Monday, October 07, 2013

10 Fun Facts About John Tyler

John Tyler, the 10th President of the United States

1. Born in March of 1790 in Virginia, about a year into George Washington's first term as president, John Tyler was the first U.S. president born after the adoption of the Constitution.  His father, also named John, was a friend of Thomas Jefferson, a prominent slave-owning politician and judge, and served as Virginia's governor in the early 1800's.  The house Tyler was born in, which was built by his father in the mid 1770's, still stands in Charles City County, Virginia, and is known as Greenway Plantation.

2. After attending the College of William and Mary, Tyler studied law and was admitted to the bar at only 19 years of age, opening a practice in Richmond.  He was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates just two years later at age 21 and served until 1816, when he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.  In 1813, Tyler married Letitia Christian.  Together they had seven children.  When Letitia died during Tyler's presidency, he remarried in 1844 to Julia Gardner, the first president to marry while in office.  She was 30 years younger than him and together they, too, had seven children.  Tyler's 14 children are the most by any president.    

3. While serving in the House of Representatives, Tyler distinguished himself as independently-minded, a firm opponent of federalism and the national banking system, supporting the notion of states' rights and a limited federal government.  He was one of the main opponents to the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which limited slavery to only southern states.

4. After briefly leaving politics in the early 1820's, Tyler served two 1-year terms as Virginia's governor, starting in 1826.  During this time, he delivered the funeral address for his father's old friend Thomas Jefferson, who died in July of 1826.  In early 1827, he resigned as Virginia's governor to accept appointment to the U.S. Senate.

5. Choosing what he believed was the lesser of two evils, Tyler sided with Andrew Jackson over John Quincy Adams in the contentious presidential election of 1828 and thus allied himself with Jackson's new party, the Democrats.  It was an uneasy alliance, however, and during Jackson's second term, the independently-minded Tyler broke with the new party and joined into an equally uneasy alliance with the emerging Whig Party of Henry Clay.  This angered the Democrats of Virginia, who managed to force Tyler into resignation from the Senate in 1836.

6. Tyler was nominated by the Virginia Whigs for the vice-presidency in 1836, running together with Tennessee Whig Hugh L. White.  They placed third in the final voting, and Tyler returned to private life.  In 1838, however, he re-entered the Virginia House of Delegates as a Whig, where he was unanimously elected Speaker.  Two years later, he supported Henry Clay for the Whig nomination for presidency.  However, Ohioan William Henry Harrison was nominated instead, and Tyler was nominated again for the vice-presidency.  Though now representing Ohio, Harrison had been born at a sprawling plantation in Virginia just down the road from where Tyler was born.  "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too" won the election in a landslide and swept into office in 1841.  

7. Just one month after assuming office, Harrison became the first president to die in office.  Though the Constitution stipulated that the vice-president would assume the powers of the presidency upon a sitting president's death, it was unclear whether the vice-president would actually become the president or serve merely as the "acting president."  Tyler immediately asserted that he was, in fact, the new president, and took the presidential oath of office to confirm that fact.  After several months of debate, both the House and Senate confirmed that Tyler was, in fact, the 10th president of the United States.  Despite that, many continued to think of his presidency as illegitimate, and his detractors began referring to him as "His Accidency."

8. By the end of his first summer in office, Tyler had completely alienated the Whigs by vetoing two banking bills the Whig-controlled Congress had passed.  All but one of his cabinet members resigned in protest, hoping to force Tyler, himself, to resign.  When he refused, the Whigs officially expelled Tyler from the party - making him the only genuinely "independent" president since the advent of the 2-party system.  During his contentious term in office, he had more Supreme Court nominations and more cabinet nominations rejected than any other president in U.S. history.

9. Tyler was forced to form an independent third party in order to run for re-election in 1844, but after realizing that his chances for winning were slim, he dropped out of the race in August.  Democrat James K. Polk went on to win a slim victory over Henry Clay.  Tyler retired to his plantation in Virginia, named Sherwood Forest, where he spent his final years farming.

10. When the secession crisis broke out in 1861 following the election of Abraham Lincoln, the elderly Tyler took part in attempts to solve the crisis.  When those attempts failed and the Civil War finally broke out, Tyler (along with fellow ex-president Franklin Pierce) sided with the Confederacy.  Elected to the new Confederate House of Representatives, Tyler died on his way to the opening session in January of 1862.  Because he fathered children late in life, Tyler is the earliest U.S. president who still has grandchildren alive today - both were born in the 1920's.  One still owns and maintains Sherwood Forest in Charles City County, Virginia.     

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