John Tyler: The Tenth President (1841-1845)

Born into a rich family that owned slaves, John Tyler was the first president to serve without being elected to office. He had spent years in politics before accepting the Whig nomination for the vice presidency in the 1840 election. When President William Henry Harrison died after just over a month in office, Tyler became the first vice president to become president because of the death of his predecessor.

Early Days

John Tyler was born on his family's plantation in Virginia. He was the sixth of eight children, and family was important to him during his entire life.

Tyler lost his mother when he was seven, but he was very close with his father, who taught him to play the violin and took him hunting. Tyler enjoyed these two hobbies until his death.

Young John went to school at William and Mary and attended both preparatory school (like high school) and college there. He focused on literature and economics and graduated in 1807. After college Tyler returned home to Charles City County and “read law” (this is how people prepared to become lawyers before there was such a thing as law school). He became an attorney in 1809.


NICKNAME: His Accidency

BIRTH: March 29, 1790; Greenway, VA

DEATH: January 18, 1862; Richmond, VA


SPOUSE: Letitia Christian (1790-1842) and Julia Gardiner, whom he married after his first wife passed away

VICE PRESIDENT: None. Tyler left the office of vice president vacant after he took office as president.

Professional Career Before Becoming President

Like so many of our presidents, John Tyler was a career politician before he became president in April of 1841. He served two separate terms in the Virginia House of Delegates (1811– 1816 and 1823–1825), as a U.S. congressman (1816–1821), as governor of Virginia (1825–1827) and as a U.S. senator (1827–1836). He was one of several vice presidential candidates put forward by the Whig Party in the election of 1836.

Tyler had originally been a member of Andrew Jackson's Democratic Party, but he left the party during the 1830s and became a Whig because of a personal feud with President Jackson. The Whigs knew they had a good chance to win the White House in the next election because President Martin Van Buren, a member of Jackson's party, was not very popular. In order to help ensure the victory of their presidential candidate (William Henry Harrison), the Whig Party decided that they needed a Southerner to run for vice president with Harrison. Henry Clay, who was known as “Mr. Whig,” handpicked John Tyler for the job.



John Tyler was married twice during his seventy-one years. During that time he had fifteen (yes, that's right, fifteen!)children. President Tyler's last child was born in 1860 when Tyler was seventy years old!

Once Tyler was president, Clay would come to regret his choice. Tyler served as vice president of the United States for thirty-two days.



When a country, state, county, or city decides to add land to the area it rules and doesn't have to go to war to conquer it, that is called annexation. Annexation is usually done with the agreement of the people living in the area that is being annexed.

Tyler's Presidency

When William Henry Harrison died on April 4, 1841, the United States faced a question it had never had to deal with before: Who replaces a president who dies in office? The Constitution says only that if the president dies or is unable to serve, the vice president will do his job.

Tyler took that to mean that he became president. Members of his own party, including the new secretary of state, Henry Clay, thought the rule meant that the vice president could only act like or do the same jobs as the president, not become the president. Tyler and the Whigs fought over this, and he wound up losing his place in the Whig Party. Since the Whigs also controlled Congress at the time, Tyler became a president without a political party. He wanted to run for election to the presidency in 1844 but knew that he needed to have a political party that would support him if he were to win.

Tyler decided that the way to win national support for his possible election in 1844 was to annex the Republic of Texas to the United States. He did eventually succeed in getting Texas annexed, but by the time he did, he would not have a chance of getting elected president in 1844.

President Tyler's first marriage was a very happy one, but by the time he became president his wife Letitia had begun to suffer from very poor health. She had a stroke in 1841 and was bedridden afterward. She didn't come downstairs again until her daughter's wedding in late 1842. She suffered another stroke the next day and died.

Tyler met a young debutante named Julia Gardiner in 1843 and fell in love with her very quickly. In February of 1844 he invited Julia and her entire family to a ride onboard an American warship that was going to test-fire some naval guns in the Potomac River. Julia's father (who opposed a marriage with the president) was killed when one of the guns exploded during firing. The couple was married in the White House three months later.

Retirement and Death

After he left office in 1845, Tyler retired to his Virginia estate with his young wife and set about raising a second set of children with her. Before his death in 1862 Tyler became convinced that the South ought to secede, or split, from the United States. When a number of Southern states decided to leave the United States in 1861, they formed the Confederate States of America, or the Confederacy. (The Northern states were known as the Union.) Tyler was elected to the Confederate Congress. He died at age seventy-one in January of 1862 before he could take his seat in that legislature.

Is It My Turn?

Vice President John Tyler was doing something rather silly when he learned that President Harrison had died, and he was now president. To learn what John Tyler was doing, use the directions to cross words out of the grid. Read the remaining words from top to bottom, and left to right.

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