John Tyler (1941 – 1945): The Tenth Retrospective
“Whatcha got ain’t nothin new. This country’s hard on people, you can’t stop what’s coming, it ain’t all waiting on you. That’s vanity.” – Ellis, No Country for Old Men (2007)
President Tyler had served in both houses of Congress, and had been the governor of Virginia. He believed in states rights and felt strongly like Jefferson that too much power had been vested in the federal government. Also like Jefferson, he expanded that power once he became President.
John Tyler not only owned 70 slaves — his record on slavery and civil rights was one of the most extreme of all U.S presidents. For example:
- When he was a member of Congress, he was the only representative who argued that Congress had “no constitutional right to pass any law prohibiting slavery in the Territories of the United States.”
- He argued that the extension of slavery to U.S. territories would improve the condition of slaves by increasing the demand for their labor.
- In a letter of May 2, 1826, to Littleton Tazewell, Tyler opposed free Blacks being considered citizens.
- He auctioned off a favorite house slave, Ann Eliza, to raise cash for a move to Washington, and he leased slaves to other people.
He especially despised abolitionists:
- In a letter to his son Robert, he wrote that abolitionists “deserve the deepest curses of the patriot, for having put in jeopardy the noblest and fairest fabric of government the world ever saw. When I think of it, all the milk of my nature is turned into gall.”
- He referred to abolitionist tracts as “evil” and “seditious and incendiary publications,” and he said that pastors who preached abolition “deserve the scorn and contempt of mankind.”
- Displaying the Anti-Slavery Record during a speech to slaveholders, he said, “You are represented as demons in the shape of men; and by way of contrast, here stands [the abolitionists] Arthur Tappan, Mr. Somebody Garrison, or Mr. Foreigner Thompson, patting the greasy little fellows on their cheeks and giving them most lovely kisses.”
On January 10, 1838, Tyler was elected president of the Virginia Colonization Society, a group that advocated the relocation of Black Americans to Africa. In his acceptance speech, Tyler said that God “works most inscrutably to the understandings of men; — the negro is torn from Africa, a barbarian, ignorant and idolatrous; he is restored civilized, enlightened, and a Christian.” Tyler also declared that abolition was “the antagonist of that which we cherish. It invades our hearth, assails our domestic circles, preaches up sedition, and encourages insurrection …. I denounce it, and this Society denounces it.”
Cincinnati Riot of 1841
The Cincinnati Riots of 1841 occurred after a long drought had created widespread unemployment in Cincinnati, Ohio, United States. Over a period of several days in September 1841, unemployed whites attacked black residents who defended themselves. Many blacks were rounded up and held behind a cordon and then moved to the jail for their own protection according to the authority.
Philadelphia Nativist Riots of 1844
The Philadelphia Nativist Riots (also known as the Philadelphia Prayer Riots, the Bible Riots and the Native American Riots) were a series of riots that took place on May 6–8 and July 6–7, 1844, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and the adjacent districts of Kensington and Southwark. The riots were a result of rising anti-Catholic sentiment at the growing population of Irish Catholic immigrants. The government brought in over a thousand militia to confront the nativist mobs killing and wounding hundreds.
In the five months leading to the riots, nativist groups had been spreading a false rumor that Catholics were trying to remove the Bible from public schools. A nativist rally in Kensington erupted in violence on May 6 and started a deadly riot that would result in the destruction of two Catholic churches and numerous other buildings.
Riots erupted again in July after it was discovered that St. Philip Neri’s Catholic Church in Southwark had armed itself for protection. Fierce fighting broke out between the nativists and the soldiers sent to protect the church, resulting in numerous deaths and injuries.
Two of the city’s 13 Catholic churches were burned. The Catholic Church sued the city and won some money for repairs. Civic leaders deplored the nativist attacks.
Nationally, the riots helped fuel criticism of the nativist movement, despite denials of responsibility from nativist groups. The riots exposed deficiencies in law enforcement in Philadelphia and the surrounding districts, influencing various reforms in local police departments and the eventual consolidation of the city in 1854
States Admitted Into The Union
- Florida became the 27th state on March 3rd 1845 from the Florida Territory
Tyler Was In Charge
Tyler assumed all of the powers of office after Harrison’s death, and he never named a Vice President. In his inaugural address three days later, he sent a message that he is the boss. Tyler believes that Congress should make policy, which gave off the impression of him being weak. This was a misconception for Tyler was his own man with own political agenda. A man without a party, Tyler was perhaps the nation’s first and only truly independent president.
Challenges To The Authority of Tyler
Tyler was known as “his accidency” or “his ascendancy”. Many people thought he was acting president until there could be a new election. Tyler’s cabinet, which was actually Harrison’s cabinet, tried to muzzle his policy proclaiming the cabinet would make policy decisions collectively.
Devastating To Whigs
Harrison had promised to pass Whig bills though Congress such as re-certifying the Bank of the United States, but Tyler didn’t share their view. The Whigs passed two laws authorizing a new national bank which were both vetoed by Tyler. After the second veto, the Whigs held meetings where they expelled President Tyler from the party.
Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1842
The Webster–Ashburton Treaty, signed August 9, 1842, was a treaty that resolved several border issues between the United States and the British North American colonies (the region that became Canada). Signed under John Tyler’s presidency, in addition to resolving the Aroostook War, a nonviolent dispute over the location of the Maine–New Brunswick border, it:
- Established the border between Lake Superior and the Lake of the Woods, originally defined in the Treaty of Paris in 1783;
- Reaffirmed the location of the border (at the 49th parallel) in the westward frontier up to the Rocky Mountains defined in the Treaty of 1818;
- Defined seven crimes subject to extradition;
- Called for a final end to the slave trade on the high seas;
- Agreed that the two parties would share use of the Great Lakes.
The treaty retroactively confirmed the southern boundary of Quebec that land surveyors John Collins and Thomas Valentine had marked with stone monuments in 1771–1773. The treaty intended that the border be at 45 degrees north latitude, but is in some places nearly a half mile north of the parallel. The treaty was signed by United States Secretary of State Daniel Webster and British diplomat Alexander Baring, 1st Baron Ashburton.
Politically isolated, but unencumbered by party restraints, Tyler aligned himself with a small faction of Texas annexationists in a bid for election to a full term in 1844.
Tyler became convinced that Great Britain was encouraging a Texas–Mexico rapprochement that might lead to slave emancipation in the Texas republic. Accordingly, he directed Secretary of State Abel P. Upshur of Virginia to initiate, then relentlessly pursue, secret annexation talks with Texas minister to the United States Isaac Van Zandt, beginning on October 16, 1843.
Tyler submitted his Texas-US treaty for annexation to the US Senate, delivered April 22, 1844, where a two-thirds majority was required for ratification. The newly appointed Secretary of State John C. Calhoun of South Carolina (assuming his post March 29, 1844) included a document known as the Packenham Letter with the Tyler bill that was calculated to inject a sense of crisis in Southern Democrats of the Deep South. In it, he characterized slavery as a social blessing and the acquisition of Texas as an emergency measure necessary to safeguard the “peculiar institution” in the United States.
In doing so, Tyler and Calhoun sought to unite the South in a crusade that would present the North with an ultimatum: support Texas annexation or lose the South. Anti-slavery Whigs considered Texas annexation particularly egregious, since Mexico had outlawed slavery in Coahuila y Tejas in 1829, before Texas independence had been declared.
The 1844 presidential campaigns evolved within the context of this struggle over Texas annexation, which was tied to the question of slavery expansion and national security. All candidates in the 1844 presidential election had to declare a position on this explosive issue.
In spite of his achievements, Tyler always had sagging popularity. There really was no chance for a 2nd term for him because he had no Whig support by 1844 and Democrats didn’t really trust him. Those who complain about party politics never being intended to be apart of the system were saying the same thing and not surprisingly being drowned out by 1844. Only 75 years into the birth of our nation, not aligning yourself with one of the two major parties was not viable in order to govern.
- 1845 annexation agreement. (n.d.). The Republic of Texas — One Nation Under One God. https://thetexasrepublic.com/history-of-this-republic/1845-annexation-agreement/
- Abel Upshur. (n.d.). Princeton & Slavery. https://slavery.princeton.edu/stories/abel-upshur
- Aroostook war | Maine state library research | Digital Maine. (n.d.). DigitalMaine Repository. https://digitalmaine.com/arc_aroostook_war/
- Biography – Collins, JOHN (D. 1795) – Volume IV (1771-1800) – Dictionary of Canadian biography. (n.d.). Home – Dictionary of Canadian Biography. https://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/collins_john_1795_4E.html
- Encyclopedia of greater Philadelphia | Nativist riots of 1844. (n.d.). Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia |. https://philadelphiaencyclopedia.org/archive/nativist-riots-of-1844/
- The failed Texas annexation treaty (1844). (2011, August 29). Rice on History. https://riceonhistory.wordpress.com/2011/08/29/the-failed-texas-annexation-treaty-1844/
- Isaac Van Zandt papers, 1835-1865, 1948. (n.d.). University of Texas Libraries. https://legacy.lib.utexas.edu/taro/utcah/01590/cah-01590.html
- John Tyler. (2019, March 23). The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/history/2019/03/23/his-accidency-first-president-die-office-constitutional-crisis-that-followed/
- John Tyler. (n.d.). https://www.sussexvt.k12.de.us/science/The%20History%20of%20the%20World%201500-1899/John%20Tyler.htm
- John Tyler. (n.d.). UnderstandingPrejudice.org. https://secure.understandingprejudice.org/draft/slavery/presinfo.php?president=10
- (n.d.). Missouri Society of Professional Surveyors – MSPS – MissouriSurveyor.org. https://missourisurveyor.org/images/1185/document/the-treaty-and-the-land-surveyor_551.pdf
- Riots of 1841. (2018, February 1). Walnut Hills Historical Society | stories and images from Walnut Hills, Cincinnati. https://www.walnuthillsstories.org/stories/riots-of-1841/
- Story of the Underground Railroad to Mexico gains attention. (2020, September 16). AP NEWS. https://apnews.com/article/mexico-race-and-ethnicity-archive-texas-d26243702f11e27b59b591332bb6775e
- The ‘Tyler precedent’ is established, April 6, 1841. (2019, April 6). POLITICO. https://www.politico.com/story/2019/04/06/tyler-precedent-1841-1253840
- West Philadelphia collaborative history – Incorporation into greater Philadelphia: The consolidation Act of 1854. (n.d.). West Philadelphia Collaborative History. https://collaborativehistory.gse.upenn.edu/stories/incorporation-greater-philadelphia-consolidation-act-1854
James Polk (1845 – 1849) would follow John Tyler.
William Henry Harrison (1841) preceded John Tyler.
Zachary Taylor (1849 – 1850) would assume the presidency after the Mexican War
Woodrow Wilson (1913 – 1921) would guide the United States through World War I.
Jimmy Carter (1977 – 1981) would be the only Democratic President for 25 years post Civil Rights.
George W. Bush (2000 – 2008) is the final President in our series.