By Ruth Browning
John Tyler was the first Vice President to become President by the death of the President. When William Henry Harrison died after serving only a month, Tyler moved into the White House. Harrison’s death had left the Americans confused on the process of succession. Some argued that the VP should become an acting “caretaker” rather than President. But Tyler took the presidential oath of office, delivered an Inaugural Address and assumed full powers of the presidency, thus providing a pattern for future VPs to follow.
Born in Charles City, Virginia, in 1790, Tyler attended the College of William and Mary and studied law. He married twice, first to Letitia Christian, by whom he had eight children (one died in infancy). After Letitia died, Tyler married Julia Gardiner, thirty years younger than he, by whom he had seven children.
Tyler served in the House of Representatives, the Senate and as Governor of Virginia before being nominated for Vice President by the Whig Party in 1840. Tyler was not a supporter of many of the Whig programs and vetoed several bills from the Whig- dominated Congress. The Whigs expelled Tyler from their party because of this and introduced the first impeachment resolution against a President in the House of Representatives. The claim was that Tyler had misused the veto power. The resolution failed.
Tyler had three nicknames. First was “Honest John” because of his honesty. The second was “His Accidency” because he became president by accident when Harrison died. The third was “The Veto President” because he vetoed so many bills.
One good piece of legislation which was enacted during Tyler’s administration was the “Log-Cabin” bill which enabled a settler to claim 160 acres of land before it was offered publicly for sale and later pay $1.25 an acre for it. He is best known for supporting and securing the annexation of Texas.
Tyler was not re-elected and returned to Sherwood Forest, his plantation in Charles City, Virginia. When the first southern states seceded in 1861, he led a compromise movement. This failed and he joined the effort to create a Southern Confederacy, becoming a member of the Confederate House of Representatives. He died in 1862, probably from a stroke. His death was not officially mourned in Washington because of his support of the Confederacy.