“Popularity, I have always thought, may aptly be compared to a coquette – the more you woo her, the more apt is she to elude your embrace.”–John Tyler
John Tyler was born on this day near Charles City County, Virginia, USA in 1790. Today is the 223rd anniversary of his birth.
Born to a wealthy family on his father’s Greenway plantation. His family had been members of Virginia’s elite since the 17th century. His father, John Tyler, Sr. was a judge who was friends with Thomas Jefferson, served in the Virginia House of Delegates, was Speaker for that House, and was the 15th Governor of Virginia (when John junior was 18.) His mother Mary Armistead Tyler died when he was 7. The younger John Tyler was the sixth of eight children.
Tyler attended William and Mary College in Williamsburg, Virginia. He
studied law under private tutors. He began his political career in 1811, when he was elected to the Virginia legislature at age 21. [History.com]
He served in the legislature until 1816 when he was elected to the US House of Representatives. He was a strict Constitutionalist and a strong proponent of States Rights. He voted against “nationalist legislation and opposed the Missouri compromise” [WhiteHouse.gov] He didn’t run again in 1820, returning to his private law practice instead. But by 1823 he was back in the Virginia House of Delegates.
In 1825 he was appointed as Governor of Virginia (as Governor he gave the eulogy at Thomas Jefferson’s funeral.) He served as Governor for two terms.
He won a slim majority to US Senate in 1827 as a Democrat, but his support for President Andrew Jackson was rocky at best. By 1835 he was aligned with Henry Clay’s Whig Party.
The Whigs nominated Tyler for Vice President in 1840, hoping for support from southern states’-righters who could not stomach Jacksonian Democracy. The slogan “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too” implied flagwaving nationalism plus a dash of southern sectionalism. [WhiteHouse.gov]
The “Tippecanoe” in the campaign slogan was William Henry Harrison who fought in the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811. The Harrison/Tyler ticket won the election with 53% of popular vote and an electoral vote of 234-60. The Whigs also won control of both the House and Senate. Tyler took the oath of the Vice Presidency, presided over the confirmations of Harrison’s cabinet appointments (as President of the Senate) and after a few days went home to Williamsburg. But then Harrison caught pneumonia and died (the first sitting president to do so) and “Tyler Too” became, suddenly, the 10th President of the United States.
The U.S. Constitution was unclear on the matter of presidential succession; however, Tyler moved into the White House and was sworn into office on April 6. At 51 years old, the man dubbed “His Accidency,” was younger than any previous president. (The ambiguity surrounding the order of succession issue was officially clarified with the 25th Amendment to the Constitution, which was ratified in 1967 and states that if the president dies or resigns, the vice president becomes president.) [History.com]
“His four year term was a shambles…” [Findagrave.com] Unable to follow both his conscience and the Whig’s political agenda he was kicked out of the part. All but one member of his (well, Harrison’s) cabinet resigned. And members of the House tried to have him impeached for misuse of veto power.
His Presidency however produced some historic events: The annexation of Texas, a reorganized Navy, The ending of the Seminole war and the signing of a treaty with China. [Findagrave.com]
He did not make a bid for a second term in the White House.
He retired to his plantation, Sherwood Forest near Richmond. When the Civil War broke out “Tyler led a compromise movement; failing, he worked to create the Southern Confederacy.” [WhiteHouse.gov] He was elected to the House of Representatives of the Confederate Congress in 1862. “With the war raging, he was giving a speech in front of the Exchange Hotel when he suffered a stroke and was taken to a room where he died at the age of 71.” [Findagrave.com]