Friday, October 07, 2011

John Tyler by Gary May

This book is an installment of the American Presidents’ Series, which I’m slowly reading my way through. I didn’t know a lot about Tyler going into this beyond the basics. He was dubbed “His Accidency” as he became president upon the death of President W.H. Harrison and was the first Vice President to step up and set our precedent. I also knew the story of his marriage in the White House, again another “first.”

This book, which is fairly brief, nicely covers the topics of the Tyler presidency and really gives a great portrait of this time period. Tyler faces a hard term as he ran as a Whig, but wasn’t committed to the cause as much as others, such as Henry Clay and ends up getting tossed out of his own party! Tyler is definitely as the mercy of party politics and fights to get anything accomplished.

The picture you get of Tyler is that, before the Presidency, he is a strict Constitutionalist and very much a states’ rights man. He is a Virginian first and really sees himself as heir to the Virginia Presidents. As President, he continues his commitment to states’ rights, but ends up using the Executive power in ways, I think, he would have originally discounted as unconstitutional. Just an opinion of mine. His major concern is states’ right and the Southern way of life. Tyler, like the other Virginia presidents, is a slaveowner and while he sees some of the problems of slavery, doesn’t seem to realize the inherent “wrong” in it that I think we do see Washington and Jefferson doing, even though neither really does much about. Something the book notes is that Tyler will not go near the slave auctions or pens and treats his own slaves fairly well (although he sells a favored slave off to pay for some debts as he starts in on politics….), but at the same time, he never really advances a solution beyond “gradual.” Tyler, in the end, is very much committed to states’ rights and while he doesn’t want to see the destruction of the Union (and even is in on conferences leading up to the Civil War), he “succeeds” with Virginia and even joins the Confederate government.

For a good overview of Tyler this is definitely a great book and is an easy, and I think, a fun read.

If you want to read my reviews of other books in this series, here are the links:

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