The Life of John Tyler

The Accidental President

Called “His Accidency” by his critics, John Tyler was born in Virginia in 1790

Tyler believed that the Constitution should be interpreted literally. He held firmly to this belief for his entire life. He attended the College of William and Mary where he studied law.

John Tyler in the House of Representatives

From 1816 to 1821, Tyler served in the House of Representatives. An ardent supporter of states’ rights, Tyler voted against virtually every piece of nationalist legislation put before Congress, including President Monroe’s Missouri Compromise.

In 1821, Tyler left Congress to become the Governor of Virginia. Following this, he ran for the Senate where he reluctantly gave his support to Andrew Jackson, who he saw as the lesser of two evils. Following the election, Tyler quickly turned on Jackson, joining Henry Clay and Daniel Webster in the newly formed Whig Party, proclaiming it to be the official opposition to Jackson’s nationalist policies.

John Tyler and William Henry Harrison

In 1840, the Whigs nominated John Tyler as running mate to William Henry Harrison. Their plan was to appeal to patriotic Americans across the country, while reassuring southern voters, who did not want to see the continuation of Jacksonian Democracy.

Meanwhile, Henry Clay was working to keep control of the party in his own hands by downplaying his own nationalist sentiments during the election. Daniel Webster, an ardent Jeffersonian Democrat also had his own agenda for Harrison’s Presidency. Both of them planned to take advantage of William Henry Harrison.

President John Tyler

This was not to be, however. On April 4, 1841, William Henry Harrison died. He was the first sitting President to die in office. Upon Harrison’s death John Tyler became the President of the United States. The other members of the Whig Party were unconcerned at first. He insisted on giving an Inaugural Address, in which he promised to support Whig policies. However, this would soon change.

Shortly after becoming President, Tyler indicated that he was willing to compromise on the banking question. He found himself in conflict with his Cabinet, which was composed mostly of Whigs. His relationship with Henry Clay was particularly difficult.

When Clay refused to accept Tyler’s recommendation to adopt an exchequer system, Tyler retaliated by vetoing Clay’s proposal for a national bank. He also vetoed a similar bill sent to him by Congress.

Tyler was expelled from the Whig Party as a result and almost all of his Cabinet resigned. The only person who didn’t was Daniel Webster, Tyler’s Secretary of State.

In 1842, Tyler also became the first President to be threatened with a resolution for impeachment. This came about after he vetoed a tariff bill. A committee led by John Quincy Adams determined that Tyler had abused his veto power, regardless of this the resolution failed.

Despite the differences between Tyler and the Whig Party, they managed to pass much positive legislation together. The Log-Cabin Bill allowed settlers to claim 160 acres of land before it was offered for public sale. The settler could later purchase the land for $1.25 an acre.

In that same year, Tyler also signed a bill ensuring protection for northern manufacturers. The Webster-Ashburton Treaty additionally settled a Canadian boundary dispute. Tyler also oversaw the entrance of Texas into the Union during his administration.

John Tyler and the American Civl War

Tyler’s administration did much to strengthen the Presidency. Unfortunately, it also increased regional differences as the United States began its slow spiral towards civil war. By the end of his term, Tyler had replaced his Whig Cabinet with Southern Conservatives committed to the preservation of slavery.

When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Tyler tried to broker a deal. Failing this, he devoted himself to establishing the independence of the Confederacy. John Tyler died in 1862 as member of the Confederate Congress.

Works CitedJohn Tyler.The White House. US Government. Mar.24/09


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