157 years ago today in 1862, former President John Tyler dies a rebel on his way to take his elected seat in the Confederate House of Representatives.
Tyler was the 10th President of the United States and 6th President from Virginia. He set a precedent as the Vice President taking office after the death of William Henry Harrison who was only President for one month. Harrison and Tyler were members of the Whig Party, a newly formed political party that was a counter to Andrew Jackson and his Democrat party. The Whig Party was excited at the opportunity of seizing the Presidency and put a great deal of faith in Harrison and Tyler enacting their “American System”, a more active Federal government enacting subsidization to favor American industry and internal improvements.
Tyler played a crucial part in growing the Union by allowing Texas to join. But the Whig Party would soon be at odds with Tyler, who took his oath to the constitution more seriously. Tyler would veto many of the Whig sponsored bills which he felt weren’t constitutional and was an ardent believer of limited Federal power. When a bill for reinstituting the central bank that he opposed early in his political career arrived on his desk, he wasted no time vetoing it and wrote a 2500 word message explaining the reasoning.
“….I regard the bill as asserting for Congress the right to incorporate a United States bank with power and right to establish offices of discount and deposit in the several States of this Union with or without their consent--a principle to which I have always heretofore been opposed and which can never obtain my sanction; and waiving all other considerations growing out of its other provisions, I return it to the House in which it originated with these my objections to its approval.”
The Whig Party violently rioted at the White House when they heard news of the veto. They would team up with anti-southerner members of Congress in attempt to impeach Tyler, but failed.
Like his role model George Washington, Tyler retired from politics to become a farmer but re-entered public life at the beginning of Virginia’s second war for independence. His fellow Virginians called on the 70-year-old to head a Peace Convention in the winter of 1860-1861. This body tried to negotiate a compromise with the Republicans in the North to prevent a war. Lincoln would refuse to meet with and negotiate with this convention and would prepare to rearm Federal forts.
Tyler was then elected to Virginia’s Secession Convention and felt a split between the North and South was the only way to resolve the increasing political tensions. On April 4 he voted for secession when the convention rejected it. On April 17, after the attack on Fort Sumter and Lincoln's call for troops, Tyler voted with the majority for secession. He headed a committee that negotiated the terms for Virginia's entry into the Confederate States and he was elected a member of their provisional government.
Tyler's death was the only one in presidential history not to be officially recognized in Washington D.C. because of his allegiance to the rebels. And he remains the only U.S. president ever laid to rest with another nation’s flag draped over his coffin.
New York Times article from 1862 on his death:
John Tyler’s Veto Message on August 16th, 1841:
Confederate Peace Convention of 1861:
Authored by R.E. Foy