John Tyler Essay, Research Paper
John Tyler was born in Charles City county, Va., on March 29, 1790. A member of the tobacco-planting aristocracy of Tidewater Virginia, he was the son of John Tyler, governor of Virginia from 1808 to 1811, and Mary Armistead. Bent on a political career, he attended the College of William and Mary, graduating in 1807. He then studied law and in 1809 was admitted to the bar. Two years later, at the age of 21, he was elected to the Virginia legislature. Then began a career in state and national politics that lasted with little interruption until he left the presidency.
Rise in Politics
After serving five years in the state legislature, Tyler was a member of the U. S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES (1817-1821) and later of the SENATE (1827-1836). He also served, uneventfully, as governor of Virginia (1825-1827) and as both rector and chancellor of the College of William and Mary.
Following the political tradition of Virginia, Tyler was a strict constructionist, who believed that federal powers should be limited to those enumerated in the CONSTITUTION. Throughout his career he was an outspoken opponent of the Bank of the United States on the ground that Congress lacked power to charter it. His first politically prominent act was to introduce a censure of Virginia’s U. S. senators, who had deviated from their instructions by supporting and, in the case of one, voting for the recharter of the bank in 1811. On one occasion, however, political expediency led Tyler to side with the bank advocates against President Andrew JACKSON. In 1836, when the Senate voted to expunge from its Journal the censure of Jackson for his removal of federal funds from the bank, Tyler refused to vote for it as directed by the Virginia legislature. Instead, he resigned his seat, thereby enhancing his reputation as one of President Jackson’s most implacable foes.
Regarding other issues of the day, Tyler objected with equal force to the distribution of public lands to homesteaders, to internal improvements at federal expense, to Jackson’s “executive usurpation,” and to the protective tariff. A slave owner, he opposed interference with slavery by the federal government or by states outside the South. Accordingly, he voted against the Missouri Compromise of 1820.
In 1836 the WHIG party, as Jackson’s opponents called themselves, adopted a strategy of encouraging several sectional leaders to run for president and vice president. The expectation was that no one would get a majority. Consequently, as provided by the Constitution, the House of Representatives would elect the president, and the Senate the vice president. This maneuver failed in its major purpose, for the electoral college yielded Martin Van Buren a clear victory as president. The vice presidential contest was decided by the Senate, with Richard M. JOHNSON of Kentucky the victor. Tyler, one of the vice presidential candidates, carried only four Southern states, Virginia not among them.
By 1839 the Whigs had become strong enough to hold a national convention, at which they nominated William Henry Harrison, an aged war hero from the West, for president. To placate the Southern Whig planters, they nominated for vice president John Tyler, who, though a foe of Jacksonian democracy, was hardly a Whig in political philosophy. The Whigs were so divided over the major issues of the day that they declined to issue a platform. In the 1840 campaign, characterized by slander and slogan, “Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too” captured 234 electoral votes; VAN BUREN, the Democratic presidential candidate, 60. Whig leaders Henry Clay and Daniel Webster selected Harrison’s cabinet and helped write his inaugural speech, which favored presidential subordination to Congress. With Webster in the cabinet and Clay in control of the Whig congressional caucus, a special session of Congress was called to enact enabling legislation for Clay’s “American System.”
When Harrison died after only a month in office, Tyler, on April 6, 1841, took the oath of office prescribed for the president in the Constitution. He knew that the nationalist Whigs intended to force him to accept their legislative program against his constitutional principles, but he was determined to be accepted as the president and not merely as acting president. The CABINET and Congress agreed, and as the Constitution was not explicit on succession, both the House and Senate passed resolutions recognizing Tyler as president.