10. JOHN TYLER 1841-1845
Dubbed "His Accidency" by his detractors, John Tyler was the
first Vice President to be elevated to the office of President
by the death of his predecessor.
Born in Virginia in 1790, he was raised believing that the
Constitution must be strictly construed. He never wavered from
this conviction. He attended the College of William and Mary and
Serving in the House of Representatives from 1816 to 1821,
Tyler voted against most nationalist legislation and opposed the
Missouri Compromise. After leaving the House he served as
Governor of Virginia. As a Senator he reluctantly supported
Jackson for President as a choice of evils. Tyler soon joined
the states' rights Southerners in Congress who banded with Henry
Clay, Daniel Webster, and their newly formed Whig party opposing
The Whigs nominated Tyler for Vice President in 1840, hoping
for support from southern states'-righters who could not stomach
Jacksonian Democracy. The slogan "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too"
implied flagwaving nationalism plus a dash of southern
Clay, intending to keep party leadership in his own hands,
minimized his nationalist views temporarily; Webster proclaimed
himself "a Jeffersonian Democrat." But after the election, both
men tried to dominate "Old Tippecanoe."
Suddenly President Harrison was dead, and "Tyler too" was in
the White House. At first the Whigs were not too disturbed,
although Tyler insisted upon assuming the full powers of a duly
elected President. He even delivered an Inaugural Address, but
it seemed full of good Whig doctrine. Whigs, optimistic that
Tyler would accept their program, soon were disillusioned.
Tyler was ready to compromise on the banking question, but
Clay would not budge. He would not accept Tyler's "exchequer
system," and Tyler vetoed Clay's bill to establish a National
Bank with branches in several states. A similar bank bill was
passed by Congress. But again, on states' rights grounds, Tyler
In retaliation, the Whigs expelled Tyler from their party.
All the Cabinet resigned but Secretary of State Webster. A year
later when Tyler vetoed a tariff bill, the first impeachment
resolution against a President was introduced in the House of
Representatives. A committee headed by Representative John
Quincy Adams reported that the President had misused the veto
power, but the resolution failed.
Despite their differences, President Tyler and the Whig
Congress enacted much positive legislation. The "Log-Cabin" bill
enabled a settler to claim 160 acres of land before it was
offered publicly for sale, and later pay $1.25 an acre for it.
In 1842 Tyler did sign a tariff bill protecting northern
manufacturers. The Webster-Ashburton treaty ended a Canadian
boundary dispute; in 1845 Texas was annexed.
The administration of this states'-righter strengthened the
Presidency. But it also increased sectional cleavage that led
toward civil war. By the end of his term, Tyler had replaced the
original Whig Cabinet with southern conservatives. In 1844
Calhoun became Secretary of State. Later these men returned to
the Democratic Party, committed to the preservation of states'
rights, planter interests, and the institution of slavery. Whigs
became more representative of northern business and farming
When the first southern states seceded in 1861, Tyler led a
compromise movement; failing, he worked to create the Southern
Confederacy. He died in 1862, a member of the Confederate House