Profile - John Tyler
The first vice-president to succeeded to the presidency, on the death of William Henry Harrison, and the youngest president to that time, being only 51 when he was sworn in, John Tyler (1790-1862) came from a very prosperous Virginia planter family, members of which had long been active in politics. Although their case is dubious, the family claimed descent from Wat Tyler, a famous peasant rebel in late fourteenth century England. They were certainly descended on one side from Henry Polk, who served with King Charles I during the English Civil War, before migrating to America. Henryís three-times great-grandson, John Tyler, Sr., the presidentís father, served in a militia company during the American Revolution.
As a young man, John Tyler attended William and Mary College in Virginia, where he became acquainted with another young student, Winfield Scott, later one of the countryís greatest generals. After college, Tyler studied law. By the outbreak of the War of 1812 he had a law practice in Charles City, Virginia, and was a member of the state House of Delegates. Although his younger brother, William soon enlisted in the army, and later served on the northern front, the future president continued to practice law. Nevertheless, he eventually did see some service. On June 24, 1813, a British raiding party captured Hampton, on the Virginia coast and held it for several days. In the face of invasion, Tyler joined the Charles City Rifles, a militia company, of which he was soon elected captain. The company was assigned to the defenses of Richmond. During their several weeks of duty at Richmond, the Charles City Rifles did not see any combat.
After being mustered out of the militia, Tyler returned to his law practice and politics, serving variously in the state legislature, Congress, and as governor of Virginia. On March 4,1841, he became William Henry Harrisonís vice-president. When the president died just 30 days into his presidency; he became the first vice-president to become president due on the death of the incumbent, for which he was nicknamed "His Accidency."
Militarily, Tyler's presidency was a surprisingly quite one. In 1842 a long-simmering dispute with British Canada ("The Aroostook War") was settled by the Webster-Ashburton Treaty, which defined the between Maine and Canada, and the protracted and costly Second Seminole War was brought to a conclusion by a negotiated settlement. That same year Tyler dispatched federal troops to support the government of Rhode Island during "Dorr's Rebellion," an armed protest that was attempting to change the very restrictive state constitution; although the "rebels" were suppressed, reforms were soon forthcoming.
Arguably, the most notable military event of Tyler's presidency was a disastrous accident.
On February 28, 1844, Tyler took a ride aboard the new, highly innovative steam sloop Princeton. Commissioned in September of 1843, Princeton spent the next few months on trials and making demonstrations, and seemed an excellent vessel. On February 28, 1844, the President Tyler and a host of dignitaries took a cruise aboard the ship. After steaming around in the lower Potomac and the Chesapeake Bay, the ship headed back to Washington. As it passed Mount Vernon, a salute was fired to honor the first president. One the shipís new heavy wrought iron muzzling cannon exploded. Dead were Secretary of State Abel P. Upshur, Secretary of the Navy Thomas Gilmer, Rep. Virgil Maxey of Maryland, Rep. David Gardiner of New York, Capt. Beverly Kennon, Chief of the Bureau of Construction, Equipment and Repairs; Armistead Tyler, the Presidentís valet, and two others, while some 20 others were injured; the President himself was below decks at the time, wooing the young woman who would become his second wife the following June, Julia Gardiner, the congressmanís daughter.
The Princeton disaster had important consequences for the development of the Navy, for the ship had been designed by the Swedish engineer John Ericsson. Although Ericsson had not designed the guns, he was widely blamed for the accident and it was not until 1861 that he was given another opportunity to work for the Navy, when he designed and built the revolutionary ironclad Monitor.
Although Tyler attempted to run for a second term, he was unable to generate much support and withdrew from the race and retired from public life. During the Secession Crisis in 1860-1861, Tyler worked for peaceful reconciliation, but ultimately supported the Confederacy and was elected to the Confederate House of Representatives, though he died before taking his seat..
President Tyler was married twice, and had a total of 14 children who lived to adulthood, seven girls and seven boys. Of his seven sons (three with his first wife and four with his second), Robert, the eldest, served as a colonel of volunteers during the Mexican War (1846-1848), and was an officer in the Confederate home guard during the Civil War. The Presidentís second son, John Tyler, Jr., and his fourth son, David, both served as officers in the Confederate Army, his third son, Tazewell, served as a surgeon in the Confederate Army, and his fifth son, John A. Tyler, enlisted in the Confederate artillery at 16 in 1864. John A. Tyler later also saw service during the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871), as a volunteer officer in the Saxon Army. Lachlan, the presidentís sixth son, served as a surgeon in the U.S. Navy, 1879-1887. The seventh son, Lyon, did not serve. The president also had four grandsons and a son-in-law who served in the Confederate Army during the Civil War, among them Robert Tyler Jones, a private in the 53rd Virginia.