John Tyler by Gary May
Before I started this journey if you had asked me what president I knew the least about, I would have said John Tyler. I have a pretty well-educated friend who didn’t even believe that a guy named John Tyler was one of our presidents! That’s how obscure this dude is. I, at least, had heard of him, but I could not have told you a single fact about him, other than he had, in fact, been a sitting president.
And now? Well, there are actually some fairly fascinating things about John Tyler. He was not an especially interesting president on the whole I suppose, in fact his nickname was “His Accidency” after taking office due to the death of President William Henry Harrison. But I did enjoy his unexpected courtship of the beautiful, beguiling Julia Gardiner with whom he had seven children (and that was his second wife, he had another eight with his first wife!) Tyler actually fathered more children than any other commander in chief!
That brings me to my very favorite John Tyler fact. President Tyler, America’s 10th president, born in the year 1790, has two living grandsons! Not great-grandsons, GRANDSONS! Alive. Today. I can’t get over this.
According to U.S. News and World Report, Lyon Gardiner Tyler Jr. was born in 1924. Harrison Ruffin Tyler was born in 1928. These two happen to be the sons of Lyon Gardiner Tyler Sr., one of President Tyler's aforementioned 15 children.
"Both my grandfather — the president — and my father, were married twice. And they had children by their first wives. And their first wives died, and they married again and had more children. And my father was 75 when I was born, his father was 63 when he was born," Harrison Tyler explained to New York Magazine in 2012.
That is just…bananas.
Anyway, on to the book. Gary May did a nice job summarizing Tyler’s life in yet another brief but efficient installment of The American Presidents Series. This series is well represented in my reading list for the particular presidential era that I’m about to enter into. Van Buren’s was the first I had read (he deserves a modern, robust biography in my opinion), but I’m also using the series for biographies of Taylor, Pierce and Buchanan as well. These are some of America’s least-admired presidents and there just aren’t many contemporary accounts of their lives. Needless to say, I won’t be relying on the series for Lincoln. The books are so brief, they almost feel like a cheat, but they are actually pretty well done.
Anyway, Tyler was in fact the first vice president to become chief executive due to the death of his predecessor. Yet another Virginian, Tyler was a stickler for states-rights and was a rock-ribbed Democratic-Republican even though he served under Harrison, a Whig. Tyler more or less was chosen to balance the ticket, a southern slave-owner that would assuage any misgivings about Harrison’s possible abolitionist proclivities.
Nobody thought much of it given the fact that a sitting president had never before died in office. Welp…
As president, Tyler managed to alienate both Whigs and Democrats. He was man of no party really, and the Whigs actually attempted to impeach him. He did manage, however, to annex Texas just before leaving office, setting the stage for war with Mexico, and he would later go on to vote for Virginia secession and join the Confederacy. So…yeah.
President John Tyler: he had a ton of kids, annexed Texas, was the first president to take office due to the death of a sitting president, and he has TWO living grandsons! How about that?