John Tyler

John Tyler

Early Life and Pre-presidency

John Tyler Portrait by George Healy, 1859

John Tyler Portrait by George Healy, 1859

  • Born on March 29, 1790 in Charles City County, Virginia.
  • Parents: John Tyler, Sr. and Mary Armistead. Siblings: Anne Contesse, Elizabeth, Martha Jefferson, Maria Henry, Christiana Booth, Wat Henry and William Tyler.
  • His father was a close friend of Thomas Jefferson and served as Governor of Virginia from 1808 to 1811.
  • At age 12, he entered the preparatory branch of the College of William and Mary, then entered the collegiate branch at 15. He graduated two years later in 1807. He then studied law with his father and was admitted to the bar in 1809.
  • Practiced law in Richmond, Virginia, then gained a seat in the Virginia House of Delegates at age 21.
  • During the War of 1812, he organized a small militia to defend Richmond in 1813. When no attack materialized, he dissolved the militia.
  • Married Letitia Christian (1790–1842) on March 29, 1813. Children: Mary (1815–1848), Robert (1816–1877), John (1819–1896), Letitia (1821–1907), Elizabeth (1823–1850), Anne Contesse (1825), Alice (1827–1854), Tazewell (1830–1874); Married Julia Gardiner (1820–1889) on June 26, 1844. Children: David Gardiner (1846–1927), John Alexander (1848–1883), Julia Gardiner (1849–1871), Lachlan (1851–1902), Lyon Gardiner (1853–1935), Robert Fitzwalter (1856–1927), Pearl (1860–1947).
  • Elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1816 and served until 1821. He declined another term.
  • As a Representative, he opposed the Missouri Compromise of 1820 for fear it would diffuse the slave population. He was himself a slave owner, having inherited slaves upon his father’s death and purchasing more for the land he also inherited.
  • Re-elected to the Virginia House of Delegates and served from 1823 to 1825.
  • Elected Governor of Virginia in 1825 and resigned in 1827 when he was elected to the U.S. Senate. During his governorship, he delivered the funeral address for Thomas Jefferson, who died on July 4, 1826.
  • Served in the U.S. Senate from 1827 to 1835. He resigned in protest when he was ordered by Virginia’s state legislature to vote to expunge President Jackson’s censure, which the President received when he made moves to dissolve the Second National Bank.
  • He entered the U.S. Senate as a member of the Democratic–Republican Party but later joined the Whig Party created by Henry Clay, John Calhoun, and Daniel Webster.
  • In 1836, ran and lost as a vice president to Hugh Lawson White from the middle and lower South as one of three tickets elected by the Whig Party to run against the Democrats.
  • In the 1840 election, he ran and won as Vice President to William Henry Harrison of the Whig Party. The unpopularity of the incumbent President Van Buren led to the Whig Party winning the Presidency in both the electoral and popular votes and taking control of both the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives. The newly elected President Harrison would die just 32 days after taking office providing the opportunity for Tyler to become the next U.S. President.

Presidency

John Tyler Photograph by unknown artist, ca. 1860-1865

John Tyler Photograph by unknown artist,
ca. 1860-1865

  • Took his oath of office on April 6, 1841 at Brown’s Hotel, 6th St. & Pennsylvania Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C.
  • The first Vice President to become President by the death of the incumbent.
  • When political opponents sent letters to the White House addressed to the “Vice President” or “acting President” John Tyler, the letters were sent back unopened.
  • Twice vetoed a bill to resurrect the Bank of the United States. This action led to him being expelled from the Whig Party and the resignation of his entire pro-Whig cabinet except for the Secretary of State.
  • In 1842, Tyler vetoed two bills to raise tariffs and extend a program to distribute federal funds to states because of an $11 million projected budget deficit. Congress finally passed the Tariff of 1842, which raised tariff on import goods without extending the distribution program.
  • When Tyler vetoed the two tariff bills passed by Congress, members of the Whig Party in the U.S. House of Representatives introduced an impeachment resolution on July 10, 1842. It was rejected in January 1843.
  • Brought an end to the Second Seminole War in Florida in 1842. Florida was admitted to the Union as the 27th state on March 3, 1845, Tyler’s last full day in office as President.
  • He sent his Secretary of State, Daniel Webster, to negotiate the Webster–Ashburton Treaty of 1842 that set the boundaries between the United States and British-ruled Canada along the Maine border. Tyler tried, and failed, to conclude a treaty with the British to set the boundaries along the Oregon border.
  • The Republic of Texas had sought annexation with the United States after declaring its independence from Mexico five years before Tyler assumed office. The pro-slavery Tyler campaigned for the annexation because Texas permitted slavery. He faced opposition from Congress but used the annexation issue in his campaign as a third-party candidate for re-election in 1844. In a deal brokered by former President Jackson, Tyler agreed to drop out of the race, rejoin the Democratic Party, and support its candidate James K. Polk to defeat the Whig Party’s Henry Clay. Polk won the election, and the bill annexing Texas was approved. Tyler signed the bill into law on March 1, 1845.
  • In 1844, Tyler and his cabinet were on board the newly built USS Princeton, which carried the world’s largest naval gun at that time, as it cruised down the Potomac River. As the gun was being ceremonially fired, it malfunctioned and exploded, killing several people, including two of Tyler’s cabinet members and several officials.
  • Tyler sent a diplomatic mission to China to negotiate the Treaty of Wanghia in 1844, which established commercial and consular relations with China.
  • He initiated the process for the annexation of Hawaii after invoking the Monroe Doctrine and warning the British to leave the Islands alone.
  • Left without a party, Tyler created his own party called the Democratic–Republicans, whose supporters campaigned with the slogan “Tyler and Texas!”
  • As revenge for Tyler’s vetoes of several bills it passed, Congress overruled the president’s veto of a minor bill seeking funds for small ships for the government. Congress vetoed the bill on Tyler’s last full day in office, marking the first time that Congress overruled a veto.
  • The death of Harrison caused confusion, as the Constitution did not clearly specify what role the Vice President would take as successor. The question of whether Tyler would be acting president or president was resolved when Chief Justice Roger Taney decided that if Tyler took the Oath of Office, he would be president and serve the remainder of Harrison’s term. Tyler insisted on taking the oath and he did so in his hotel room after arriving from Virginia. He therefore set a precedent that would be invoked seven times in U.S. history.

Post-presidency

John Tyler Photograph by unknown artist, ca. 1841-1850

John Tyler Photograph by unknown artist, ca. 1841-1850

  • Retired to his plantation, Sherwood Forest, in Charles City County, Virginia.
  • Went into farming after his retirement.
  • His seven children with his second wife Julie Gardiner were all born after he had retired from the Presidency. The last child was born when Tyler was 70 years old.
  • Became the the sponsor and chairman of the Virginia Peace Convention held in Washington, D.C. in February 1861 to find means to prevent the Civil War between the northern and southern states. Tyler and President Abraham Lincoln could not come to an agreement. Tyler saw that secession would be the only solution.
  • From February 4, 1861, he became a delegate to the Provisional Confederate Congress.
  • Elected to the Confederate House of Representatives in late 1861. He left for Richmond, Virginia to serve in the House of Representatives in January 1862 but fell ill and died before sessions began.
  • Died on January 18, 1862 in Richmond, Virginia of a possible stroke.
  • His last words were: “I am going. Perhaps it is best.”
  • He is interred in the Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia. His tomb is located in front of former President James Monroe’s.
  • Because he supported the Confederacy, Washington, D.C. did not formally recognize his death, which occurred during the Civil War.
  • The city of Tyler, Texas is named after him in recognition of his efforts to annex the state.
  • Tyler’s Sherwood Forest home is still owned by the family, being maintained by his grandson Harrison Tyler.
  • Between Tyler and the 20th president, James Garfield, no other president has grandchildren who are still living. Tyler has two: Lyon Gardiner Tyler, Jr. and Harrison Tyler.
  • Although several African–Americans claim to be descendants of Tyler through one of his slaves, there is no scientific evidence to support such claims.
  • Despite the precedent he set and his accomplishments in foreign policy and the annexation of Texas, he is considered one of the more obscure U.S. Presidents, with little public awareness of him.