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John "His Accidency" Tyler (1790–1862) was the tenth President of the United States from 1841 to 1845. During his tenure, Florida became the 27th state on March 3rd, 1845 and the way was paved for Texas to become the 28th. Tyler’s tenure began with controversy after William Henry Harrison’s death,[note 1] and he managed to offend both major parties of his day, meaning his relationship with members of Congress was terrible. During his single term, he faced angry criticism from the Whig party and Jackson’s Democrats. Tyler’s fellow Whig, Henry Clay, also formed a rivalry with Tyler, leaving him politically weak. His arguments with the Whigs and his vetoes to impend their ideas also did more to hurt him politically. As a result, he was rejected from being a candidate for the 1844 election.
Tyler was born in Virginia on 29 March 1790 and grew up in a slaveholding household. He studied law at the College of William and Mary and served in the House of Representatives from 1816 to 1821 as a Democrat. While he initially was a supporter of Andrew Jackson, he would later oppose Jackson's use of executive power, as Tyler was a huge supporter of states' rights. He would later lead many of his fellow states' rights-supporting southerners into the newly-formed Whig Party, which was basically formed to oppose Andrew Jackson. He would later be chosen to be the Vice President of the first-ever Whig ticket, as it was hoped that he would attract many Southerners to vote for them.
Ascension to the presidency
He was Vice President under William Henry Harrison, but after just 31 days of office and 8 days after becoming sick, Harrison died from pneumonia on April 4, 1841. His death left a big question as to what would happen next, as such a situation was unprecedented in the country. Article II, Section 1, Clause 6 of the U.S. Constitution suggested that the vice president should assume the "Powers and Duties of the said Office", but it was unclear if Tyler would formally become the President or just would act out the duties of the presidency until a new election could be held. Tyler was quick to assert his claim over the presidency, something his political rivals would criticize him for, but it established a precedent that would later be codified with the Twenty-Fifth Amendment.
When Tyler became president, he would immediately piss off his own party, as he had his own selfish desires to hold his oath and defend the Constitution by constantly disagreeing with his party's stance on important issues of the day such as banking and tariffs, resulting in him vetoing a lot of Whig bills that came to his desk. It got so intense that he was the first president to have a veto overruled by Congress. All but one of his cabinet members resigned in protest and he was immediately expelled from the Whig Party, making him the only sitting president to be officially expelled from his own political party while still in office. Things got ugly when he ended up vetoing the tariff bill, resulting him in achieving the infamous historical dishonor as the first president to face the formal impeachment investigation, in which the first-ever vote of impeachment proposal would be filed against him for his abuse of veto powers. However, it failed to pick up any traction, making him the first of only two presidents who almost got impeached, the only other president being Tricky Dick, who resigned in 1974. Although Tyler struggled with his domestic policy, he did have some foreign policy achievements, such as helping to end both the Dorr’s Rebellion and Seminole War in Florida that later became part of the Union, Webster Asburton Treaty, and a trade treaty with Qing China. Nevertheless, he hired conservative southern Democrats like John C. Calhoun as his own cabinet, and his split from the Whig party is a large reason why reactionary "states' rights" southerners would fall in with the Democrats for the next two decades. He ended up in an uphill battle cocking up things for himself, like his unpopular vetoes to obstruct the Whigs’ legislative agenda and refusing to compromise with everyone around him. Ultimately, his last act as president would be to work with the then president-elect James K. Polk to annex Texas, which had previously declared independence in 1836 but which the U.S. would not touch until Tyler started negotiations in 1844. Unfortunately, Texas still had an unresolved border dispute with Mexico at the time and it would also lead directly to the Mexican-American War.
When the U.S. Civil War seemed inevitable in large part due to the reactionary southerners that Tyler himself had enabled throughout his presidency, he tried to set up a peace conference between northern and southern representatives. When that failed, he would become a massive supporter of secession and the Confederacy. After Virginia seceded from the Union, Tyler would run on over to the Confederate States to serve as a Representative, although he died of a stroke on January 18, 1862 before he could actually take his stand in the Confederate Congress. This is why he was the only President whose death was not honored in Washington D.C. and the only one to die as a traitor to the United States.
- His ascension was controversial since he was the first Vice President to succeed the predecessor who died in office.
- Gillian Brockell, The 10th president’s last surviving grandson: A bridge to the nation’s complicated past. Archived from The Washington Post, 29 November 2020.
- The Enslaved Households of President John Tyler, Matthew Costello, White House Historical Association
- John Tyler, whitehouse.gov
- John Tyler and Presidential Succession, Callie Hopkins, White House Historical Association
- The Annexation of Texas, the Mexican-American War, and the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, 1845–1848, U.S. Office of the Historian
- John Kelly, John Tyler, traitor? Well, yes, actually .... Archived from The Washington Post, 24 February 2013.