John Tyler was the tenth President of the United States, and during his presidency set a number of precedents. He was initially elected in 1840 as Vice President of William Henry Harrison, but Harrison died just a month after taking office. John Tyler was thus the first president to assume office from the Vice Presidency, and was also the first president born after the US Constitution was written. Tyler also has the dubious honor of being the first president who had an attempted impeachment against him.
John Tyler was born in Virginia in 1790, the son of a wealthy landowner. His father would become Governor of Virginia and Tyler would soon follow in his father’s political footsteps. He was well educated at William and Mary College, studied law afterwards and passed the bar examinations with ease. He had a brief stint in the military before setting up his law practice.
By the time John Tyler was 21, he was already laying out what would be an extensive political career, serving in the Virginia House of Delegates from 1811-1816. He then served in the House of Representatives from 1816-1821. A spate of poor health forced him to decline reelection to the House. Yet by 1825, he was well enough to assume the title of Governor of Virginia for two years. He then became a US Senator in 1827, serving for nine years.
The Whig party, to which President Harrison belonged, attracted John Tyler. He would become nominally a Whig, and people supported his presence on Harrison’s ticket in 1840. Yet he was never fully a Whig, the Democratic Party that believed congressional power should be stronger than that of the executive office. He certainly proved this by his actions after assuming the presidency. He vetoed two major Whig bills approved by the senate, fomenting discord among the primarily Whig senate. The Whigs ultimately voted to expel John Tyler from the party, only a few months after he took office as president.
John Tyler is best known for starting the process that would make Texas a state. This was a matter of some debate, since it had the potential for balance between Northern and Southern states to shift power to the South. Later, Tyler would fully support states' rights on the issue of slavery. Although he was a slave owner his whole life, he did make at least a mild attempt to seek a peaceful resolution between north and south.
From the standpoint of character, John Tyler was not always admirable. He is believed to have fathered a child with one of his slaves, a significant abuse of power. In other respects, he appears to have been a very strong, determined and willful president. It can be said that Tyler was politically uncorrupted by outside influences, and pursued the presidency in the manner he thought best.
In the years after his presidency, John Tyler was frequently ill. He did chair the Virginia Peace Convention, and joined the Confederate Congress. He was elected to the Confederate House but ill health, and possibly bronchitis or pneumonia caused his death in 1862, prior to his assuming office.
In his personal life, John Tyler married twice, first to Letitia Christian until 1842, followed by Julia Gardiner in 1844. He was thus the first US president who introduced more than one First Lady to the White House. Julia could be called something of a trophy wife, 30 years younger than her husband and five years younger than Tyler’s eldest child. With his two wives, he had 15 children. Letitia bore Tyler eight children, and Julia bore him seven.