“The Accidental President”

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.


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

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