John Tyler: This is Your Life

As I tried to think of things to write about Tyler, I could think of few positives about the man, at least in the view of history.

It's hard to say what public opinion would have said about him at the time. Maybe he would have been thought of by his southern colleagues as a true defender of the Republic and enemy of the 'Tyranny' of the national bank and northern meddling in southern affairs.

Now, however, the consensus view of history is that his great legacy was the following:

1) He seized power after Harrison died and maintained the presidency. (until this point, most thought that the vice president would simply serve as acting presidency until another election was arranged) He was referred to as 'His Accidency' to his death.

2) He tried to be a national cheer leader for the institution of slavery going as far as hiring foreign secret agents to promote it in London and Paris newspapers. He supported and signed the joint resolution on the acquisition of Texas to expand the slave holding republic in the South.

3) He agreed to run on the Whig ticket while refusing to adhere to almost any of the party's beliefs (internal improvements, protection of manufacturing interests etc) It was well known at the time he was nominated that he was really a Southern Democrat, but it was thought that putting him on Harrison's ticket as VP wouldn't hurt anything since even in the event of Harrison's death, he wouldn't really become president (SEE NUMBER 1)

4) When he made the decision to stay in Office, he was abandoned by both major political parties, the Whigs because he was a Democrat and the Democrats because he ran as a Whig. Except for Daniel Webster, his entire cabinet resigned.

5) He ultimately betrayed his own country, defecting to the Confederacy during the Civil War (he died soon after)

When Tyler died, the United States didn't even officially mourn his passing. I can't say I do now either.


John Tyler: Letters to the Land of the Rising Sun

John Tyler suffered from the same view as Europe that the non European world was the white man's burden. In fairness to him, his ignorance of Asian and African cultures continued will into the 20th century in America, but we still have to shake our head at some of the things he said.

In a letter to the Emperor of China, which was at the time, one of the most powerful and richest countries in the world, Tyler sounds as though he's talking to some tribe of hunter gatherers that have no written language.

Here's a piece of his letter that was featured in Edward Crapol's biography:

"China is a great empire, extending over a great part of the world. You have millions and millions of subjects. The twenty-six United States are as large as China (?), though our people are not so numerous. The rising sun looks over the great mountains and great rivers of China. When he sets, he looks upon rivers and mountains equally large in the United States."

This sounds like Jackson's letter to the Seminole Indians explaining that they need to join their great brothers west of the Mississippi where the Great Creator wants them to live in peace and abundance.

Maybe any president around Tyler's time would have had the same stereotypes about the Chinese being little more than barbarians, but it's just striking that this letter was actually an official correspondence.


John Tyler: World Opinion

We all think that W. must have been the president to make the worst impression abroad in the history of these United States, but Tyler may have given him a run for his money.

In a time when the great empires of Europe, France, England and some of the German kingdoms were outlawing slavery in their territories, Tyler was sending secret agents over to the UK to promote it with propaganda and letters to the editor in British newspapers written under false names.

He actually appointed an 'ambassador' to slavery in the UK who would put a good face on the peculiar institution. While the UK was certainly not blameless for historical atrocities during the period of the mid 1800's, it can certainly take credit for the abolitionist movement that spread to the North.

Instead of heading the call of historical inevitability though, Tyler dug in and was determined to prove to his friends abroad that slavery was not only necessary, but also was righteous. He used the same pseudo science Jefferson used in his 'Notes on the State of Virginia' to try and prove his racial points.

I guess Tyler's refusal to admit that slavery's days were numbered is similar to Tea Partiers that refuse to believe pollution and global warming exist. They hold this view because it's more convenient for them if pollution doesn't exist, that way they can continue their life style unfettered by the inconveniences and moral dilemma of causing harm to their world.


John Tyler: Not the best Judgement

Tyler may be remembered as many things, an unrepentant pro slavery man, the last vestige of ante bellum southern society, a traitor to the country, but there was one thing he was good at, and that was entertaining.

Sadly, even though this was his strength, it's also something that he's negatively remembered for.

On the deck of "The Peacemaker", a massive warship, John Tyler threw a party for a bunch of diplomats, senators and much of his cabinet. The party was kicked off by having the Peacemaker fire off a bunch of rounds from its huge 12 inch diameter cannon.

After the guests had watched the display for an hour or so, they went below deck for dinner and more champagne (Tyler's favorite drink)

After more merriment, Tyler gave several toasts and then the dinner was started. A while later, they noticed they were passing Mount Vernon and requested a final gun salute to George Washington. As if from some novel, the Captain of the ship initially refused saying "No more guns tonight", but the Secretary of Navy pulled rank and insisted that there would be more guns that night.

As you can imagine, something horrible happened. The massive cannon exploded, killing the secretary of Navy, a couple members of Tyler's cabinet, a diplomat and the father of his future bride to be (30 years younger than him) who was in attendance (Tyler comforted her in her grief and they later married)

Tyler was spared from the explosion because he stayed below deck to listen to a song his son in law was signing.

Amazingly, this wasn't the low point in history of Tyler's career. That would come later where he actually joined the confederacy in betrayal of his country.


John Tyler: Opportunist

John Tyler like most politicians of his day was not satisfied with the vice presidency.

Probably even more so than politicians of our day since in the 1830's, it was believed that in the event a vice president stepped into office after the death of the president, he'd merely act as the steward of the state until another election could be arranged.

We're probably much more concerned about who a presidential candidate is now than they would have been in Harrison and Tyler's time since we know that the VP will at the very least, finish out the term of the deceased president and potentially run for re election. Harrison supporters most likely wouldn't have had these Sarah Palin type concerns since they thought the worst that could happen was that the party would simply pick another candidate to run in a second election.

It's not as though he could have an alternative reading of the constitution, take the reins of power and refuse to step down could he? Well, yes he could apparently.

Immediately after news of Harrison's death came to him in his home in Virginia, Tyler returned to Washington and had himself sworn in. At this point, it wouldn't have been a clean process to unseat him from power, so people (most people anyway) grudgingly accepted.

This would not stop his enemies from addressing correspondences to him addressed to 'The Acting President' and people referring to him as 'His Accidency'.

It's ironic that Tyler set the precedent for a peaceful, orderly transfer of power in the United States since he took office against the will of almost his entire cabinet and leading members of his own party.