Tyler, John (President)

Born: 1790-03-29 Charles City County, Virginia

Died: 1862-01-18 Richmond, Virginia

Born into a wealthy Virginia slaveholding family, John Tyler graduated from the College of William and Mary in 1807 and was admitted to the bar in 1809. He married Letitia Christian in 1813, with whom he had seven children. Letitia died in 1842, and he married Julia Gardiner, with whom he had seven more children. Tyler won election to the Virginia General Assembly in 1811, where he remained until 1816. He won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives as a Jeffersonian Republican in 1815 and served until 1820. He served again in the Virginia state legislature from 1823 to 1825, when he won the governorship, which he held until 1827. During that time, Tyler increasingly aligned himself with Andrew Jackson—opposing federal centralization, high taxes, and protective tariffs. In 1827, he won a Senate seat as a Jacksonian Democrat and supported the President until the Nullification Crisis, when he and other southern Democrats bolted for the emerging Whig Party. Tyler resigned his Senate seat in 1836 due to a disagreement with the Democratic Virginia Assembly.

In 1839, the Whig Party selected Tyler as William Henry Harrison's running mate in a successful bid to attract southern voters. Tyler ascended to the presidency due to Harrison's death shortly after the election but almost immediately found himself at odds with his own party—especially its leader Henry Clay—due to his staunch adherence to states' rights principles. The Whigs eventually removed Tyler from their party, and all of Harrison's cabinet officers resigned, except Secretary of State Daniel Webster who stayed on until 1842 to finish negotiating the Webster-Ashburton Treaty. In an effort to attract support from Democrats and voters, Tyler began fervently supporting the annexation of the newly liberated Republic of Texas. Instead, Democrats nominated their own pro-annexation candidate, James K. Polk, leaving Tyler without a party and lacking enough congressional support to pass his annexation treaty.

Following his presidency, Tyler returned to his Virginia plantation as a committed Democrat and supported the Compromise of 1850, Kansas-Nebraska Act, and Dred Scott Decision. He was one of the instigators of the Washington Peace Conference after Abraham Lincoln's election and attended Virginia's secession convention as a pro-secession delegate. Once Virginia joined the Confederacy, Tyler won election to the Confederate House of Representatives but died before he could assume his seat.

William G. Shade, "Tyler, John," American National Biography (New York: Oxford University Press, 199), 22:77-79; Edward P. Crapol, John Tyler: The Accidental President (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006); Oliver P. Chitwood, John Tyler: Champion of the Old South (New York: D. Appleton-Century, 1939).