Thursday, July 15, 2010

John Tyler

I just started a biography of John Tyler. I'll review it when I get it promises on the timeline of that! In any case, I was actually trying to find Tyler's graduation oration which was on women and education and sounded interesting, but alas I couldn't (if anyone knows if there is a copy somewhere, I'd be happy to post it...many of Tyler's papers were destroyed in the Civil War, though, so I don't have a lot of hope that something like that still exists), so instead here is information on Tyler's career before the presidency, specifically his opposition of Andrew Jackson:
In 1824, Tyler supported John Quincy Adams's successful presidential candidacy, mainly because it served to deny Andrew Jackson the office. Adams's heavily nationalist agenda, however, quickly disillusioned the Virginia senator. When Jackson forces promoted a regionally divisive tariff bill in an attempt to cripple Adams's 1828 reelection chances, Tyler reluctantly supported Jackson as the lesser of two evils. Clinging to an unfounded hope that Jackson, a fellow Democrat, was a secret states' rights advocate -- Adams's vice president, John C. Calhoun, had switched to the Jackson camp in support of such policies -- Tyler gritted his teeth and supported "Old Hickory." After one of the most bitterly fought elections, Jackson won the presidency by a wide margin.

Almost immediately, Tyler realized that Andrew Jackson's beliefs had little in common with his own. Jackson's "spoils system," which rewarded campaign supporters with positions in the new administration, disturbed Tyler, who considered it corrupt. While Tyler gave lukewarm support to Jackson's 1832 reelection bid after the President's dismantling of the Bank of the United States, subsequent events brought their hostility for one another into the open.

The nullification battles waged over the "Tariff of Abominations" pitted South Carolina and states' rights advocate John C. Calhoun, Jackson's former vice president, against the President. Days after the election, South Carolina renounced federal tariffs, claiming that it had an inherent right as a state to conform or not to conform to federal policy -- even if secession (leaving the Union) should ensue. Jackson considered their actions treasonous and threatened to use military force if South Carolina interfered with customs collections in Charleston. Tyler, despite his misgivings on the tariff issue, was horrified at this federal saber-rattling against a southern state. Jackson, he felt, had become a bullying dictator who acted unconstitutionally. In February of 1833, Tyler denounced Old Hickory's policy against South Carolina on the Senate floor in an inspired, fiery address. The speech drew broad support at home and propelled him to reelection by the Virginia legislature. When the time came to vote on Jackson's plan (the Force Act) to confront South Carolina, John Tyler cast the lone Senate vote against it even though it was part of a compromise package that involved lowering the tariffs that had sparked the dispute.

President Jackson commenced his rematch with the Bank of the United States in late 1833, dispersing federal deposits in a network of smaller state banks. While Tyler had nothing but contempt for the Bank's centralist policies, he was livid at what he perceived as an abuse of executive power. Again, he condemned "King Andrew" on the Senate floor and emerged as a leader of the anti-Jackson opposition. When Henry Clay pushed a motion to censure the President through the Senate, it was an open declaration of political war. In another display of open defiance of Jackson, Clay, Calhoun, and Daniel Webster formed a new political organization called the Whig Party, and Tyler joined them.

The Jackson forces maneuvered for revenge, using their clout to win a majority in the Virginia legislature in 1835 -- a body that selected and largely controlled the state's U.S. senators. The Jacksonians passed a resolution in the state legislature instructing Tyler to vote in the U.S. Senate to expunge Clay's censure of Jackson from the Senate record. Tyler resigned in protest rather than rescind Jackson's censure. Yet again, he returned to his law practice.

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