10 Things to Know About President John Tyler

John Tyler was born on March 29, 1790, in Virginia. He was never elected to the presidency but instead succeeded William Henry Harrison upon his death one month after taking office. He was a staunch believer in states' rights until his death. Following are 10 key facts that are important to understanding when studying the presidency and life of John Tyler.

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Studied Economics and Law

Portrait of president John Tyler
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Not much is known about Tyler's early childhood other than he grew up on a plantation in Virginia. His father was a staunch anti-federalist, not supporting the ratification of the Constitution because it gave the federal government too much power. Tyler would continue to espouse strong state's rights views for the rest his life. He entered the College of William and Mary Preparatory School at the age of 12 and continued until graduation in 1807. He was a very good student, excelling in economics. After graduation, he studied law with his father and then with Edmund Randolph, the first U.S. Attorney General.

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Remarried While President

John Tyler's wife Letitia Christian had a stroke in 1839 and could not perform the traditional First Lady duties. She had a second stroke and died in 1842. A little less than two years later, Tyler remarried to Julia Gardiner who was 30 years younger than him. They married secretly, only telling one of his children about it in advance. His second wife was five years younger than his eldest daughter who resented Julia and the marriage.

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Had 14 Children Who Survived to Adulthood

Rare at the time, Tyler had 14 children who lived to maturity. Five of his children served in the Confederacy during the U.S. Civil War including his son, John Tyler Jr., as Assistant Secretary of War.

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Disagreed Vehemently With the Missouri Compromise

While serving in the U.S. House of Representatives, Tyler was a staunch supporter of states' rights. He opposed the Missouri Compromise because he believed that any restriction on the practice of enslavement set by the federal government was illegal. Disgruntled with his efforts on a federal level, Tyler resigned in 1821 and went back to the Virginia House of Delegates. He would become the governor of Virginia from 1825–1827 before being elected to the U.S. Senate.

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First to Succeed to the Presidency

"Tippecanoe and Tyler Too" was the rallying cry for the Whig presidential ticket of William Henry Harrison and John Tyler. When Harrison died after only one month in office, Tyler became the first person to succeed to the presidency from the vice presidency. He did not have a vice president because there was no provision for one in the Constitution.

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Entire Cabinet Resigned

When Tyler took over the presidency, many people believed that he should act simply as a figurehead, completing projects that would have been on Harrison's agenda. However, he asserted his right to rule in full. Tyler immediately met with resistance from the cabinet he inherited from Harrison. When a bill reauthorizing a new national bank came to his desk, he vetoed it even though his party was for it, and his cabinet asked him to allow it to pass. When he vetoed a second bill without their support, every member of the cabinet except Secretary of State Daniel Webster resigned.

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Treaty Over Northern U.S. Boundary

Daniel Webster negotiated the Webster-Ashburton Treaty with Great Britain which Tyler signed in 1842. This treaty set the Northern boundary between the United States and Canada all the way out west to Oregon. Tyler also signed the Treaty of Wanghia which opened trade in Chinese ports to America while ensuring that Americans would not be under Chinese jurisdiction while in China.

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Largely Responsible for the Annexation of Texas

Tyler believed that he deserved the credit for Texas' admission as a state. Three days before he left office, he signed into law the joint resolution that annexed it. He had fought for the annexation. According to him, his successor James K. Polk "...did nothing but confirm what I had done." When he ran for reelection, he did so to fight for the annexation of Texas. His chief opponent was Henry Clay who was opposed to it. However, once Polk, who also believed in its annexation, came into the race, Tyler dropped out to ensure Henry Clay's defeat.

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Chancellor of the College of William and Mary

After dropping out of the 1844 presidential race, he retired to Virginia where he eventually became the Chancellor of the College of William and Mary. One of his youngest children, Lyon Gardiner Tyler, would later serve as the president of the college from 1888–1919.

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Joined the Confederacy

John Tyler was the only president who sided with the secessionists. After working toward and failing to come up with a diplomatic solution, Tyler chose to join the Confederacy and was elected to the Confederate Congress as a representative from Virginia. However, he died on January 18, 1862, before attending the first session of the Congress. Tyler was seen as a traitor, and the federal government did not officially recognize his death for 63 years.

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Kelly, Martin. "10 Things to Know About President John Tyler." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, thoughtco.com/things-to-know-about-john-tyler-104768. Kelly, Martin. (2021, February 16). 10 Things to Know About President John Tyler. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/things-to-know-about-john-tyler-104768 Kelly, Martin. "10 Things to Know About President John Tyler." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/things-to-know-about-john-tyler-104768 (accessed April 1, 2023).