(Originally posted March 29, 2011; reposted March 29, 2023)
It is quite possible that all you know about the 10th President, John Tyler, is that he is the hind-part of a memorable campaign slogan: Tippecanoe and Tyler too!
John Tyler was born on March 29, in 1790, at Greenway, a James River plantation in Charles City County, Virginia, between Richmond and Williamsburg. The son of a wealthy planter and judge, he was raised among Virginia’s elite, attending William and Mary College. He graduated at age 17 and then studied law, earning admission to the bar in 1809.
Tyler served in Congress in both the House and Senate, as well as the Virginia legislature, and in 1840 was named the running mate of William Henry Harrison, a fellow Virginian known as the hero of the Battle of Tippecanoe –fought against a confederation of Native American nations led by Tecumseh in 1811.
“Tippecanoe and Tyler too” defeated the incumbent Martin Van Buren, and Harrison took the oath of office on March 4, 1841, delivering the longest inaugural speech in history. He then took ill and died of pneumonia on April 4, 1841, becoming the first President to die in office.
That made Tyler the first Vice-President to succeed to the office on the death of a President. The chief controversy of his early administration was over his legal status. Was Tyler actually the President or merely the “acting President?” He regarded himself as President and even returned mail unopened that was addressed to “The Acting President.” But many derided him as His Accidency.
Another distinction was Tyler’s marriage, following the death of his first wife Letitia Christian in 1842, to Julia Gardiner. The daughter of a wealthy New York politician, she had created a minor scandal in polite society by appearing in an advertisement at age 19. When they married in New York City in 1844, she was 24; Tyler was 54 and the 30-year age difference raised eyebrows and caused a rift with some of Tyler’s grown children. However, this wedding earned Tyler the distinction of being the first President to be married while in office.
His single term ended and he failed to be renominated. Tyler gave way to the the candidacy of James K. Polk rather than run as third-party candidate. Tyler retired to this plantation home, Sherwood Forest, which is a National Historic landmark in Virginia.
His final distinction was his election to the Provisional Congress of the Confederacy and his failed attempt to broker a peace deal before the Civil War broke out. But in November 1861, Tyler was elected to the Confederate House of Representatives, becoming the first former President to be elected to serve in another government –the Confederacy.
Tyler died on January 18, 1862 before taking his seat in the Confederate Congress. Although he had planned to be buried at his Sherwood Forest home, he is buried in Richmond.
For many years after the Civil War, his resting place was officially ignored. In 1915, 50 years after the Civil War ended, the Congress voted to erect a memorial stone over his grave.
Read more about Tyler in Don’t Know Much About® the American Presidents
Don’t Know Much About® the Civil War