John Tyler was born on March 29, 1790, in Charles City County, Virginia, the son of a prominent tobacco planter who served as governor of Virginia from 1808 to 1811. Tyler graduated from the College of William and Mary, studied law and served for five years in the Virginia assembly.
From 1816 to 1821, Tyler represented his state in the House of Representatives where he emerged clearly as a firm supporter of states' rights in an age of nationalism; he voted against the Missouri Compromise. Tired of swimming against the current, Tyler returned to Virginia and served in the legislature (1823-25) and as governor (1825-27). In 1827, he was elected to the U.S. Senate and initially was supportive of John Quincy Adams, but voted against federally funded internal improvements and the protective tariff.
He became a supporter of Andrew Jackson and an opponent of the Bank of the United States, but Jacksons frequent use of executive power pushed Tyler into the ranks of the Whig Party. He was the only senator to vote against the Force bill in 1833. From 1838 to 1840, Tyler was again a delegate in the Virginia assembly.
In the election of 1840, he ran as the Whig vice-presidential candidate with William Henry Harrison in the famous "log cabin and hard cider" campaign. Harrison lived only a month as president, leaving Tyler with a fundamental decision to make.
The United States Constitution was not clear on the process that would follow the death of a president in office. It provided that the powers would devolve on the vice-president, but left open the question whether the office itself passed as well.
It was widely believed that the vice-president would become only an acting president, holding the position only until an election could be held to name his successor. Tyler rejected the suggestion and assumed the full powers of the office; this practice has been followed by all successors in the same position. The situation was not precisely dealt with in the Constitution until Amendment XXV.
Tylers actions immediately created a gulf between the executive branch and Congress, because he reverted to his naturally held Democratic beliefs. A string of vetoes, especially those dealing with the Bank and the tariff, led the Whigs to disown the president. Tensions were so great that an effort was launched to impeach Tyler, but it failed in early 1843.
Tyler experienced some success on the diplomatic front with the conclusion of the Webster-Ashburton Treaty (1842) and a treaty regarding trade with China (1844).
In the Election of 1844 Tyler initially tried to organize a third party that would be supportive of the annexation of Texas, but he backed away from that effort when the Democratic candidate, James K. Polk, firmly pledged to bring Texas into the Union. A treaty providing for annexation was defeated in the Senate (where ratification required a two-thirds vote), but Tyler then supported a joint resolution by Congress (passed by a simple majority) for the same purpose.
Tyler, ignoring his strict constructionist view of the Constitution, signed the Texas resolution before leaving office. He realized that he had deserted principle and had become a political outlaw; he renamed his Virginia home "Sherwood Forest" in recognition of that fact.
Tyler left retirement in 1861, to preside at the Peace Convention in Washington, a futile attempt to head off the impending war. He was later elected to the House of Representatives of the Confederacy, but died in Richmond on January 18, 1862, before taking office.
---- Selected Quotes ----
Quotes by John Tyler.
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.
US House of Representatives, 1816
Regarding Freedom of Religion
Let it, then, be henceforth proclaimed to the world, that man's conscience was created free; that he is no longer accountable to his fellow man for his religious opinions, being responsible therefore only to his God.
Funeral oration for Thomas Jefferson, 1826
Regarding The Vice-Presidency
If the tide of defamation and abuse shall turn, and my administration come to be praised, future Vice-Presidents who may succeed to the Presidency may feel some slight encouragement to pursue an independent course.
Letter to Robert Tyler, 1848
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A Country of Vast Designs: James K. Polk, the Mexican War and the Conquest of the American Continent by Robert W. Merry.
When James K. Polk was elected president in 1844, the United States was locked in a bitter diplomatic struggle with Britain over the rich lands of the...
John Tyler: The Accidental President by Edward P. Crapol.
The first vice president to become president on the death of the incumbent, John Tyler (1790-1862) was derided by critics as "His Accidency." Yet he p...