. He entered a preparatory branch of the College of William and Mary at the age of twelve. Tyler finished the school branch of the college in 1807 at the age of seventeen. Among the books that formed his economic views was Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations, with Tyler also developing a passion for the works of William Shakespeare. His political views were shaped by Bishop James Madison, president of the college and cousin of the future president of the same name; Madison served as a second father to Tyler.
Tyler, after graduating, studied law with his father, then a state judge, and later also with Edmund Randolph, former Attorney General and Secretary of State of the United States. He was accepted into the bar association at the age of nineteen, something that was against the rules at the time: the judge who examined him did not ask his age. At that time, Tyler Sr. was serving as Governor of Virginia, with his son starting law practice in Richmond, the state capital. Tyler purchased a plantation in Woodburn in 1813, living there until 1821.
Tyler was elected in 1811 by the residents of Charles City County to the Virginia House of Delegates. He served five consecutive one-year terms, serving on the Court and Justice committee. His main policy positions were demonstrated at the end of his term in 1816: a strong support for states' rights and opposition to a national bank. He joined fellow Representative Benjamin W. Leigh in censuring Senators William Branch Giles and Richard Brent, who had voted for a new charter for First Bank of the United States against the instructions of the state legislature; at the time, legislatures elected senators and instructed them on certain issues.
At the same time the United States was facing hostilities with Britain in the War of 1812. Tyler, like most Americans at the time, was anti-British and called for military action early in the confrontation with a speech in the House of Delegates. He eagerly organized a militia company to defend Richmond after the British had in 1813 captured the town of Hampton, taking command with the rank of captain. No attacks occurred and the company was disbanded two months later. Tyler received a land grant near the future Sioux City, Iowa, for his military services.
His father died in 1813 and Tyler inherited sixteen slaves plus the plantation farm. He resigned his congressional seat in 1816 in order to serve on the Governor's State Council, a group of eight councilors elected by the Virginia General Assembly.
The death of Congressman John Clopton in 1816 opened a vacancy in the United States House of Representatives for Virginia's 23rd district. Tyler sought the seat as did his friend and political ally Andrew Stevenson. The election was a popularity contest as the two men held the same political views. Tyler's political connections and campaign skills won him the election by a small margin. He was sworn into the Fourteenth Congress on December 17 as a member of the Democratic-Republican Party, then the largest political party in the United States.
Although the Democratic-Republicans supported state directs, many of their members began to call for a stronger central government after the War of 1812. Most of the U.S. Congress wanted to see the federal government help fund internal improvements such as ports and roads. Tyler held to his strictly constructionist beliefs, rejecting such proposals on constitutional and personal grounds. He believed that each state should build the necessary projects within its own borders using locally generated money. The Congressman even commented that Virginia was "not in such poor condition to need a charitable donation from Congress." Tyler was chosen to participate in an 1818 audit of the Second Bank of the United States as part of a five-person committee, being baffled by the corruption he perceived in there. He argued for the revocation of the bank's charter, however Congress rejected such a proposal. His first confrontation with General Andrew Jackson occurred after the latter invaded Florida in 1818 during the First Seminole War. Although he praised the general, Tyler condemned him for his overzealousness and the execution of two British subjects. He was elected in early 1819 to a full term of Congress.
Tyler owned slaves all his life, as many as forty in Greenway. Although he considered slavery an evil and never tried to justify it, he also never freed a slave. Tyler considered slavery a matter for each state and believed that the federal government did not have the authority to abolish it. The conditions of his slaves are not well documented, however historians agree that he cared about their welfare and avoided employing physical violence against them.
The main issue facing the Sixteenth Congress was whether Missouri should be accepted into the Union and whether slavery would be allowed. Tyler recognized the evils of slavery but hoped that by letting it expand, there would be fewer slaves in the east as masters and slaves would venture west, making it possible to consider abolishing Virginia. The practice would thus be abolished by the individual action of the states while slavery rarefied, as it had in the northern states. He voted against the Missouri Compromise, which accepted Missouri as a slave state and Maine as a free state, because he believed that Congress did not have the power to regulate slavery and that accepting states based on whether or not they had slaves would lead to sectional conflict. The Compromise also prohibited slavery in states formed from the northern part of the territories. The bill was passed despite Tyler's opposition. Throughout his time as a congressman, he voted against bills that would restrict slavery.
Tyler declined to seek re-election in 1820, citing health problems. He privately acknowledged that he was dissatisfied with his position, as his votes were mostly symbolic and did little to change the political culture of Washington, D.C.; Tyler also commented that funding his children's education would be difficult on a low congressman's salary. He left office on March 3, 1821, supporting Stevenson to take his seat, returning to practice as a full-time lawyer.
Tour of Virginia
Tyler became restless and bored after two years of advocacy and tried in 1823 to get himself elected to the House of Delegates. No Charles City County members were seeking re-election and he won easily in April, finishing first among three candidates seeking to fill two seats. Tyler took his seat in December of the same year and found that the chamber was debating the impending presidential election of 1824. The public convention of congressional nomination, an old system of choosing candidates for president, was still in use despite its increasing unpopularity. Tyler tried to get the state legislators to choose William H. Crawford as the Democratic-Republican candidate. The convention opposition ended his bid despite the legislature's support for Crawford.
His major effort during his second term as a state legislator was to save the College of William and Mary, which was at the time suffering from dwindling enrollment, financial problems, and in danger of being closed. Tyler proposed establishing a series of administrative and fiscal reforms rather than moving the institution from Williamsburg to the capital city of Richmond, as some in the state had suggested. These ideas were passed into law and were successful: the institution would record the largest enrollment in its history so far in the 1840s.
Tyler's political fortunes were growing; he was considered in legislative deliberation as a possible candidate for the senate election in 1824. He was nominated in December 1825 as Governor of Virginia, a position that at the time was appointed by the state legislature. Tyler was elected with 131 votes while his opponent John Floyd received 81. The office of governor had no powers under the Virginia Constitution of the time, possessing neither veto authority. He enjoyed a prominent oratorical platform, yet could do little to influence the legislature. His most visible act as governor was to speak during the funeral of former Virginia native President Jefferson, who died on July 4, 1826. Tyler deeply admired Jefferson and his eloquent elegy was well received.
Tyler's tenure as governor was uneventful. He defended state rights and was firmly against any concentration of federal power. The governor suggested that Virginia expand its own highway system in order to frustrate the federal government's infrastructure proposals. A proposal was also brought up to expand the state's underfunded public school system, however no significant action was taken. Tyler was unanimously re-elected in December 1826 for another one-year term.
The Virginia General Assembly considered in January 1827 whether to elect Senator John Randolph to a full six-year term. Randolph was a controversial figure: although he shared with legislators a staunch view of states' rights, he had a reputation for inflammatory rhetoric and erratic behavior, something that put his allies in awkward positions. In addition, he had made enemies by fiercely opposing President John Quincy Adams and Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky. The nationalists in the Democratic-Republican party supported Adams and Clay and were a considerable minority in the Virginia legislature. They hoped to take Randolph's seat by winning the votes of states' rights supporters who were uncomfortable with the senator's reputation. They approached Tyler and promised support if he went after the seat. Tyler refused several times, supporting Randolph, however the political pressure continued to mount. He eventually relented and stated that he would accept the position if he was chosen. One Assembly member argued on the day of the vote that there were no differences between the two candidates: Tyler was simply a nicer person than Randolph. The incumbent's supporters rebutted by saying that Tyler's election would be a tacit endorsement of the Adams administration. The legislature ultimately selected Tyler by 115 votes to 110, with him resigning from his post as governor on March 4, 1827, the day his term as senator began.
The campaign for the 1828 presidential election was underway at the time of Tyler's election to the Senate. Then-President Adams was being challenged by General Jackson. The Democratic-Republicans had split between Adams' National Republicans and Jackson's Democrats. Tyler disliked the president for seeking to increase the power of the federal government, yet feared that the general would do the same. Still, Tyler increasingly came to lean politically to Jackson's side, hoping that Jackson would not try to spend as much federal money on domestic improvements as Adams did. About considering the general, he wrote, "Addressing , I can at least give myself up to hope; looking at Adams I must despair."
The first section of the Twentieth Congress began in early December 1827. Tyser served alongside his Virginia colleague and friend Littleton Waller Tazewell, who shared the same constructionist views and wary support for Jackson. Tyler during his time in the Senate vigorously opposed all bills for national infrastructure projects, believing that these were matters that each state should decide on its own. He and his fellow Southerners failed in their opposition to the protectionist Tariff of 1828, called the "Tariff of Abominations" by its detractors. Tyler suggested that the only positive outcome of the measure would be a national political repudiation, thus restoring state rights. He remained a great defender of states' rights, stating "they can throw the Federal Constitution out of existence with a word; demolish the Constitution and scatter its fragments to the winds."
Jackson was elected and Tyler soon began to disagree politically with the new president. The senator was frustrated by the newly created spoils system, describing it as an "election weapon." He voted against many of the president's appointments when they seemed based on patronage or when they did not follow the constitutional process. Opposing the appointments of a president from his own party was considered an "act of insurgency." Tyler was particularly offended that Jackson would use recess appointments to instate three commissioners who would meet with emissaries from the Ottoman Empire, introducing a bill rebuking the president for the actions.
Tyler tried to maintain good relations with Jackson, opposing the president on principle rather than out of partisanship. He defended Jackson for vetoing the Maysville Road funding bill, something the president had ruled unconstitutional. Tyler voted to confirm several of Jackson's appointments, including that of Martin Van Buren as U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom. The main issue for the 1832 presidential election was the renewal of the charter of the Second Bank of the United States, something both the senator and the president opposed. Congress voted in July 1832 for the new charter, however Jackson vetoed the bill on both practical and constitutional grounds. Tyler voted to uphold the veto and supported the president in his bid for re-election.
Tyler's difficult relationship with his party came to a head during the Twenty-second Congress when the Nullification Crisis began. South Carolina, threatening secession, passed the Nullification Ordinance in November 1832, declaring the "Tariff of Abominations" within its borders null and void. This raised the question whether states could nullify federal laws. Jackson denied such a right and prepared to sign the Force Bill into law to allow the federal government to use military action to enforce the tariff. Tyler was sympathetic to the reasons South Carolina passed nullification and opposed the use of military force against a state, speaking on his views in February 1833. He supported the Compromise Tariff proposed by Clay and John C. Calhoun with the goal of gradually reducing the tariff over ten years, something that eased tensions between states and the federal government.
Tyler knew that by voting against the Force Bill he would be alienating the pro-Jackson faction in Virginia, even those who had tolerated his wrongdoing up to that point. This would also hurt his own re-election in 1833, in which he would face pro-government Democrat James McDowell. Tyler was reelected with Clay's support by a margin of twelve votes; several legislators who had supported him mere weeks earlier ended up voting against him as a result of his position on the bill.
Jackson further offended Tyler by attempting to dissolve the Bank of the United States by executive decree. The president issued an order in September 1833 instructing Roger B. Taney, the Secretary of the Treasury, to transfer federal funds from the Bank to state banks. Tyler saw this as a "flagrant assumption of power," a breach of contract, and a threat to the economy. He finally decided to join Jackson's opponents after months of antagonizing him. Tyler, while on the Senate Finance Committee, voted in March 1834 for two resolutions of censure against the president. He affiliated with Clay's newly formed Whig Party, which controlled the Senate. With only a few hours left in the March 3, 1833 session, the Whigs elected Tyler as the president pro tempore of the Senate as a symbolic gesture of approval.
The Democrats took control of the Virginia House of Delegates shortly thereafter. Tyler was offered the chance to become a judge in exchange for his resignation, but he refused. He understood what would happen next: he would soon be forced by the legislature to vote against his constitutional beliefs. Senator Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri introduced a bill purging the censure against Jackson. Tyler could be instructed to vote for the bill by a resolution of the state legislature. If he ignored 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 the instructions," he remarked. Tyler sought the advice of friends for the next few months, receiving conflicting responses. He felt around February that his Senate career was probably at an end and sent his letter of resignation to Vice President Van Buren on February 29, 1836, stating:
Election of 1836
Although Tyler wished to give attention to his private life and family, he was soon pulled into the 1836 presidential election. His name had been suggested as a vice-presidential candidate since 1835, with the Virginia Whigs naming him as their candidate the same day the Democrats issued their purge instruction. The new Whig Party was not organized enough to hold a national convention and nominate a slate to face Van Buren, Jackson's successor. Instead, the Whigs in various regions established their ideal slate, something that reflected the party's tenuous coalition: the Massachusetts Whigs nominated Daniel Webster and Francis Granger, the Northern Anti-Masonic and border states supported William Henry Harrison and Granger, while the Southern states rights advocates sided with Hugh Lawson White and Tyler. In Maryland, the slate was Harrison and Tyler and in South Carolina it consisted of Willie Person Mangum and Tyler. The Whigs wished to prevent Van Buren from achieving a majority in the Electoral College by throwing the election to the House of Representatives where deals could be made. Tyler hoped that the voters would not be able to elect a vice president and that he would be one of the first two choices from which the Senate, under Twelfth Emanda, would choose.
Tyler stayed home for the entire campaign and made no speeches, following the custom of the time for candidates not to appear to want the office. He received only 47 Electoral College votes, from Georgia, South Carolina, and Tennessee, falling behind both Granger and Richard Mentor Johnson of Kentucky. Harrison was the highest numbered Whig candidate for president, however he lost to Van Buren. The presidential election was decided by the Electoral College as usual, but the vice-presidential election was with the Senate for the only time in American history, with the choice being Johnson over Granger on the very first ballot.
Tyler remained involved in Virginia politics even while serving as a senator. He served as a member of the state constitutional convention between October 1829 and January 1830, a role he was reluctant to accept. The original Virginia Constitution gave enormous influence to the more conservative eastern counties, as it allocated an equal number of legislators to each county (regardless of population size) and only granted suffrage to landowners. The convention gave greater opportunity for expansion of influence to the more liberal counties in the west. Tyler, a slave lord from eastern Virginia, supported the previous system. However, he kept a low profile throughout the debate because he did not wish to alienate the state political factions. Tyler was focusing on his Senate career, which needed a broad base of support, making speeches during the convention advocating unity and a middle ground.
After the election of 1836, Tyler believed his political career was at an end and so planned to return to the practice of law. A friend sold him a nice property in Williamsburg in 1837. However, Tyler was unable to stay out of politics and managed to get himself reelected to the House of Delegates, taking his seat in 1838. At this point he was a national political figure, with his third term as a delegate addressing national issues such as the sale of public lands.
His successor in the Senate was William Cabell Rives, a conservative Democrat. The General Assembly considered in February 1839 who should fill the seat that would end its term the following month. Rives had distanced himself from the party, signaling a possible alliance with the Whigs. Since Tyler had completely rejected the Democrats, he hoped the Whigs would support him. Even so, many Whigs considered Rives a politically advantageous choice as they hoped to be able to ally with the conservative wing of the Democratic Party for the 1840 presidential election. This strategy was supported by Clay, the party's leader, who nevertheless admired Tyler at the time. The vote was ultimately split between three candidates, including Tyler and Rives, with the Senate seat remaining vacant for nearly two years until January 1841.
The United States was in a serious recession called the Panic of 1837 at the time the 1839 Whig National Convention met in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. President Van Buren's unsuccessful efforts to deal with the situation cost him public support. Since the Democratic Party was divided into several factions, it was likely that the Whig slate would be elected the following year. Harrison, Clay, and General Winfield Scott were all vying for the presidential nomination. Tyler attended the convention and was one of the Virginia delegates, however he had no official role. The Virginia delegation refused to make Tyler their favored candidate for president because of the still unresolved question about the Senate election. He himself has done nothing to improve his chances. Should Clay, who was their preferred candidate for president, be chosen, Tyler would probably not be chosen as vice president because the vacancy should go to a northerner in order to ensure a geographical balance.
The convention was in a stalemate between the three candidates, with the Virginia votes going to Clay. Many northern Whigs opposed the senator, with some, including Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania, showing southerners a letter written by Scott in which he apparently showed abolitionist sentiments. The Virginia delegation announced that Harrison would be their second choice, causing many of Scott's supporters to abandon him, with Harrison getting the nomination.
Little importance was given to the appointment of the vice president; until then, no president had ever been unable to complete his term. Thus, the specifics of how Tyler was chosen remain unclear. Historian Oliver Perry Chitwood points out that Tyler was a logical candidate: as a Southern slave owner, he both balanced the slate and allayed Southern fears that Harrison might have abolitionist tendencies. Tyler had been a vice-presidential candidate in 1836, and his presence on the slate could help Virginia, the most populous state in the South. Thurlow Weed, a New York newspaper editor and one of the convention managers, claimed that "Tyler was finally picked up because we couldn't get anybody to accept him," but he only said this later when the then president broke with the Whig Party. Enemies of Tyler claimed that he cried his way to the White House, having received the nomination after crying over Clay's defeat, however such emotion would be unlikely since the senator did not reciprocate Tyler's support by championing Rives for the Senate seat. Virginia abstained when his name was placed on the ballot, however Tyler still received the necessary majority. As president, he was accused of winning the nomination by hiding his views, something he responded by saying he had never been asked about them. Biographer Robert Seager II maintained that Tyler's choice occurred because of a shortage of alternative candidates: "He was put on the slate to draw the South to Harrison. No more, no less."
There was no Whig platform; the leaders decided that trying to establish one would divide the party. Thus, the Whigs ran in opposition to Van Buren, blaming him and the Democrats for the recession. Tyler was praised in campaign materials for his integrity in resigning over the instructions of the legislature. The Whigs hoped they could gag Harrison and Tyler, thus preventing them from making statements that would alienate parts of the party. However, Vice President Johnson conducted a successful speech tour, with Tyler being called all the way to Columbus, Ohio, to speak before the local convention, a speech that was intended to assure Northerners that he shared Harrison's views. Tyler gave speeches at rallies during his nearly two-month journey. He could not avoid questions, and when he was questioned and admitted that he supported the Tariff Commission (something many Whigs did not support), he needed to quote Harrison's vague speeches in order to get away with it. Tyler completely avoided the Bank of the United States issue, a major talking point at the time, during his two-hour speech in Columbus.
To win the election, Whig leaders decided to mobilize people across the country, including women, who could not vote. This was the first time that an American political party included women in campaign activities on a wide scale, with Virginia women being very active on Tyler's behalf. The party hoped to avoid trouble and win through public enthusiasm, with torchlight processions and alcohol-heavy political rallies. Interest in the campaign was unprecedented, with many public events. The Democratic press represented Harrison as an old soldier who would abandon his own campaign if given a barrel of cider to drink in his wooden cottage. It was not published that he lived in a palatial estate on the banks of the Ohio River, with Tyler also living in a nice residence, however images of wooden cottages ended up appearing everywhere from banners to whiskey bottles. Cider was the favorite drink of many farmers and merchants, with the Whigs claiming that Harrison preferred the common man's drink. Democrats complained that their opponents' liberal campaign encouraged drunkenness.
Harrison's military service was emphasized, hence the election song "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too", referring to his victory at the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811; the slogan remains known in the United States to this day. Chorales sprang up all over the country singing patriotic and inspirational songs: one Democratic editor said he found the songs in support of the Whig Party unforgettable. Among the lyrics sung were "We shall vote for Tyler therefore
Clay, though embittered by another of his many defeats for the presidency, was mollified by Tyler's withdrawal from the unresolved Senate race, something that would allow Rives to be elected by campaigning in Virginia for the party plate. Tyler predicted that the Whigs would easily win in Virginia; he was embarrassed when this proved incorrect, but was consoled by the victory in the general election. Harrison and Tyler won in the electoral vote by 234 to 60, with 53 percent of the popular vote. Van Buren won in only six states out of 26 total. The Whigs also won a majority in both chambers of Congress.
Tyler remained in Williamsburg as vice president-elect. Privately he expressed hopes that Harrison would prove decisive and not allow intrigue within the Cabinet, especially in the early days of the government. Tyler did not participate in the Cabinet selection and did not recommend anyone for federal positions under the new Whig administration. Harrison, harassed by office seekers and Clay's demands, sent letters to Tyler on two occasions asking for advice on whether a Van Buren appointment should be dismissed. In both cases, Tyler recommended against it and Harrison accordingly stated, "Mr. Tyler says they should not be removed, and I will not remove them." The two met briefly in Richmond in February and attended a parade together,
Tyler was sworn in on March 4, 1841 inside the Senate chamber, delivering a three-minute speech on states' rights before attending the inauguration of new senators and attending Harrison's inauguration. The president held a two-hour speech under freezing cold, with the vice president thereafter returning to the Senate to receive Cabinet nominations, presiding over the confirmations the next day for a total of two hours as president of the Senate. Tyler expected few responsibilities and so left Washington quietly, returning to his home in Williamsburg. Seager later wrote that "Had William Henry Harrison lived, John Tyler would undoubtedly have been as obscure as any other vice president in American history."
Meanwhile, Harrison struggled to meet the demands of Clay and others seeking office and influence in the new government. The president's advanced age and failing health were no secret during the campaign, with the question of presidential succession being on the minds of several politicians. The first few weeks of the presidency affected Harrison's health, with him catching pneumonia and pleurisy in late March after experiencing a storm. Daniel Webster, the Secretary of State, informed Tyler on April 1 of the president's condition; two days later, attorney James Lyons wrote with news that Harrison had worsened, commenting that "I shall not be surprised to hear in tomorrow's mail that Gen. Harrison has departed." The vice president was determined not to travel to Washington because he did not want to appear unseemly in anticipation of the president's death. Fletcher Webster, son of the Secretary and Chief Clerk of the State Department, arrived at Tyler's farm by dawn on April 5 with a letter from his father informing him of Harrison's death the morning of the previous day.
Harrison's unprecedented death in office caused considerable uncertainty about the presidential succession. The United States Constitution merely stated that:
This led to the question as to whether the office of President "fell" to the Vice President or merely his powers and duties. The Cabinet met only an hour after Harrison's death and, according to a later account, determined that Tyler would be "acting Vice President." However, when Tyler arrived in Washington at 4 a.m. on April 6, he was firmly convinced that he was, in title and in fact, the President of the United States. Tyler took the oath of office as President from his own determination, something that was administered without qualification by Judge William Cranch inside a hotel room. He considered the presidential oath redundant to his oath as vice president, however he wished to end any doubts about his ascension.
Tyler convened the Cabinet for a session immediately after his inauguration, having decided to keep all its members. Webster informed him of Harrison's practice of deciding policy from majority votes. The Cabinet hoped that the new president would continue this practice. Tyler was amazed and quickly corrected them:
He held an inaugural address on April 9, reaffirming his fundamental thoughts of Jeffersonian democracy and limited federal power. Tyler's claim that he was president was not initially accepted by opposition members of Congress such as former President Adams, who felt he should be a caretaker under the title "Acting President" or remain as vice president in name. Among those who questioned his authority was Clay, who intended to be "the real power behind the faltering throne" while Harrison was alive, wanting the same for Tyler. Clay saw him as the "vice president" and his presidency as a mere "regency."
Ratification of the decision by Congress came via the customary notification that is given to the president, i.e. in session and available to receive messages. Both chambers received unsuccessful amendments to remove the word "president" in favor of some expression with the term "vice president" to refer to Tyler. Senator Robert J. Walker of Mississippi, a member of the opposition, stated that it was absurd that Tyler was still the vice president and could preside over the Senate.
Tyler's opponents never fully accepted him as the president. He was called by many with jocular nicknames, including "His Acidence." However, Tyler never wavered in his conviction that he was the legitimate president; when his opponents sent correspondence to the White House addressed to the "vice president" or "acting president," Tyler would have it returned unopened.
Economics and conflicts
Harrison was expected to faithfully adhere to Whig Party policies and defer to party congressional leaders, particularly Clay. Tyler, was initially in agreement with the new Congressional Whigs and ratified laws such as a preemption act guaranteeing "squatter sovereignty" for settlers on public lands, a distribution act, a new bankruptcy law, and the repeal of the Independent Treasury instated by Van Buren. However when it came to the big banking issue, the president soon diverged from the party. On two occasions he vetoed Clay's legislation for a national bank. Although the second bill was supposedly shaped in order to address his objections over the first veto, the final version was not. This practice had been designed in order to protect Clay from having a successful president run for the Whig nomination in the 1844 election. Tyler proposed an alternative tax plan known as the "Treasury," however the senator's friends did not accept it.
After the second veto of the bench, the cabinet members entered Tyler's office on September 11, 1841 and resigned from their positions one by one - a maneuver orchestrated by Clay to force the resignation of the president and put Samuel L. Southard, the president pro tempore of the Senate, in his place. The only exception was Webster, who stayed on to finalize what became the Webster-Ashburton Treaty and demonstrate his independence from Clay. When the secretary told him that he was willing to stay, Tyler supposedly said, "Give me your hand on that and you will tell you that Henry Clay is a damned man." The Whig Congress expelled the party chairman on September 13 when it became clear that he would not resign. Tyler was attacked by the Whigs newspapers and received hundreds of letters with assassination threats. Congressional Whigs were so furious with Tyler that they refused to provide funds to renovate the White House, which was then badly deteriorated.
The federal government was facing a projected budget deficit of eleven million dollars by the middle of 1841. Tyler recognized the need for higher taxes, yet wanted to stay within the twenty percent margin created by the 1833 Tax Compromise. As an emergency measure to manage the ever-increasing state debts, he also supported a plan to distribute to the states any rents coming from the sale of public lands, even though this cut into federal income. The Whigs supported high protectionist taxes and national funding of state infrastructure works, so there was enough common ground to reach an agreement. The Distribution Act of 1841 created a distribution program with a twenty percent tax cap; a second bill raised taxes on certain goods to that amount. It became clear in March 1842 that, despite these measures, the federal government was still in a dangerous financial situation.
The root of the problem was the economic crisis initiated by the Panic of 1837 that was already entering its sixth year in 1842. A speculative bubble had burst between 1836 and 1839 causing the ruin of the financial sector and the subsequent depression. The country ended up being very divided about the best response against the crisis. A decade earlier, when the economy was still strong, Congress had promised a reduction in the hated federal taxes to the southern states. The northern states welcomed the taxes as they protected their industries, but the south had no industrial base and depended on free access to British markets to sell their cotton. 1842 had been the promised year in which the taxes would be reduced. Tyler lamented that it would be necessary to override the Compromise of 1833 and increase taxes beyond the twenty percent limit. This would suspend the distribution program under the previous agreement, with all rents remaining with the federal government.
The Whigs refused to raise taxes in a way that would affect distribution. They passed two bills in 1842 that would increase taxes and unconditionally extend the distribution program. Tyler vetoed both bills, destroying any remaining ties to the party, because he believed it was improper to continue distribution at the same time that federal revenues needed a tax increase. Congress tried again by combining the two bills into one; the president vetoed it again, angering many members of Congress, who were still unable to override the veto. Since some action was needed, the Whigs, led by Millard Fillmore, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, passed a bill in each chamber by one vote restoring taxes to the same levels as in 1832 and ending the distribution program. Tyler signed the Tariff of 1842 on August 30, letting a separate bill restoring distribution expire.
The Whigs in the House of Representatives initiated shortly after the tax vetoes the first impeachment proceedings against a president in the history of the United States. This was not just a matter of the Whigs' support for the legislations vetoed by Tyler; until the presidency of Jackson, the party's arch enemy, presidents rarely vetoed bills, and if it occurred, it was usually on the grounds of whether something was unconstitutional or not. Tyler's actions ran counter to the Whigs' view that the president should allow Congress to make policy-related decisions. Representative John Botts introduced a resolution on July 10, 1842. It laid several charges against the president and called for a committee of nine people to investigate his behavior, with the expectation of a formal recommendation for impeachment. Clay felt that this move was prematurely aggressive, favoring a more "moderate" progression to Tyler's "inevitable" impeachment. Botts' resolution was delayed until January of the following year, when it was rejected by 127 votes to 83.
A committee led by John Quincy Adams condemned the use of the veto and criticized the president's personality. Adams was a staunch abolitionist and disliked the fact that Tyler owned slaves. Although the committee's report did not formally recommend impeachment, it clearly established the possibility. The House of Representatives supported the report in August 1842 by 98 votes to ninety. Adams sponsored a constitutional amendment to change the need for a two-thirds majority in overriding vetoes to a simple majority, but the two chambers never passed such a measure. The Whigs were unable to continue impeachment proceedings in the subsequent Twenty-eighth Congress, for in the 1842 election they retained a majority in the Senate but lost control of the House of Representatives. Congress subsequently managed to override a veto by Tyler on a minor bill one day before the end of his term on March 3, 1845. This was the first instance of the override of a presidential veto in the history of the United States.
The battles between Tyler and the Whigs in Congress caused several of his Cabinet nominees to be rejected. He had little support from the Democrats, and without much support from the two major parties at the time, many of his nominations were rejected regardless of the nominee's qualifications. It was unprecedented for a President's cabinet nomination to be rejected, however James Madison had in 1809 withheld the nomination of Albert Gallatin as Secretary of State due to opposition in the Senate. It was not until 1868 that another cabinet nomination was rejected, when Henry Stanbery was rejected by the Senate as Attorney General.
Four of Tyler's nominees were rejected, the most of any president in American history. These were Caleb Cushing for Secretary of the Treasury, David Henshaw for Secretary of the Navy, James Madison Porter for Secretary of War, and James S. Green also for Secretary of the Treasury. Henshaw and Porter served as recess appointments before their rejections. Tyler repeatedly nominated Cushing, who was ultimately rejected three times in a single day on March 3, 1843, the last day of the Twenty-seventh Congress.
Foreign and military
Tyler's difficulties with his domestic policy were in stark contrast to some notable achievements made in foreign policies. He had long advocated expansionism toward the Pacific Ocean and free trade, fond of evoking the themes of national destiny and the spread of freedom to support these policies. His policies aligned with Jackson's earlier efforts in order to promote American trade across the Pacific. Tyler badly wanted to compete with Britain in international markets, sending Cushing to China, where he negotiated in 1844 the Treaty of Wanghia.
The president applied the Monroe Doctrine to Hawaii (nicknamed the "Tyler Doctrine") during a special message to Congress in 1842, warning Britain not to interfere in the islands and beginning a process that led to the eventual annexation of Hawaii by the United States later in the century.
Webster negotiated in 1842 the Webster-Ashburton Treaty with the United Kingdom, which established the location of Canada's border with Maine. This issue had caused conflict between the Americans and the British for decades and nearly led to war between the two countries several times. This treaty improved Anglo-American relations. However, Tyler was unable to conclude a treaty with the United Kingdom over the Oregon borders. Florida was accepted as the 27th state on March 3, 1845, his last full day in office.
Tyler advocated an increase in military strength. His administration was praised by naval leaders, who saw the opportunity for a growth in the market for warships. The president ended the long and bloody Second Seminole War in 1842, expressing interest in forcing cultural assimilation of the Native American peoples. He also advocated the establishment of a network of forts from Council Bluffs in Iowa to the Pacific Ocean coast.
Dorr's Rebellion broke out in Rhode Island in May 1842, with Tyler pondering the request of Governor Samuel Ward King and the state legislature about sending federal troops in order to suppress the insurgents. These were led by Thomas Wilson Dorr and had armed themselves with the goal of proposing a new constitution for the state. Prior to this, Rhode Island was following the same constitutional structure that had been established in 1663. The president called for calm for both sides and recommended that the governor expand the structures of the state to allow voting for most men. Tyler also promised to send military aid to support the regular government if a real armed insurrection occurred. He made it clear that federal assistance would be given to subdue the uprising, not prevent it, so it would not be available until violence had occurred. After hearing reports from his undercover agents, the president decided that "lawless assemblies" had dispersed and expressed confidence in a "temperament of conciliation as well as of energy and decision." He did not send in federal forces. The rebels fled the state when the state militia marched against them, however the incident led to a larger suffrage within Rhode Island.
Two vacancies on the United States Supreme Court occurred during Tyler's presidency, the result of the deaths of Justices Smith Thompson and Henry Baldwin in 1843 and 1844 respectively. The president, always in conflict with Congress, appointed several men to fill these positions. However, the Senate repeatedly voted against the confirmation of John Canfield Spencer, Reuben H. Walworth, Edward King and John M. Read; Walworth was rejected three times while King twice. One of the reasons cited for the Senate's actions was the hope that Clay would fill these vacancies after winning the 1844 presidential election. Tyler's four unsuccessful appointments are the most of any president in history.
Finally in February 1845, less than a month before the end of his term, his nomination of Samuel Nelson for Thompson's seat was confirmed by the Senate. Nelson was a Democrat who had the reputation of a careful and unconventional jurist. His confirmation was nevertheless a surprise. Baldwin's seat remained vacant until Robert Cooper Grier, an appointment by James K. Polk, was confirmed in 1846.
Annexation of Texas
Tyler shortly after becoming president made annexation of the Republic of Texas part of his platform for government. Texas had declared its independence from Mexico in 1836 during the Texas Revolution, however Mexico refused to recognize it as an independent country. The people of Texas actively went after joining the United States, however Jackson and Van Buren were reluctant to inflame the tensions of slavery by annexing another Southern state. Tyler, on the other hand, wanted annexation to be the focal point of his government. Webster was against it, managing to convince the president to focus on Pacific initiatives until later in his term. Although historians and scholars agree that Tyler desired westward expansionism, they disagree on the motivations. Biographer Edward C. Crapol suggests that Tyler, in his time as a congressman during James Monroe's presidency, had suggested that slavery was a "black cloud" hanging over the Union that needed to be "dispersed," so that with fewer blacks in the old slave states a gradual process of emancipation would begin in Virginia and spread to other states. However, historian William W. Freehling wrote that Tyler's motivation for annexing Texas was to defeat supposed efforts by the United Kingdom to promote the emancipation of Texas slaves so that thereby the institution would be weakened in the United States.
Tyler felt ready to go after Texas in 1843 after the Webster-Ashburton Treaty and other diplomatic efforts were finalized. Without a party of his own, he saw annexation as his only means to a re-election in 1844. The president was for the first time in his life willing to play the "political game" in order to achieve it. Tyler sent his ally Thomas Walker Gilmer, then a congressman from Virginia, to publish a letter advocating annexation in order to gauge the reaction, which proved to be quite positive. The president had a successful relationship with Webster, however he knew he would need a Secretary of State who supported the initiative over Texas. The secretary realized the president's shift in focus and was already having his treaty with the British concluded, with Tyler forcing Webster's resignation and installing Hugh S. Legaré as interim successor.
With the help of John Canfield Spencer, newly appointed Secretary of the Treasury, Tyler cleaned out the civil servants and replaced them with pro-annexation supporters, a reversal of his previous stance against patronage. He took help from political organizer Michael Walsh to build a base in New York. Journalist Alexander G. Abell wrote a flattering biography called Life of John Tyler, which was published in bulk and given to postmaster generals for distribution in exchange for an appointment as consul in Hawaii. The president embarked on a tour of the country in 1843 in order to rehabilitate his image. The positive reception from the public contrasted with his ostracism in Washington. The trip centered on the dedication of the Bunker Hill Monument in Boston. Tyler found out about Legaré's sudden death shortly thereafter, something that diminished the festivities and caused him to cancel the rest of the trip.
Typer appointed Abel P. Upshur, the popular Secretary of the Navy and close advisor, as the new Secretary of State and appointed Gilmer to fill Upshur's former position. Tyler and Upshur began negotiations with the Texas government, promising military protection in exchange for commitment to annexation. Secrecy was necessary as the Constitution required Congressional approval for such commitments. Upshur planted rumors of possible British plans for Texas in order to increase support among northern voters, who were reluctant to accept a new slave state. The secretary told Texas in January 1844 that there was a large majority of those were in favor of an annexation treaty. The republic remained skeptical and finalization of the treaty took until the end of February.
A ceremonial trip down the Potomac River was held aboard the newly built battleship USS Princeton on February 28, 1844, the day after the annexation treaty was finalized. On board was four hundred guests, including Tyler and his cabinet, and the largest naval cannon in the world at the time, the "Peacemaker." The gun ceremonially fired several times during the afternoon to the delight of the passengers, who then went below deck for a toast. Captain Robert F. Stockton was convinced by the crowd several hours later to fire the cannon once more. As the guests made their way back upstairs, Tyler stopped briefly to watch his son-in-law William Waller sing a ditty.
The cannon eventually exploded. Tyler was not injured as he was safely on the lower deck, however several other people were killed instantly, including two key members of his cabinet: Upshur and Gilmer. Also killed or mortally wounded were Virgil Maxcy, chargé d'affaires in Belgium; civilian David Gardiner; Commodore Beverly Kennon, chief of construction for the United States Navy; and also Armistead, Tyler's slave and personal servant. Gardiner's death had a devastating effect on his daughter Julia, who collapsed and was carried to safety by the president himself. She subsequently recovered from her grief and married Tyler in June.
For Tyler, any hopes of completing the annexation of Texas by November and consequently any chance of reelection were instantly destroyed. Historian Edward P. Crapol later wrote, "Before the Civil War and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln," the Princeton debacle "was unquestionably the most serious and debilitating tragedy to confront a President of the United States."
Tyler appointed former Vice President John C. Calhoun as the new Secretary of State in March 1844, a move that the Miller Center considered "a serious tactical error that ruined the scheme [of establishing political respectability for the president]." His friend Congressman Henry A. Wise wrote that he himself offered Calhoun the position after the Princeton debacle through a colleague, who assumed the offer had come from the president. Tyler was furious when Wise told him what he had done but felt that the action should now be upheld. Calhoun was a strong supporter of slavery, with all his attempts to pass the annexation treaty consequently facing resistance from abolitionists. The text of the treaty eventually leaked out and faced opposition from the Whigs, who were against anything that might improve Tyler's position, as well as enemies of slavery and those who feared a confrontation with Mexico, which had announced that it would consider annexation a hostile act on the part of the United States. Both Clay and Van Buren, the favorites for the Whig and Democratic presidential nominations, decided to hold a private meeting at the former president's home in order to oppose the annexation. Tyler learned of this and did not expect the treaty to be approved when he sent it in April 1844 for ratification in the Senate.
Tyler began to reconnect with his old Democratic Party after breaking with the Whigs in 1841, but their members, especially the followers of Van Buren, were not ready to receive him. He knew that with his re-election chances being low, the only way to save his presidency and legacy was to get public opinion on the Texas issue. The president formed a third party called the Democratic-Republican through public officials and political contacts he had built up over the years. A network of pro-Tyler newspapers around the country placed editorials in the early months of 1844 promoting his candidacy. Reports of meetings held around the country suggested that support for the president was not limited to public officials, as was often thought. Tyler's supporters held signs written "Tyler and Texas!" and held their convention in Baltimore in May, right when the Democrats were also holding their convention. They gave the nomination to the president on May 27 with great energy and visibility.
The Democrats were forced to accept the annexation of Texas as part of their platform, however there was a major battle for the presidential nomination. Van Buren failed to achieve the necessary majority of delegates vote after vote, slowly losing votes. It was not until the ninth ballot that the Democrats turned their attention to James K. Polk, a less prominent candidate who supported annexation. They found him perfectly compatible with their platform and nominated him with two-thirds of the vote. Tyler considered his work vindicated and suggested in an acceptance letter that annexation was his real priority rather than re-election.
Tyler stood by impassively in June 1844 when the Whigs in the Senate rejected his treaty, believing that annexation was within reach. He called for Congress to annex Texas by a joint resolution rather than by treaty. Former President Jackson, a strong supporter of annexation, persuaded Polk to welcome Tyler back to the party and ordered Democratic editors to stop attacking him. The president was pleased with these developments and pulled out of the race in August, supporting Polk for the presidency. The latter's narrow victory against Clay in the election was seen by the Tyler administration as a mandate for annexation. The president announced in his last annual message to Congress that "a controlling majority of the people and a large majority of the states have declared themselves in favor of immediate annexation." The House of Representatives passed in February 1845 by a small margin of only 27 to 25 a joint resolution offering annexation terms to Texas. On March 1, three days before the end of his term, Tyler signed the bill into law. Texas accepted the terms after some debate and entered the union on December 29, 1845 as the 28th state.
Tyler had more children than any other president. He was first married on March 29, 1813 to Letitia Christian, with whom he had eight children: Mary (1815-1847), Robert (1816-1877), John (1819-1896), Letitia (1821-1907), Elizabeth (1823-1850), Anne (1825-1825), Alice (1827-1854), and Tazewell (1830-1874).
Letitia died of a stroke at the White House in September 1842. Tyler married a second time on June 26, 1844 to Julia Gardiner, with whom he had seven children: David (1846-1927), John Alexander (1848-1883), Julia (1849-1871), Lachlan (1851-1902), Lyon (1853-1935), Robert Fitzwalter (1856-1927), and Pearl (1860-1947).
Although his family was dear to him, Tyler often spent long periods away from home during his political rise. Duty was important to him as a Southern gentleman, including to his family. He wrote in 1821 after refusing re-election to Congress that he would soon be called upon to raise his growing family. It was difficult to practice law in Washington for part of the year and his farm was more profitable when he was available to manage it personally. He had accepted having to spend part of the year away from his family by the time he entered the Senate in 1827, but still tried to stay close to his children by letters.
Tyler was attacked in December 1841 by abolitionist publisher Joshua Leavitt, who accused him of fathering several children with his female slaves and then selling them. Several African-American families today have an oral tradition of claiming to be descended from Tyler, but there is no concrete evidence that this is true.
In 2019, two of Tyler's grandchildren are still alive, making him the oldest former president with direct parentage still alive. Lyon Gardiner Tyler Jr. was born in 1924 and Harrison Ruffin Tyler was born in 1928. Lyon resides in Franklin, Tennessee, and Harrison Tyler maintains the family home, Sherwood Forest Plantation, in Charles City County, Virginia.
Tyler went to his plantation in Virginia, originally called Walnut Grove, located on the James River in Charles City County. He renamed it Sherwood Forest in reference to the Robin Hood stories to signify that he had been "outlawed" by the Whigs. He took his life as a farmer seriously and worked to maintain large earnings. His neighbors, mostly Whigs, appointed him in 1847 as a mockery for the minor position of road overseer. To everyone's chagrin he took the job seriously, often calling on his neighbors to grant slaves to work on the roads, insisting on continuing his duties even after his neighbors asked him to stop. Tyler stepped out of political life and rarely received visits from friends. Occasionally he would receive a request for a public speech, however he was not sought after as an advisor. One notable speech was at the unveiling of a monument to Clay; the former president acknowledged the political battles between the two, but praised his former colleague, whom he had always admired for achieving the Tax Compromise of 1833. Tyler spent his time with the Virginia aristocracy, going to parties, visiting or being visited by prominent families, and summers at his seaside residence Villa Margaret.
Several communities in Virginia organized militias after John Brown's attack on the town of Harpers Ferry in October 1859 ignited fears old and new of an abolitionist attempt to free slaves. Tyler's community organized a troop of cavalry and a company of guards; the former president was chosen to command the guard with the rank of captain. Tyler returned to public life on the eve of the War of Secession as a participant in the Virginia Peace Conference held in Washington in February 1861 with the goal of trying to find a way to prevent civil war. The convention sought an agreement even while the Confederate Constitution was being drafted in Virginia. Despite his leadership role in the conference, Tyler was against its final resolutions because he felt they were written by free delegates, did not protect the rights of slave owners in the territories, and would do little to maintain the South and restore the union, ultimately voting against all seven resolutions. These were sent to Congress in late February 1861 as amendments to the Constitution.
Tyler was elected to the Virginia Secession Convention the same day the Peace Conference began, presiding over its opening session on February 13. The former president abandoned any hopes of a middle ground when Congress rejected the resolutions, coming to see secession as the only option and incorrectly predicting that a clean separation of the southern states would not cause a war. He voted on April 4 for the secession of Virginia, however this was rejected by the convention. Tyler voted again for secession, this time with a majority, after the attack on Fort Sumter on April 17 and President Abraham Lincoln's call for troops. The former president led a committee that negotiated the terms of Virginia's entry into the Confederate States of America and helped establish the salaries of military officers. Tyler signed the Ordinance of Secession on June 14, and was unanimously elected by the convention as a delegate to the Provisional Confederate Congress. He attended the congress from August 1, 1861 until shortly before his death the following year. Tyler was elected to the Confederate Congress in November, but died before the first session began.
Tyler suffered from poor health throughout his life. As he grew older he began to suffer from more frequent colds during the winters. He vomited and collapsed in Richmond on January 12, 1862 after complaining of chills and dizziness. Tyler was treated, however he did not improve and made plans to return to Sherwood Forest around the 18th. He began to choke while lying down to sleep the night before his departure, with Julia calling his doctor. He took a last sip of brandy shortly after midnight and told his doctor, "I'm going. Maybe it's better." Tyler died shortly thereafter on January 18, 1862, probably a victim of a stroke.
His death was the only one in American presidential history not to be officially recognized in Washington because of his alliance with the Confederacy. Tyler had requested a simple burial, but Confederate President Jefferson Davis prepared a huge, politically charged funeral, painting Tyler as a hero of the new nation. Accordingly, his coffin was covered with the flag of the Confederate States; he remains to this day the only president of the United States to be buried under a foreign flag. Tyler was buried from Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond in Virginia, right next to the grave of President James Monroe.
Tyler's presidency has already provoked divisive responses from historians and academics, and is generally held in low esteem. Edward P. Crapol began his biography of the former president by writing that "Other biographers and historians have argued that John Tyler was a hapless and inept chief executive whose presidency was seriously flawed." Historian Dan Monroe noted that Tyler's administration "is generally ranked as one of the least successful." Robert Seager II stated that Tyler "was neither a great president nor a great intellectual," commenting that despite some accomplishments, "his administration has been and should be counted as an unsuccessful one by any modern measure." A 2009 C-SPAN survey of 65 historians placed Tyler 35th out of 42 men who had held the office up to that time.
According to historian William W. Freehling, Tyler's claim after Harrison's death that he possessed full presidential powers "established an enormously important precedent." His successful insistence that he was the president and not a gatekeeper or acting president became the model for the succession of seven other presidents in the 19th and 20th centuries. Tyler's actions in assuming both the title and full powers of the presidency would not be legally recognized until 1967, when they were codified in the Twenty-Fifth Amendment.
Academics have praised Tyler's foreign policy. Monroe credits him with "such achievements as the Webster-Ashburton treaty which initiated the prospects of better relations with Great Britain, 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 is generally remembered," while Seager II wrote that "I find him a brave and principled man, a fair and honest fighter for his beliefs." Author Ivan Eland evaluated the first 44 presidents of the United States using criteria of peace, prosperity and freedom, with Tyler coming first on the final list. Louis Kleber claimed that Tyler brought integrity to the White House at a time when many politicians lacked it, refusing to give up his principles in order to avoid the wrath of his opponents. Crapol argued that the former president's alliance with the Confederacy overshadows much of the good things he did as president: "John Tyler's historic reputation has yet to fully recover from the tragic decision to betray his loyalty and commitment to what he once defined as 'the first great American interest'-the preservation of the Union."
Norma Lois Peterson suggested that Tyler's overall lack of success was due to external factors that would have affected anyone who was in the White House. Chief among them was Clay, who was determined to achieve his own vision for the country and tolerated no opposition. The Whigs wanted a president dominated by Congress after Jackson's great use of executive powers, consequently Clay treated Tyler as a subordinate. The president resented this, creating the conflict between the two branches that eventually dominated his presidency. Peterson pointed out Tyler's foreign advances and defined his presidency as "flawed ... but ... not a failure."
Although academics praise and criticize Tyler, the general public has little awareness of him. Several writers have portrayed him as one of the more obscure presidents. As Seager II stated, "His countrymen usually remember, if they have ever heard of him, as the rhyming ending of a catchy campaign song."
- John Tyler
- John Tyler
- «National Registry of Historical Places Inventory – Nomination Form: Greenway» (PDF). Registro Nacional de Lugares Históricos. 9 de setembro de 1969. Consultado em 26 de novembro de 2016. Arquivado do original (PDF) em 26 de setembro de 2012
- Jusqu'à l'adoption du 17e amendement de la Constitution en 1913, les sénateurs américains étaient élus par les législatures d'État et certaines de ces assemblées leur donnaient des instructions de vote. Certains sénateurs les respectaient et d'autres non.
- Les contemporains l'appelaient généralement « Parti républicain » mais les historiens modernes emploient l'expression de « Parti républicain-démocrate » pour le distinguer de l'actuel parti républicain.
- À la fin de son discours, Tyler loua brièvement le président John Adams du Massachusetts mort le même jour.
- Le nom de Tyler n'apparaît pas sur les enregistrements de vote du Sénat avant la fin janvier de l'année suivante, probablement du fait de problèmes de santé.
- a et b La Constitution impose que le président obtienne l'accord du Sénat pour la plupart des nominations de hauts fonctionnaires mais il lui est possible de nommer une personne quand le Sénat n'est pas en fonction. (en) Voir l'article « recess appointment » sur Wikipédia en anglais.
- Gary May: John Tyler. 2008, S. 10f.
- Horst Dippel: John Tyler (1841–1845). Präsident ohne Partei. In: Christof Mauch (Hrsg.): Die amerikanischen Präsidenten. 5., fortgeführte und aktualisierte Auflage. München 2009, S. 139–144, hier: S. 141–142.
- Gary May: John Tyler. 2008, S. 1f.
- Archivált másolat. [2009. január 22-i dátummal az eredetiből archiválva]. (Hozzáférés: 2009. január 12.)