JOHN TYLER | 1841-1845
Dubbed “His Accidency” by his detractors, John Tyler was the first vice president to be elevated to the office of president by the death of his predecessor.
Born in Virginia on March 29,1790, he was raised believing that the Constitution must be strictly construed. He never wavered from this conviction. He attended the College of William and Mary and studied law.
Serving in the House of Representatives from 1816 to 1821, Tyler voted against most nationalist legislation and opposed the Missouri Compromise. After leaving the House he served twice as governor of Virginia. Tyler soon joined the states’ rights southerners in Congress who banded with the newly formed Whig party opposing President Jackson.
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 flag-waving nationalism plus a dash of southern sectionalism. But suddenly President Harrison was dead, and “Tyler too” was in the White House. The Whigs were not too disturbed, as Tyler’s inaugural address seemed full of good Whig doctrine. Optimistic that Tyler would accept their program, they were soon disillusioned.
Tyler vetoed Henry Clay’s bill to establish a National Bank with branches in several states. A similar bank bill was passed by Congress. But again, on states’ rights grounds, Tyler vetoed it. In retaliation, the Whigs expelled Tyler from their party. All the cabinet resigned but Secretary of State Daniel Webster.
When Tyler vetoed a tariff bill, the first impeachment resolution against a president was introduced in the House of Representatives. A committee headed by John Quincy Adams reported that the president had misused the veto power, but the resolution failed. In 1842 Tyler did sign a tariff bill protecting northern manufacturers. In 1845 Texas was annexed.
The administration of a states’-righter strengthened the presidency. But it also increased sectional cleavage that led to civil war. Tyler returned to the Democratic Party, which was committed to the preservation of states’ rights, planter interests, and the institution of slavery. Whigs became more representative of northern business and farming interests.
When the first southern states seceded in 1861, Tyler led a compromise movement. Failing, he worked to create the Southern Confederacy. He died in 1862, a member of the Confederate House of Representatives.
Permission granted to re-post by The White House Historical Association