Today in History: Constitutionalist Pres. John Tyler Born

Today in 1790, future president of the United States John Tyler was born.

Mockingly called “His Accidency” by his political rivals, Tyler’s strict devotion to the Constitution made him made enemies, including his own party. Former Mayor of New York Philip Hone wrote in 1842 that Tyler’s administration had consisted of “one year of the rule of imbecility, arrogance, and prejudice.”

Time and time again, Tyler obstructed Whig efforts to recharter a national bank, raise tariffs to radical heights, and implement various other unconstitutional measures. He made himself the primary foe of Henry Clay and Daniel Webster, both of whom sought to undermine him at every possible opportunity. He nominated five different individuals to the Supreme Court, only one of which was confirmed.

Despite being kicked out of the Whig Party, he and his brilliant Secretary of Defense, Abel Upshur, laid the groundwork for Texas annexation through an arrangement with the Texas government. Though a freak canon disaster killed Upshur and narrowly missed Tyler, and Texas was actually brought into the union in the beginning days of the Polk administration, the eventual incorporation of Texas into the union served as one of his lasting accomplishments.

Tyler made political enemies for the right reasons. While a senator, he was also a sole member of that body to vote against Andrew Jackson’s Force Bill, which would have authorized Jackson to invade South Carolina to enforce the federal tariffs. As president, his rigid adherence to the Constitution, as ratified, has long gone ignored or unnoticed by most historians, many of whom have attempted to shove any memory of his presidency under a rug.

A Jeffersonian by nature, Tyler understood the Constitution was a compact among states, constituted for predefined purposes only, all others remaining with the states, as parties to that compact. Eminent historian Douglas Southall Freeman called Tyler “an ideal of political consistency in an era of change.” For these reasons, I consider him one of the best three presidents in United States history.

For more on Tyler and my esteem for him, please see this, an excerpt from my book, Compact of the Republic: The League of States and the Constitution.

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