For those who are historically inclined, I have a bit more to share about John Tyler. Just trying to alleviate that veil of obscurity to some degree. we left President Tyler as the first to succeed a president who died in office. But that was not his only “first” nor was all that occurred during his 47 months in office. Although often considered just a states rights guy he learned that presidential power could be quite the tool to accomplish his goals. And he did have a couple of big goals he wanted to accomplish.
He was quite the expansionist, always driven by a desire for America to grow, primarily as defined by its size. He was Texas minded from the very beginning and stayed focused on that acquisition which happened just at the end of his term. He doesn’t receive that much credit for that achievement, that usually going to Polk who initiated the Mexican War. Tyler probably even set that in motion by stationing military forces close by to provide for defense against Mexican attack. In his day, Tyler was acknowledged by some as the Texas architect, even having a city in east Texas named in his honor.
There was a significant amount of foreign policy activity other than the Texas question. He and his emissaries achieved a large commercial expansion with China and by recognizing Hawaii’s independence and fostering commerce therewith began the process that culminated some 114 years later with statehood.
However, most of the foreign policy activity involved the greatest world power of that era, the mother country, England. Hard to realized now but there was a large amount of Anglophobia in Tyler’s day and he often used that to his political advantage, being a confirmed Anglophobe himself. There were significant boundary disputes regarding Oregon and Maine, the latter being settled by the Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1842.
What makes the treaty interesting is that Tyler, through his agents, actually spent money from what was known as the secret service fund, to influence public opinion in Maine to be favorably inclined towards the treaty. Not quite the dirty tricks of future presidents, but a bit nefarious to say the least.
In a number of his goals, both foreign and domestic, he used the spectre of the English bogeyman to his advantage. That was the case even in the area of slavery, the ” peculiar institution” that dominated American politics and society both before and after Tyler. He himself was a slave owner, although he seemed to have an ambivalent one. He knew that slavery was wrong, on some level, knew it was tearing at the country’s fabric, and sort of forecasted its end, although he wasn’t quite sure how that would occur.
That ambivalence perhaps ensured a less than favorable legacy. For some 25+ years after leaving office, at the Civil War’s onset, he cast his lot with state over country and became a member of the Confederate legislature. When he died suddenly in 1862, he was mourned by is native state, but ignored or even vilified by the North me by an official silence. And so he remains as the only occupant of the White House and basically commit treason.
Sadly his reputation will doubtless not recover from his tragic decision of betrayal to what he himself defined as “the first great American interest, ” the preservation of the union.
Before you jump to conclusions, the title does not refer to George W Bush and the 200o election. It refers to the first person to occupy the Presidency due to the death of an elected President and it occurred in 1841. The name is John Tyler, the 10th president of the United States , who actually was somewhat well qualified for the office due to having served as U S Senator, congressman and governor of Virginia, the latter position following in his father’s footsteps.
The bio I read, authored by Edward P Crapol, significantly shorter than most presidential bios, but due to Tyler’s relative obscurity, was full of information of which I was unaware. Historical rankings of presidents which began in 1948 with historian Arthur Schlesinger tend to rank him in the bottom quartile except for a 2008 Time magazine list that ranked him 31st which was above Barack Obama the 1st, aka Jimmy Carter.
His ranking perhaps suffers from the lack of a major crisis during his term plus the fact that was never elected in his own right, not even receiving the nomination. His term still fascinated me, as seems to be the case with all presidents of whom I read. Guess I am just a wanna be historian at heart.
So, what about Mr Tyler ? He was,as noted ,the first to succeed an elected president due to death and in that regard perhaps achieved his #1 accomplishment. The Constitution did not provide for automatic succession by the vice-president ( a curious thing in itself that was not officially rectified until amendment#25 was ratified in 1967) so Tyler was in uncharted waters. He, however acted decisively and took charge at once, being helped by already having a plan, just in case. Harrison, being elderly and not in the greatest of health, was perhaps not the greatest choice as a candidate anyway. But Tyler, being forewarned and forearmed was prepared when tragedy struck. He acted decisively and by doing so set a number of precedents that were followed seven times in the next 122 years. His actions elevated the office of vice-president to a much higher level and even more importantly showed that our form of government worked. After all, the country was still in its infancy and for a peaceful transition to occur was no small feat indeed. In fact, his actions were validated very quickly Zachary Taylor died some nine years later and was succeeded by Millard Fillmore.
I do not wish to belabor Tyler’s place in history nor bore those not so interested in him, so I shall break here and come back to our 10th president for an additional post.
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