Part Deux of President #10

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.


June 5, 2010 - Posted by | History | , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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