John Tyler: Significant Facts and Brief Biography

John Tyler, who had been elected as the vice president to William Henry Harrison in the election of 1840, became president when Harrison died a month after his inauguration.

As Harrison was the first American president to die in office, his death raised a number of questions. And the way in which those questions were settled created perhaps Tyler's greatest accomplishment, which because known as the Tyler Precedent.

When Harrison's cabinet essentially tried to block Tyler from exercising full presidential power. The cabinet, which included Daniel Webster as secretary of state, sought to create some sort of shared presidency in which the cabinet would need to approve major decisions.

Tyler resisted quite forcefully. He insisted that he alone was the president, and as such he possessed the full powers of the presidency, and the process he instituted became traditional.

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John Tyler, 10th President of the United States

Engraved portrait of President John Tyler
President John Tyler.

Kean Collection / Getty Images

Life span: Born: March 29, 1790, in Virginia.
Died: January 18, 1862, in Richmond, Virginia, at that time the capital of the Confederate States of America.

Presidential term: April 4, 1841 - March 4, 1845

Supported by: Tyler had been involved in party politics for decades prior to the 1840 election, and had been nominated as vice presidential candidate by the Whig Party for the election of 1840.

That campaign was notable as it was the first presidential election to prominently feature campaign slogans. And Tyler's name wound up in one of the most famous slogans in history, "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too!"

Opposed by: Tyler was generally distrusted by the Whig leadership, despite his presence on the Whig ticket in 1840. And when Harrison, the first Whig president, died so early in his term, the party leaders were perplexed.

Tyler, before long, completely alienated the Whigs. He also made no friends among the opposition party, the Democrats. And by the time the 1844 election arrived, he was essentially left with no political allies. Nearly everyone in his cabinet had resigned. The Whigs would not nominate him to run for another term, and so he retired to Virginia.

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Presidential Campaigns

The one time Tyler ran for high office was in the election of 1840, as Harrison's running mate. In that era he was not required to campaign in any tangible way, and he tended to keep quiet during the election year so as to sidestep any important issues.

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Tyler was married twice, and fathered more children than any other president.

Tyler fathered eight children with his first wife, who died in 1842, during Tyler's term as president. He also fathered seven children with his second wife, the last child being born in 1860.

In early 2012 news stories reported the unusual circumstance that two grandsons of John Tyler were still living. As Tyler had fathered children late in life, and one of his sons had also, the elderly men were indeed grandchildren of a man who had been president 170 years earlier.

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Early Life

Education: Tyler was born into a wealthy Virginia family, grew up in a mansion, and attended Virginia's prestigious College of William and Mary.

Early career: As a young man Tyler practiced law in Virginia and became active in state politics. He also served in the U.S. House of Representatives for three terms before becoming governor of Virginia. He then returned to Washington, representing Virginia as a U.S. Senator from 1827 to 1836.

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Later Career

Tyler retired to Virginia after his term as president, but returned to national politics on the eve of the Civil War. Tyler helped organize a peace conference which was held in Washington, D.C. in February 1861. Tyler's effort to forestall the war did not succeed, of course.

At one point, Tyler seemed intent on drawing other former presidents into a plan to pressure President Lincoln into some sort of negotiated settlement with the pro-slavery states. Another former president, Martin Van Buren, opposed this plan and it came to nothing.

Tyler had been an enslaver and he was loyal to the pro-slavery states which were rebelling against the federal government.

Tyler sided with the Confederacy when his home state of Virginia seceded, and he was elected to the Confederate congress in early 1862. However, he died before he could take his seat, so he never actually served in the Confederate government.

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Miscellaneous Facts

Nickname: Tyler was mocked as "His Accidency," as he was considered, by his opponents, an accidental president.

Unusual facts: Tyler died during the Civil War, and he was, at the time of his death, a supporter of the Confederacy. He thus holds the unusual distinction of having been the only president whose death was not memorialized by the federal government.

By contrast, former president Martin Van Buren, who died the same year, at his home in New York State, was accorded elaborate honors, with flags flown at half staff and ceremonial cannons fired in Washington, D.C.

Death and funeral: Tyler had suffered from illnesses, believed to be cases of dysentery, during the last years of his life. Already quite ill, he apparently suffered a fatal stroke on January 18, 1862.

He was given an elaborate funeral in Virginia by the Confederate government, and he was praised as an advocate of the Confederate cause.

Legacy: Tyler's administration had few accomplishments, and his real legacy would be the Tyler Precedent, the tradition by which vice presidents assumed the power of the presidency upon the death of a president.

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Your Citation
McNamara, Robert. "John Tyler: Significant Facts and Brief Biography." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, McNamara, Robert. (2023, April 5). John Tyler: Significant Facts and Brief Biography. Retrieved from McNamara, Robert. "John Tyler: Significant Facts and Brief Biography." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 7, 2023).