John Tyler, the 10th President of the United States, was born March 29th, 1790 in Virginia. He enrolled in the College of William and Mary in 1802. He graduated in 1807. For two years after his studies in college, Tyler studied law under his relatives and the first attorney general. Tyler was accepted to the bar in 1809. He practiced law for a short time before entering the political arena.

Tyler begin his career in politics when, from 1816-1821, he served in the Virginia House of Delegates as a representative of Charles City County. During his service in the House of Delegates, Tyler led the effort to censure Virginia's two U.S. Senators for supporting the Bank of the United States. When Tyler moved on to become a member of the House of Representatives from 1816-1821, Tyler opposed the Bank of the United States, high tariffs, and federally funded internal improvements. He argued against the constitutionality of restrictions on slavery, and was against Jackson’s invasion of Florida.

Tyler was again elected as a Jeffersonian Republican representative of Charles City County to the Virginia House of Delegates from 1823-1825. Then he was elected Governor of Virginia from 1825-1827, and fought unsuccessfully for statewide improvements in education and transportation, which reflects his position that internal improvements are the duty of the state and not the nation. He resigned in 1827 to accept his election to the U.S. Senate. Tyler entered the Senate criticizing then president John Quincy Adams and his administration, again on the grounds of Adams’ support for federal funding of internal improvements. In 1836, Tyler chose to resign his seat rather than comply with orders from the Virginia legislature on how to vote.

In 1838, Tyler was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates, this time as a Whig candidate from the Williamsburg district. He was named the Speaker of the House in January 1839. He served for one year, and then Tyler was nominated to the position of Vice President. The nomination was intended as a tool to gain Southern support for the 1840 Whig candidate, William Henry Harrison. Harrison won the election, and Tyler became Vice President on March 4, 1841. No one could have foreseen then that Tyler would become president.

When President Harrison unexpectedly died- or rather, not all that unexpectedly, as his advanced age had been an issue his opponents had not hesitated to point out during the election- the nation found itself in a constitutional dilemma. The Constitution made no clear provisions as to the distribution of power after the death of the president. While it was inarguable that the Vice President took over, the extent of the vice president’s power was at issue. Was he the new president, or was he but acting in that role and thus subject heavily to the will of Congress and the former president’s cabinet? Tyler, in an unexpectedly decisive mode, ignored his opponents and decided that he was indeed president. He moved into the White House, and into the shoes of the presidency to become the 10th President of the United States. His term lasted from 1841 to 1845.

Taking over someone else’s presidency mid run was an unprecedented and shaky transistion for John Tyler. But it must be noted that he stood by his principles throughout the entire term. Even when his actions alienated him from his own political party, thus giving him almost no supporters in Congress, he stood by his beliefs.

When Tyler first took on the presidency, he was presented with two bills that were intended to resurrect the National Bank. Tyler’s record through his service in Congress and the state legislatures had previously shown he was adamantly opposed to the Bank, along with its tendency to fund federal internal improvements. The Whig party, on the other hand, supported the bills. The new president was on shaky ground as it was, for he was not in office by the will of the people but through an accident that had earned him the jeering nickname “His Accidency” from opponents. But this did not prevent Tyler from completely ignoring the will of his party and vetoing both bills.

Tyler’s actions earned him the uncomfortable position of being a president without a party. This did not hinder him in the least, however. He stood behind Daniel Webster, the one member of Harrison’s cabinet who had not resigned when Tyler had lost his party backing, when Webster went to negotiate a treaty with Canada. This treaty effectively ended the bickering over the Maine-New Brunswick border that had been a constant struggle for the past years since the Aroostook War. He also signed the resolution annexing Texas near the end of his term in 1845.

A true outsider in every sense of the word, Tyler’s administration was one of contention, and he had no hopes of re election afterwards- indeed, he had no party to back him in such an election. But for a man who was not even expecting a place in the White House, Tyler performed admirably, and showed a greater care for the issues than many men who have passed through that house. Partisan politics were not his concern, and it can be said that in that sense he lived up to the Washingtonian ideal of a president unguided by factional policies. John Tyler died on January 18th, 1862.

Works Consulted:

The Hall of Forgotten Presidents. "John Tyler."

Walker, Jane C. "John Tyler : A President of Many Firsts." McDonald & Woodward Pub Co; 2001.

The White House. "Biography of John Tyler."

"John Tyler in Brief."

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