Monday, November 9, 2015

John Tyler: A Champion of State's Rights

John Tyler was the first vice president to become president. This occurred after William Henry Harrison died of pneumonia after only serving one month of his term. Tyler was an ardent supporter of states rights, and for this reason he would go on to become one of the better presidents of all time.

Immediately following the death of Harrison, there was turmoil as to what would happen next.  Some thought Tyler should continue to be vice president acting as president, while others believed he should assume the role of president.  The ultimate decision came on April 6, 1841, when John Tyler assumed the office of the president. This caused some to dub him "Your Accidency."  He was 51 years old, making him the youngest president up to that time.  He did not have a vice president.

This decision set a precedent that would have the vice president assume the office of president should something happen to the president.  While various future vice presidents would assume the role of president following the death of a president, this issue was not be officially addressed until the passages of the 25th amendment in 1967.

The ascension of Tyler to the office of president caused quite a bit of turmoil within his own party.  This was because he ran for vice president under the Whig ticket, but he was in actuality a Democrat.  He was chosen in an attempt to appeal to voters in the south who supported state's rights.  This decision would come back to haunt the Whigs.

While Tyler kept most of Harrison's cabinet in tact, all but one would end up resigning after he twice vetoed legislation by Henry Clay that would have created a national bank.  Tyler would go on to clash with the Whigs to an extent that they would expel him from the party.  They also initiated in the House of Representatives the first impeachment hearings of a sitting president.

Despite being a man without a party, he would go on to have a rather successful presidency.  His major accomplishments were:
  • Signing the Preemption Act of 1841.  This allowed settlers to stake a claim on 160 acres of public
    land and purchase it from the government.
  • Ended the Seminole War in Florida in 1842. 
  • Signing the Webster-Ashburton Treaty.  This settled border disputes along the Maine-Canada border.
  • Signed the Treaty of Wanghia with China that gave Americans access to Asian ports and established trade with China.
Many Americans had set up homes in Texas and championed for the U.S. to annex the state.  Free states were opposed to this because they feared Texas would enter as a slave state.  Martin Van Buren was faced with this issue, and he wanted to annex the state.  However, in order to keep his party united, he decided against it.

Tyler would end up facing this same issue, and he would decide to approve the annexation of Texas in March of 1845, or just prior to the end of his term. And, as expected, this angered people living in the free states. It didn't help that John C. Calhoun, who Tyler chose to become his Secretary of State in 1844, linked the annexation of Texas with slavery. Calhoun said that the annexation of Texas was vital to the security of southern states.

This did not bode well for Calhoun or Tyler. Calhoun's linking of the annexation of Texas with slavery angered many northern democrats who were opposed to slavery. So, when the Tyler-Texas bill was up for a vote in the Senate, it was unanimously shot down by the Whigs (1-27) and resulted in a split among democrats (15-8), thereby falling by a vote of 35-15.

This decision, or these events, would eventually lead to war with Mexico.  This would become the only tarnish on Tyler's reputation.

While Tyler was a very successful president, he had the problem of not having a party.  The Whigs hated him, so he could not run as a Whig.  The democrats hated him because he ran as a Whig. So he would have to run as a third party candidate when he ran for re-election in 1844.  He would end up dropping out due to lack of support.  This set the stage for a dark horse candidate by the name of James K. Polk.