Articles

Why John Tyler May Be the Most Reviled President Ever

Why John Tyler May Be the Most Reviled President Ever



We are searching data for your request:

Forums and discussions:
Manuals and reference books:
Data from registers:
Wait the end of the search in all databases.
Upon completion, a link will appear to access the found materials.

If a Mount Rushmore for America’s most unpopular presidents is ever created, John Tyler would be a leading candidate to have his likeness carved into stone.

“Popularity, I have always thought, may aptly be compared to a coquette—the more you woo her, the more apt is she to elude your embrace,” said America’s 10th president. Playing hard to get, though, also failed to garner Tyler popular affection. The maverick president’s fierce independent streak succeeded only in alienating politicians on both sides of the aisle.

Six years after Tyler left the Democratic Party over differences with President Andrew Jackson, the rival Whig party nominated the former congressman, senator and Virginia governor in 1840 as William Henry Harrison’s running mate. After the victory of their “Tippecanoe and Tyler too” ticket, the 68-year-old Harrison became the oldest president in the country’s short history. Tyler, deeming the vice president’s duties largely irrelevant, returned home to his Virginia plantation.

READ MORE: How the Battle of Tippecanoe Helped Win the White House

Questioning Tyler’s legitimacy: ‘His Accidency’

Just 31 days after the inauguration, however, Tyler was stirred from his sleep by a rap on the door and given the news that Harrison had become the first American commander-in-chief to die in office. Upon returning to the nation’s capital, Tyler took the presidential oath, angering strict constructionists who argued that the Constitution only specified that, when a president died, the vice president would inherit presidential “powers and duties”—not the office itself. Former president John Quincy Adams wrote that Tyler was “in direct violation both of the grammar and context of the Constitution,” and eight senators voted against a resolution recognizing Tyler as the new president.

Those questioning Tyler’s legitimacy nicknamed the president “His Accidency.” Fellow Whigs would soon call him much worse.

The new president scoffed at his first cabinet meeting when Secretary of State Daniel Webster informed him that Harrison had agreed to abide by the majority decision of the cabinet on any policy matter—even if he was personally opposed. “I can never consent to being dictated to,” Tyler informed his cabinet. “I am the president, and I shall be responsible for my administration.” He made it clear he would neither serve as an interim “acting president” nor carry out all of his predecessor’s agenda, which included re-establishment of a national bank and protective tariffs.

READ MORE: John Tyler: Presidency, Children & Facts

Excommunicated and hanged in effigy on the White House porch

This infuriated Whig leaders, in particular Senator Henry Clay. After Tyler twice vetoed Clay’s bill to re-establish a national bank, supporters of the senator forced open the White House gates, hurled stones at the presidential mansion and shouted, “Groans for the traitor!” They hanged the president’s effigy—and then burned it on the White House porch for good measure.

Clay engineered a mass resignation of the cabinet with only Webster, who was in the midst of a treaty negotiation, remaining. The Whigs excommunicated the president from the party and tried to evict him from the White House altogether after he vetoed yet another one of their bills. In July 1842, Representative John Botts of Virginia introduced the first impeachment resolution against a president in American history, accusing him of being “utterly unworthy and unfit to have the destinies of this nation in his hands.” The House approved an investigative committee’s report that condemned Tyler for “gross abuse of constitutional power” but declined to further pursue impeachment proceedings.

Expelled by the Whigs, then rebuffed in his attempts to return to the Democrats, Tyler became a president without a party. After his efforts to form a third party failed, he was forced to drop out of the 1844 presidential election.

Tragedy also seemed to stalk Tyler during his presidency. His wife, Letitia, died in 1842, and he was on board the USS Princeton on February 28, 1844, for a sail on the Potomac River when one of its cannons exploded during a ceremonial firing, killing six people including Secretary of State Abel Upshur, Secretary of the Navy Thomas Walker Gilmer and the president’s enslaved valet, Armistead.

On Tyler’s last full day as president, Congress gave him one final rebuke by passing the first override of a presidential veto in American history, on a bill that required legislative approval of any appropriation of federal money to build revenue cutter ships, predecessors to the U.S. Coast Guard.

Upon leaving the White House, America’s 10th president returned to his Virginia plantation where he owned dozens of slaves. Clay expressed his pleasure at Tyler’s departure and said the Whig political outlaw could return, like Robin Hood, to his Sherwood Forest. Embracing the gibe, Tyler changed the name of his plantation from Walnut Grove to Sherwood Forest.

READ MORE: John Tyler's Passionate White House Romance

Tyler sided with the Confederacy

In his post-presidential years, Tyler opposed limitations on the expansion of slavery and after the 1860 election of Abraham Lincoln wrote, “The day of doom for the great model republic is at hand.” As southern states began to secede, Tyler in early 1861 chaired an unsuccessful peace conference in a last-ditch attempt to preserve the Union. Once the Civil War began, however, Tyler voted for Virginia to leave the nation over which he once presided. He led the committee negotiating the terms of Virginia’s admission into the Confederacy and won election to the Confederate House of Representatives. He died, however, on January 18, 1862, before taking his seat.

A Confederate flag draped Tyler’s coffin as it was brought for burial to a Richmond, Virginia, cemetery. While bells tolled and flags were lowered to half-staff in the Confederate capital, silence greeted the news of Tyler’s death in the country he betrayed. Lincoln did not issue the customary official proclamation to observe Tyler’s passing, while the New York Times obituary noted that he had left the presidency as “the most unpopular public man that had ever held any office in the United States.”

Some of Tyler’s successors didn’t think very highly of him either. Harry Truman called him “one of the presidents we could have done without.” “He has been called a mediocre man; but this is unwarranted flattery,” said Theodore Roosevelt. “He was a politician of monumental littleness.”

Tyler hasn’t rated highly in the eyes of historians, either. He was ranked in the bottom five presidents in C-SPAN’s 2017 Presidential Historians Survey, along with Warren Harding, Franklin Pierce, Andrew Johnson and James Buchanan. What may have saved Tyler from the ranking’s bottom spot were his foreign policy achievements, including the signing of the Webster-Ashburton Treaty that formalized the U.S.-Canada border, negotiation of the first U.S.-China treaty, and securing congressional approval of the admission of Texas to the Union.

His most enduring mark on the presidency, however, was the “Tyler Precedent” that the vice president automatically assumes the office of the presidency after the death of a president. Seven subsequent vice presidents assumed the presidency following the demises of their predecessors until presidential succession was finally codified in the 25th Amendment, which was ratified in 1967.


Sea of discontent

Joe Sohm/Visions of America/Getty Images

President Trump's 2016 victory itself was divided: He won the Electoral College but lost the popular vote. His inauguration was followed by millions of protesters taking to the streets around the country for the Women's March.

Americans remained in partisan camps as special counsel Robert Mueller spent two years investigating Russian interference and the Trump campaign. In December 2019, the House voted to impeach Mr. Trump for abuse of power and obstructing Congress over his dealings with Ukraine, but two months later the Senate voted to acquit him.


The Strange Saga of America’s Most Reviled Statue, Nude George Washington

It’s a story with a dismembered Harvard professor, catty congressmen, and a bit of madness. It was meant to herald the future of American art—instead it was an embarrassing flop.

William O’Connor

H ave you ever imagined what George Washington looked like with his shirt off?

Neither had I. And neither, it turns out, had prudish 19th-century Americans. But on July 31, 1841, a ship from Livorno, Italy, unloaded the highly anticipated monumental statue of the Founding Father that was to be the centerpiece in the Rotunda of the Capitol—and he was half-naked.

The tale of America’s first major national monument to Washington is astonishing—and largely forgotten. Also forgotten is its artist, Horatio Greenough, who, depending on how you define it, was America’s first professional sculptor. Just two years after being dragged up into the Capitol, the 12-ton, 10-foot-tall statue was dragged back out and plopped down outside. Over the years, wind, snow, and rain took their toll until it was moved into the Smithsonian Castle. Today, it humbly presides in the recently reopened American History Museum.

The statue in the Museum of American History today.

William Oɼonnor

When you finally see it yourself, it induces a giggle. It’s George Washington as Zeus, sitting on a throne half-naked with his drapery looking more like a towel and pointing pompously to the heavens. In the 19th century, it mostly elicited gasps. After a while, nobody cared to react at all.

But the statue’s tale is a terrific window into the period from the turn of the century until the Civil War, as America the weak, new nation scrambled to form a coherent identity. This era in American history is not as glamorous or well-known as the big wars, Gilded Age, or later cultural battles. But it’s the era that set the course for everything to come. And Greenough and his work were at the center of this raging battle about a nascent nation—so much so that Andrew Jackson got involved with the design approval.

It’s also a fun, if tragic, tale. One of a man with a remarkable vision for the arts in America and of functionalist architecture, but who was stymied in his vision for his own work. Of a man who broke free of the constraints of conservative Boston society, but whose art's place in the public sphere was doomed because of his failure to break free of his racist views. Greenough was one of the most biting and clear wits of his time, yet suffered multiple mental breakdowns—the last of which led to his death. He was a man around whom the current of American history eddied just a little, and yet because the stream rushes forgetfully on, it’s hard to see how much he changed it.

In the summer of 1825, the tall, handsome, 19-year-old Horatio Greenough was on his first trip to Europe—and sobbing behind a pile of garbage in a palace courtyard.

The ebullient and cocky recent Harvard grad had been traversing the artistic riches of Marseilles and Genoa for weeks—del Sarto, Bernini, Rembrandt, Murillo, and Van Dyck. But the artist-to-be was brought to tears by a statue of little renown in a Genoese church. It was the most beautiful he’d ever seen, but nobody seemed to give it even a second glance. Surrounded as it was by numerous other statues from talented sculptors, why should they? Such “perfection” was quotidian over here, Greenough realized, and suddenly, the historian Henry T. Tuckerman recounts, “the distance between himself and [fame] widened” and he broke down.

Up until that point, Greenough had every reason to think he had it all figured out.

Born into a relatively prominent Boston real-estate family on Sept. 6, 1805, Greenough was the fourth of nine children (a number of whom also pursued creative careers). While provided with a classical education, his interest in sculpture was stimulated by a copy of the Vatican’s statue of Phocion that his father kept in the garden. The young boy apparently couldn’t be stopped—carving knives, casting pistols, building carriages of beeswax, and making copies in chalk of statues he saw. At about 12 or 13, a family friend saw his chalk copy of French sculptor J.B. Binon’s bust of John Adams and was so impressed he whisked him off to the Boston Athenaeum to meet its head, William S. Shaw.

Founded in 1807, the Athenaeum is one of the oldest libraries in the U.S. and had a large collection of statuary, including copies of the Laocoön, Apollo Belvedere, and the Venus de’ Medici. In terms of access to art in the U.S. at the time, it was a veritable gold mine. (For some perspective on the state of things, at the most prominent art museum of the time, the Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia, the elderly founder Charles Wilson Peale himself would sometimes have to pose nude for students due to a lack of models.)

His good looks endeared him to many, and Greenough suddenly had access to Boston’s cultural elite. He fell under the tutelage of Solomon Willard (Bunker Hill Monument), stone-carver Alpheus Carey, and Binon himself. Binon should have been a warning to the possible fate that awaited Greenough and other young artists in the uptight artistic wasteland of America—frustrated, he ended up turning his plaster into fertilizer and selling it before leaving Boston.

Most importantly, Greenough cultivated a friendship with the painter Washington Allston, who was not only the most prominent landscape painter at the time, but also connected politically. From Allston, writes Nathalia Wright in her seminal biography of the artist, Horatio Greenough: The First American Sculptor, he learned “that the greatest art was more an expression of the mind than an imitation of the forms of nature, and that the masterpieces of the past were the best teachers of art.”

Greenough’s father, however, wanted a formal education and so off to Harvard Horatio went. It wasn’t a total waste, as he befriended the famed Dr. George Parkman while there, who lent him anatomical books and skeletons, and subsequently funded Greenough’s studies in Europe. (Years later, Parkman was the victim in one of the most sensational murder mysteries in early American history. Owed money by a fellow lecturer, Parkman went to collect. The professor freaked out and killed him, dismembering Parkman and attempting to burn the body. It was later found by the janitor and identified by the dentures—an early use of forensics.)

Crowd at the inauguration of Rutherford B. Hayes, on the east front grounds of the U.S. Capitol, surrounding Horatio Greenough's statue of George Washington, 1877.

Library of Congress

When Greenough was 19 he got his first taste of thwarted glory—the Bunker Hill Monument. An association created to build it held a competition for a 220-foot column in honor of the battle (despite earlier awarding Greenough’s mentor Solomon Willard the project). Horatio was one of a number who tossed aside the column idea and instead put forth a plan for a 100-foot obelisk with proportions akin to the famed one at Thebes, a 20-foot plinth, and an internal spiral staircase.

In explaining his disregard for their guidelines, he gave a taste of what would later become his greatest legacy—architectural theory. The obelisk is, he wrote to the judges (Gilbert Stuart and Daniel Webster among their number), “the most purely monumental form of structure. The column grand and beautiful as it is in its place… considered as a monument seems liable to unanswerable objections. It steps forth from that body of which it has been made a harmonious part to take a situation which of all others requires unity of form.” That is, a column is great when part of something, but standing by itself it looks stupid.

Stuart and the other judges picked the teen’s submission as the winner (over another obelisk proposal by none other than Robert Mills, who would later design the Washington Monument). For some reason the association decided not to go with Greenough and instead handed the project back to Solomon Willard, but kept Greenough’s obelisk idea.

And while he had biting words for Willard’s work (removing his plinth “made the shaft start sheer from the dirt like a spear of asparagus” and the angle chosen for the point gave it a “broken-chimney-like effect”), Greenough didn’t fight the loss. You see, he had already departed—before graduation—for Italy to become the first professional American sculptor trained by masters in Europe.

Despite being just a teenager and having created no works of significance, Greenough sailed full of ambition and dreams. And there was one very good reason why he had a chance to succeed—the state of sculpture in America in 1825.

“It is difficult to realize,” intones Lorado Taft in his magisterial yet biting 1903 classic, The History of American Sculpture, “that our actual achievement from the very kindergarten stage of an unknown art to the proud position held by American sculpture in the Paris Exposition of 1900 has been the work of threescore years and ten—has been seen in its entirety by not a few men now living.” Augustus Saint-Gaudens had just won the Grand Prix for sculpture, but just a few decades before, there’d been no American professional sculptors at all.

Sure, there had been immensely talented wood-carvers like William Rush of Philadelphia (whose ship figureheads were apparently masterpieces) and stone-cutters. But perhaps the most famous sculptor of 18th-century America didn’t sculpt in stone at all.

Patience Wright was born in 1725 to a wealthy Quaker family and became famous in 1769 when her husband died (leaving her with children to support) and she found financial success making wax models. Yes, decades before Madame Tussauds, Wright became renowned for her true-to-life wax heads and hands as well as models of famous people. In 1772 she moved to London, where the British press referred to her as the “Promethean modeller” and claimed “had a liberal and extensive education been added to her intimate qualities, she would have been a prodigy.” One of her works, a portrait of Lord Chatham, was put in Westminster Abbey. Due to her success at court, she also was allegedly a source of military intelligence for the American Revolution (though to what degree is debated). She was popular at court until apparently in an audience with George III she scolded him over his actions in the war.

However, when she died she left behind no real artistic legacy to be continued. And, yes, around the time of Greenough there were the self-taught wonders of Hezekiah Augur in New Haven and John Frazee in New York. Frazee completed the first bust by an American in marble in 1824 or 1825. (Frazee was famously on the receiving end of painter John Trumbull’s barb that sculpture would not be wanted in America for another 100 years.) But neither really pursued monumental works or groups and had other work that was their focus. Unfortunately some of the most talented carvers and cutters were likely low-wage laborers or enslaved people (see the incredible story of Philip Reed, who was enslaved by sculptor Clark Mills and saved the Statue of Freedom atop the Capitol dome.)

Instead, the major works done in the States had been done by Europeans. The most notable work was probably by the French sculptor Houdon, who actually came stateside, and the Italian master Canova, who both made a statue of Washington. Plus, the newly minted post-War of 1812 Capitol building was being decorated with sculptures by Italian disciples of Canova.

For whatever reason—Taft, for one, blames a lack of interest on the part of the British in sculpture, which was passed to the colonists, who were of a religious bent that often saw art as the work of the devil—sculpture wasn’t seen as something of widespread importance in America.

Greenough thought he would change that. He thought he would play a role for sculpture that Benjamin West had for American painting (who, it was spuriously reported, shocked society when he declared, upon seeing the Apollo Belvedere in the Vatican, “how like a Mohawk warrior he seems”). Horatio was the first American to devote his life professionally to sculpture, and had to go to Europe to accomplish that.

“I came abroad to make myself known and respected in my country,” he declared.

Surrounded by Gilded Age palaces-turned-embassies, the vice president’s residence is rarely on tourists’ to-do list when visiting D.C.—in large part because you can’t see it from the street. But if Benjamin Latrobe (architect of the Capitol and parts of the White House) and the Federalists had had their way, standing in that spot today would have been a 150-foot-tall pyramid mausoleum—with the remains of George Washington inside.

Benjamin Henry Latrobe's rendered drawing of a proposed Washington Monument, c. 1799

Library of Congress

For a variety of reasons detailed in Kirk Savage’s fantastic Monument Wars: Washington D.C., the National Mall, and the Transformation of the Memorial Landscape, the mausoleum never went anywhere. (Fascinatingly enough, the issue of whether Washington was buried in the federal capital or on his plantation in his home state became a proxy for pro- and anti-slavery forces.) When the family refused to have his remains moved, Congress decided on the next best thing for their somewhat deified leader—a monumental statue in the center of the Rotunda.

For nearly three decades, however, nobody could reach an agreement. Finally, in 1832, the centennial of Washington’s birth, politicians were sufficiently embarrassed that there was still no national monument to the U.S. founder that on February 14, the House passed a resolution, “that the President of the United States be authorized to employ Horatio Greenough… to execute, in marble, a full-length pedestrian statue of Washington, to be placed in the centre of the rotundo of the Capitol the head to be a copy of Houdon’s Washington.”

This was it! Just 26 years old and Greenough now had his shot to not only achieve fame, but also convince Americans of the value in having sculptures made by their countrymen.

“What an opportunity for an artist,” wrote painter Thomas Cole to Samuel F.B. Morse, “to immortalize himself to make the statue of the greatest man to be placed in the most conspicuous situation in the country or where it will be gazed upon by thousands unborn.”

The journey had not been an easy one for Greenough. When Horatio first went to Italy, he studied in Rome under one of the two greatest sculptors alive, Bertel Thorvaldsen. His roommate was Robert Weir (later mentor to Whistler) and they took Rome by storm. They spent all day modeling and learning and by night, after hanging at Caffe Greco, they would walk the Roman ruins in moonlight. But, just two years in, Greenough lost his marbles so to speak and was nearly institutionalized. His time in Europe was cut short and he packed his bags for America.

Back home, it was a whirlwind of hustling, both networking in the art world (mainly through Allston, Peale, and Morse) and attempting to get a breakthrough by bust-work of public figures. He got it in his bust of John Quincy Adams, and he found his first patron in Robert Gilmore of Baltimore. A year later, he was back in Italy, but this time he set up shop in Florence, becoming in many respects the founder of the American colony there. He wanted to be closer to Carrara for quality control he even learned to stone cut himself, which was unusual.

While in Florence, Greenough built up a solid reputation in the West. He became the first American to sculpt a group work (his Chanting Cherubs for James Fenimore Cooper, who became another patron and close friend) and got the stamp of approval from the other giant of sculpture, Bartolini. He modeled Lafayette for a bust, palled around with Ingres, and his workshop was visited by luminaries like the Chevalier de Saint-Georges, a variety of European nobility, and prominent Americans like Rembrandt Peale (who wrote that in order to keep his clay model from drying up overnight, Greenough would “take a mouthful of water, and eject it by a peculiar practice, in a fine shower or spray over his work”). He took American artists under his wing, most notably his eventual usurper, Hiram Powers. Greenough also completed what I think is his finest work, the Medora (a reclining woman), for Gilmore.

He also started to live large, marrying Louisa Gore (for her money and her silence, family later said) and living in ritzy addresses like the Palazzo Pucci. His mouth also got large, too.

Dinging naturalism, Greenough declared, “I love reality dearly, and when I want to enjoy it I go into the marketplace, the church, the wharf.” His Medora would “attempt to interest and charm the eye and mind with a female form without appealing to the baser passions, what has not been done in Italy for many years.” Or, he snorted, the French were “not a people of genius in art… [but] slaves of fashion” and Paris filled with “clever men employed in twiddle-twaddle.” Jacques-Louis David’s figures were “nauseous” and Canova “a most barefaced misrepresenter of Nature” who would “fall very low very shortly.”

“No man since Canova has undertaken more,” he breathlessly claimed about himself. Most notably, he wrote to Allston, declaring, “I would fain to be one of the small band of American ‘Old Masters.’”

If Greenough was a bit bitter while at the height of his career, it’s because the very thing that provided him opportunity (dearth of sculpture in America) also was his biggest challenge. When he completed his cherubs for Cooper—no small task evidently, as how Italians swaddled their babies affected their limbs, thus finding infant models in Italy was difficult—the group was supposed to go on a multi-city tour in the U.S. (which would be a way for both patron and artist to make money). While critics and artists loved them, the public wasn’t always enthusiastic.

They started in Boston, despite Cooper warning him he’d “be covered with twaddling criticism in Boston, which is no better… than a gossiping country town though it has so many clever people.” And Cooper proved right. Crowds were unhappy that given the name, the cherubs didn’t actually sing. Others covered their nudity with an apron. The same thing happened in New York, and so the tour ended there (the statue today is missing).

“If we wish to compete as artisans with the manufacturers of Europe, we must get taste,” Horatio harrumphed.

So given that Americans had trouble with naked babies—why on earth did Greenough sculpt their idol and founder half nude?!

It’s not like he hadn’t been warned.

Cooper told him to make the monument “as servant and simple as possible” because that’s how Americans saw Washington and to “aim rather at the natural than the classical this can always preserve the dignity of the man and his stature.”

Sen. Edward Everett told him “a figure as naked as your Washington appears to our people just as an Apollo would be to the Ancient Grecians if draped in Persian pantaloons” and that Jefferson had said Washington preferred contemporary dress in statues of him. When he saw the design, Andrew Jackson’s go-between, Congressman Leonard Jarvis, flipped out, writing, “It is not our Washington that he has represented… As a work of art the design is worthy of praise… But I object to the absence of drapery on the upper part of the figure.” Sen. John P. King objected to the dress and the sword, saying instead Washington’s hand should be on the Constitution and “that the artist be given a suit of Washington’s clothes from which to model the costume.” Jackson asked for changes, but none of that reached Greenough.

Horatio apparently did have some misgivings. He suggested, to no avail, that a plaster model be put in the rotunda for a year to see how the public reacted. When the Chevalier de Saint-Georges and the Duke of Parma visited his studio (with an American engraver) and found the statue “weak in conception. theatrical in its upraised arm and pointed finger,” Horatio responded that they might be right, “but it is too late to alter it.”

And so this 10-foot, half-nude, Zeus-like statue of a seated George Washington left his studio, pulled by 11 yoke of cattle and 15 men to Livorno, knocking down trees along the way and drawing crowds who thought it was a statue of a saint. From Livorno, it would sail to Washington.

“Did anybody ever see Washington nude?” breathlessly asked Nathaniel Hawthorne in his French and Italian Notebooks. “It is inconceivable. He had no nakedness, but I imagine he was born with his clothes on, and his hair powdered, and made a stately bow on his first appearance in the world.” The pearl-clutching writer was visiting the studio of Greenough’s frenemy, Hiram Powers, who had expressed frustration about having to clothe his statue of George Washington. (Powers used nudity to make a statement and would become world-famous for his nude Greek Slave statue. Later, when Henry James reviewed Hawthorne’s travel writing, he snarked that The Scarlet Letter author’s prudery was a sign of his lack of taste.)

The idea of Washington semi-nude proved too much for the American public as well. Four months after arriving, the statue was unveiled in the Capitol rotunda (on top of a way taller plinth than planned) in front of President John Tyler, and the reaction was almost universally vicious.


Contents

In the 1840 presidential election, the Whig ticket of William Henry Harrison and John Tyler defeated the Democratic ticket led by incumbent President Martin Van Buren. Tyler was sworn in as the nation's 10th vice president on March 4, 1841, the same day as President Harrison's inauguration. Following Harrison's two-hour speech on a cold and overcast March 4, the vice president returned to the Senate to receive the president's cabinet nominations, presiding over the confirmations the following day—a total of two hours as President of the Senate. Expecting few responsibilities, he then left Washington, quietly returning to his home in Williamsburg. [3] [4] After his inauguration, Harrison called for a special session of Congress, to begin in late May, in order to address the dangerous financial condition of a country still in the midst of the Panic of 1837. [5] The first few weeks of the presidency took a toll on Harrison's health, and after being caught in a rainstorm in late March he came down with pneumonia and pleurisy. Harrison's old age and fading health were no secret during the campaign, and the question of the presidential succession was on every politician's mind. [6] [7]

Secretary of State Daniel Webster sent word to Tyler of Harrison's illness on April 1, [8] and on April 5, Tyler learned that Harrison had died on the preceding day. [8] Harrison's death while in office was an unprecedented event that caused considerable uncertainty regarding presidential succession. Legal scholars had long anticipated that a president would die in office at some point, but no firm consensus existed as to whether or not the vice president would fully assume the office of the presidency. [9] Article II, Section 1, Clause 6 of the United States Constitution, which governed intra-term presidential succession at the time [10] states that:

In Case of the Removal of the President from Office, or of his Death, Resignation, or Inability to discharge the Powers and Duties of the said Office, the Same shall devolve on the Vice President, [11]

The text of this Constitutional prescription led to the question of whether the actual office of president, or merely the president's powers and duties, devolved upon Vice President Tyler. [12] The cabinet met within an hour of Harrison's death and, according to a later account, determined that Tyler would be "vice-president acting President". [13] For his part, Tyler firmly asserted that the Constitution gave him full and unqualified powers of office and had himself sworn in immediately as president, setting an important precedent for an orderly transfer of power following a president's death. [14] The presidential oath was administered by Chief Judge William Cranch of the U.S. Circuit Court of the District of Columbia in Tyler's hotel room. Tyler had initially questioned the necessity of taking the oath, arguing that it was redundant to his oath as vice president, but agreed to it in order to quell any doubt over his accession. [12]

Tyler delivered an inaugural address before Congress on April 9, in which he reasserted his belief in fundamental tenets of Jeffersonian democracy and limited federal power. Tyler's claim to be president was resisted by many members of Congress. Representative (and former president) John Quincy Adams felt that Tyler should be a caretaker under the title of "acting president", or remain vice president in name. [15] Also among those who questioned Tyler's authority was Senator Henry Clay, who had planned to be "the real power behind a fumbling throne" while Harrison was alive, and intended the same for Tyler. [16] Clay saw Tyler as the "vice-president" and his presidency as a mere "regency". [16]

After some heated debate, Congress confirmed Tyler's interpretation that he was, indeed, the new president. [17] In both houses, unsuccessful amendments were offered to strike the word "president" in favor of language including the term "vice president" to refer to Tyler. Mississippi Senator Robert J. Walker, in opposition, stated that the idea that Tyler was still vice president and could preside over the Senate was absurd. [18] Tyler never wavered from his conviction that he was the rightful president when his political opponents sent correspondence to the White House addressed to the "vice president" or "acting president", Tyler had it returned unopened. [19]

The Tyler Cabinet [20]
OfficeNameTerm
PresidentJohn Tyler1841–1845
Vice Presidentnone1841–1845
Secretary of StateDaniel Webster1841–1843
Abel P. Upshur1843–1844
John C. Calhoun1844–1845
Secretary of the TreasuryThomas Ewing1841
Walter Forward1841–1843
John Canfield Spencer1843–1844
George M. Bibb1844–1845
Secretary of WarJohn Bell1841
John Canfield Spencer1841–1843
James Madison Porter1843–1844
William Wilkins1844–1845
Attorney GeneralJohn J. Crittenden1841
Hugh S. Legaré1841–1843
John Nelson1843–1845
Postmaster GeneralFrancis Granger1841
Charles A. Wickliffe1841–1845
Secretary of the NavyGeorge Edmund Badger1841
Abel P. Upshur1841–1843
David Henshaw1843–1844
Thomas Walker Gilmer1844
John Y. Mason1844–1845

Fearing that he would alienate Harrison's supporters, Tyler decided to keep the dead president's entire cabinet even though several members were openly hostile to him and resented his assumption of the office. [14] At his first cabinet meeting, Tyler was informed that Harrison had let major policy decisions be resolved by a majority vote, and that the cabinet expected the new president to continue this practice. Tyler was astounded and immediately corrected them:

I beg your pardon, gentlemen I am very glad to have in my Cabinet such able statesmen as you have proved yourselves to be. And I shall be pleased to avail myself of your counsel and advice. But I can never consent to being dictated to as to what I shall or shall not do. I, as president, shall be responsible for my administration. I hope to have your hearty co-operation in carrying out its measures. So long as you see fit to do this, I shall be glad to have you with me. When you think otherwise, your resignations will be accepted. [21] [22]

With the exception of Secretary of State Webster, [23] the new president had no allies in the cabinet, and moreover soon discovered that he had few in Congress either. Adhering to his states' rights, strict-constructionist ideology and having joined the Whigs only in opposition to Andrew Jackson, he did not embrace the American System of internal improvements, protective tariffs, and national bank proposals of the party leaders. Following Tyler's veto of several Whig banking bills, in September 1841 all the members of the cabinet except Webster resigned in protest, a maneuver that Clay had engineered. [17] Having suspected that much of the cabinet would resign, Tyler quickly put together a new cabinet consisting of Whigs opposed to Clay. [24]

Webster had long struggled with his role in the Whig Party and the Tyler administration, and he finally resigned from the cabinet in May 1843. [25] Abel Upshur replaced Webster as Secretary of State, and he focused on Tyler's priority of annexing the Republic of Texas. In hopes of building up his own party of Southern Whigs and Northern Democrats, the Tyler administration removed several other important officials in favor of "Tyler Men." [26] One of these supposed loyalists, Thomas Gilmer, replaced Upshur as Secretary of the Navy. [26] The shakeup left Tyler's cabinet composed equally of Democrats and Whigs. [27] Many of Tyler's later appointments, including Upshur and Gilmer, were followers of Senator John C. Calhoun of South Carolina unknown to Tyler, their actions were calculated to boost Calhoun's 1844 presidential candidacy. [28] After Upshur and Gilmer were both killed in a naval accident in early 1844, Tyler brought in Calhoun as Secretary of State and John Y. Mason of Virginia as Secretary of the Navy. [29] Later that year, Secretary of the Treasury John C. Spencer left the cabinet and was replaced by George M. Bibb, leaving Tyler's cabinet with just one Northerner, Secretary of War William Wilkins. [30]

Tyler was the first president to have his cabinet nominees rejected by the Senate. The four rejected nominees were Caleb Cushing (Treasury), David Henshaw (Navy), James Porter (War), and James S. Green (Treasury). Henshaw and Porter served as recess appointees before their rejections. Tyler repeatedly renominated Cushing, who was rejected three times in one day, March 3, 1843, the last day of the 27th Congress. [31] After the end of Tyler's term, a cabinet nominee would not again be rejected by the Senate until the 1860s. [32]

As they did with his cabinet nominees, Tyler's opponents repeatedly thwarted his judicial nominations. [33] Two vacancies occurred on the Supreme Court during Tyler's presidency, as Justices Smith Thompson and Henry Baldwin died in 1843 and 1844, respectively. Tyler, ever at odds with Congress, put forward five men for Supreme Court confirmation a total of nine times. John C. Spencer, Reuben Walworth, Edward King all had their nominations scuttled more than once, and the full Senate never acted on John M. Read's nomination. [34] The Whig-controlled Senate rejected Tyler's nominees in part because they wanted to leave the seats open for the next president, who they hoped would be Henry Clay. [35]

Finally, on February 14, 1845, with less than a month remaining in his term, Tyler's nomination of Samuel Nelson to Thompson's seat was confirmed by the Senate. [36] Nelson, a Democrat, had a reputation as a careful and noncontroversial jurist. Still, his confirmation came as a surprise. He would serve on the Supreme Court until 1872. Baldwin's seat remained vacant until James K. Polk's nominee, Robert Grier, was confirmed August 4, 1846. [36] Tyler made six other successful nominations to the federal bench while in office, all to federal district courts. [37]

Whig policies Edit

President Harrison had been expected to adhere closely to Whig Party policies and to defer to congressional leaders, particularly Clay. Though he would clash with Whig leaders over other policies, Tyler assented to parts of the Whig legislative program, including repeal of the Independent Treasury that had been created under President Van Buren. [38] Tyler also signed the Preemption Act of 1841, which was designed to facilitate settlement of the West. The act allowed settlers to buy 160 acre plots of land in the West without having to compete for the land in an auction. That same act included a distribution program in which states received revenue from the land sales through which they could fund infrastructure projects and make other investments. At Tyler's insistence, the distribution program would only remain in effect if tariff rates were kept below 20 percent. Another Whig policy, the Bankruptcy Act of 1841, allowed individuals to declare bankruptcy. The act was the first law in U.S. history that allowed for voluntary bankruptcy. [39]

National bank Edit

Once Congress voted to repeal the Independent Treasury, the Whigs turned their attention to the creation of a restored national bank, which they hoped would replace the Independent Treasury as the depository of government funds. [40] The federal charter of the Second Bank of the United States had expired after Andrew Jackson vetoed a bill to re-charter it, and Clay made the establishment of a new national bank the centerpiece of his legislative agenda. Clay's advocacy was motivated in part by the poor economic conditions inherited from the Van Buren administration he and his allies argued that the re-establishment of a national bank would help lift the economy. [41] Despite Tyler's long-standing opposition to the national bank, Clay was determined to enact his American System into law with the Whig congressional majority. [38]

In June 1841, Treasury Secretary Thomas Ewing proposed a national bank bill that reflected Tyler's strict construction of the Constitution the bank would be headquartered in Washington, D.C., with branches only in those states that consented to the bank's presence. Clay dismissed the Tyler administration's proposal, and promoted his own legislation that would allow the bank to operate with or without the consent of states. Clay's bill passed Congress on August 6, and Tyler vetoed the bill on August 16. Not only did Tyler think that the bill was unconstitutional, but he also came to view the struggle over the national bank as a personal struggle between himself and Clay, with control of the country at stake. In reaction to the veto, numerous Whigs and Whig newspapers denounced Tyler. [42]

Tyler agreed to support an effort to craft a compromise bank bill that would meet his objections, and the cabinet developed another version of the bill. [43] Congress passed a bill based on Treasury Secretary Ewing's proposal, but Tyler vetoed that bill as well. [44] Tyler's second veto infuriated Whigs throughout the country, inspiring numerous anti-Tyler rallies and angry letters to the White House. [45] On September 11, members of the cabinet entered Tyler's office one by one and resigned—an orchestration by Clay to force Tyler's resignation and place his own lieutenant, Senate President pro tempore Samuel L. Southard, in the White House. The lone cabinet member who did not resign was Webster, who remained both to finalize what became the 1842 Webster–Ashburton Treaty and to demonstrate his independence from Clay. [46] When told by Webster that he was willing to stay, Tyler is reported to have said, "Give me your hand on that, and now I will say to you that Henry Clay is a doomed man." [47] On September 13, when the president did not resign or give in, the Whigs in Congress expelled Tyler from the party. [48] Whigs in Congress were so angry with Tyler that they refused to allocate funds to fix the White House, which had fallen into disrepair. [47]

As the Whigs had repealed the Independent Treasury but had been unable to craft a replacement, the federal government deposited its money in state-charted banks. [49] Following a congressional recess, Tyler proposed the "Exchequer Plan" as a replacement for the national bank. The Exchequer Plan would establish a government agency overseen by presidential appointees that would store government funds and issue banknotes. Webster argued that the agency would be "the most beneficial measure of any sort ever adopted in this country, the Constitution only excepted." Despite Webster's enthusiasm, the plan was not seriously considered by Congress, as Whigs still wanted a national bank and Democrats favored the restoration of the Independent Treasury. [50] In early 1842, Clay resigned from Congress to focus on the upcoming presidential election. [51] Following Clay's resignation, the idea for a new national bank lay dormant for the remainder of Tyler's presidency, and Congress moved on to other issues. [51]

Tariff and distribution debate Edit

Due to the ongoing economic troubles of the Panic of 1837, as well as the relatively low tariff rates set by the Tariff of 1833, the government faced a growing budget deficit. [52] Congressional Whigs wanted to raise the tariff, both to provide federal revenue and to protect domestic industry. Yet Whig leaders also wanted to extend the distribution program, which was set to expire if tariff rates were raised above twenty percent. [53] In June 1842, the Whig Congress passed two bills that would raise tariffs and unconditionally extend the distribution program. Believing it improper to continue distribution at a time when federal revenue shortage necessitated increasing the tariff, Tyler vetoed both bills, burning any remaining bridges between himself and the Whigs. [54] Congress tried again, combining the two into one bill Tyler vetoed it again, to the outrage of many in Congress, who nevertheless failed to override the veto. As some action was necessary to address the budget deficit, Whigs in Congress, led by the House Ways and Means Chairman Millard Fillmore, passed in each house by one vote a bill restoring tariffs to 1832 levels and ending the distribution program. Tyler signed the Tariff of 1842 on August 30, pocket vetoing a separate bill to restore distribution. [55]

Impeachment proceedings Edit

Shortly after the tariff vetoes, Whigs in the House of Representatives initiated American history's first impeachment proceedings against a president. The Whig drive for impeachment was motivated by more than the difference of opinion over the tariff and other issues. Tyler's actions violated the Whig concept of the presidency, as party leaders believed the president should be deferential to Congress in regards to legislation and domestic policy. This view was at least partly rooted in how previous presidents had acted. Until the presidency of the Whigs' arch-enemy Andrew Jackson, presidents had rarely vetoed bills, and then, generally only on the grounds of whether or not the bill was unconstitutional. [56]

In July 1842, Congressman John Botts introduced a resolution levying several charges against Tyler and calling for a nine-member committee to investigate his behavior, with the expectation that this committee would issue a formal impeachment recommendation. Clay found this measure prematurely aggressive, favoring a more moderate progression toward Tyler's "inevitable" impeachment. The Botts resolution was tabled until the following January, when it was rejected, 127−83. [57] [58] Despite the rejection of the Botts resolution, a House select committee, headed by John Quincy Adams, condemned the president's use of the veto and assailed his character. The committee published a report that did not formally recommend impeachment, but clearly established the possibility for impeachment proceedings. In August 1842, by a vote of 98–90, the House endorsed the committee's report. Adams also sponsored a constitutional amendment to make it easier for Congress to override vetoes, but neither house passed such a measure. [59] [60] Ultimately, the Whigs did not impeach Tyler, since they believed that his likely acquittal would devastate the party. [61]

1842 mid-term elections Edit

The Whigs lost numerous races in the 1842 mid-term elections, as the country continued to suffer from the effects of the Panic of 1837. The Whigs had promised "relief and reform," and voters punished the party for the lack of change. [62] Democrats took control of the House, and Tyler felt vindicated by the defeat of the congressional Whigs. Both parties, intent on electing their own candidates in the 1844 election, largely continued to oppose Tyler. [63] No major legislation would pass in the lame duck session of the 27th Congress or in the 28th Congress. [64] Near the end of Tyler's term in office, on March 3, 1845, Congress overrode his veto of a minor bill relating to revenue cutters. This was the first successful override of any presidential veto in U.S. history. [65]

Relations with Britain Edit

Webster–Ashburton Treaty Edit

With his domestic agenda frustrated in Congress, Tyler worked with Secretary of State Webster to pursue an ambitious foreign policy. [66] Webster sought to conclude a major treaty with Great Britain to bring an end to simmering tensions between the two countries. [67] Anglo-American diplomatic relations had reached a low point in the aftermath of the Caroline affair and the Aroostook War of the late 1830s. [68] Webster and other Whig leaders favored closer relations with Britain in order to spur British investment in the ailing U.S. economy, while Tyler pursued a conciliatory policy with the British in order to win their acquiescence to the U.S. annexation of Texas. [69] As part of this conciliatory policy, the Tyler administration launched a secret propaganda campaign to influence public opinion in favor of an Anglo-American treaty that would settle the border between Maine and Canada. [67] That issue, which had not been settled in the Treaty of Paris or the Treaty of Ghent, had strained relations between the United States and Britain for decades. [68]

British diplomat Lord Ashburton arrived in Washington in April 1842, and after months of negotiations the United States and Britain agreed to the Webster–Ashburton Treaty in August 1842. [70] Delegates from Maine, who had been invited by Webster to ensure that state's support, somewhat reluctantly agreed to support the treaty. [71] The treaty clearly delineated Maine's Northern border, as well as other sections of the U.S.-Canada border that had been in dispute. The treaty also included a pledge by the United States to step up enforcement against the Atlantic slave trade. [72]

Senator Thomas Hart Benton led Senate opposition to the treaty, arguing that it "needlessly and shamelessly" relinquished American territory, but few others joined Benton in resisting the treaty. [73] The Webster–Ashburton Treaty won Senate ratification in a 39-to-9 vote, and it became popular among Americans, although few from either party gave Tyler credit for it. [74] The treaty represented an important point in the growing warmth of Anglo-American relations after the War of 1812, as it showed that both countries accepted joint control of North America. American expansionists would instead focus on Mexico, while the British government under Robert Peel was freed to turn its attention to domestic and European issues. [75]

Oregon Edit

Tyler also sought a treaty with the British regarding the partition of Oregon Country, which the two countries had jointly occupied since the signing of the Treaty of 1818. [76] Britain and the United States had intermittently engaged in discussions over a partition of the territory, but had been unable to come to an agreement. The British favored extending the U.S.-Canadian border west along the 49th parallel north until it met the Columbia River, at which point that river would serve as the boundary. For the U.S., a major goal was the acquisition of a deepwater port site in the Puget Sound the lone deepwater port site in the region lay north of the Columbia River but south of the 49th parallel. [77] Tyler also believed that the acquisition of part of the territory would help make the simultaneous annexation of Texas more palatable to Northerners. [78] As more and more Americans traveled along the Oregon Trail to settle in Oregon Country, the status of the territory became an increasingly important issue. Some Americans, like Charles Wilkes of the United States Exploring Expedition, favored claiming the entire territory, which extended up to the 54°40′ parallel. [79]

Tyler's enthusiasm for an agreement with Britain regarding Oregon was not shared by Upshur and Calhoun, both of whom focused on the annexation of Texas. [80] Acquisition of the territory would become a major campaign issue in the 1844 election, with many expansionists calling for expansion of the entire territory. [81] In 1846, the United States and Britain would come to an agreement to partition Oregon along the lines that had been advocated by Tyler. [82]

Pacific Edit

The return of the United States Exploring Expedition in 1842 stimulated American interest in trade with Asia. Tyler sought to establish an American harbor on the Pacific Ocean either in the Puget Sound or in San Francisco, but his administration was unable to establish undisputed control over either territory. Webster attempted to convince the British to pressure Mexico to sell San Francisco, but neither the British nor the Mexicans were interested in this proposal. [83]

Previous administrations had shown little interest in the Hawaiian Islands, but American traders had become influential in the islands, which held an important location in Pacific trade. At Webster's urging, Tyler announced in 1842 that the U.S. would oppose colonization of the Hawaiian islands by any European power. This policy, which effectively extended the Monroe Doctrine to Hawaii, became known as the Tyler Doctrine. [84]

Eager to compete with Great Britain in international markets, Tyler sent lawyer Caleb Cushing to China, where Cushing negotiated the terms of the 1844 Treaty of Wanghia. [85] The treaty, which was the first bilateral accord between the United States and China, contributed to greatly expanded trade between the two countries in subsequent years. [86]

Dorr Rebellion Edit

Unlike most other states, by the early 1840s Rhode Island had not extended voting rights to all adult white men. Reformers like Thomas Dorr became increasingly dissatisfied with this state of affairs, and reformers sought a constitutional convention to update the Rhode Island Royal Charter of 1663, which continued to act as the state's constitution. [87] In the 1830s, Thomas Wilson Dorr, a Rhode Island state legislator, had formed a third party that called for universal manhood suffrage. In early 1842, Dorr established a rival government to that of Governor Samuel Ward King after a contested gubernatorial election. [88] As the Dorr Rebellion came to a head, Tyler pondered the request of the governor and legislature to send federal troops to help it suppress the Dorrite insurgents. Tyler called for calm on both sides, and recommended that the governor enlarge the franchise to let most men vote. Tyler promised that in case an actual insurrection should break out in Rhode Island he would employ force to aid the regular, or Charter, government. He made it clear that federal assistance would be given, not to prevent, but only to put down insurrection, and would not be available until violence had been committed. After listening to reports from his confidential agents, Tyler decided that the 'lawless assemblages' had dispersed and expressed his confidence in a "temper of conciliation as well as of energy and decision." In the end, it was not necessary for him to send any federal forces the rebels fled the state when the state militia marched against them, but the incident led to broader suffrage in Rhode Island nonetheless. [89]

Other issues Edit

Tyler and Secretary of the Navy Upshur advocated increased funding for and reforms to the navy so that it could protect American trade in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Many of Upshur's proposals, including the expansion of the naval officer corps and the establishment of a naval academy, were defeated in Congress. Upshur did preside over the conversion of many ships to steam power and helped establish the United States Naval Observatory. [90] Upshur also initiated the construction of the navy's first [91] screw steam warship, the USS Princeton. [92]

Tyler brought the long, bloody Second Seminole War in Florida to an end in 1842, and expressed interest in the forced cultural assimilation of the Native Americans. [93] On March 3, 1845, Florida became the 27th state, as Tyler signed legislation admitting into the Union. [94]

Henry Wheaton, the minister to Prussia, 1835–46, negotiated a commercial reciprocity treaty with the German Zollverein, or economic union. The union covered Prussia and eighteen smaller states. The treaty called for a reciprocal lowering of tariffs, especially on American tobacco and cotton and on German lard and manufactured items. All the members of the Zollverein assented to the treaty, and it was signed on Mar. 25, 1844. However the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations reported, June 14, 1844, against ratification and it never went into effect. The treaty was considered at the same time that the Senate debated a treaty to annex Texas, and the hostile Whig Senate refused to ratify either treaty. [95] Senators disliked having tariff rates fixed by treaty rather than by legislation. Britain lobbied against it and Prussia lacked a diplomat in Washington. President Tyler was unpopular, and some American mercantile interests were opposed. [96]

Background Edit

At the encouragement of Spanish authorities, many Americans had settled in Texas in the 1820s, and the region became part of Mexico following the Mexican War of Independence. The United States frequently attempted to buy Texas, but Mexico consistently rejected these offers. By 1836, Anglo-Americans outnumbered Hispanics in Texas by a two-to-one margin, and the American settlers continued to hold slaves despite a Mexican law barring slavery. After taking office as president of Mexico in 1833, Antonio López de Santa Anna centralizing policies triggered revolts, including the Texas Revolution. Under the command of Sam Houston, the forces of the Republic of Texas decisively defeated Santa Anna's army at the Battle of San Jacinto. Following the battle, Santa Anna agreed to sign the Treaties of Velasco, which Texas leaders saw as an acknowledgment of Texan independence. The Mexican Congress refused to ratify the treaty, which had been obtained from Santa Anna under duress, and Mexico continued to regard Texas as a breakaway province. Mexico launched expeditions to retake control of Texas in subsequent years, but these expeditions proved unsuccessful. [97] The people of Texas actively pursued joining the United States, but Jackson and Van Buren had been reluctant to inflame tensions over slavery by annexing another slave-holding state. [98] Texas leaders simultaneously courted the British in the hopes that they would provide economic, military, and diplomatic aid against Mexico. [99] Upon taking office, Tyler was strongly in favor of accomplishing annexation, but Secretary Webster's opposition convinced Tyler to focus on Pacific initiatives until later in his term. [98]

Although Tyler's desire for western expansionism is agreed upon by historians and scholars, views differ regarding the motivations behind it. Biographer Edward C. Crapol notes that during the presidency of James Monroe, Tyler (then in the House of Representatives) had suggested slavery was a "dark cloud" hovering over the Union, and that it would be "well to disperse this cloud" so that with fewer blacks in the older slave states, a process of gradual emancipation would begin in Virginia and other upper Southern states. [100] Historian William W. Freehling, however, wrote that Tyler's main motivation in annexing Texas was to outmaneuver suspected efforts by Great Britain to promote an emancipation of slaves in Texas that would weaken the institution in the United States. [101] Norma Lois Peterson writes that Tyler believed annexation would be the defining accomplishment of his administration and boost his prospects for re-election. [102]

Negotiations under Upshur Edit

In early 1843, having completed the Webster–Ashburton treaty and other diplomatic efforts, Tyler felt ready to wholeheartedly pursue Texas. As a trial balloon, he dispatched his ally Thomas Walker Gilmer, then a congressman from Virginia, to publish a letter defending annexation, which was well received. Despite his successful relationship with Webster, Tyler knew he would need a Secretary of State who supported the Texas initiative. With Webster's work on the British treaty now completed, Tyler replaced Webster with Hugh S. Legaré of South Carolina. [103]

With the help of newly appointed Treasury Secretary John C. Spencer, Tyler cleared out an array of officeholders, replacing them with pro-annexation partisans, in a reversal of his former stand against patronage. He elicited the help of political organizer Michael Walsh to build a political machine in New York. In exchange for an appointment as consul to Hawaii, journalist Alexander G. Abell wrote a flattering biography, Life of John Tyler, which was printed in large quantities and given to postmasters to distribute. [104] Seeking to rehabilitate his public image, Tyler embarked on a nationwide tour in the spring of 1843. The positive reception of the public at these events contrasted with his ostracism back in Washington. The tour centered on the dedication of the Bunker Hill Monument in Boston, Massachusetts. Shortly after the dedication, Tyler learned of Legaré's sudden death, which dampened the festivities and caused him to cancel the rest of the tour. [105] Following the death of Legaré, Tyler appointed Secretary of the Navy Abel Upshur as his new Secretary of State. Upshur and his adviser, Duff Green, believed that Britain sought to convince Texas to abolish slavery in a complicated scheme designed to undermine the interests of the Southern United States. [106] Though the government of British Prime Minister Robert Peel in fact had little interest in pushing abolitionism in Texas, the fear of such a scheme motivated Upshur to pursue annexation as quickly as possible in order to preserve slavery in Texas. [107]

Tyler and Upshur began quiet negotiations with the Texas government, promising military protection from Mexico in exchange for a commitment to annexation. Secrecy was necessary, as the Constitution required congressional approval for such military commitments. Upshur planted rumors of possible British designs on Texas to drum up support among Northern voters, who were wary of admitting a new pro-slavery state. [108] Texas leaders, meanwhile, were reluctant to sign any annexation treaty that might be rejected by the U.S. Senate. [109] Despite the continued skepticism of Texan leaders, the negotiators finalized the terms of an annexation treaty before the end of February 1844. [110] Under the terms of the treaty, Texas would join as a territory with statehood to follow later, and the United States would assume both the public lands and the public debt of Texas. [111]

USS Princeton disaster Edit

A ceremonial cruise down the Potomac River was held aboard the newly built USS Princeton on February 28, 1844, the day after completion of the annexation treaty. Aboard the ship were 400 guests, including Tyler and his cabinet, as well as the world's largest naval gun, the "Peacemaker." The gun was ceremonially fired several times in the afternoon to the great delight of the onlookers. Several hours later, Captain Robert F. Stockton was convinced by the crowd to fire one more shot. [112] A malfunction caused an explosion that killed Gilmer and Upshur, as well Virgil Maxcy, David Gardiner, Commodore Beverly Kennon, and Armistead, Tyler's black slave and body servant. Having remained safely below deck, Tyler was unhurt. The death of David Gardiner had a devastating effect on David's daughter, Julia Gardiner, who fainted and was carried to safety by the president himself. [112] Julia later recovered from her grief and married President Tyler. [113]

Appointment of Calhoun Edit

In early March 1844, Tyler appointed Senator John C. Calhoun as his Secretary of State. Calhoun was the fourth Secretary of State in a year. Tyler's good friend, Virginia Representative Henry A. Wise, wrote that following the Princeton disaster, Wise went on his own to extend Calhoun the position through a colleague, who assumed that the offer came from the president. When Wise went to tell Tyler what he had done, the president was angry but felt that the action now had to stand. [114] Though Tyler had long been hesitant to bring the ambitious Calhoun into his cabinet, some historians have cast doubt on Wise's interpretation of events. [115] Regardless of Tyler's motivations for appointing Calhoun, the decision was a serious tactical error that ruined any hopes Tyler had had for establishing his own political respectability. [116] Calhoun favored Texas annexation and had a strong following in the South. But in the eyes of Northerners, Calhoun was the symbol of Nullification and efforts to extend slavery, and his appointment undercut Tyler's attempts to disassociate the issue of Texas from the issue of slavery. [114]

In April 1844, Calhoun and two Texas negotiators signed the treaty providing for the annexation of Texas. [117] When the text of the annexation treaty was leaked to the public, it met opposition from the Whigs, who would oppose anything that might enhance Tyler's status, as well as from foes of slavery and those who feared a confrontation with Mexico, which had announced that it would view annexation as a hostile act by the United States. Both Clay and Van Buren, the respective frontrunners for the Whig and Democratic nominations, decided to come out against annexation. [118] Knowing this, when Tyler sent the treaty to the Senate for ratification in April 1844, he did not expect it to pass. [119]

1844 candidacy Edit

Following Tyler's break with the Whigs in 1841, he had begun to shift back to his old Democratic party, but its members, especially the followers of Van Buren, were not ready to receive him. Tyler knew that, with little chance of election, the only way to salvage his presidency and legacy was to move public opinion in favor of the Texas issue. He formed a third party, the Democratic-Republicans, using the officeholders and political networks he had built over the previous year. A chain of pro-Tyler newspapers across the country put out editorials promoting his candidacy throughout the early months of 1844. Reports of meetings held throughout the country suggest that support for the president was not limited to officeholders. The Tyler supporters, holding signs reading "Tyler and Texas!", held their nominating convention in May 1844, just as the Democratic Party was holding its own presidential convention. [120]

Midway through Tyler's presidency, the Democrats were badly divided, especially between followers of Calhoun and Van Buren. Former Vice President Richard Mentor Johnson of Kentucky, former Secretary of War Lewis Cass of Michigan, and Senator James Buchanan of Pennsylvania also loomed as contenders for the 1844 Democratic presidential nomination. [121] By late 1843, Van Buren had emerged as the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, and Calhoun decided that he would not seek the nomination. [122] As proponents of the annexation of Texas came to oppose his candidacy, Van Buren's strength in the party diminished. [123] At the 1844 Democratic National Convention, Van Buren failed to win the necessary super-majority of Democratic votes. It was not until the ninth ballot that the Democrats turned their sights to James K. Polk, a less prominent candidate who supported annexation. [120] A protege of Andrew Jackson, Polk had hoped to win the vice presidential nomination prior to the convention, but Democratic delegates instead made Polk the first "dark horse" presidential nominee in U.S. history. Polk's nomination pleased the followers of Calhoun, and they threw their support behind his candidacy rather than Tyler's. [124] Clay, meanwhile, had been nominated for president at the 1844 Whig National Convention. [125]

Ongoing debates and the 1844 election Edit

The full Senate began to debate the Senate annexation treaty in mid-May 1844, and it rejected the treaty by a vote of 16–35 on June 8. Most of the support for the treaty came from Democrats who represented slave states. [126] Changing tactics, Tyler submitted the treaty to the House of Representatives. He hoped to convince Congress to annex Texas by joint resolution, which required a simple majority vote in both houses of Congress rather than a two-thirds vote in the Senate. [127] The debate over Texas, as well as Oregon to a lesser degree, dominated American political discourse throughout mid-1844. [128] Former President Andrew Jackson, a staunch supporter of annexation, persuaded Polk to welcome Tyler back into the Democratic Party and ordered Democratic editors to cease their attacks on him. Satisfied by these developments, Tyler dropped out of the race in August and endorsed Polk for the presidency. Tyler thus became the first sitting president to decline to seek a second term. [129] In the public letter announcing his withdrawal, Tyler stated his belief that Polk's administration "will be a continuance of my own, since he will be found the advocate of most of my measures." [130]

Clay had been confident of his own election after the Democratic convention, but his doubts grew as the election neared. [131] Democrats like Robert Walker recast the issue of Texas annexation, arguing that Texas and as Oregon were rightfully American but had been lost during the Monroe administration. Walker further argued that Texas would provide a market for Northern goods and would allow for the "diffusion" of slavery, which in turn would lead to gradual emancipation. [132] In response, Clay argued that the annexation of Texas would bring war with Mexico and increase sectional tensions. [133] Ultimately, Polk triumphed in an extremely close election, defeating Clay 170–105 in the Electoral College the flip of just a few thousand voters in New York would have given the election to Clay. [134] The candidate of the abolitionist Liberty Party, James G. Birney, won several thousand anti-annexation votes in New York, and his presence in the race may have cost Clay the election. [135] Aside from New York, Clay lost several states that Harrison had won, including Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Maine, and Pennsylvania. In the concurrent congressional elections, the Democrats won control of the Senate and retained control of the House. [136]

Annexation achieved Edit

After the election, Tyler announced in his annual message to Congress that "a controlling majority of the people and a large majority of the states have declared in favor of immediate annexation." [137] Congress debated annexation between December 1844 and February 1845. Polk's arrival in Washington, and his support for immediate annexation, helped unite Democrats behind Tyler's proposal to annex Texas by joint resolution. [138] In late February 1845, the House by a substantial margin and the Senate by a bare 27–25 majority approved a joint resolution offering terms of annexation to Texas. [139] Every Democratic senator voted for the bill, as did three Southern Whig senators. [140] On March 1, three days before the end of his term, Tyler signed the annexation bill into law. [139] The bill allowed the president to either re-open annexation negotiations or to extend an offer of statehood. It differed from Tyler's proposed treaty in that the United States would not take on the public lands or the public debt of Texas. [138]

On March 3, the final full day of his presidency, Tyler extended an offer of annexation and statehood to Texas through his envoy, Andrew Jackson Donelson. Upon taking office, Polk considered withdrawing the offer, but he ultimately decided to uphold Tyler's decision. [141] After some debate, [142] Texas accepted the terms and entered the union on December 29, 1845, as the 28th state. [143]

Amidst the troubles in his administration, Tyler had to deal with personal tragedies as well. His wife, Letitia, had been ill for some time, [116] and did not participate in White House functions. She suffered a second stroke and died on September 10, 1842. [17]

After just five months, Tyler began courting the most beautiful and sought-after socialite in Washington, D.C., Julia Gardiner, who at 22 years of age was 30 years younger than the president, and younger than three of his eight children. [116] They were married in a small ceremony on June 26, 1844 in the Church of the Ascension, New York City. [144] This was the first time a president married while in office, and the wedding was widely covered by newspapers. [145]

Tyler still has one living grandchild, Harrison Ruffin Tyler who was born in 1928. [146]

While academics and experts have both praised and criticized Tyler, the general public has little awareness of him at all. He is among the nation's most obscure presidents in 2014, Time magazine reviewed the "Top 10 Forgettable Presidents":

After John Tyler earned the vice presidency on the strength of a campaign slogan that tacked him on as a postscript – "Tippecanoe and Tyler too" – his fate as a historical footnote seemed likely and when he ascended to the presidency following the death of William Henry Harrison, being dubbed "His Accidency" made it a lock. [147]

Nevertheless, Tyler's presidency has provoked highly divided responses. It is generally held in low esteem by historians Edward P. Crapol began his biography John Tyler, the Accidental President (2006) by noting: "Other biographers and historians have argued that John Tyler was a hapless and inept chief executive whose presidency was seriously flawed." [1] In The Republican Vision of John Tyler (2003), Dan Monroe observed that the Tyler presidency "is generally ranked as one of the least successful". [2] Seager wrote that Tyler "was neither a great president nor a great intellectual," adding that despite a few achievements, "his administration has been and must be counted an unsuccessful one by any modern measure of accomplishment". [148] A 2018 poll of the American Political Science Association's Presidents and Executive Politics section ranked Tyler as the 36th best president, [149] while a 2017 C-Span poll of historians ranked Tyler as the 39th best president. [150]

Others have expressed more positive view of Tyler, especially regarding foreign policy. Monroe credits him with "achievements like the Webster–Ashburton treaty which heralded the prospect of improved relations with Great Britain, and the annexation of Texas, which added millions of acres to the national domain." Crapol argued that Tyler "was a stronger and more effective president than generally remembered", while Seager wrote, "I find him to be a courageous, principled man, a fair and honest fighter for his beliefs. He was a president without a party." [148] Pointing to Tyler's advances in foreign policy and external factors such as Clay's determination to dominate Tyler's administration, Norma Lois Peterson deemed Tyler's presidency "flawed . but . not a failure". [151] In Recarving Rushmore, libertarian author Ivan Eland ranked Tyler as the best president of all time. [152] Louis Kleber, in his article in History Today, pointed out that Tyler brought integrity to the White House at a time when many in politics lacked it, and refused to compromise his principles to avoid the anger of his opponents. [153]

By decisive action and adroit political maneuvering during his first weeks in office, Tyler forever made moot any future constitutional objections and established by usage the precedent for the vice president to become president on the death of an incumbent. [154] His successful insistence that he was president, and not a caretaker or acting president, was a model for the succession of seven other presidents over the 19th and 20th centuries. Tyler's action of assuming both the title of the presidency and its full powers would be legally recognized in 1967, when it was codified in the Twenty-fifth Amendment. [155] His use of veto power not only destroyed the Whig domestic program, but also established the precedent that the president could veto any bill passed by Congress. [156] Jordan T. Cash concludes that:

The administration of John Tyler, therefore, shows us a strong isolated president exercising constitutional powers while still having some institutional restraints. It is an example of the executive alone in all its strengths and weaknesses, but primarily demonstrating the great inherent strength and power of the office in its constitutional, institutional, and political capacities. [157]


Hall of Fame

John Adams - The first vice president

This image was removed due to legal reasons.

We can start with America’s first vice president, John Adams. Although best known for going on to become America’s second president, Adams left his mark on the vice presidency in notable ways—even if it wasn’t always for the best. As his biographer points out , Adams was seldom consulted by President Washington when it came to either policy or politics, setting the precedent for veep powerlessness that would last for a century-and-a-half. When he tried to take on a more active role presiding over the Senate—one of the vice president’s constitutionally-designated responsibilities—he was criticized for his pompous lectures. Despite casting the tie-breaking vote a record 31 times, he ultimately became despondent about just how little influence he really had. He later complained to his wife Abigail Adams: “My country has in its wisdom contrived for me the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived."

Thomas Jefferson - The vice president who really hated his boss

This image was removed due to legal reasons.

Unlike his immediate predecessor, Thomas Jefferson didn’t mind limiting his role as vice president to maintaining procedure during Senate debates. Indeed, because he had been fascinated by parliamentary rules for most of his adult life, he actually enjoyed presiding over debates and impressing both sides with his impartiality. That said, Jefferson was bound to be a controversial figure during his vice presidency due to a quirk in the Constitution that awarded that office to the loser in the previous presidential election. This meant that Jefferson, a Democratic-Republican, had to serve under the administration of a Federalist, John Adams. Perhaps inevitably, Jefferson tried to undermine Adams’ policies throughout his administration, resulting in a rift between the two old friends that lasted until after Jefferson’s presidency ended more than a decade later. Fortunately for our country, the Twelfth Amendment corrected this flaw and was ratified in enough time to impact the very next presidential election.

John Tyler - The vice president who made the office matter

This image was removed due to legal reasons.

John Tyler may be our most important vice president, since he was the first one whom history required to ascend to the office of the presidency. Although he had a reasonably cordial relationship with President William Henry Harrison, there was no reason to believe that he would be any more powerful under Harrison’s administration than any of the previous vice presidents had been during their tenures. One month into his presidency, however, Harrison unexpectedly took ill and died, immediately elevating Tyler to his place per the Constitution. Because no vice president had reached the presidency in this way, many of Harrison’s cabinet officers and advisers wanted to minimize his role. Tyler, however, insisted that he wasn’t merely an Acting President, but the legitimate President of the United States, and that he deserved the same respect and commanded the same authority as the nine presidents who came before him. Although his presidency proved tempestuous, Tyler’s interpretation won out, forcing future generations of American voters to consider their vice presidents as seriously as they did their presidents when casting their ballots.

Richard Nixon - A surprisingly solid vice president

This image was removed due to legal reasons.

Despite his infamous presidency, Richard Nixon’s vice presidency was actually one of the nation’s finest. After keeping his place on the Republican ticket through a brilliantly performed televised speech, Nixon became President Dwight Eisenhower’s de facto ambassador to the world, a role which he excelled in fulfilling. For instance, when touring Latin America in 1958, Nixon faced angry Marxist mobs in both Lima, Peru and Caracas, Venezuela, on the latter occasion even coming close to death. The following year, when touring the Soviet Union in a goodwill tour, he held his own in an impromptu debate with Premier Nikita Khrushchev in what were subsequently dubbed the “Kitchen Debate.” Although Nixon’s power as vice president was later minimized when Eisenhower couldn’t remember any major ideas that Nixon had contributed which the president adopted, this was unfair not only because Eisenhower’s remark was taken out of context, but because Nixon actually did a great deal to make the vice presidential office more influential.

Joe Biden - The vice president who should have run for president (again)

This image was removed due to legal reasons.

With a favorable rating of 57 percent , I suspect some Democrats deeply regret Joseph Biden’s decision to not run for president in this election—and those regrets would no doubt be increased if Biden’s performance as vice president was more widely known. When it was time to save America from the fiscal cliff or push for necessary (if ultimately unsuccessful) gun control legislation , Biden served as President Barack Obama’s point man, trusted aide, and friend. He also saved Obama from a potential loss in his reelection campaign against Mitt Romney through his stellar debate performance against the Republican vice presidential nominee, Congressman Paul Ryan. While Biden avoided crossing the lines of propriety that George W. Bush’s veep, Dick Cheney, regularly transgressed, he nevertheless became an integral player in the Obama presidency and has earned the right to be ranked as one of the better vice presidents our nation has had.


The Best President: John Tyler (1841-1845)

Readers may do a double take here. John Tyler is often listed among the worst U.S. presidents, and this view usually owes to him being “twice a traitor”, plus the fact that he married a woman 30 years his junior in the White House. The fact that he banged 22-year old Julia Gardiner when he was 53 is a complete non-criticism. I’m turning 50 this year, and what I’d give to marry someone that young. The obsession Americans have with presidential sex lives is a pretty sad indictment of our priorities. I wouldn’t care if Julia Gardiner was 16 years old when she hopped in the White House bed with someone old enough to be her granddad. To care about something like that is to become a John Quincy Adams, who blasted Tyler and his new wife for being married “under circumstances of revolting indecency”. Quincy Adams never lacked for sanctimony, but in this case I suspect the poor sod just never in his whole life had a good lay.

Turning to real matters: Tyler’s alleged treacheries. The first is that he was the only president in history to oppose his own party and then be expelled from it while in office. He was elected a Whig and then opposed the Whigs on key policies. He had only joined the Whig ticket reluctantly, as a protest against Andrew Jackson’s new breed of Democrat, while remaining a Jeffersonian Democrat at heart. The second treachery is that he was the only former president in history to commit treason against the office he once served in. When the Civil War broke out in 1861, he voted as a Virginian delegate for his state to secede from the union he was then elected to the Confederate House of Representatives.

Neither of these counts against Tyler, and the first is in his favor. Tyler fought his own party to do his job as he thought proper. That’s exactly what more presidents should do. Jimmy Carter, for example, did a “John Tyler” when he appointed a budget-hawk (Paul Volcker) to chair the Federal Reserve. Carter’s advisors warned him that this appointment would cost him the support of many Democrats and the re-election, but Carter courageously did so anyway, saying that he would rather lose the election because of Volcker’s tight money policies than carry inflation to the next generation. Sure enough, Carter’s principled stand — his priority was lowering inflation, not reducing unemployment — got him blackballed, just John Tyler’s principled stand against the Third National Bank got him expelled from the Whigs. It’s surprising that this needs saying: historians should applaud presidential decisions based on constitutional integrity and fiscal responsibility, not condemn them out of partisan politics.

As for the second point — Tyler’s siding with the South in the Civil War — it has no bearing on his presidential record it happened after he left office. Even if it did count, it’s hardly fair to judge a southern man for siding with his home region. Had Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, and James Polk still been alive in 1861, they would have almost certainly supported the Confederacy as John Tyler did. (George Washington probably not: he was a Virginian, but he was also a Federalist.) Tyler just happened to be the only one still alive who was from the South, and that’s why he’s known as the “only former president to commit treason against the office he once served in”. It doesn’t mean much, especially in view of Tyler’s complex feelings for slavery, as we will see below. He had always believed that slavery was evil, but thought it should be gradually phased out instead of an all-at-once emancipation.

What follows is an assessment of John Tyler’s presidency, and why I believe he was the best chief executive in American history. There are eight things he did which require assessment, and possibly a ninth: (1) asserting that the vice president assumes the full responsibilities of a president who dies in office (2) vetoing the Third National Bank (3) using federal restraint during the Dorr Rebellion in Rhode Island (4) peacefully resolving border issues between the U.S. and British colonies in Maine and Canada, and also agreeing to enforce a joint ban on the African slave trade (5) ending the Second Seminole War, and then reducing the U.S. military by a third (6) agreeing to recognize and protect the Kingdom of Hawaii (7) peacefully opening up free trade in China (8) attempting to annex Texas and (9) (supposedly) secretly sending arms to the Dominican Republic in support against Haiti. I’ll go through each.

1. From Vice President to President (April, 1841)

If Tyler is remembered for any contributions at all, it’s usually this. He was the first vice president to become president when the sitting president died. William Henry Harrison expired only a month into office, and Tyler boldly asserted the right to become president — not just as a caretaker or acting president, but as the inheritor of the full responsibilities of the presidency for the remainder of the term. Tyler turned out to be more than anyone bargained for. Harrison and his cabinet members had made decisions by majority vote Tyler told the cabinet that is not how he would run his administration. If they didn’t agree with his decisions or how he made them, they should resign immediately.

The House and Senate formally recognized Tyler’s claim to the presidency, but many statesmen were outraged. Former president John Quincy Adams was so incensed that he refused to acknowledge Tyler as a president, addressing all letters to him as “Acting President”. (Tyler, for his part, sent the letters back unopened.)

Verdict: Tyler deserves credit for establishing a precedent that has been followed ever since. It would not serve the nation well for a vice president to become a restricted “acting president” when true leadership is needed.

2. The Third National Bank (August-September, 1841)

When the first National Bank was created in 1791 by Alexander Hamilton (George Washington’s Secretary of the Treasury), the bank was opposed by many statesmen, including Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, for benefiting merchants and investors at the expense of most Americans. Congress disapproved the bank in 1811, but then rechartered it as the Second National Bank in 1816. That bank was dissolved in 1832. The Whig party was formed in 1834 largely in response to the bank’s demise, and its #1 agenda was to resurrect a Third National Bank. With Tyler the first Whig president, the Whigs were now convinced the time was ripe for doing that.

They were sorely mistaken. Senator Henry Clay (the leader of the Whig party) got Congress to pass a bill for a Third National Bank on August 6. Tyler vetoed the bill on August 16. His speech in the Senate chamber was greeted by many hisses, and two days later a violent protest took place on the grounds of the White House at 2:00 AM. It remains the most violent White House protest to this day. People blew horns, pounded drums, threw rocks at the White House building, and fired guns into the night sky. Many of the offenders were arrested and thrown in jail, but in an amazing display of grace, Tyler asked the court to pardon their behavior, as they were, in his view, simply exercising their free speech rights. This showed Tyler to be very different from a tyrannical president like Andrew Jackson, who retaliated against the smallest threats to his authority. Henry Clay wasn’t as graceful. He threw a hissy-fit when Congress failed to override Tyler’s veto, and told Tyler that he should resign the presidency.

Not to be outdone, the Whigs rammed another bill through Congress, with language they hoped would appease the president. Tyler vetoed that one too, on September 9. This bill actually created a stronger national bank than the first bill, and Tyler, though interested in compromise, said that his constitutional duty required his veto. In a lengthy explanation, he affirmed the veto power as an executive check against the tyranny of the majority, and a tool that should be used to defend the Constitution and the American people from oppressive or hasty legislation. In the case of the bank, Congress had no power to create corporations of a national character, and the problems of injustice resulting from the first two national banks caused the people to clamor for their demise (in 1811 and 1832). Tyler had no intention of resurrecting the problem and violating the Constitution. Clay was bullshit with rage, and all of Tyler’s cabinet members resigned in protest on the fateful day of 9/11, except for Secretary of State Daniel Webster. Webster was a Whig like the others, but he disliked Henry Clay for his narcissism and unethical drives.

Two days later (September 13), Clay and other Whig leaders denounced Tyler as a traitor and expelled him from the Whig party. This was published widely in the media, and for years Whig newspapers demonized Tyler, calling him “His Accidency”, the “Executive Ass”, a “perfidious dung-eater”, and a “vast nightmare over the republic”. One writer even said that Tyler should be whipped naked and publicly. Tyler had to select a new cabinet: Attorney General Hugh Legare (from South Carolina), Navy Secretary Abel Upshur (from Virginia), Secretary of War John Spencer (from New York), Secretary of the Treasury Walter Forward (from Connecticut), and Postmaster General Charles Wickliffe (from Kentucky). Along with the remaining Secretary of State Daniel Webster (from New Hampshire), these appointments sent a clear message that Tyler’s administration would not be biased or run by home-state Virginians, and indeed that he was still willing to work with Whigs who were not Henry Clay’s lapdogs. (Webster, Spencer, Forward, and Wickliffe were all Whigs Legare and Upshur were Democrats who shared Tyler’s commitment to states rights.) For that matter, the North and South were equally represented in this new cabinet (3-3).

Verdict: Tyler’s veto of the national bank was an act of remarkable courage and integrity. He defied his own party and suffered the consequences for the rest of his term — as a rogue president without a party, which killed his chances for a second term. Tyler had joined the Whigs as a protest against Andrew Jackson (who personified everything Tyler feared in the new frontier politics of dictator-Democrats: non-accountability, flagrant disrespect for freedom, and rank appeal to the illiterate masses), but he remained a Jeffersonian Democrat, and was committed to his constitutional duty regardless of any party philosophy. On top of all that, he showed himself to be a sincere free speech advocate by urging the pardon of mobsters who were cursing him to hell and almost inciting violence on the White House lawn!

3. The Dorr Rebellion in Rhode Island (April-May, 1842)

Because only 6% of Rhode Islanders were allowed to vote and sue in court (native-born white men who owned at least $134 worth of property), Thomas Wilson Dorr led a rebellion against the state, calling for a new democratic government. The result was the People’s Convention of Rhode Island, who drafted their own constitution in December, 1841, which granted voting rights to all white men. Northern Democrats supported the rebellion, while Southern Democrats and Whigs opposed it. (Southern Democrats were paranoid that Dorr’s ideas about majority rule would align with the abolitionist agenda and be translated to Southern society and a black majority rule Whigs opposed it because Rhode Island’s government was led by Whigs.)

On April 4, 1842, the rebel voters held elections for state officials to replace those currently in power. Dorr was elected governor, and he announced that he would take office in May. The existing state government declared the election illegal, and the current governor, Samuel King, began fortifying state buildings and purchasing additional arms in case the People’s Government attempted an actual takeover. King requested assistance from President John Tyler, citing Article IV, section 4 of the Constitution.

On April 11, Tyler responded to Governor King with restraint, saying that he would not use the federal government to intervene in state affairs. He had blasted Andrew Jackson for his Force Bill in the Nullification Crisis of 1832 (when Jackson threatened to force South Carolina to his will), and he had no intention of becoming a new “King Andrew”. He correctly advised Governor King that he did not have the authority to use military force in anticipation of domestic violence within a state: there must be an actual insurrection before the federal government could act.

On May 9, Dorr traveled to Washington and met with Tyler, requesting assistance. Tyler was sympathetic to Dorr’s democratic movement, but he warned Dorr that he was required to be neutral, and would in any case not sit by in the face of open rebellion. Dorr returned to Rhode Island on May 18, and his forces attempted to seize the Cranston Street Arsenal in Providence. They failed, and Dorr again left Rhode Island. On May 25, Governor King called on President Tyler for help, saying that Dorr was organizing bands from other states with which to invade Rhode Island.

On May 28, Tyler yet again responded to Governor King with restraint, saying he was confident that King could manage the local situation. About a month later, on June 22, Dorr returned to Rhode Island at the head of a small army, and Governor King again asked Tyler for help. On June 29, Tyler sent his Secretary of War to Rhode Island with the authority to use military intervention if necessary. By the time the Secretary arrived, Dorr’s forces had already disbanded federal intervention was not required.

Dorr ended up serving one year of a prison sentence before the state ordered his release. His rebellion failed to bring about a revolution, but his cause ultimately led to the expansion of voting rights and increased political power for non-land owners in the state of Rhode Island. The legitimate government of Rhode Island called a constitutional convention of their own (ratified in November of that year), giving voting rights to all native-born men who paid any taxes and to immigrants who met certain property requirements.

Verdict: Tyler handled the Dorr Rebellion flawlessly. It was precisely because of his continued caution and restraint that the positive outcome was possible — an improvement over the status quo without more violence. Intervention with federal troops would have probably turned the short-lived Dorr Rebellion into a much longer one.

4. The Maine-Canada border & the African slave trade (August, 1842)

The Webster-Ashburton Treaty was Tyler’s greatest accomplishment. It resolved border issues between the U.S. and British colonies in Maine and Canada, and also called for a final end to the African slave trade. But Tyler resorted to shady escapades in order to make the treaty possible.

Peace with Britain had been fragile when Tyler took office, because of the ongoing northeastern border dispute. As early as June 1841, Tyler sent secret agents to Maine in order to convince the citizens and leading politicians to accept a compromise solution. The trick was to make the citizens of Maine believe that the idea of a compromise originated with themselves, and not the federal government. Tyler used $12,000 from the chief executive’s secret service (contingency) fund to pay for this covert operation, and it took many months of softening up the Maine population with propaganda and lobbying. By around the same time the following year, Secretary of State Daniel Webster put phase two of the operation into play: blackmail. He contacted Harvard scholar Jared Sparks, who owned a map of the northeast boundary that supported the British claims to the disputed territory. Webster sent Sparks with this map to Augusta, in order to frighten state legislators into seeing the wisdom of a compromise, lest this map fall into British hands.

The ploy worked, and by the summer of 1842, the people of Maine wholeheartedly supported a compromise treaty. On August 9, Tyler signed the Webster-Ashburton Treaty, and it was ratified by the Senate on August 20 by a landslide victory of 39-9. Americans loved the treaty for restoring peace with Britain. Given that this peace was possible only because of Tyler and Webster’s propaganda/blackmail campaign, the ends arguably justified the means. But it was a gross usurpation of power, and an act of hypocrisy for a states rights advocate like Tyler. He had used the federal contingency fund to violate a state’s sovereignty by manipulating domestic public opinion. And he conducted this shady operation without Congressional oversight. If President Andrew Jackson had pulled a stunt like this a decade earlier in order to subvert opinion in the state of Virginia, Tyler’s piles would have burst.

The treaty also called for the final end of the African slave trade, to be jointly enforced by the U.S. and Britain patrolling the high seas. (Slave trade was abolished by the U.S. in 1808, but the law had been flouted up to this point.) Northern abolitionists were stunned that a defender of slavery like Tyler agreed to something like this, but Tyler’s feelings about slavery were complex. His father, John Tyler Sr., had voted in 1787 against the adoption of the Constitution because of the clause that allowed for the continuation of the slave trade for twenty more years (until 1808). Tyler Sr. had been a slave owner, but he wanted posterity to know forever that he opposed “this wicked clause” in the Constitution. His son John Tyler Jr. also became a lifelong opponent of the high-seas slave trade, even while defending slavery itself.

In fact, in 1835, when he was a Senator, Tyler became physically ill at the sight of slaves being sold on the auction block in Washington D.C. As a result he sponsored a bill to eliminate the slave trade (between states) in D.C., strongly objecting to the capital being made a depot for slaves. To us, that sounds like a meat-eater objecting to the sight of slaughterhouses. But there were strong feelings in these times about buying and selling slaves at public auction, even in the South. Tyler’s bill would have prohibited such auctions in the capital, but it didn’t pass.

Even Tyler’s feelings for slavery were ambiguous. From his earliest days in the House of Representatives, he had maintained that slavery was inherently evil, but that a policy of “diffusion” was the best way to end it gradually and peacefully. According to the theory (a crackpot theory to be sure, also advocated by former presidents Jefferson and Madison), development over space would thin out and diffuse the slave population, and with fewer blacks in some of the older slave states of the upper South, it would become possible to abolish slavery in states like Virginia. So in 1820, he said as a Congressman that Missouri should enter the union as a slave state so that the black population would be thinned out from the existing slave states. What enabled New York, Pennsylvania, and other states to adopt the policy of emancipation was their small number of slaves so too, by diffusion, would the prospects of emancipation increase with territorial and commercial expansion into the west.

All things considered, it’s no surprise that Tyler was continually enraged (especially throughout the 1830s) by abolitionist self-righteousness. His argument for the “right” way to abolish slavery, by gradual diffusion, implicitly conceded the moral high ground to the antislavery position. Coupled with his disgust for slave trade, it could only have fueled his moral anxiety.

Verdict : For an Anglophobe and Southerner like Tyler to compromise on a British land claim and then agree to jointly enforce a ban on the high-seas slave trade, is a mark of serious merit. His undercover shenanigans in manipulating the people of Maine was wrong, though perhaps excusable given the grim alternative of war.

5. Ending the Seminole War & Reducing the Military (August, 1842)

The same month Tyler signed the Webster-Asburton Treaty, he ended the longest and bloodiest Indian war in U.S. history. On August 14, he allowed several hundred Seminoles to stay on their reservation in Florida instead of being sent to lands west of the Mississippi. Soon after that he cut the number of troops in the American army by a whopping 33% — from 12,000 down to 8,000. Seldom do historians give presidents credit for reducing the military in the cause of preserving peace. Perversely, it’s war presidents like Jackson and Lincoln who are on our monuments and dollar bills.

Indeed it was President Jackson who had started the obscene war with the Seminoles, when they refused to leave their lands. They had been evicted by the Indian Removal Act of 1830, signed by Jackson, which drove massive amounts of Indians off land that had been guaranteed to them by over 90 treaties. The Cherokees in Georgia, the Creeks in Alabama, the Chickasaws and Choctaws in Mississippi, and the Seminoles in Florida were all evicted. The Seminoles, however, refused to leave, and Jackson declared war on them in 1835 his successor Martin Van Buren continued the war throughout his term of 1837-1841. Even by the standards of the time, the way Jackson justified himself was deeply offensive. He said that whites had left their homes to travel to far-flung territories, and that he was only asking the Indians to do the same. (Obviously the whites had done so willingly and because they were seeking better opportunities the Indians were being coerced and terrorized into giving up their sacred homelands for shitty land in Oklahoma.) Jackson also slammed his northern critics as hypocrites, who lived on family farms which had long replaced northern Indian hunting grounds. If the Indians of the South were to survive, he said, they must be relocated away from whites who would only seek to obliterate their culture. Jackson thus fulfilled Thomas Jefferson’s “merciful” vision of ethnic cleansing.

Verdict : Tyler was a rare 19th-century president who treated the Indians decently, allowing them to stay on their ancestral land. He reduced the military by dramatic proportions. If only our 21st-century police state executives could take inspiration from a president like this.

6. Recognizing and Protecting Hawaii (December, 1842)

Tyler secured Hawaii from British encroachment, but at first he was hesitant. Timoteo Haalilio (the first diplomat of the Kingdom of Hawaii) and William Richards (a Yankee missionary, and Haalilio’s translator) gained an audience with Tyler and Secretary of State Daniel Webster, requesting diplomatic recognition of Hawaii. Haalilio had to play the British card in order to convince Tyler and Webster. He threatened that he would try to put Hawaii under British protection if its independence was not recognized by the U.S. Tyler and Webster, fearing British expansion in Hawaii, finally agreed, assuring Haalilio that America would continue to dominate culturally and commercially in Hawaii against the British and French, while respecting Hawaiian sovereignty.

In his special message to Congress at the end of December, Tyler extended the 1823 Monroe Doctrine to the central Pacific and claimed influence over Hawaii, signaling to the world (especially Britain) that the U.S. would establish a de facto protectorate in the Hawaiian islands. While this was certainly an imperialistic move, it was a good one. It was done at the request of the subject (Hawaii), did not interfere with any existing British colonies, and pleased the American Pacific community. Not only were merchants, entrepreneurs, and members of the whaling industry delighted that Tyler had extended a protective shield over Hawaii, the Hawaiians themselves felt secure for the first time in a while.

Verdict : The Monroe Doctrine becomes perverted when used as an excuse to intervene in countries that become unstable for any reason at all. It was intended as a defensive policy against British and Europeans asserting themselves in the western hemisphere, but it also promised to stay out of British and European quarrels. That second part was increasingly ignored from Teddy Roosevelt on in the 20th century, when the U.S. made Latin America a playground for needless military intervention. In the 19th century the doctrine was usually used more judiciously. Tyler’s application of it to the Kingdom of Hawaii was a positive move.

7. Mission to China (December, 1842 – July, 1844)

In the same month Tyler was granting an audience to the Hawaiian diplomat, one of his own diplomats Caleb Cushing asked him to open China to American trade. With Britain’s recent military triumph in the Opium Wars, it had forced China to admit her vessels into additional ports, and to give Britain the island of Hong Kong. Cushing appealed to Tyler’s Anglophobia, saying that America should obtain the same trading rights to compete with Britain.

In May, 1843, Cushing was assigned to spearhead the mission to China as a messenger of peace, and in August he sailed for China with a flotilla of four ships. In February, 1844, he arrived in China and was well received by the European and American merchant community, but had to wait months before getting an audience with Imperial Commissioner Qiying. In July he and the commissioner signed the Treaty of Wangxia: it granted America favorable trading privileges, equal access to Canton, the four newly opened ports, and extends extraterritoriality to Americans who reside or do business in China. A copy of the treaty reached Washington DC in December, to a delighted Tyler.

Verdict : In peacefully opening China to free trade, the U.S. began leading in the Asian theater. America’s European rivals would struggle to catch up and get the same commercial and political benefits.

8. Annexing Texas (May, 1843 – March, 1845)

Halfway into his term Tyler became a crusader for the annexation of Texas, and it consumed him until the day he left office. His crusade casts a shadow over an otherwise excellent presidency, as it paved the way to the Mexican War under President James Polk. That war lasted from 1846-1848, and was one of the worst conflicts (and had the #1 worst desertion rate) in American history.

Texas had gained its independence from Mexico in 1836 (after the Battle of Alamo), and the vast majority of Texans wanted to be annexed by the U.S. But as much as President Jackson wanted Texas, he didn’t want to jeopardize Martin Van Buren’s chances in the election that year. The North strongly objected to adding Texas to the union, as it would be a slave state giving more power to the South. Tyler wanted Texas too, but not so much for the sectional reason of slavery as for national reasons. Achieving Texas would open wider markets, bring more wealth to the whole republic, check the threat of British imperialism, and expand the republic as a sure way (as he and the heirs of Jefferson saw it) to preserve the union. Also, territorial expansion aligned with the “diffusion” theory he had presented as a Congressman during the Missouri crisis of 1820 — that adding more slave states would be (supposedly) the best way to diffuse the slave population and effect a gradual emancipation.

Secretary of State Daniel Webster couldn’t go along with this. He was the only cabinet member who had not resigned after Tyler was excommunicated by the Whigs for vetoing the national bank. He had a great working relationship with Tyler up to this point, but in May, 1843, he respectfully resigned, and Tyler launched his Texas campaign. In July his new Secretary of State Abel Upshur began secret negotiations with Teaxs, which were carried out over the next six months. The Mexican minister threatened war if the U.S. tried to annex Texas, and so Tyler neither affirmed nor denied it in his message to Congress in December. But the Mexicans weren’t stupid, and the northern abolitionists were hardly duped either. Finally on February 27, 1844, Upshur finished negotiating a draft treaty with emissaries from Texas. Both sides agreed that Texas would be annexed as a slave state, that citizens of Texas would be granted all the rights and privileges of U.S. citizens, that the American government would assume responsibility for Texas’s public debt, etc. It was all looking good until the very next day.

The next day, February 28, saw one of the nation’s worst tragedies. To celebrate the work done on Texas, Tyler hosted a pleasure cruise on the Potomac River. Several cabinet members and dignitaries were enjoying themselves on board the USS Princeton, when its cannon suddenly exploded. Upshur was one of six people to die, and many more were injured. Texas diplomat Issac Van Zandt was on board, and he was worried that with the loss of Upshur, the whole Texas mission was suddenly in jeopardy. In this he was quite correct. Abolitionists in the North viewed the explosion — and Upshur’s death in particular — as a sign of divine providence that would defeat plans for Texas annexation.

On April 10, John Calhoun became the new Secretary of State, and from that day forward the Tyler administration was poisoned. It was a bad decision on Tyler’s part, though it was hardly his decision. What happened was this: Virginia Congressman Henry Wise (a friend of Tyler’s) had put a bug in the ear of South Carolina Senator George McDuffie (a close friend of Calhoun’s), asking him to get Calhoun to consider being Upshur’s replacement. McDuffie had misunderstood Wise, and thought that Wise was bringing a direct offer from the president he basically told Calhoun he had the position if he wanted it. Tyler was furious when this got back to him. Calhoun was an awful choice. He had great credentials — having been Secretary of War under James Monroe, Vice President under John Quincy Adams, and also Vice President under Andrew Jackson until he resigned in outrage against Jackson — but under his leadership, annexation of Texas would become synonymous with slavery. That was the opposite of Tyler’s mission for national support for Texas. For Calhoun, slavery was a beneficial and positive good, whereas for Tyler it was evil though necessary for the time being. But he couldn’t take the “offer” back at this point. It would have embarrassed Calhoun, lost Tyler Southern support in the Senate, and snubbed Wise, whose years of loyalty he appreciated. Tyler swallowed his bile and appointed Calhoun. It was a decision he would sorely regret.

On April 12 the Texas treaty was signed, by John Calhoun for the U.S. and by emissaries Isaac Van Zandt & James Henderson for Texas. The terms of the treaty were nearly identical to the terms contained in Upshur’s draft, though there was more explicit commitment to military protection for Texas against invasion. Tyler submitted the treaty to the Senate for ratification on April 22 — and an almighty shit-storm broke out five days later.

The shit-storm was thanks to Ohio Senator Benjamin Tappan, an anti-slavery Democrat who gave a copy of the treaty and other documents to the New York Evening Post. He was reprimanded for this gross violation of confidentiality, but the damage was done, and the bombshells were dropped — not least the military promises made to Texas at the risk of war with Mexico. But the lead ingredient for the storm was Secretary of State John Calhoun’s letter to the British minister dated April 18. In shockingly rude language, Calhoun had told the minister that Britain’s intention to abolish slavery throughout the world was a direct threat to the security of the United States that the U.S. had the right to annex Texas as a defensive measure against the encroachments of abolitionism and the arrogant British and that the mental and physical health of black slaves in the South was demonstrably superior to that of free blacks in the North (Calhoun was citing inaccurate data from the U.S. census of 1840). Tyler was aghast, and he knew at once that Calhoun’s letter all but ensured the treaty would be voted down in the Senate.

Sure enough, on June 8, the Texas treaty was defeated in a landslide vote of 35 to 16. But Tyler was not about to see months of labor ruined by the offensive remarks of his Secretary of State. He resubmitted the discredited treaty through a House-sponsored bill, urging that the House of Representatives consider a different path to annexation. Six months later on December 4, Congress reconvened and acted on Tyler’s request, debating the legality of annexation by joint resolution. The Constitution required a two-thirds vote in the Senate for a treaty with a separate nation (Article II, Section 2). Joint resolution would be by a majority vote in both the Senate and the House, with or without a treaty agreed to by the party being annexed. On January 25, 1845, the House voted in favor of a joint resolution admitting Texas as a state, based on the vague language of Article IV, Section 3 (which says that Congress has the power to admit new states). The Senate later concurred, amending the joint-resolution only slightly, which the House accepted on February 28.

That left President Tyler signing the joint resolution to annex Texas on March 1, only three days before he left office. He signed it to the immediate protest of the Mexican minister, who left Washington for home. War was on the horizon.

Verdict : Historians have criticized Tyler’s persistence with Texas for the wrong reason. In their view, he and Congress were playing fast and loose with the constitution, in agreeing to an annexation by a joint resolution (instead of a two-thirds vote in the Senate for a treaty). That constitutional “offense” is more apparent than real, not only because because Article IV, Section 3 can be (very loosely) read to imply a joint resolution, but because the Texans agreed to be annexed (they voted so in July 1844). If the relationship is consensual, the things that come with annexation, such as U.S. troop deployment for defense of the new land, are technically permissible by the Constitution anyway. Tyler’s real fault was not jumping through constitutional hoops, but his attempt to annex Texas period. Tyler had been warned repeatedly by the Mexicans that annexation would mean war. He persisted in the face of those warnings, and so he bears at least some responsibility for the Mexican War that happened under President James Polk.

9. Covert action against Haiti? (February, 1845)

This event often goes unmentioned by Tyler’s biographers, and for good reason. It comes from gossip. But first the facts: In February, 1844, the Spanish-speaking eastern half of Haiti successfully revolted against Haitian rule, and became the Dominican Republic. A year later they were still struggling against Haiti, and sent an envoy to President Tyler to obtain aid and recognition. Tyler sent back an agent John Hogan to investigate the Dominican government and evaluate the possibility of diplomatic recognition. No president had ever done this for Haiti (which would not be recognized by the U.S. until 1862), given the fact that Haiti was founded by a slave revolt — the only successful slave revolt in history (1791-1804) — and might well inspire slaves in the American South to get similar ideas. But Tyler was willing enough to consider diplomatic relations with the Dominicans.

This is where it gets interesting: according to later hearsay, Secretary of State John Calhoun used the secret service fund to send arms and military supplies to the Dominican forces in support of their ongoing struggle against Haiti. The hearsay comes from an 1858 diary entry of Edmund Ruffin, a friend of John Tyler who heard the tale from Virginia Senator Robert Hunter. Few historians put much stock in this, but Edward Crapol does, and he compares the Tyler administration’s covert operation against Haiti with Kennedy’s “Bay of Pigs” mission against Cuba a century later:

“In the history of American foreign relations, Haiti may be understood as the nineteenth century equivalent of a racial contagion comparable to the ideological contagion that Castro’s communist Cuba represented in the twentieth century. The U.S. response to these perceived racial and ideological threats to national security was of a remarkably consistent and similar pattern — non-recognition, exaggerated and inflammatory rhetoric about the threat these tiny nations posed, and support for internal subversion by aiding rivals who sought to overthrow these despised regimes. Haiti and Cuba were the pariah nations of their time. Each of these countries was an insignificant small island, but for American leaders they loomed large in their imaginations as racial and ideological challenges that threatened the status quo.” (The Accidental President, p 85)

That’s an intriguing comparison — assuming the arms running operation ever actually happened. Crapol doesn’t seem bothered that the evidence is shaky. All we know is that the Dominican Republic sent the envoy to Tyler, and that Tyler sent Hogan to the Dominican Republic. From the later hearsay, Crapol deduces that “Tyler and Calhoun jumped at the chance to destabilize the island and terminate black rule in Haiti”. That’s a big jump based on a second-hand diary account. Even on its own, the diary doesn’t mention Tyler’s name, only Calhoun’s. Though a president is accountable for his cabinet members, it would have been entirely in Calhoun’s character to act on his own and then tell Tyler later. If the arms running story is at all true, and if Tyler was in on it from the start with his Secretary of State, then it represents the worst thing Tyler ever did as president. But I have serious doubts about that, and I’m not surprised that biographies of Tyler don’t cover the incident. If it did happen, it was probably more Calhoun’s baby than Tyler’s. Calhoun was a virulent racist, and it wouldn’t be the first time he did something bigoted which embarrassed his president.

Conclusion: Rating John Tyler

Tyler thus has an impressive presidential record:

1. Assuming the presidency — Very Good
2. Vetoing the Third National Bank — Excellent
3. Using restraint in the Dorr Rebellion — Excellent
4. Resolving the Maine border – Agreeing to Joint Enforcement of the Slave Ban — Good/Excellent
5. Ending the Second Seminole War – Cutting the Military — Excellent/Excellent
6. Recognizing Hawaiian independence — Very Good
7. Opening China to trade — Excellent
8. Trying to annex Texas — Average
9. Sending arms to the Dominican Republic (?) — Bad (if it happened)

Using Ivan Eland’s scoring system from Recarving Rushmore, I rate John Tyler as follows:

Peace — 16/20
Prosperity — 20/20
Liberty — 18/20

Overall score — 54/60 = Excellent

Surprisingly, Eland gives Tyler a perfect 20/20 in the peace category. He says that “Tyler played only a minor role in the disputes that led to the Mexican War” (p 80). Maybe so when compared to his successor James Polk, but he can’t be given a free pass. Tyler had been warned repeatedly by the Mexican minister that Mexico would war on the U.S. if it tried to annex Texas, and so he has to bear a significant measure of responsibility for the Mexican War. I dock Tyler 3 points for Texas. I also dock him a point on the (magnanimous) assumption that the arms running to the Dominican Republic happened, but that it was John Calhoun taking the initiative. Thus my peace score of 16/20. On whole, Tyler’s peace record is very good.

For prosperity, I agree with Eland’s perfect rating of 20/20. Tyler courageously vetoed the Third National Bank, reduced tariffs, opened China to trade, and favored a tight money policy based on sound paper currency backed by gold and silver. Prices remained stable throughout his term.

For liberty, Eland gives Tyler a 19/20, docking him a point for his presumed executive privilege in operating outside of Congressional authority in the state of Maine in order to get the compromise with Britain. I dock him two points. Tyler not only skirted Congressional approval, he manipulated domestic opinion and then blackmailed the people of Maine by scaring them with a map that favored the British claim to the boundary territory. The ends probably justified the means (an almost certain war was avoided), but it’s a horrible precedent to set. In general, however, Tyler’s liberty record is outstanding. As a Southern he agreed to bring a final end to the high-seas slave trade he dealt kindly with Indians he respected the Rhode Islander’s demand for equal voting rights, and because of his remarkable restraint during their rebellion, a positive outcome was reached most impressively, he urged the pardon of rabble-rousers who were cursing him on the White House lawn — even to the point of throwing rocks at the house and firing guns in the air — on grounds that they were simply exercising their free-speech rights.

In sum, Tyler gets 54/60 points from me, a bit lower than Eland’s 59/60, but still excellent. John Tyler was the best president in history and deserves to be on Mount Rushmore.


The Worst President Ever

February 14, 2007

Subscribe to The Nation

Get The Nation’s Weekly Newsletter

By signing up, you confirm that you are over the age of 16 and agree to receive occasional promotional offers for programs that support The Nation’s journalism. You can read our Privacy Policy here.

Join the Books & the Arts Newsletter

By signing up, you confirm that you are over the age of 16 and agree to receive occasional promotional offers for programs that support The Nation’s journalism. You can read our Privacy Policy here.

Subscribe to The Nation

Support Progressive Journalism

Sign up for our Wine Club today.

Editor’s Note: Who is the worst US President ever? Cast your ballot in the Nation Poll.

A question that seems to be on everybody’s mind these days turns out to be: Is George Bush the worst President in American history?

But how do you judge? Is he the most morally disgusting? The worst mangler of the English language? Ever since the atom bomb was dropped, we’ve had a whole string of bozos who cannot pronounce the word “nuclear.” How much should that count against them?

Is John Tyler, our tenth President, a candidate for worst President? Some people who have never heard of this guy have heard of the campaign slogan “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too.” Well, Tippecanoe (William Henry Harrison) lasted about a month in office before he died of a cold contracted while making his inaugural address, and the rest is non-history. Tyler is best remembered, if he is remembered at all, as the President whose entire Cabinet, save one, quit on him. Please do not confuse him with Zachary Taylor, the twelfth President, easily Tyler’s equal in forgettability.

Is the most forgettable also the worst? Men like Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce and Benjamin Harrison (Tippecanoe’s grandson) were more politically brain-dead than really bad. But not so with James Buchanan, No. 15, who was President from 1857 to 1861. Aside from being a dull, unimaginative, dray horse of a politician, he was the President whose cowardice in handling the South and slavery ended the remotest possibility that the United States would be spared the horrors of the Civil War.

The consequences of Buchanan’s political poltroonery were long-lasting and dire, as contrasted with those of Warren Harding. Harding (No. 29) has won many Worst President contests because he had three or four truly stinky crooks in his administration to go along with an otherwise outstanding Cabinet. He was a slob with a drinking problem, and he was also afflicted with Bill Clinton’s zipper disease. Since booze was illegal when he was President (1921-23), getting smashed in the White House made him a not-so-great role model–not that much of the country was paying attention since all the other adults in America were doing the same thing at the local speakeasy.

There is a great story about Harding in the closet making boom-boom with his girlfriend, and of his wife being restrained by the Secret Service guys from rushing in and exposing the President in the flagrantest of delictos. But worst President? Not so much.

Others proposed for the worst list include Herbert Hoover, James Madison, Ulysses Grant and Richard Nixon.

Hoover, Democratic propaganda to the contrary, did not cause the Great Depression nor was he indifferent to his people’s sufferings. A brilliant, decent man, he was absolutely the unluckiest President.

Madison, the fourth President, justly called the Father of the Constitution, fits anyone’s description of a great man, but he loused up the presidency by going to war against England in 1812 with no Army and not much more of a Navy. His foreign policies were so hated in New England that the young federal republic he had done so much to start almost blew apart. Worse was to come. Madison could do nothing when the Brits occupied Washington, DC, and burned down the White House. But in the long run the consequences of his mistakes were minor, so he cannot have the “worst prexy” horse collar put around his neck.

Grant was too noble a man to be the worst anything. He had some crooks in his administration, but, like Harding, he had nothing to do with their corruption. On the plus side, he was the last President until Lyndon Johnson who would go to bat for black people.

As for Nixon, it’s still too early to tell. Too many people still living hate him or love him. The decision on that strange, baggy-faced man belongs to Gen X and beyond.

Which brings us to Bush II. It’s also too early to tell, but if first signs mean anything, he has got a lot to answer for. We know he is responsible for the death of a lot of people who never hurt him or us. We wonder if he has so disturbed the entire Middle East quadrant of the globe that years and years may pass while the people there and the people here suffer for what he has done. Will we get habeas corpus back? Will the thumb screw become standard operating procedure, or will it be returned to the Middle Ages whence George Bush found it?

One of the criteria for being worst is how much lasting damage the President did. Buchanan, for instance, did more than words can convey. With Bush II the reckoning is yet to be made.

Nicholas von Hoffman Nicholas von Hoffman, a veteran newspaper, radio and TV reporter and columnist, is the author, most recently, of Radical: A Portrait of Saul Alinsky, due out this month from Nation Books.


The Final Verdict

The presidents listed above, such as Grant, Buchanan, and Nixon, could also have presidents such as Andrew Johnson and Herbert Hoover listed. Those who view big government as a problem might find Franklin Delano Roosevelt (and his cousin Teddy), Woodrow Wilson, Lyndon B. Johnson, and even Abraham Lincoln as poor historical examples, although most polls of historians would hold these men, with the possible exception of LBJ, among the better presidents in US history.

Will George W. Bush or Barack Obama find themselves on similar lists fifty years from now? What about Donald Trump? Or will historians be more kind than their contemporaries? The answer to these questions is difficult to tell at this point. One thing that is quite evident, a rehabilitation of James Buchanan&aposs reputation is not likely anytime soon, and he will most likely continue to be considered the worst president in American history until someone comes along who is worse. Hopefully, that person doesn&apost come anytime soon.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2012 Chris Price


The 10 Worst Presidents

Is George W. Bush's presidency shaping up to be one of the worst in U.S. history? You hear the question being asked more and more these days. And more and more, you hear the same answer. With Iraq a shambles and trust in the administration declining, it is probably not surprising that 54 percent of respondents in a recent USA Today/Gallup survey said that history would judge Bush a below-average or poor president, more than twice the number who gave such a rating to any of the five preceding occupants of the White House, including Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter.

Public opinion is a notoriously fickle beast, of course, which is why historians and other custodians of the long view prefer to reserve judgment until they can speak of their subjects in the past tense. But clearly something about Bush ii has inspired many historians to abandon their usual caution. Meena Bose, a Hofstra University political scientist who has written about presidential ratings, says that the scholars' rush to rank the current president comes out of an acute awareness of the long-term consequences of his policies. "Since it's hard to see how Iraq will work out for the better,'' Bose says, " it's hard not to pass judgments."

Whatever his reasons, Princeton University historian Sean Wilentz created a minor sensation last year when he published a resounding verdict in Rolling Stone magazine: "Barring a cataclysmic event on the order of the terrorist attacks of September 11, after which the public might rally around the White House once again, there seems to be little the administration can do to avoid being ranked on the lowest tier of U.S. presidents." Bush partisans had a ready explanation for that assessment: liberal bias. But while Wilentz makes no secret of his liberalism, he referred to an informal survey of 415 historians in 2004 in which 81 percent of the respondents stated that the Bush administration would go down as a failure.

Bush's own view of how history will treat him comes across in his frequent allusions to Harry Truman, another famously unpopular sitting president whose reputation rose sharply as scholars began to appreciate his role in laying the foundations for America's success in the Cold War. And if Iraq turns out to be a beacon of democracy in the Middle East 10 years from now, there will be a lot of scholars eating crow.

Attempts to rate the Bush presidency are at best premature, but they do raise valuable questions. Is there, to begin with, a scholarly consensus on who America's worst chief executives are? If there were a negative Mount Rushmore, which presidents would have their faces carved into it? What qualities seem to distinguish poor presidencies? And finally, do rankings really help us understand presidential leadership and individual presidencies, or do they, in the words of Princeton University political scientist Fred Greenstein, "divert attention from the full range of presidential experience"?

Credit, or blame, for the first scholarly ranking of the presidents usually goes to Harvard historian Arthur Schlesinger Sr., who conducted a poll for Life magazine in 1948. He asked 55 specialists in American history to rate the presidents as great, near great, average, below average, or failure. Claiming the cellar of that list were Warren G. Harding and, in ascending order, Ulysses S. Grant, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, Calvin Coolidge, John Tyler, Benjamin Harrison, and Herbert Hoover.

Trending News

Interpreting the results, Schlesinger concluded that what weighed most heavily in determining the best presidents was whether they "took the side of progressivism and reform, as understood in their day." Though Schlesinger did not say so, the quality that characterized most of the failed presidencies, reflected in the choice of so many ineffectual pre-Civil War presidents and Hoover, was passivity or inaction in the face of great hitorical challenges (or, in the cases of Grant and Harding, in the face of corruption inside their own administrations). The value placed on executive energy could be said to reflect a liberal bias, but it also reveals the influence of a less strictly partisan ideal of the presidency as a strong, activist branch of government. "If there is a common denominator in presidential assessments," argues Princeton's Greenstein, "it is a bias toward activism, unless the activism is viewed as misplaced, as in the instances of Lyndon Johnson and Vietnam and Nixon and Watergate."

To test whether that or any other generalizations about presidential performances, particularly failed performances, hold up, U.S. News averaged the results of five major and relatively recent presidential polls to make its own gallery of the 10 worst presidents-actually 11, because of a tie at ninth place. Here is the U.S. News list of the least successful presidencies:

A Pennsylvania-born Democrat, deeply devout in his faith and the only bachelor elected to the presidency, Buchanan rejected slavery as an indefensible evil but, like the majority of his party, refused to challenge the constitutionally established order. Even before he became president, he supported the various compromises that made it possible for slavery to spread into the western territories. In his inaugural address, the 15th president tacitly encouraged the Supreme Court's forthcoming Dred Scott decision, which ruled that Congress had no power to keep slavery out of the territories. More damaging to his name, though, was his weak acquiescence before the secessionist tide-an unwillingness to challenge those states that declared their intention to withdraw from the Union after Lincoln's election. Sitting on his hands as the situation spiraled out of control, Buchanan believed that the Constitution gave him no power to act against would-be seceders. To his dying day, he felt that history would treat him favorably for having performed his constitutional duty. He was wrong.

Warren G. Harding's claim to infamy rests on spectacular ineptitude captured in his own pathetic words: "I am not fit for this office and should never have been here." A former publisher who won a string of offices in his native Ohio, he was an unrestrained womanizer noted for his affability, good looks, and implacable desire to please. It was good, his father once told him, that he hadn't been born a girl, "because you'd be in the family way all the time. You can't say no."

Harding should have said no when Republican Party bosses in the proverbial smoke-filled room (a phrase that originated with this instance) made him their 11th-hour pick for the highest office. He was so vague in his campaign declarations that he was understood to support both the foes and the backers of U.S. entry into the League of Nations. Once in the White House, the 29th president busied himself with golf, poker, and his mistress, while appointees and cronies plundered the U.S. government in a variety of ways. (His secretary of the interior allowed oilmen, for a modest under-the-table sum, to tap into government oil reserves, including one in Teapot Dome, Wyo.) "I have no trouble with my enemies," Harding once said, adding that it was his friends who "keep me walking the floor nights." Stress no doubt contributed to his death in office, probably from a stroke. Almost a decade later, his former attorney general called Harding "a modern Abraham Lincoln whose name and fame will grow with time." That time is still a long way off.

Andrew Johnson has risen in scholarly dis-esteem since the publication of Schlesinger's 1948 poll probably because the post-Civil War Reconstruction has enjoyed a scholarly face-lift, and Johnson is now scorned for having resisted RadicaRepublican policies aimed at securing the rights and well-being of the newly emancipated African-Americans. (Before he was president, historian Woodrow Wilson did a lastingly thorough job of sullying Reconstruction, depicting it as a vindictive program that hurt even repentant southerners.)

A native North Carolinian of humble origins, Johnson worked as a tailor and eventually settled in Tennessee, where he entered politics as a populist Jackson Democrat. He was elected to several high offices, including U.S. senator. Though no abolitionist, he was a staunch supporter of the Union and the only southerner to retain his seat in the Senate after secession. For his loyalty, Lincoln appointed him military governor of Tennessee, where he set about suppressing Confederates and championing black suffrage. (Tennessee became the first southern state to end slavery by state law.) Lincoln selected him as his running mate in 1864, and Johnson became the 17th president only a month after being sworn in as vice president. Unfortunately, his subsequent battles with Radical Republicans in Congress over a host of Reconstruction measures revealed political ineptitude and an astonishing indifference toward the plight of the newly freed African-Americans. Vetoing renewal of the Freedman's Bureau and the first civil rights bill, he encouraged opposition to the 14th Amendment. An increasingly nasty power struggle-in which Congress attempted to strip him of certain constitutionally delegated powers-resulted in the first presidential impeachment and a near conviction. Failing to be renominated, he returned to Tennessee and was again elected to the U.S. Senate. History's current verdict may prove to be overly harsh, but Johnson did turn a blind eye to southerners who tried to undo what the Civil War had accomplished.

Extending the list of timid pre-Civil War compromisers, Pierce was a Jackson Democrat from New Hampshire whom Whig foes called "doughface"-a northerner with southern principles. Elected as the 14th president, the handsome Mexican War veteran believed in national expansion even at the cost of adding more slave states. To that end, he supported the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, which, along with the earlier Compromise of 1850, effectively repealed the Missouri Compromise of 1820. Less successfully, he proposed annexing Cuba, but his opponents, suspecting the addition of a new slave state, outed the plan and forced him to renounce it. He did manage to secure U.S. recognition of a dubious regime in Nicaragua, presided over by an American proslavery adventurer, William Walker, who had instigated an insurrection and installed himself as president. Theodore Roosevelt later wrote of Pierce that he was "a servile tool of men worse than himself . ever ready to do any work the slavery leaders set him." Not even a fawning campaign biography by Pierce's college friend Nathaniel Hawthorne could offset such damning reviews.

The 13th president came to office on the coattails of a popular war hero, Zachary Taylor, who died in office a little over a year after becoming president. Born in a log cabin in central New York, Fillmore made his way to politics and the Whig Party via schoolteaching and the law. A largely ignored vice president, he got Taylor's attention when he told him he would support the Compromise of 1850 if the Senate came to a deadlock. Consisting of five separate acts (including the Fugitive Slave Law, compelling the federal government to return fugitive slaves to their masters), the compromise stood for everything Taylor opposed. When the ailing president died, his successor became an even more vigorous champion of the compromise measures. Fillmore's actions may have averted a national crisis and postponed the outbreak of the Civil War, but it was peace bought at an unconscionable price. Two decades after the notorious deal, the ew York Times opined that it was Fillmore's "misfortune to see in slavery a political and not a moral question." Misfortune might now seem too kind a word.

At sixth worst, Virginian John Tyler was the first president to rise by succession from the vice presidency-when William Harrison succumbed to pneumonia only 30 days after being sworn into office. Born into the planter aristocracy, Tyler began his political career as a Jefferson Republican, opposing Federalist schemes for high protective tariffs and federally funded "internal improvements." As a U.S. senator, he supported Andrew Jackson's crusade against the national bank but soon fell out with Old Hickory when he quashed South Carolina's attempt to nullify a modest tariff. (Tyler, a steady champion of states' rights and slavery, defended South Carolina's prerogative to secede.) Joining the young Whig Party, he ran with popular war hero Harrison, and the ticket of "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too" trounced the Democratic candidates. But once president, Tyler opposed everything his adopted party stood for, including a national bank. One fellow Whig accused Tyler of reviving "the condemned and repudiated doctrines and practices of the worst days of Jackson's rule." The entire Harrison-appointed cabinet resigned, and Tyler had to fight an attempt to impeach him. His one triumph: establishing the principle that a vice president who succeeds to the top office has no less authority than an elected president. No small accomplishment when most of his own party despised him.

Ulysses S. Grant has risen from No. 2 on the 1948 Schlesinger list probably because of the same revisionist take on Reconstruction that lowered Johnson. Although there is no way to overlook the widespread graft and corruption that occurred on his presidential watch, he was in no way a beneficiary of it. "My failures have been errors of judgement," the popular former Civil War general admitted, "not of intent." More important, the 18th president now receives plaudits for his aggressive prosecution of the radical reform agenda in the South. His attempts to quash the Ku Klux Klan (suspending habeas corpus in South Carolina and ordering mass arrests) and his support for the Civil Rights Act of 1875 may have produced only short-lived gains for African-Americans, but Grant's intentions were laudable. He also worked for the good of American Indians, instituting the reservation system as an imperfect, last-ditch effort to protect them from extinction. Grant's reputation may continue to rise as a result of sympathetic studies-and because of a renewed appreciation of his own memoir, considered to be the best ever produced by a former president.

Alas, poor Harrison. That the ninth president makes any list at all is an act of scholarly injustice. The Virginian's greatest claim to fame was defeating the Shawnees in 1811 at the Battle of Tippecanoe. Delivering the longest inaugural address in U.S. history, he came down with pneumonia that made his 30-day presidency the shortest in U.S. history. Death would seem sufficient punishment for long-windedness historians are guilty of piling on.

Herbert Hoover, the 31st president, and Richard Nixon, the 37th, share the ninth spot for entirely different kinds of failings. And both had offsetting qualities and achievements that keep them off the 10-worst list of some major rankings. Hoover, elected on the eve of the Great Depression, came to the office with the skills of a consummate technocrat and manager. The Iowa native and Stanford-educated engineer ran massive relief operations in Europe both during and after World War I. He was commerce secretary under Harding and Calvin Coolidge. Once the Depression set in, he lowered taxes and started public works projects to create jobs but he steadfastly resisted outright relief. Hoover's adherence to conservative principles may not have been his greatest problem. A poor communicator, he came across as mean-spirited and uncaring. The homeless dubbed their shantytowns Hoovervilles. Perhaps his single greatest policy blunder was supporting a tariff act that fueled international trade wars and made the Depression even worse. But style points alone would have cost him the election against FDR. For all his good qualities, Hoover failed to rise to the greatest challenge of his time.

Nixon's failings were the stuff of dark tragedy: uneven judgment and a deeply suspicious character combined with great political gifts and considerable vision. He not only opened up U.S. relations with China but also reached an important arms-limitation agreement with the Soviet Union. He slowly, if not quite steadily, extricated America from the quagmire of Vietnam. He supported a number of progressive domestic policies, including the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Consumer Product Safety Commission. He stepped up the war against crime on multiple fronts. But the drama of Nixon Agonistes concludes with his resignation under a cloud of wrongdoing. For obstructing the investigation of a petty crime committed by some of his own campaign operatives-an attempt to burglarize the Democratic National Headquarters-Nixon's name will forever be linked with one word: Watergate.

Sliding in at No. 10, Zachary Taylor was more a forgettable president than a failed one. And the reason is simple: The 12th president was probably the least politically attuned man to occupy the White House in American history, ignorant, one might say, to the point of innocence. Born in Virginia and raised in Kentucky, he was a country boy and a fearless soldier who fought and commanded in major actions spanning the War of 1812 and the Mexican War. Jealous fellow generals mocked his lack of learning and polish, but no less than Abraham Lincoln praised the steady judgment that enabled him to overcome unfavorable odds in numerous battles. The Whigs saw a good thing when they picked him as their candidate in 1848. A slaveholder who defended the "peculiar institution" in the South, he opposed its extension into new states as vigorously as he objected to the idea of secession. Some think his opposition to what became the Compromise of 1850-which began to undo the Missouri Compromise-might have precipitated the outbreak of the Civil War. If it had, Taylor would not have hesitated to take on the would-be seceders. And his war record might have given them pause. But the test never came. He died after only a little more than a year in office.

So were these America's worst presidents? Or does this list merely prove that rankings are valuable to the extent they spark debate, unhelpful to the extent they foreclose it? A look at the rankings of several historians we approached individually yields a provocative contrast to the poll results-and suggests how some of the more interesting choices often get averaged out in the wash.

For all the efforts of some polls to offset liberal bias, for example, there are no scholarly polls that show where the weight of conservative opinion might rank the worst chief executives. Forrest McDonald, a noted University of Alabama historian of distinct conservative leanings, awards Lyndon Johnson the No. 1 spot "for pushing government," he explains, "beyond the limits of what it can do." Woodrow Wilson ranks second for "equating democracy with peacefulness, leading to World War II." While giving Buchanan and Andrew Johnson typically low ratings (Nos. 3 and 4, respectively), he places Andrew Jackson at No. 5 (for "destroying the fiscal integrity of the United States" and Jimmy Carter ("completely ineffectual") at No. 6. Hoover does not make this list, but Mrtin Van Buren comes in at No. 9 "for presiding over the longest depression in U.S. history."

Sins of commission. While the large surveys tend to be harder on inaction and incompetence, some of our respondents cast a sterner eye on sins of commission. Jackson Lears, a professor of cultural history at Rutgers University, is particularly critical of heedless bellicosity in some of his picks. His choices of Buchanan, Nixon, and Reagan for the bottom three may reflect a standard liberal bias (though Lears describes himself as a "left-conservative-Jeffersonian), but he ranks John F. Kennedy at No. 5 for having "put the whole world under the shadow of nuclear war." Lears locates Teddy Roosevelt at No. 6 for being the only president "who celebrated the regenerative effects of military violence" and William McKinley at No. 7 for having "allowed T. R. et al. to push him into a savage and unjustified war in the Philippines."

Walter McDougall, a professor of history and international relations at the University of Pennsylvania, uses two broad criteria to evaluate presidents: One, he explains, is "damage done," and the other is what he calls the "Kuklick yardstick," after the argument set forth in Bruce Kuklick's book The Good Ruler. In McDougall's summary of that book, "The American people call on their president to give them the leadership and policies they want or need at a given time. Hence, whatever smug historians deem later, the only true measure of how 'good' a ruler was must be the opinion of the people he served." Three of McDougall's picks for the worst are based on both criteria: James Buchanan (No. 1), Lyndon Johnson (No. 2), and Andrew Johnson (No. 3). Three others earn their spots strictly on the basis of the Kuklick yardstick: Harry Truman (No. 7), Jimmy Carter (No. 8), and Richard Nixon (No. 9).

To most historians, the Kuklick yardstick is heresy-which is why Truman has risen in the rankings, and why Bush may ultimately fare well in them. "I think we should put little weight on how a president was viewed in office," says Mount Holyoke historian Joseph Ellis, a self-described man of the left who thinks that Bush will probably be included among the failed presidencies. Yet Ellis adds a caution that almost seems to support Kuklick's view: "In some sense," he says, "most presidents and people like to think how presidents shape history. But really presidents are much more the playthings of historical conditions."

Maybe what we learn from the least of our presidents-apart from the fact that even the worst often have remarkably redeeming features-is that it requires a rare combination of qualities to be among the best. Strength of character, principles, and political skills are necessary, to be sure, but so are the flexibility and judgment that allow them to gauge the needs of a time. If the worst help us understand the great, they also remind us of how merely good leaders often fail.

PRESIDENTS @ USNEWS.COM

More coverage is at www.usnews.com, including:

A video interview with author Jay Tolson, conducted by U.S. News Executive Editor Brian Kelly

A detailed explanation of the methodology and results of similar, previously published polls

An interactive readers' poll. Whose faces would you carve into a negative Mount Rushmore? Cast your votes, and we'll tally the responses.


Wikipedia:Featured article candidates/John Tyler/archive2

The article was promoted by Ian Rose 08:51, 12 June 2014 [1].

This article is about. John Tyler, President of the United States from 1841 to 1845, who was eventually the only president buried under a non-US flag. Perhaps most famously the tag line in a political jingle, Tyler served most of Tippecanoe's term and established the precedents for a vice president becoming president that we still observe today. Wehwalt (talk) 04:24, 18 May 2014 (UTC)

Comment: I copyedited the article per my copyediting disclaimer. These are my edits. - Dank (push to talk) 12:38, 19 May 2014 (UTC)

Thank you for that.--Wehwalt (talk) 12:53, 19 May 2014 (UTC) Sure thing. Just finished the new disclaimer, User:Dank/Copyediting2. - Dank (push to talk) 12:55, 19 May 2014 (UTC)

Support: I found from doing a peer review that the shadowy Tyler is a much more interesting figure than most mid-19th century political figures, and it is a credit to this article that I became fully absorbed in the subject. First rate political biog, ticks all the boxes – happy to support. Brianboulton (talk) 20:52, 19 May 2014 (UTC)

Thank you most kindly for your review and support.--Weh walt (talk) 04:58, 23 May 2014 (UTC)

  • Captions that aren't complete sentences shouldn't end in periods
  • File:Tyler_Daguerreotype_(restoration).jpg: LOC tag has an error message
  • File:John_Tyler_Signature.svg: where was this digitized from?
  • File:United_States_1842-1845-03.png: what sources were used to create this work?
  • File:Letitia_Tyler2.jpg needs US PD tag
  • File:WHOportTyler.jpg is tagged as lacking source info
  • File:John_Tyler's_grave.JPG: as this is a photo of a 3D work, what is the copyright status of the original work?
  • File:William_Henry_Harrison.jpg needs US PD tag. Nikkimaria (talk) 19:45, 21 May 2014 (UTC)
  • Wow Wehwalt, do you ever take a breather? Another 60k article!
  • I love the spirit of collaboration. In that case, Designate, congratulations on a very strong article. — Crisco 1492 (talk) 23:57, 26 May 2014 (UTC)
  • "which was carried out by Tyler's successor, James K. Polk. He sided with the Confederate government when the American Civil War began in 1861," - Juxtaposition kinda looks like Polk was a Confederate.
  • Fixed.
  • Confederate House of Representatives - Worth a redline?
  • Mary Marot (Armistead) - should the "née" be made explicit?
  • Well, given the rest of the sentence, is it really necessary?
  • Not really. Just asking your opinion. — Crisco 1492 (talk) 00:34, 25 May 2014 (UTC)
  • I don't like to change a style unnecessarily. I'm inclined to let it stand.--Wehwalt (talk) 00:48, 25 May 2014 (UTC)
  • You use File:Letitia Tyler.jpg, but she's not even mentioned in that section
  • Moved to the family section.
  • "in so poor a condition as to require a charitable donation from Congress," - italics in original? (just double checking
  • I double checked too and it seems kosher (note: I do not mind people putting the article through its paces)
  • states'-rights - I don't think this hyphen is necessary
  • There seems to be a rather high percentage of sentences starting "he" or "Tyler"
  • I did some modifying in the lede.--Wehwalt (talk) 01:19, 25 May 2014 (UTC)
  • Conservative Democrat. - With a capital C? Perhaps link this, at least (though the article uses the small c).
    goes to his article, and not an article on the presidency itself (small wonder, with a one month term). Is this really worth having as a see also link?
  • Axed.--Wehwalt (talk) 17:00, 24 May 2014 (UTC)
  • quietly returning to his home in Williamsburg - do we have an article on what the vice president actually did in these years? I mean, I can't imaging Biden spending his vice-presidency almost exclusively in Delawarej
  • Until the middle of the 20th century, the Vice President presided over the Senate, and that was it. Nixon was really the first modern Vice President, and that is in his article. I'm not even sure if Tyler had an office in the Capitol at that point. I consulted Hatch's book on the history of the Vice Presidency, but he really doesn't have much to say about the duties of the early veeps. Clay had gotten Harrison to call a special session for May, Tyler would have come back then to preside, and of course for the regular session in December.
    attorney - the last link to Richmond wasn't that long ago
  • Sliced.--Wehwalt (talk) 01:19, 25 May 2014 (UTC)
  • If I can post one for Harta Berdarah, sure (oh, and Ford Island [not me] could use some feedback). — Crisco 1492 (talk) 01:24, 25 May 2014 (UTC)
  • in his hotel room. - Was he not required to do it somewhere. a little more related to the government? Or was the requirement just the witnesses, the legal right, and the oath itself?
  • the sales of public land, as an emergency measure - this comma feels funny
  • Despite not officially recognizing Tyler as president, the Whigs appear to have done so in some of their actions wouldn't impeachment implicitly recognize Tyler's claim to the presidency?
  • The first paragraph in the Cabinet section is unreferenced to Thompson's seat was confirmed by the Senate. Nelson's successful confirmation was a surprise. Nelson, although a Democrat, - three Nelsons in three sentences?
  • Some <> tags added
  • Florida was admitted to the Union as the 27th state. - worth giving more information?
  • Early in his presidency, Tyler was attacked by abolitionist publisher Joshua Leavitt, who alleged that Tyler had fathered (and sold) several sons with his slaves. - Do we have a year, at least?
  • As of January 2014, . grandchildren - This source is from 2012, yet you're using it to support a January 2014 date.
  • Confederate flag - link to the article?
  • The line of quotes in #Legacy would probably do best with references after each
  • None of the "Tyler was ineffective" academics are given powerful quotes, compared to the more positive views several of them quoted here are just mentioning what others think. This feels unbalanced. — Crisco 1492 (talk) 09:28, 25 May 2014 (UTC)
  • Support on prose. Another great article on a US president. Designate and Wehwalt, you both do Wikipedia proud. — Crisco 1492 (talk) 00:49, 26 May 2014 (UTC)
  • Source review (from this version)
    • This is my first time doing this, so apologies if I miss anything
    • I fixed these, I think. —Designate (talk) 21:55, 27 May 2014 (UTC)
    • May's book is pretty short it's essentially a review much like this article. I used it as a due-weight check, since Chitwood and Seager are so enormous, but I didn't find anything worth citing to May. I would still consider it part of this article's bibliography. —Designate (talk) 21:00, 27 May 2014 (UTC)
      • My question was more "Did he contribute a certain chapter, or did he write the whole book and the other people edited it?" — Crisco 1492 (talk) 23:06, 27 May 2014 (UTC)
        • He wrote the book. The series as a whole was edited by the other two. —Designate (talk) 22:36, 29 May 2014 (UTC)
        • Yeah, I agree. Designate (talk) 22:39, 29 May 2014 (UTC)
        • Fixed. Designate (talk) 16:28, 1 June 2014 (UTC)
        • It uses the "cite web" template. I still consider it an article, not a "journal article" but an article nonetheless. It's a brief, nonfiction piece of writing collected in a larger work. —Designate (talk) 21:55, 27 May 2014 (UTC)
          • Fair enough. — Crisco 1492 (talk) 23:06, 27 May 2014 (UTC)
          • Found. Designate (talk) 22:39, 29 May 2014 (UTC)
          • I think Wikipedia's policy is to ignore accessdates for dated and authored works (books, journal articles, news) that are unlikely to be modified. A biography page with no date or author is more subject to change.
            • Not quite what Cite web recommends ("Not required for web pages or linked documents that do not change mainly for use of web pages that change frequently or have no publication date."). However, my personal experience is that there is no such thing as a web page that does not change. I would have lost a lot of Tempo citations when the website went paywall if I hadn't archived them (and they had been stable for years). — Crisco 1492 (talk) 00:03, 30 May 2014 (UTC)
              • Fair enough. I added the rest, but I omitted it from the U.S. Constitution and anything with an ISBN, since nothing will be lost there. —Designate (talk) 20:31, 2 June 2014 (UTC)
              • Fixed. Designate (talk) 22:39, 29 May 2014 (UTC)
              • Fixed. Designate (talk) 22:39, 29 May 2014 (UTC)
              • Fixed. Designate (talk) 16:28, 1 June 2014 (UTC)
              • Fixed. Designate (talk) 22:39, 29 May 2014 (UTC)
              • Fixed. Designate (talk) 22:39, 29 May 2014 (UTC)
              • Fixed. Designate (talk) 22:39, 29 May 2014 (UTC)
              • Very nice article. I have only a few comments:
              • Lede:
                • "Tyler, born to an aristocratic Virginia family of English descent. " Is the "of English descent" necessary? I can't think of a FFV that wasn't English, unless some Huguenots have escaped my mind.
                • "Tyler was elected by his fellow Charles City County residents to the House of Delegates, the lower house of the Virginia General Assembly." Since you introduce and link the House of Delegates in the previous section, shouldn't the descriptive clause go there?
                • The first paragraph could probably use a link to the Era of Good Feelings to explain why there was only one political party.
                • "Tyler voted against the Missouri Compromise". Why?
                • In a legal writing class, my professor once noted that "pursuant to" can nearly always be replaced with "under". I find the plainer word makes for more natural reading.
                • Does the ancestry chart have a source? A lot of them have been removed from non-royals' articles because of this, and because it's not especially notable for a non-royal.
                  • The source was listed in an HTML comment by whoever added it to all the U.S. presidents' articles. I don't like those charts at all, but I'm trying to choose my battles these days. If there's precedent to get rid of those charts, I will gladly do the same here. —Designate (talk) 02:41, 5 June 2014 (UTC)
                    • I'd pull it just because his ancestors aren't notable (except his father, whom you already discuss in the article). --Coemgenus (talk) 00:17, 6 June 2014 (UTC)
                    • This whole section is probably unnecessary.
                    • This section is kind of thick. Do you think you might delete the links to his State of the Union addresses, since they're already linked by the Wikisource box to the right? --Coemgenus (talk) 01:54, 5 June 2014 (UTC)

                    Note -- Could you just check your duplinks and see what's really necessary, Wehwalt? For instance there's at least three to Governor of Virginia (though admittedly the first is piped). Cheers, Ian Rose (talk) 12:03, 11 June 2014 (UTC)

                    Is there a tool for that? otherwise I'll try to do it manually--Wehwalt (talk) 12:28, 11 June 2014 (UTC) Here you go. Cheers, Ian Rose (talk) 12:34, 11 June 2014 (UTC) I find actually had that. Should be okay now removed several links--Wehwalt (talk) 15:46, 11 June 2014 (UTC) The above discussion is preserved as an archive. Please do not modify it. No further edits should be made to this page.