Wednesday, September 15, 2021

President without a Party: The Life of John Tyler

My book for the summer (June, July and August) was President without a Party: The Life of John Tyler by Christopher Leahy. Drew give me the book for Christmas in 2019. After finishing a book about Polk, I was interested in reading about Tyler. It fits into my long term project to read books about all of the presidents.

Tyler was born to a prominent Virginia family. He had a long and varied political career, including serving as a Virginia state legislator, Virginia governor, US representative, and US senator.

Tyler was initially a Democrat, but he opposed Andrew Jackson during the South Carolina Nullification Crisis. Tyler believed in the fundamental tenets of Jeffersonian democracy and limited federal power. He saw Jackson's actions as infringing on states' rights. This led Tyler to ally with the Whig Party. He was put on the 1840 presidential ticket to attract states' rights Southerners to a Whig coalition to defeat Martin Van Buren's re-election bid.

President Harrison died just one month after taking office. Tyler became the first vice president to succeed to the presidency without election.

This presidency was marked by battles over a national bank, tariffs and the distribution of proceeds from the sale of federal lands. Tyler vetoed two national banking acts pushed by the Whig controlled Congress. His term also included the Annexation of Texas.

Tyler fathered more children than any other American president. His first wife was Letitia Christian with whom he had eight children. Letitia died of a stroke in the White House in September 1842. While still President, Tyler married again to Julia Gardiner with whom he had seven children.

Tyler was seated in the Confederate Congress on August 1, 1861 and served until just before his death in 1862. In November 1861, he was elected to the Confederate House of Representatives but he died of a stroke before the first session could open in February 1862.

At the 700 pages, the book was a bit of a load. Rather than a linear outline of Tyler's life, the author spends a lot of time exploring and intepreting the movitations of the key players. It is an interesting story, but not my favorite presidential biography. I give it a "B-" grade.

I have been disappointed in the pace of my reading over the last eighteen months. I still haven't figured out a rhythm for my every day reading while we work from home and largely continue to shelter in place.

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