The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Tyler, John

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The Encyclopedia Americana
Tyler, John
Edition of 1920. See also John Tyler on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

TYLER, John, 10th President of the United States: b. Greenway, Charles City County, Va., 29 March 1790; d. Richmond, Va., 18 Jan. 1862. He was the second son of John Tyler, governor of Virginia (1808-11) and United States district judge (1812-13), and Mary Armistead, the only daughter and heiress of Robert Armistead. In early youth Tyler attended the school kept by Mr. McMurdo, a tyrannical Scotchman. Young Tyler at the age of 11 showed his independence and courage by crushing the autocratic schoolmaster's authority. In 1802 Tyler entered the grammar school of the College of William and Mary at Williamsburg, where he displayed an especial fondness for ancient history, Shakespeare's poetry and music. In 1807 he was graduated, and two years later was admitted to the bar. He was elected in 1811 to the State legislature, where he became a firm supporter of President Madison's war policy. One of his earliest public acts in this session occurred in connection with the United States Bank. The recharter of the bank was then before Congress and the Virginia assembly, in which State the bank was unpopular, instructed their senators, Richard Brent and William B. Giles, to vote against the recharter. Brent, however, voted in favor of the recharter and Giles voted in the negative, though contrary to his opinion and under protest. Accordingly, on 14 Jan. 1812, Tyler introduced resolutions of censure upon the course of the senators, asserting the Virginia doctrines as to the bank and the right of instruction. On 20 March 1813, Tyler married Letitia, daughter of Robert Christian. Her health was delicate. She died shortly after he became President. In 1844 Tyler married Miss Julia Gardiner. During the War of 1812 Tyler was called into the field at the head of a company of militia in defense of Richmond, then threatened by the British. From 1811 to November 1816 he served in the State legislature, when he was chosen to fill a vacancy in the House of Representatives. Here he became conspicuous as a strict constructionist Republican and States-Right advocate. He consistently opposed Calhoun's bill in favor of internal improvements, Clay's proposal for the recognition of the independence of the revolting Spanish-American colonies, a national bankrupt law, increased tariff duties and a bill for changing the per diem allowance of members of Congress to an annual salary of $1,500. He condemned, as arbitrary and insubordinate, the conduct of General Jackson in Florida, and delivered an elaborate speech against the national bank. In the 16th Congress, Tyler opposed the passage of the Missouri Compromise on the ground that Congress had no power to legislate for or against slavery in any Territory. In 1821 he declined re-election and retired to private life; but in 1823 he was again elected to the Virginia legislature. From 1825 to 1827 he served as governor of the State, when in the latter year he was elected United States senator to succeed John Randolph. In the Senate Tyler maintained an independent attitude although adhering to his strict constructionist principles. He voted against the “tariff of abominations” because he believed it was unconstitutional, and after taking part in the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1829-30 he returned to the Senate, where he found himself first drawn to Jackson by the latter's veto of the Maysville turnpike bill. However, he displayed his independence by attacking Jackson's Turkish policy; approving Van Buren's appointment as Minister to Great Britain; supporting Jackson in the election of 1832 as the least “objectional candidate”; condemning South Carolina's nullification doctrines, while objecting to Jackson's proclamation of 10 Dec. 1832. The compromise tariff of 1833 caused by South Carolina's attitude was earnestly supported by Tyler; but on the “Force Bill,” allowing the President extraordinary powers for the collection of duties, he was the only senator to vote in the negative. With the opening of Jackson's war on the United States Bank, Tyler broke with the administration and began to associate more closely with the opposition soon to be designated as the “Whigs.” Tyler saw in the unbridled democracy of Jackson a tendency toward despotism “under the leadership of a headstrong and popular chief” and to him the “only safeguard for constitutional government lay in strict construction.” Thus in the controversy over the removal of deposits from the United States Bank and with regard to Clay's resolution censuring Jackson for his course in this matter, Tyler voted with Clay and the bank men. In the election of 1836 Tyler was nominated by the “States-Rights-Whigs” for the Vice-Presidency on the ticket with Hugh L. White of Tennessee and received 47 votes. Tyler's hostility to the Jackson party was emphasized when he resigned his seat because he could not conscientiously obey the instructions of the Democratic legislature of Virginia to vote in favor of Benton's resolution expunging from the Senate Journal the previous vote of censure. In January 1838 he was chosen president of the Virginia Colonization Society, and in the spring of the same year was returned to the Virginia Legislature. The following year he made an unsuccessful attempt for the United States senatorship. The Whig Convention of 1839 nominated General Harrison for the Presidency in order to secure the votes of the anti-Masons and National Republicans, whom Clay had alienated, and Tyler was chosen as his running mate in order to obtain the votes of those Democrats who were dissatisfied with the administration. In the whirlwind campaign that followed Harrison and Tyler each secured 234 electoral votes and were elected. Harrison died one month after his inauguration and Tyler succeeded to his office. Immediately the President found himself in a conflict with Congress over the attempt to re-establish a national bank. Tyler had always held that Congress could not create a corporation within the State without the consent of the State, Therefore, Tyler vetoed the two bills presented to him as not incorporating his ideas, and after the second veto all the Cabinet members, except Webster, who was then negotiating the Webster-Ashburton Treaty, resigned. Thenceforth throughout his administration Tyler was a President without a party and in constant strife with Congress. At the close of his term Texas was annexed, and this seemed to commend him for re-election; but in August 1844, after having been nominated at an irregular Democratic convention at Baltimore in May, Tyler withdrew from the race. From then until the Civil War Tyler held no public office, but when South Carolina adopted its ordinance of secession Tyler came forth as an advocate of peace and was chosen president of the Peace Convention which met in Washington, 4 Feb. 1861. Seeing the futility in getting Congress to accept the Peace Conventions resolutions, Tyler advocated the immediate secession of Virginia. In May 1861 he was elected a member of the provisional Congress of the Confederate States, and the following autumn was elected to the permanent Congress, but died before taking his scat Consult Tyler, L. G., ‘The Letters and Times of the Tylers’ (3 vols., Richmond 1884), and Wise, H. A., ‘Seven Decades of the Union’ (Philadelphia 1872); Wilson, J. G., ‘Presidents of the United States’ (Vol. II, New York 1914).

R. C. McGrane,
Assistant Professor of History, University of Cincinnati.