The Republican Vision of John Tyler

The Republican Vision of John Tyler

The Republican Vision of John Tyler

The Republican Vision of John Tyler

Synopsis

Perhaps no other president has so often borne the epithet of "imbecile" as John Tyler, who was expelled from his own party by a rump Whig congressional caucus. The vicious political infighting that characterized his term may account for the low regard in which his presidency has been held by historians, who have generally ranked him as one of the least successful chief executives, despite achievements such as the Webster-Ashburton treaty, which heralded improved relations with Great Britain, and the annexation of Texas, which added millions of acres to the national domain.

Why did John Tyler pursue what appears to have been a politically self-destructive course with regard to both his first party, the Democrats, and his later political alliance, the Whigs? Was it on the grounds of principle, as he asserted? And if so, what principles? Dan Monroe has set out to explain the beliefs that commanded such overwhelming fealty from Tyler that they led to his resigning his Senate seat and exercising politically suicidal presidential vetoes.

Monroe traces the origins of Tyler's political philosophy in his early years in the Virginia legislature and the U.S. House of Representatives before examining the crises Tyler faced during his term in the House: the Panic of 1819, the financially tottering national bank, and the Missouri debate. In surveying Tyler's Senate career, Monroe examines his conflict with President Andrew Jackson, the tariff controversy with South Carolina, and the Removal crisis.

Finally, Monroe turns from the establishment of Tyler's philosophical moorings and attitudes to their implementation during his term as president. He persuasively surveys a number of key events, suchas the bank vetoes of 1841, the additional vetoes of the tariff in 1842, and the annexation of Texas. His intent is to find the unifying thread(s) of principle shaped in the earlier years that make sense of these controvers

Excerpt

“So far the Administration has been conducted amid earthquake and tornado,” Pres. John Tyler informed his old friend Littleton Tazewell in the fall of 1842, alluding to the political strife he had experienced during the past eighteen months. Tyler had repeatedly vetoed legislation held dear by the Whigs, the very political party that, by nominating him vice president, had elevated him to the presidency when William Henry Harrison died. The vetoes prompted a stream of abuse from Whig politicians and newspapers and led to Tyler’s expulsion from the party by a rump Whig congressional caucus. Perhaps on no other occasion in American political history was the epithet “imbecile” applied with such frequency to a president. The vicious political infighting that characterized his term probably accounts for the low regard with which the Tyler presidency has been held by historians. His presidency is generally ranked as one of the least successful, despite achievements like the Webster-Ashburton treaty, which heralded the prospect of improved relations with Great Britain, and the annexation of Texas, which added millions of acres to the national domain.

Tyler was left without the backing of his own political party after he repudiated its agenda. The Whigs disowned him, and the Democrats did not trust him. He was, after all, a former Democrat who left that party over what he alleged were the tyrannical and Constitution-wrecking actions of Andrew Jackson. Such a man could never be acceptable to party leaders like Francis P. Blair, editor of the Washington Globe, who considered Tyler an apostate and an opportunist who had abandoned the Democratic party . . .

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