John Tyler

Photograph of John Tyler, circa 1860-5

Photograph of John Tyler, circa 1860-5

Dubbed “His Accidency” by his detractors, John Tyler of Virginia was the tenth (1841) Vice President of the United States, and the tenth (1841-1845) President of the United States. He was the first Vice President to be elevated to the office of President by the death of his predecessor.

Tyler was born March 29, 1790, the son of John Tyler and Mary Armistead. His father, with whom he studied law, became Governor of Virginia in 1808. The younger Tyler followed his father as governor in 1825 after a stint in the House of Representatives. Tyler, who believed that the Constitution must be strictly construed, was a strict state-rights Democrat and grew increasingly alienated from the Jacksonian Democrats. His stance in favor of states’ rights led him to vote against most nationalist legislation and in opposition to the Missouri Compromise.

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. Tyler was elected Vice President in 1840 as running mate to William Henry Harrison. Their campaign slogans of “Log Cabins and Hard Cider” and “Tippecanoe and Tyler too” are among the most famous in American politics, implying both nationalism and state’s rights sectionalism.

A month into his presidency, Harrison died from pneumonia, leaving Tyler to assume the office, becoming the first Vice President to assume the Presidency in this manner. On April 6, 1841, he took the Presidential oath of office. Because the Constitution was not explicit on that aspect of succession (until the 1967 ratification of the 25th Amendment) both the Cabinet and Congress had to agree that Tyler was indeed President and not merely Acting President. Both the House and Senate passed resolutions to that effect.

Tyler was married twice, firstly to Letitia Christian on March 29, 1813. Together, they had eight children. Letitia served as First Lady of the United States but died on September 10, 1842. John spent two years as a widower, then married Julia Gardiner on June 26, 1844, making him the first President to marry while in office. They had seven children. Altogether Tyler was the father of 15 children, more than any other President before or after him. His youngest child, Pearl, died almost exactly 100 years after the death of his eldest daughter, Mary. Tyler may have fathered an even greater number of children: allegations during and after his presidency that he fathered several children with mulatto slaves. Some of these allegations appeared in December 1841 in a newspaper called the Emancipator. The article, entitled’Tyler-Ising’, even claimed Tyler had sold his sons! What perhaps is most revealing is that the Tyler administation saw it fitting to issue a rebuttal in their newspaper, the Madisonian.

Tyler’s presidency was rarely taken seriously during his tenure. His opponents ruefully referred to him as the “Acting President” or “His Accidency” by opponents. Further, Harrison angered Whig party leaders, particularly Henry Clay, by vetoing virtually the entire Whig agenda. Of particular note was Tyler’s compromise on the banking question, in opposition to Henry Clay. He would not accept Tyler’s “exchequer system,” and Tyler vetoed 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. This led to his expulsion from the Whig Party in 1841, only a few months after taking office. The entire cabinet he had inherited from Harrison resigned in September with one exception, that being Daniel Webster, Secretary of State.

The first impeachment resolution against a President was introduced in the House of Representatives a year later when Tyler vetoed a tariff bill. A committee headed by Representative John Quincy Adams reported that the President had misused the veto power, but the resolution failed. However, despite their differences, President Tyler and the Whig Congress enacted much positive legislation including the “Log-Cabin” bill which enabled a settler to claim 160 acres of land before it was offered publicly for sale, and later pay $1.25 an acre for it.

The Dorr Rebillion in Rhode Island came to a head in May 1842. This was a movement led by Thomas W. Dorr for constitutional reform in Rhode Island. Tyler refused to use Federal troops to quell the rioting adherents of a new state constitution.

Tyler’s decision to withhold the use of Federal forces was explained in this way: “I freely confess that I should experience great reluctance in employing the military power of Government against any portion of the people; but however painful the duty I have to assure your Excellency, that if resistance is made to the execution of the laws of Rhode-Island, by such force as the civil peace shall be unable to overcome, it will be the duty of this Government to enforce the Constitutional guarantee– a guarantee given and adopted mutually by all the original States, of which Rhode-Island was one.”

A freakish accident that killed two of his Cabinet members occured during the the last year of Tyler’s presidency. During a ceremonial cruise down the Potomac River on February 28, 1844, a main gun of the USS Princeton blew up during a demonstration firing, instantly killing Thomas Gilmer, the Secretary of the Navy, and Abel P. Upshur, the Secretary of State.

Tyler’s last act in office was perhaps the most significant of his entire presidency. He signed the bill authorizing the annexation of Texas, which had formerly been part of Mexico. This resulted in extending the territory of slave-holding states and unbalancing the Missouri Compromise. This act triggered war with Mexico, the consequences of which were left to his successor, James K. Polk.

Tyler’s administration strengthened the office of the Presidency. But his predilection towards states’ rights increased sectional cleavage, which led toward civil war. By the end of his term in office, Tyler had replaced the original Whig Cabinet with southern conservatives. When the first southern states seceded in 1861, Tyler led a compromise movement which failed. He then worked to create the Southern Confederacy. He died in 1862, a member of the Confederate House of Representatives.

John Tyler Facts

  • President No.: 10 th
  • When did John Tyler serve? 1841-45
  • What was John Tyler’s party? Whig
  • Where was John Tyler from? Virginia
  • Who was John Tyler’s wife? Letitia Christian Tyler and to Julia Gardiner Tyler
  • When was John Tyler born? March 29, 1790
  • Where was John Tyler born? Charles City County, Virginia
  • When did John Tyler die? January 18, 1862
  • Where did John Tyler die? Richmond, Virginia
  • Which college did John Tyler attend? College of William and Mary
  • What was John Tyler’s Jobs Before President? Lawyer, Senator, Congressman
  • What was John Tyler’s height? 6 feet
  • What was the population when John Tyler was president? 17,069,453
  • What transportation did John Tyler use? Train
  • How did John Tyler communicate? Letter


John Tyler State of the Union Addresses

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