John Tyler was the first Vice President to succeed a President who had died in office.  He became the nation’s Chief Executive on April 6, 1841, just 33 days after his predecessor, William Henry Harrison, had taken the Oath of Office.

Tyler was born at Greenway, the family estate in Charles City County, Virginia on March 29, 1790.  The son of a former governor, judge, and speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates, he began to follow in his father’s political footsteps soon after his graduation from the College of William and Mary.  From his first elective office in the state legislature, he went on to become a U.S. Congressman, Senator, governor of Virginia, and delegate to the Virginia Constitutional convention of 1829-1830.

In 1840, the Whigs chose Tyler as Harrison’s running mate to attract Southern votes.  It seemed inconsequential at the time that Tyler, a former Democrat, was strongly opposed to the Whigs’ nationalistic policies.  But those ideological differences came into sharp focus when Tyler unexpectedly succeeded to the presidency.

Refusing to accept the title of “Acting President,” Tyler sturggled to gain the office’s full title and powers.  He then used his power to veto almost all the bills reflecting the Whig program.  Frustrated, Whigs in the House of Representatives began impeachment proceedings, the first such move against an American President.  The attempt failed overwhelmingly.

Tyler’s administration was highlighted by his signing of the Pre-Emption Act, which allowed a settler to claim 160 acres of land by building a cabin on it.  He also brought an end to the bloody Seminole War in Florida and approved a boundary settlement with Canada.  His signature on a treaty with China in 1844 opened the Orient to American traders for the first time.

After leaving the White House, Tyler returned to his estate near Charles City, Virginia.  In 1861, he headed an unsuccessful mission to compromise the issues that threatened secession of southern states.  He was elected to the Confederate House of Representatives, bud died on January 18, 1862, before taking office.


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