Tyler, John

Tyler, John
born March 29, 1790, Charles City county, Va., U.S.
died Jan. 18, 1862, Richmond, Va.

10th president of the U.S. (1841–45).

He practiced law before serving in the Virginia legislature (1811–16, 1823–25, 1839) and as governor of Virginia (1825–27). In the U.S. House of Representatives (1817–21) and Senate (1827–36), he was a supporter of states' rights. Though a slaveholder, he sought to prohibit the slave trade in the District of Columbia, provided Maryland and Virginia concurred. He resigned from the Senate rather than acquiesce to state instructions to change his vote on a censure of Pres. Andrew Jackson. After breaking with the Democratic Party, he was nominated by the Whig Party for vice president under William H. Harrison. They won the 1840 election, carefully avoiding the issues and stressing party loyalty and the slogan "Tippecanoe and Tyler too!" Harrison died a month after taking office, and Tyler became the first to attain the presidency "by accident." He vetoed a national bank bill supported by the Whigs, and all but one member of the cabinet resigned, leaving him without party support. Nonetheless, he reorganized the navy, settled the second of the Seminole Wars in Florida, and oversaw the annexation of Texas. He was nominated for reelection but withdrew in favour of James K. Polk and retired to his Virginia plantation. Committed to states' rights but opposed to secession, he organized the Washington Peace Conference (1861) to resolve sectional differences. When the Senate rejected a proposed compromise, Tyler urged Virginia to secede.

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▪ president of United States
born March 29, 1790, Charles City county, Virginia, U.S.
died January 18, 1862, Richmond
 10th president of the United States (1841–45) who took office upon the death of President William Henry Harrison (Harrison, William Henry). A maverick Democrat who refused allegiance to the program of party leader Andrew Jackson (Jackson, Andrew), Tyler was rejected in office by both the Democratic Party and the Whig Party and functioned as a political independent. (For a discussion of the history and nature of the presidency, see presidency of the United States of America.)

      Tyler was the son of John Tyler, member of the Virginia House of Delegates during the American Revolution and later governor of Virginia, and Mary Armistead. After graduating from the College of William and Mary in 1807, young Tyler studied law with his father, gaining admission to the bar in 1809. He married his first wife, Letitia Christian (Tyler, Letitia), on his 23rd birthday in 1813. His political career began in the Virginia legislature, where he served from 1811 to 1816, 1823 to 1825, and in 1839. He served as United States representative (1817–21), as state governor (1825–27), and as United States senator (1827–36). His service in Washington was marked by his consistent support of states' rights and his strict constructionist interpretation of the Constitution. While in the Senate, Tyler—who was a slaveholder—sought to prohibit the slave trade in the District of Columbia but opposed its abolition there without the consent of Maryland and Virginia. He voted against the protective tariffs of 1828 and 1832 but also condemned South Carolina's attempted nullification of these measures.

      In an unusual show of independence, Tyler resigned from the Senate in 1836 rather than yield to his state legislature's instructions to reverse his vote on Senate resolutions censuring President Jackson for removal of deposits from the Bank of the United States. This anti-Jackson stand endeared Tyler to the opposition Whig Party, which in 1840 nominated him for the vice presidency in an effort to attract Southern support. Harrison (Harrison, Benjamin) and Tyler defeated the Democratic incumbents Martin Van Buren (Van Buren, Martin) and Richard M. Johnson (Johnson, Richard M) after a campaign that sedulously avoided the issues and stressed innocuous party insignia and the slogan “Tippecanoe and Tyler too!” (the former referring to the river in Indiana where Harrison defeated the Shawnee Indians in 1811).

       Cabinet of President John TylerPresident Harrison's sudden death, only one month after his inauguration, created a constitutional crisis. Because the Constitution was silent on the matter, it was unclear whether, upon the death of a president, the vice president (vice president of the United States of America) would become president or merely “vice president acting as president,” as John Quincy Adams (Adams, John Quincy) maintained at the time. Defying his opponents, who dubbed him “His Accidency,” Tyler decided that he was president and moved into the White House, thereby establishing a precedent that was never successfully challenged. (The table provides a list of cabinet members in the administration of President John Tyler. Cabinet of President John Tyler)

      After Tyler vetoed two bills aimed at reestablishing a national bank, all but one member, Secretary of State Daniel Webster (Webster, Daniel), of the cabinet Tyler inherited from Harrison resigned, and two days later he was formally ostracized by congressional Whigs. Tyler was now a president without a party. Nevertheless, his administration managed to accomplish a great deal. It reorganized the navy, established the United States Weather Bureau, brought an end to the Second Seminole War (Seminole Wars) (1835–42) in Florida, and put down the rebellion (1842) led by Thomas Dorr (Dorr, Thomas Wilson) against the state government of Rhode Island (see primary source document: Dorr's Rebellion (John Tyler: Dorr's Rebellion)). Tyler's wife Letitia Christian Tyler (Tyler, Letitia) died in 1842, the first president's wife to die in the White House. Tyler married Julia Gardiner (Julia Tyler (Tyler, Julia)) in 1844, thus becoming the first president to marry while in office.

      Having been rejected by the Whigs and finding only lukewarm support among the Democrats, Tyler entered the presidential election of 1844 as the candidate of his own party, which he created from a core of loyal appointees. His candidacy attracted little support, however, and in August 1844 he withdrew in favour of the Democratic nominee, James K. Polk (Polk, James K.).

      After leaving office, Tyler continued to take an active interest in public affairs and remained a strong champion of Southern interests. However, on the eve of the Civil War he stood firmly against secession and worked to preserve the Union. Early in 1861 he presided over the Washington Peace Conference, an abortive effort to resolve sectional differences. When the Senate rejected the proposals of the conference, he relinquished all hope of saving the Union and returned to Virginia, where he served as a delegate to the Virginia Secession Convention. Shortly before his death Tyler was elected to the Confederate House of Representatives.

Additional Reading
Useful biographies are Oliver Perry Chitwood, John Tyler, Champion of the Old South (1939, reissued 1990); and Donald Barr Chidsey, And Tyler Too (1978), a popular treatment. Robert Seager, And Tyler Too: A Biography of John & Julia Gardiner Tyler (1963, reprinted 1985), provides a history of Tyler's marriage as intertwined with political events.Studies of Tyler's political philosophies and of events that took place during his administration are presented in Robert J. Morgan, A Whig Embattled: The Presidency Under John Tyler (1954, reprinted 1974); and Norma Lois Peterson, The Presidencies of William Henry Harrison & John Tyler (1989).

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Universalium. 2010.

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