John Tyler (1790-1862)

Figure 1.--.

John Tyler was the 10th president of the United States. While never elected president, he established many precedents. He was the first vice president to assume the office because the elected president died in office. And he established the precedents that one assuming office, the elevated vice president would have all the power and perogstives of an elected preident. Tyler was also the first president to to be married in office (June 26, 1844). The Whigs who elected Harrison were so outraged that Tyler opposed their policies that they expelled him from the party. This did not bother Tyler who was more of a Democrat anyway. At the end of John Tyler's administration to upstage Polk, he managed to engineer the annexation of Texas. He was raised believing that the Constitution must be strictly construed and he never wavered from this conviction, although he liberally viewed it when it affected provisions of special interest. He is generally seen as a failed president, although he had several substantial achievements and he took steps which substantially strengthened the office of the presidency and had some notable fireign policy accomplishments.


John was born in Virginia (1790).


He attended the College of William and Mary and studied law.

Political Career

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. As a Senator he reluctantly supported Jackson for President as a choice of evils. Tyler soon joined the states' rights Southerners in Congress who banded with Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, and their newly formed Whig party opposing President Jackson.

Election of 1840

The Depression afected the popularity of Van Buren and the Democrats, providung a real opportunity for the Whigs to win the White House for the first time. Harrison began his campaign soon after losing the 1836 election. He was 64 years old and the rigors of travel at the time may have affected his health. Harrison's party rivals (Henry Clay and Daniel Webster) also had their eyes set on the White House and campaigned extensively. The Whigs desperate to gain the White House, nominated the ageing war hero. They also nominated DEmocrat John Tyler for vice-president, hoping to gain support in southern states where the Whigs was weak. The Whigs calculated that they could gain the support of southern states-righters who were appauled with Jacksonian Democracy. The slogan "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too" is perhaps the most famous in Ameican political history and was a full-blown appeal to flagwaving nationalism. Clay believed he could retain party leadership sought to down play his nationalist to keep from alienating the South. Webster begam describing himself as a "a Jeffersonian Democrat," again to acoid alienating the South. After the election, however, both men attempted to control the new president.


Harrison was inagurated the 9th president of the United States, but within weeks he was dead and Tyler was president, The press dubbed Tyler "His Accidency", He became the first un-elected president, the first vice-president to be elevated to the office of president by the death of his predecessor. He was 10th President, serving from 1841-1845. At first the Whigs were not very upset. Clay and Webster had planned to control Harrison and they assumed they could control Tyler. The new president, however, had his own ideas.

The Tyler prescedent

The Congress provided for the vioce-president to assume the presidents power and duties. But there was no precent. The Whigs in ongress because Tyler was a Democrat saw him as only an acting president. Former President John Quincy Adams thought a new election should be held. As there was no precedent, the country was undecided. Tyler was very decisive. He assumed the powers of the president and rejected the idea that he was an acting president until new elections could be held. Tyler insisted on taking up the full powers as if he had been elected. His decisive action and adroit political maneucering carried it off. The precedent was set and when Millard Fillmore replaced President Taylor, there were no questions asked. The Tyler Prescedent was eventuallyvcodified by the 25th Amendment.

Domestic policies

Tyler even delivered his own Inaugural Address--the only vice president to do so. Tyler included references to Whig programs which placated them. But the Whigs soon fell out with him. The new main Whig goalks were a new national bank and a restrictive tariff. Tyler was against both, but was prepared to compromise on the bank. Tyler proposed an "exchequer system". Clay was not prepared to compromise. A nasty political feud developed. Clay pushed a bill establishing a National Bank with state branches through Congress. TYler vetoed it--twice. The Whigs were outraged. Clay called Tyler a traitor, namely a Benedict Arnold. The Whigs expelled Tyler from their party. The entire Cabinet resigned, except Secretary of State Webster. Next Tyler vetoed the Whig tariff bill. The Whigs respinded with the first impeachment resolution against a President was introduced in the House of Representatives. A committee headed by Representative John Quincy Adams charged that Tyler misused the veto power, but the resolution failed to pass. There were some accomplishments even though Tyler and the Whigs became so antagonistic. The most important was The "Log-Cabin" bill which allowed a settler to claim 160 acres of land before it was offered publicly for sale, and later pay $1.25 an acre for it. Tyler did eventually sign a tariff bill protecting northern manufacturers (1842).

Foreign policy

Tyler was limited in his domestic programs by the disagreements with the Whigs who controlled Congress. Thus he turned his attention to foreign affairs. The Constitution vests considerable power in the presidency to conduct foreign policy. His major accomplishment was the annexation of Texas (1845). Here Tyler diverged from his strict-construionist interpretation of the Constitution. He was a strident nationalist who believed in American exceptionalism and determined to persue America's 'manifest destiny'. He believed in preserving and expanding the union, but as a slave-holding republic. His goal was a continental empire. He issued the Tyler Doctrine guaranteeing the independence of the Hawaian Islands, essentially putting the Islands off limit to European colonization (1842). It was essentially a coralary to the Monroe Docrine. This paved the way for American missionary dominance. Tyler also layed the groundwork for the Open Door policy with China. He approved America's first treaty with the Celestial Kingdom. It guaranted favorable trading privliges, equal access to Chinese ports and extra-territorial rights for U.S. citizens. When the Texas annexation treaty languished in the Senate, to upstaged President-Elect Polk, he obtined approval through a joint resolution of Congress. Tyler expanded the war powers of the presidency by committing to the defense of Texas even before annexation. Another issue was the Oregon Territory. Tyler also secured ratification of the Webster-Ashburton treaty that ended the boundary dispute with Canada.


The judgement of historians on Tyler have not been favorable. President T. Roosevelt a rather gifted historian described Tyler as a "mediocrre nan" and then called that "unwaranted flatery". Tyler while a strict-construtionst persued a veert liberal enterpretation which estanlished important presedents which enormously expbded the authority of the presedency. There were also important accomplishments in both domestic affairs and foreign policy. Tyler's use of te ceto undid Clay's efforts for Congressional domince. Tyler also intensified the country's sectional divide. Texas annexation led ultimately to the undoing of the Missouri Compromise and the with the passage of the Compromise of 1850. After the Whig cabinent resigned, Tyler replaced them with with conservate Democrats. He appointed John C. Calhoun Secretary of State (1844). Both returned to the Democratic Party, committed to states' rights and planter interests (especially slavery). The Whigs became increasingly a norther party representating northern business and farming interests.

Election of 1844

The Democratic Party in the 1844 election championed expansion. The Party supported the annexation of Texas to appeal to the southern wing of the Party and asserted a claim to all of the Oregon Territory up to 4940' which appealed to the northern wing of the Party. Nominee James K. Polk was adament about Texas which would mean war with Mexico. Southern Democrats were increasingly interested in expanding slavery even at the cost of undoing the Missouri Compromise. Gaining Texas a a new slave state was first step in this enterprise. Whig nominee Henry Clay opposed expansion. This probably cost him the election. The possibility of a third war with Britain loomed. And by a 1840 American-British relations were approaching a crisis. Polk was, however, willing to compromise over Oregin as the United States could not go to war with both Mexico and Britain. Polk's bold statements were designed to obtain an acceptable compromise with the British.

Washington Conference (1861)

Tyler was horrified with Lincoln's election (November 1860). South Carolina seceeded (December 1860). Tyler before Virginia succeeded, led a compromise movement. The Conference convened (February 1861). Tyler was elected to preside. He met with Lincoln and found that he was determined to uphold the Constitution and to restrict the expasnion of slavery. Linclon was not going to move toward emancipation, but was not going ti compromise on the issue of expanding slvery. This was the key issue. The South was unwilling to accept a limit in the expansion of slavery.


When the Wadhington Conference failed, Tyler worked for Virginia secession and to create the Confederacy. He served in the Provisional Confederate Congress. He was elected to the Confederate House of Representatives. He died in 1862.


John Tyler was married twice, to Letitia Christian Tyler and Julia Gardiner Tyler. Together they had 15 children, the most of any president. The number of grandchildren is extrodinary

Letitia Christian Tyler (1790-1842)

Letitia Tyler had been confined to an invalid's chair for two years when her husband unexpectedly became President. Nobody had thought of that possibility when he took his oath of office as Vice President on March 4, 1841; indeed, he had planned to fill his undemanding duties from his home in Williamsburg where his wife was most comfortable, her Bible, prayer book, and knitting at her side.

Born on a Tidewater Virginia plantation in the 18th century, Letitia was spiritually akin to Martha Washington and Martha Jefferson. Formal education was no part of this pattern of life, but Letitia learned all the skills of managing a plantation, rearing a family, and presiding over a home that would be John Tyler's refuge during an active political life. They were married on March 29, 1813--his 23rd birthday. Thereafter, whether he served in Congress or as Governor of Virginia, she attended to domestic duties. Only once did she join him for the winter social season in Washington. Of the eight children she bore, seven survived; but after 1839 she was a cripple, though "still beautiful now in her declining years."

So her admiring new daughter-in-law, Priscilla Cooper Tyler, described her--"the most entirely unselfish person you can imagine...Not withstanding her very delicate health, mother attends to and regulates all the household affairs and all so quietly that you can't tell when she does it."

In a second-floor room at the White House, Letitia Tyler kept her quiet but pivotal role in family activities. She did not attempt to take part in the social affairs of the administration. Her married daughters had their own homes; the others were too young for the full responsibility of official entertaining; Priscilla at age 24 assumed the position of White House hostess, met its demands with spirit and success, and enjoyed it.

Daughter of a well-known tragedian, Priscilla Cooper had gone on the stage herself at 17. Playing Desdemona to her father's Othello in Richmond, she won the instant interest of Robert Tyler, whom she married in 1839. Intelligent and beautiful, with dark brown hair, she charmed the President's guests--from visiting celebrities like Charles Dickens to enthusiastic countrymen. Once she noted ruefully: "such hearty shakes as they gave my poor little hand too!" She enjoyed the expert advice of Dolley Madison, and the companionship of her young sister-in-law Elizabeth until she married William N. Waller in 1842.

For this wedding Letitia made her only appearance at a White House social function. "Lizzie looked surpassingly lovely," said Priscilla, and "our dear mother" was "far more attractive to me...than any other lady in the room," greeting her guests "in her sweet, gentle, self-possessed manner."

The first President's wife to die in the White House, Letitia Tyler ended her days peacefully on September 10, 1842, holding a damask rose in her hand. She was taken to Virginia for burial at the plantation of her birth, deeply mourned by her family. "She had everything about her," said Priscilla, "to awaken love...."

Children with Letitia

John and Letitia had eight children.

Mary (1815-48)

Mary was Tyler's first child. She married a Henry Lightfoot Jones, a prosperous plantation owner in Tidewater Virginia. Mary and Henry had three children. Her seciond son Robert was born while Mary was visiting the White House. He fought in the Civil War.

Robert Tyler (1816-77)

Robert was by all accounts a shy, quiet child. He became a lawyer. As a young man he married Priscilla Cooper. They had nine children. He worked as his father's private secrtrtary during his presidency. He lived in the White House. His wife Priscilla became the official White House hostess because of his mother's ill health. After his father's presidency, Robert became active in Peensylvania politics. He worked for the election of President James Buchanan. When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Robert sided with the Confederacy. He moved back to Virginia where he was appointed Registrar in the Confederate Treasury. After the War he moved to Alabama becoming the Democratic Party Chairman. He worked as editor of the Montgomery Advisor, an influential newspaper.

John Jr. (1819-96)

John was known as Junior and libed in the shadow of both his father an older brother. He persued writing, the law, and politics, but achieved little success. He married Marth "Mattie" Rochelle, but their marriage was stormy. Within months he was seeking a diviorce. Even so they had three children. Heis best know for defending his father;s honor in a duel with a Richmond newspaper editor.

Letitia (1821-1907)

Letitia was the first presudential child to die in the 20th century. She was a strong-willed, confident child and was called Letty. After he mother was made an invalid by a stroke in 1840, it was Letitia was took up the duties of a mother for the younger children. She replaced Priscilla for a short time as White House hostess. This, however, ended abruptly when her father remarried to the rather young Julia Garner. Letitia and Julia did not get on at all and their differences continued throughout their long lives. Letty outdlived Julia by several years although they were about the same age. She married ??? Semple.

Elizabeth (1823-1850)

Elizabeth was called Lizie. She married William Waller in the White House. They lived in Lynchburg, Vurginia where she gave birth to five children. She died in childbirth.

Anne Contesse (1825)

Anne died in infancy.

Alice (1827-54)

Alice lived as a teenager in the White House. I know little about her. One historian described her ratherpithily as "tall and fat". She married Henry Mandeville Denison who was an Episcopalian rector in Williamsburg. The couplehad two children. She died of colic.

Tazewell (1830-74)

Tazewell was known as Taz and was the youngest child Jphn had with Leticia. He was a young teenager when his father remarried. He became a doctor and saw service in the Cuvil War. He married and had two children. He moved to California where he divorced his wife. He became an alcoholic.

Julia Gardiner Tyler (1820-89)

Julia Gardiner was by all accounts a beautiful young woman when she met President Tyler. "I grieve my love a belle should be," sighed one of Julia Gardiner's innumerable admirers in 1840; at the age of 20 she was already famous as the "Rose of Long Island."

Daughter of Juliana McLachlan and David Gardiner, descendant of prominent and wealthy New York families, Julia was trained from earliest childhood for a life in society; she made her debut at 15. A European tour with her family gave her new glimpses of social splendors. Late in 1842 the Gardiners went to Washington for the winter social season, and Julia became the undisputed darling of the capital. Her beauty and her practiced charm attracted the most eminent men in the city, among them President Tyler, a widower since September.

Tragedy brought his courtship poignant success the next winter. Julia, her sister Margaret, and her father joined a Presidential excursion on the new steam frigate Princeton; and David Gardiner lost his life in the explosion of a huge naval gun. Tyler comforted Julia in her grief and won her consent to a secret engagement.

Tyler was the first President to marry in office took. The presidential couple took their vows in New York City on June 26, 1844 in an unpublicized ceremony. The news was then broken to the American people, who greeted it with keen interest, much publicity, and some criticism about the couple's difference in age--30 years.

As young Mrs. Tyler said herself, she "reigned" as First Lady for the last 8 months of her husband's term. Therecwere troubles with her step-daughter Leticia who she replaced as White House hostess. Wearing white satin or black lace to obey the conventions of mourning, she presided with vivacity and animation at a series of parties. She enjoyed her position immensely, and filled it with grace. For receptions she revived the formality of the Van Buren administration; she welcomed guests with plumes in her hair, attended by maids of honor dressed in white. She once declared, with truth: "Nothing appears to delight the President more hear people sing my praises."

The Tylers' happiness was unshaken when they retired to their home at Sherwood Forest in Virginia. There Julia bore 5 of her 7 children; and she acted as mistress of the plantation until the Civil War. As such, she defended both states' rights and the institution of slavery. She championed the political views of her husband, who remained for her "the President" until the end of his life.

Julia was severaly affected by her husband's death in 1862 during the Civil War. She had written a poem in 1852, composed for his 62nd birthday. In it she had assured her husband that "what e'er changes time may bring, I'll love thee as thou art!" Even as a refugee in New York, she devoted herself to volunteer work for the Confederacy. Its defeat found her impoverished. Not until 1958 would federal law provide automatic pensions for Presidential widows; but Congress in 1870 voted a pension for Mary Lincoln, and Julia Tyler used this precedent in seeking help. In December 1880 Congress voted her $1,200 a year -- and after Garfield's assassination it passed bills to grant uniform amounts of $5,000 annually to Mrs. Garfield, Mrs. Lincoln, Mrs. Polk, and Mrs. Tyler. Living out her last years comfortably in Richmond, Julia died there in 1889 an was buried there at her husband's side.

Children with Julia

John and Julia had seven children.

David Gardiner (1846-1927)

After an interval of 16 years, Tyler was a father again with the birt of David Gardiner who they called "Gardie". Gardie enrolled in Washington College, but left at age 16 to fight for the Condfederacy. He became a lawyer after the War and was elected to Congress. He married Mary Morris Jones and they had five children.

John Alexander (1848-83)

John Alexander was known as Alex and led an eventful life, never seemingly content to settle down. He ran away from home in 1862 to join the Condederate Army, but was rejected because of his youth. He then joined the Navy. After the War Alex enlisted in the German Army when war broke our with France in 1870. He was the only presidential child to ever serve in the German army. He married a cousin, but it was not a happy marriage. They were often separated, but had one child. He eventually worked as a engineer surveyor in the American West while it was still wild. Accounts vary as to his death in New Mexico, but was probably the result of drinking bad water.

Julia (1849-71)

Julia was educated in a Nova Scotia convent school. She married William Spencer and had one child. Her husband contarct large debts, dabled in Coloradonsilver mines and Florida orange groves, and then left her and his child.

Lachlan (1851-1902)

Unlike his older brothers, Lachlan was too young for the Civil War. He studied to be a doctor, but had little initial success. Like many presidential children, he attempted tomprofit from his father's reputation. He became a Navy doctor and afterwards had a reasonably successful private practice. He married Georgia Powell, but had no children.

Lyon Gardiner (1853-1935)

Lyon Gardiner studied the law, but became an educator. Hewas president of William and Mary College for 31 years. He was also a noted writer and historian. He married twice and had five children, like his father one at an advanced age.

Robert Fitzwalter (1856-1927)

Robert began his studies at Georgetown College, but in the aftermath of the Civil War, the family funds had been depleted. He could not continue his education and became a farmer in Virginia. He married Fannie Glenn and had three children.

Pearl (1860-1947)

Pearl was the only presudential child to live thriugh the Civil War and World War II. She attended the Sacred Hear Convent School in Washington, D.C. Afterwards she married Major William Mumford Ellis. and they raised eight children close to Roanoke, Virginia.


Cropel, Edward. John Tyler: Accidental President.


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