John Tyler “I can never consent to being dictated to”

  • Philip Abbott
Part of the The Evolving American Presidency Series book series (EAP)


John Tyler’s selection of an independent strategy is initially quite surprising in the context of his unique position as the first accidental president. Even before he initiated actions as leader, Tyler faced a constitutional crisis. Whig Party leaders argued that Tyler was actually only an “acting president,” presumably with less power than a directly elected one. Henry Clay, at first, declared that Tyler would govern as a “regent” and Adams noted in his diary that “the event... made the Vice president … Acting President for four years less one month.”1 Not only did Tyler aggressively resist this view from the moment he assumed office, but he also opposed and vetoed the legislative agenda of his putative party. Tyler thus has received sharply mixed assessments as the first accidental president. One the one hand, he has been praised for setting a major constitutional precedent that has aided all subsequent accidental presidents. Presidents who assume office as the result of death or resignation possess the same authority (at least in terms of rex) as directly elected ones.2 Through his decisive actions in 1841, concludes one biographer, “John Tyler had placed all future vice presidents a heartbeat away from the presidency.”3


Electoral College Independent Strategy Legislative Agenda Slave State Presidential Power 
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  1. 1.
    John Quincy Adams, Memoirs of John Quincy Adams (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1843), 10:463.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    See Ruth C. Silva, Presidential Succession (New York: Greenwood Press, 1968), p. 27; Akhil Reed Amer, Americas Constitution: A Biography (New York: Random House, 2005), p. 448.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Edward P. Crapol, John Tyler: The Accidental President (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2006), p. 278.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Wilfred E. Brinkley, President and Congress (New York: Knopf, 1947), p. 99.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Richard M. Pious, “John Tyler” in James M. McPherson, ed., “To the Best of My Ability”: The American Presidents (New York: Dorling Kindersley, 2000), p. 82.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Dan Monroe, The Republican Vision of John Tyler (College Station, TX: Texas A&M University, 2003), p. 63.Google Scholar
  7. 8.
    “Inaugural Address” in John D. Richardson, ed., Messages and Papers of the Presidents (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1897), 4:37.Google Scholar
  8. 9.
    Ibid., p. 39.Google Scholar
  9. 10.
    For narratives of Tyler’s first months as the first accidental president, see Robert J. Morgan, A Whig Embattled: The Presidency under John Tyler (Lincoln, NB: University of Nebraska Press, 1954), pp. 1–21; Monroe, The Republican Vision of John Tyler, pp. 78–86.Google Scholar
  10. 11.
    Jeffrey Tulis, The Rhetorical Presidency (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1987).Google Scholar
  11. 12.
    Michael F. Holt, The Rise and Fall of the Whig Party (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 142.Google Scholar
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    Justin H. Smith, The Annexation of Texas (New York: AMS Press, 1971), p. 189.Google Scholar
  13. 18.
    “To the Senate of the United States” in Richardson, ed., Messages and Papers of the President, 4:308.Google Scholar
  14. 19.
    James David Barber, The Presidential Character (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1985), p. 9.Google Scholar

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© Philip Abbott 2008

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  • Philip Abbott

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