John Tyler: Accomplishments, Presidency & Facts

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  • 0:00 President John Tyler
  • 1:04 Politics
  • 2:46 National Stage
  • 3:46 President of the United States
  • 5:54 Post Presidency
  • 6:44 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Daniel Vermilya
John Tyler was the tenth President of the United States. He assumed the office after the death of William Henry Harrison in 1841, becoming the first vice president to become president in that manner.

President John Tyler

In April 1841, for the first time in American history, the President of the United States died while in office. After a dramatic campaign and election in 1840, William Henry Harrison was the first member of the Whig Party to hold the highest office in the land. Vice President John Tyler assumed the office of the presidency after Harrison's death. He had a rough time serving out the rest of Harrison's term. Let's learn more about this important and oft-forgotten president.

Like many of the nation's early presidents, John Tyler was born in Virginia. He was born in 1790, during the nascent years of the republic. He spent many of his early years on his family's plantation, where numerous slaves worked in the fields. His family had a storied connection to Virginia's past, serving in important posts and offices in the state's courts and legislature. When Tyler reached his twenties, he became a lawyer and worked with his father. When the elder Tyler became the Governor of Virginia, John practiced law on his own.


Tyler had significant success at a fairly young age. Before his 30th birthday, he was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates, part of the state of Virginia's legislative body. In 1816, he took a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Tyler was a Democrat Republican, the dominant political party in the post-War of 1812 years of one-party rule. Yet he was an advocate of states' rights, or the right of the states to run themselves with a minimum of interference from the federal government. He strongly opposed the Bank of the United States. In 1820, when Missouri applied for statehood, Tyler opposed the famed Missouri Compromise, which limited the westward spread of slavery to only select territories.

In 1821, Tyler left his seat in Congress and returned to Virginia. He served another term in the Virginia House of Delegates, and in 1825 became the Governor of Virginia. He returned to national politics in Washington in 1827 when he became a Senator from Virginia, a post he held for nearly ten years. In 1832, during the Nullification Crisis, Tyler emerged as a key voice promoting states' rights. The crisis featured South Carolina attempting to nullify federal tariff laws they believed to be unfair and unconstitutional. President Andrew Jackson refused to give in, and South Carolina eventually backed down.

The incident was one of several which led Tyler to leave the Democratic Party and join the young Whig Party, founded in opposition to centralized federal power and to the Jackson presidency. During the 1830s, Tyler was a leading Whig in the Senate, even holding the office of President Pro Tempore of the Senate in 1835. In 1836, Tyler left the Senate.

National Stage

During the 1836 presidential election, Tyler was one of several prominent Whigs who were put forward as potential presidential candidates. Because the party lacked national unity in its early years, no one candidate was chosen, and Vice President Martin Van Buren had an easy time winning the presidency and continuing the Democratic legacy of Andrew Jackson.

In 1840, William Henry Harrison was chosen to be the Whig candidate for president. A native Virginian, Harrison had spent many years in Ohio and the Northwest Territory, giving him a national appeal. Tyler's prominence in the party led him to being chosen as Harrison's running mate. Harrison was famous, in part, for leading U.S. forces to victory at the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811 in what is now southern Indiana. Thus, when Tyler joined the ticket, a popular slogan of Tippecanoe and Tyler too! was born. Together, with economic malaise, dissatisfaction with Martin Van Buren, and a strong ticket, Harrison and Tyler were elected president and vice president in 1840.

President of the United States

In March 1841, when Harrison was sworn in, he delivered a very lengthy inaugural address. The weather was cold and rainy that day, and Harrison spoke without an overcoat. Several weeks later, Harrison was dead from pneumonia, becoming the first U.S. president to die in office. On April 4, 1841, Tyler became the tenth President of the United States and the first vice president to assume the presidency upon the death of the president, fulfilling the constitutional chain of succession. He was sworn in on April 6, two days after Harrison's death.

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