John Tyler: 10th President: First Unexpected President

Updated on October 14, 2019
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Angela loves history and feels it is essential to our future to know the past—or else be destined to repeat it.


The Early Years

John Tyler was born March 29, 1790, to a plantation owner in Virginia to Mary and John Tyler Sr. He grew up in Richmond, Virginia. His family was quite wealthy, as his mother was a plantation heiress. Unfortunately, she suffered a stroke and died when he was only seven years old. His father was a judge who knew Thomas Jefferson well. John Tyler Sr. was very active in politics and had three sons and five daughters. He taught his children, including John Tyler Jr., that our country needed to adhere to the constitution strictly.

He enjoyed reading, writing, and playing the violin. He graduated when he was 17 from the College of William and Mary. While there, he looked up to Bishop James Madison, who was the president of the college. Madison greatly influenced his political views. By 19, he practiced law. During this time, his father was governor of Virginia.

Due to many of his early influences in politics, he eventually got involved as well. First, he served as an elected delegate of Charles County to the lower house of the General Assembly of Virginia. Later he served on the committee of Courts and Justice for five years. Finally, he ended up serving in the House of Representatives from 1816 to 1821.

He had strong opinions and willfully voiced his objections, including being a very vocal objector to the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which was a massive conflict during this time, as this was asking for permission to own slaves in Missouri. Tyler strongly opposed this. Unfortunately, it eventually passed. He chose not to seek another term during the renomination of 1820 because he had poor health and was discontent with the position.

For a short time, he practiced law again, but eventually ran and was elected to become Governor of Virginia in 1825. He focused his energies on supporting state rights while opposing federal power. In 1827, he resigned as governor since he joined Congress.

What Is the Meaning of Tippecanoe and Tyler Too?

Then in the presidential election of 1840, he ran as the running mate of William Henry Harrison, with the slogan "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too," to emphasize the greatness of Harrison's background during the Battle of Tippecanoe. It was there where Harrison had won against the Native Americans. This slogan was a potent reminder of the leader that Harrison was, and brought Tyler into the spotlight as well. They won the election, and he became the Vice-President of the United States.

Official White Horse Portrait


What Is John Tyler Best Known For?

Unfortunately, William Henry Harrison died only a few short weeks after his inauguration in April of 1841. No President before Harrison had ever died while in office; therefore, a decision on what to do in that circumstance never existed. For the first time, the Vice President, who happened to be John Tyler, became "Acting President."

Although Tyler argued that there should be an actual President if they wanted him to be taken seriously and he should be given the full title, responsibilities, and powers. Soon thereafter, he officially became the 10th President of the United States and gave an Inaugural Address, making him the first Vice-President to become Executive Chief after his predecessor died.

Due to his strong demeanor, many disliked him, and he became known as "His Accidency," since he was never actually elected president. Once president, the opposition between him and the Whig party soon began. At the time of his Inauguration, both houses of Congress were ruled by the Whig party, with Kentucky Senator Henry Clay acting as a strong influential leader. The Whig party believed that executive power became too strong when Andrew Jackson was in office and felt that the president should be guided by their "constitutional advisers" in all their actions.

Tyler felt a firm belief in adhering strictly to the Constitution. When Clay presented that he wanted to start a national bank, Congress, having been primarily Whig members, passed the bill. Tyler felt this stood against the Constitution itself and vetoed it only ten days after it passed. Congress came up with another banking system, Tyler vetoed that as well, which placed him at considerable opposition with not only Congress but the Whig party that had elected him and Harrison. Only two days after he vetoed the second bill, all of his cabinet members resigned except for Secretary of State Daniel Webster. The Whig party then ousted Tyler.

Despite an inability to agree on the idea of a national bank, the Whig party and Tyler did see eye-to-eye on several things and accomplished a lot before the party ousted him. They passed the "Log Cabin" bill that allowed settlers to claim 160 acres of land, paying $1.25 per acre, before it was offered for sale publicly. He also signed a tariff bill that protected northern manufacturers.

Unfortunately, bitterness from the banking vetoes still caused a lot of tension despite all the good they were able to accomplish. One year later, Tyler vetoed a tariff bill that caused an uproar and resulted in the House of Representatives, introducing the first impeachment resolution. John Quincy Adams headed a committee that reported that the President had misused his veto power. The impeachment resolution eventually failed.

Despite the drama that filled Congress and the Presidential office during this time, Tyler accomplished a lot. He successfully ended the war with the Seminole Indians in Florida and entered into a treaty with China that allowed for trade between the two countries.

First First Lady to Die While in Office

He suffered a tremendous personal loss during his time in office when his first wife, Letitia Christian, died from a stroke in 1842. She was the first first-lady to die while her husband was in office. They had eight children together, one having died during infancy. While still in office, he married 21-year-old Julia Gardiner, who became the youngest first-lady. He was 54 years old when they married. They went on to have seven children together, which meant that he fathered 15 children in all, the most of any president.

By the end of his term, he had replaced his original Cabinet that contained Whig members with southern conservatives. In 1862, he died while serving as a member of the Confederate House of Representatives.

Excerpt from the History Channel

Fun Facts

  • He was the first Vice President to become President after his predecessor died.
  • He was the first president to get married while in office. After his first wife, Liticia, who was the first first-lady to die while their husband was in office, died, he remarried a year and nine months later to Julia Gardiner on June 26, 1844, at a New York City ceremony. She became the youngest first-lady at 21.
  • The first president to have the House of Representatives to bring an impeachment resolution against a president, which ultimately failed.
  • He sired more children than any other president, with 15 children. 8 from his first wife, and seven from his second.

Basic Facts

March 29, 1790 - Virginia
President Number
Whig and Democratic
Military Service
Volunteer Military Company
Wars Served
Age at Beginning of Presidency
51 years old
Term of Office
April 6, 1841 - March 3, 1845
How Long Served as President
4 years
Age and Year of Death
January 18, 1862 (aged 71)
Cause of Death
most likely a stroke


  • Beschloss, M., & Sidey, H. (2009). John Tyler. Retrieved April 22, 2016, from
  • "John Tyler Biography - 10th U.S. President Timeline & Early Life." Totally History -. April 23, 2013. Accessed March 07, 2018.
  • President John Tyler weds his second wife. (n.d.). Retrieved April 25, 2016, from
  • Profiles of U.S. Presidents. (n.d.). Retrieved April 25, 2016, from
  • Sullivan, G. (2001). Mr. President: A book of U.S. presidents. New York: Scholastic.
  • What are some interesting facts about presidents and first ladies? (n.d.). Retrieved April 22, 2016, from

Questions & Answers

    © 2016 Angela Michelle Schultz


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