John Tyler, the Accidental President

John Tyler, the Accidental President

John Tyler, the Accidental President

John Tyler, the Accidental President

Synopsis

The first vice president to become president on the death of the incumbent, John Tyler (1790-1862) was derided by critics as "His Accidency." In this biography of the tenth president, Edward P. Crapol challenges depictions of Tyler as a die-hard advocate of states' rights, limited government, and a strict interpretation of the Constitution. Instead, he argues, Tyler manipulated the Constitution to increase the executive power of the presidency. Crapol also highlights Tyler's faith in America's national destiny and his belief that boundless territorial expansion would preserve the Union as a slaveholding republic. When Tyler sided with the Confederacy in 1861, he was branded as America's "traitor" president for having betrayed the republic he once led.

Excerpt

Writing a biography is a perilous endeavor. This is especially true if the subject has been dead for a century or more and the documentation of his life has been scattered to the four winds or consumed in the flames of civil strife. Even when extensive evidence about the person under scrutiny is available, that individual remains elusive and to a certain degree unknowable. There is no such thing as a definitive biography, and my biography of John Tyler is no exception to that rule. Since the publication of the cloth edition in 2006, I have uncovered additional materials and documentation that shed new light on the tenth president and his career after leaving the White House. This important historical information helps clarify John Tyler’s secessionist beliefs and the Tyler family’s allegiance to the Confederacy, resolves to some degree the legacy of his treason to the United States, and places him alongside his mentor Thomas Jefferson as an early proponent and defender of the American principle of religious freedom. I welcome the opportunity to present some of this information in this foreword to the paperback edition.

I shall begin with the events and circumstances surrounding John Tyler’s death 150 years ago. Two ex-presidents of the United States died in 1862 during the second year of the Civil War. One, Martin Van Buren of New York, the eighth president, died in late July and was honored by the Lincoln administration with a presidential announcement that the event of his death “will occasion mourning in the nation for the loss of a citizen and a public servant whose memory will be gratefully cherished.” The administration also ordered the “national flag … displayed at half-staff.” In contrast, the death six months earlier of John Tyler of Virginia, the nation’s tenth president, went unnoticed and was met with total silence by the United States government. Tyler’s death was not acknowledged, nor was Tyler memorialized in a presidential proclamation because he had betrayed the nation he once led by supporting and serving the Confederate States of . . .

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