John Tyler was the 10thPresident of the Unites States. He was born in 1790 and was American President from 1841 to 1845. Amazingly he still has two living grandchildren. Here, Casey Titus explains how this is possible - as well as considering Tyler’s legacy.

 John Tyler in his later years.

John Tyler in his later years.

John Tyler was the first vice president lifted to the presidency on the death of the then president of the United States (he followed William Henry Harrison), and the first president to marry in the White House. Despite serving as the tenth President of the United States from 1841 to 1845, he has been ranked near the bottom of surveys, including the Rasmussen poll conducted in 2007 where John Tyler had lowest positive favorability.

 

John Tyler’s Presidency

He may have not been remembered today except for the untimely death of the ninth U.S. president, William Henry Harrison, who died of pneumonia just thirty-one days into his term. Despite Tyler being firmly resolute that he was the 10thPresident of the United States, his political opponents refused to accept him and fierce debate ensued about whether the phrasing of the U.S. Constitution meant that a vice president should become president upon the death of the incumbent, inheriting the title of President, its powers, and residency in the White House. His opponents argued that Tyler should merely fulfill the constitutionally-specified duties of the Executive Office while Congress guided the nation until the next presidential election and continued to address him as “Vice-President” or “Acting President.” Author Gary May in his 2008 biography of John Tyler referred to Tyler as the “Accidental President.” This ascendency to full presidential power would eventually direct such future successions and organize itself into the twenty-fifth amendment to the Constitution.

Tyler had aligned himself with the Whig Party and the enemy of the Democratic Party (Jacksonian Democracy sin particular), despite being a former affiliate. His downfall from the party was prompted by his strong stance on states’ rights and vetoing Henry Clay’s bills to establish a National Bank with branches in several states. All of his Cabinet members except the Secretary of State resigned. In 1842, Tyler vetoed a tariff bill and the first impeachment resolution against a President was introduced in the House of Representatives as a result. That same year, President Tyler did sign a tariff bill that protected northern manufacturers and ended a Canadian boundary dispute with the Webster-Ashburton treaty. In the final year of his term, Texas was annexed and Tyler left office in 1845 when Texas was on the cusp of entering the Union as a slave state. Tyler was an advocate of slavery’s expansion; the nation’s intense division over the issue of slavery would erupt into the Civil War.

 

A little known fact

Whether his presidency is regarded well or even widely known, possibly the most interesting fact about the 10thPresident of the United States, who was born in 1790, is that his two grandchildren are still living among us. How is that possible?

John Tyler married Letitia Christian in 1813 and fathered eight children. After Letitia died of a stroke in the White House in September 1842, the first First Lady to do so, President Tyler met and fell in love with Julia Gardiner who was 30 years his junior. After numerous attempts to woo her, Julia finally accepted his proposal and the first wedding in the White House was conducted in 1844. She bore him seven surviving children.

It is certainly remarkable that a man born in the 18thcentury and during George Washington’s first presidential term, and who died in the mid-19thcentury, has two grandsons alive today, more than a decade into the 21stcentury. Throughout early American history, it was not uncommon for women to die in childbirth or disease and their husbands to be left widowers with children to provide for. It was rare for men to be alone as they could not cope with running a household and establishing themselves financially at the same time so he would then marry another woman to be his wife and stepmother for his children in addition to any future children they might have together. It was also not unusual for widowers like Tyler, to wed women much younger than themselves. His youngest child with Julia, Pearl Tyler, was born in 1860, when Tyler was 70 years old, and even lived through World War II, dying in 1947. 

President Tyler’s 13thchild was Lyon Gardiner Tyler, a genealogist, historian, and the 17th president of the College of William and Mary. Lyon continued his father’s marriage tradition by having three children with his first wife, Anne Baker Tucker Tyler, and three more with his second wife, Sue Ruffin Tyler, who was thirty-five years his junior. After Anne’s death, he married Sue when he was nearly 70 years old. One of their three children died in infancy, but the other two, Lyon Gardiner Tyler, Jr. and Harrison Ruffin Tyler, born in 1924 and 1928 respectively, are still with us.

 

The grandsons now

Harrison currently resides at Sherwood Forest Plantation – the historic Tyler family home in Virginia where President Tyler once lived. “Sherwood Forest” is named in recognition of Robin Hood whom Tyler relates with as a “political outlaw.” Visitors are still given tours. John Tyler’s presidency is regarded poorly due to its supposed lack of events and being overshadowed by an unexpected and awkward shift in power, but his descendants disagree. Harrison speaks fondly of his grandfather and stands by his presidential decisions. According to New York magazine’s Dan Amira: 

He’s been maligned in some ways, because he was elected to the Confederate Congress, so people say he’s a traitor. But actually, he should be known for his efforts as the organizer of the Peace Conference in Washington in 1861. He tried to get the uncommitted states to all agree on a program, and then get the other states to join in, and get everybody back together.

Harrison’s son, William Tyler, believes that his great-grandfather stood by his beliefs and the Constitution, and evaded tumultuous foreign policy bungles, describing it as “the things you really want a president to do.” Despite the family’s rich political history, both William and Harrison joked they don’t want to continue that ambition. “I know better,” William said in an interview with CBS News’s Chip Reid.

 

What do you think of John Tyler? Let us know below.