The Story of Texas – Part 1 – President John Tyler

In 1840, the Whig Party nominated John Tyler as William Henry Harrison’s running mate. They won easily in the ‘Tippecanoe and Tyler too’ campaign. After Harrison’s death, Tyler became the first Vice President to assume the Presidency.

The story of Texas joining the Union is inextricably linked President John Tyler.

Texas Timeline

  • 1836: Texas became an independent republic.

  • 1836–1840: Texas lobbied to join the Union. Both Presidents Jackson and Van Buren were opposed, believing bringing Texas in as a slave state could upset the careful slave state/free state balance established by the Missouri Compromise of 1820. It also could bring war with Mexico, which still did not recognize Texas’s independence.

  • 1841: Tyler became President upon Harrison’s death.

  • 1841–1843: Texas pursued relations with Great Britain. Britain would provide military protection to Texas while limiting American expansion. The courtship of Britain and Texas created fear in the United States. Former President Jackson was concerned enough about this to write a letter in 1843 describing the possibility of a British two-pronged invasion of America from Texas and Canada.

  • 1843: Tyler supports Texas annexation. He was a supporter of Manifest Destiny, the belief that American was destined to settle North American from coast-to-coast. He also wanted an accomplishment to support his re-election in 1844. Opponents were strongly opposed to adding a new slave state. Texans were more interested in joining the United States than an alliance with Britain, as most of them were Americans. By early 1844, Secretary of State Abel Upshur negotiated a treaty with Texas to join the Union.

  • 1844: The treaty was sent to the Senate for ratification but the Senate rejected the treaty. Bringing Texas into the Union became a major issue of the 1844 Presidential campaign. Senator Clay, the Whig Party nominee for President, opposed admitting Texas. James Polk, the Democratic Party candidate, supported a balanced admission scheme: admit Texas as a slave state and Oregon as a free state. Polk defeated Clay by only 40,000 votes, one of the tightest elections in history.

  • 1845: While the treaty to annex Texas had been rejected by the Senate in June 1844 Tyler had a Plan B. The Constitution allows Congress to admit new states into the Union. This requires only a majority vote in the House and Senate, instead of the two-thirds vote needed in the Senate to approve a treaty. Constitutional? Unclear. In January 1845, while Tyler was still President, a bill to annex Texas under Plan B passed the House easily. However, the Senate vote was very close, 27 to 25. Three days before leaving office, Tyler signed it into law.

Tyler’s Presidency and Post-Presidency

President Tyler had other controversies and issues during his administration. After he became President, Congress passed a bank bill consistent with his Whig Party’s platform; Tyler vetoed it. Later in 1841 Congress passed a second bank bill; Tyler vetoed that one also. Tyler came under harsh criticism with enemies calling him “His Accidency”. The President’s entire cabinet, except one, resigned. The Whig Party expelled him leaving him a President without a party! In 1842 Congress formed a committee to consider impeachment. The panel criticized Tyler but did not formally recommend impeachment.

Tyler’s vetoes of a National Bank stood for over seventy years until the creation of the Federal Reserve system in 1913. He settled a border dispute between Maine and Canada peaceably. He signed the first commercial treaty with China and created the ‘Tyler Doctrine’ to prevent countries from colonizing Hawaii, which was independent at the time.

When Tyler’s term ended, he supported keeping the Union together. He supported the Compromise of 1850 and the Kansas-Nebraska Act, both attempts to prevent a Civil War. As late as 1861, Tyler was named President of a Peace Convention to reach a compromise to prevent Civil War. The Peace Convention failed and the Civil War started a few months later.

In his personal life, Tyler had fifteen children, more than any other President. Eight from his first wife, seven from his second. In 1842 Letitia Tyler became the first First Lady to die while in office. Tyler re-married in 1844 becoming the first President to marry during his term. Tyler’s second wife, Julia, was thirty years younger than him, and only twenty-four years old. Tyler was born in 1790 when Washington was President. Pearl, his youngest child was born in 1860 when Tyler was seventy. Pearl lived over eighty-five years, long enough to see Harry Truman as President. One family spanning Washington to Truman!'

Tyler’s legacy

Tyler became the first Vice President to assume the Presidency upon death of the President. The Constitution was unclear on exactly how succession works. Tyler declared that he was not the Vice President acting as President, but was now the actual President, assuming both the office and its powers. This set an important precedent that held until formalized in the 25th Amendment passed in 1967 after the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

Had it ended there, Tyler’s reputation would have been of a President who brought Texas into the Union and maintained peace. However, he went back to Virginia and voted in favor of succession. He became the only President to betray the country he had served. When he died in 1862, there was no recognition or honor given to him by the United States.