John Tyler (March 29, 1790 – January 18, 1862) was the tenth president of the United States from 1841 to 1845 after briefly being the tenth vice president (1841); he was elected to the latter office on the 1840Whig ticket with President William Henry Harrison. Tyler ascended to the presidency after Harrison's death in April 1841, only a month after the start of the new administration. He was a supporter of states' rights, and as president he adopted nationalist policies only when they did not infringe on the powers of the states. His unexpected rise to the presidency, with the resulting threat to the presidential ambitions of Henry Clay and other politicians, left him estranged from both major political parties.
With the death of President Harrison, Tyler became the first vice president to succeed to the presidency without election. After Harrison's one-month term, Tyler served longer than any president in U.S. history not elected to the office. To forestall constitutional uncertainty, Tyler immediately took the oath of office, moved into the White House, and assumed full presidential powers, a precedent that governed future successions and was codified in the Twenty-fifth Amendment. A strict constructionist, Tyler found much of the Whig platform unconstitutional, and vetoed several of his party's bills. Believing that the president should set policy rather than Congress, he sought to bypass the Whig establishment, most notably Kentucky Senator Henry Clay. Most of Tyler's Cabinet resigned soon into his term, and the Whigs, dubbing him His Accidency, expelled him from the party. Tyler was the first president to see his veto of legislation overridden by Congress. Although he faced a stalemate on domestic policy, he had several foreign-policy achievements, including the Webster–Ashburton Treaty with Britain and the Treaty of Wanghia with Qing China.
The Republic of Texas separated from Mexico in 1836; Tyler, a firm believer in manifest destiny, saw its annexation as providing an economic advantage to the United States, and worked diligently to make it happen. He initially sought election to a full term as president, but after failing to gain the support of either Whigs or Democrats, he withdrew in support of Democrat James K. Polk, who favored annexation. Polk won the election, and Tyler signed a bill to annex Texas three days before leaving office. Under Polk, the process was completed. After the American Civil War began in 1861, Tyler won election to the Confederate House of Representatives shortly before his death. Although some have praised Tyler's political resolve, his presidency is generally held in low regard by historians. He is considered an obscure president, with little presence in American cultural memory.
With two brothers and five sisters, Tyler was reared on Greenway Plantation, a 1,200-acre (5 km2) estate with a six-room manor house his father had built.[b] The Tylers' forty slaves grew various crops, including wheat, corn and tobacco. Judge Tyler paid high wages for tutors who challenged his children academically. Tyler was of frail health, thin and prone to diarrhea throughout life. At the age of twelve, he entered the preparatory branch of the elite College of William and Mary, continuing the Tyler family's tradition of attending the college. Tyler graduated from the school's collegiate branch in 1807, at age seventeen. Among the books that formed his economic views was Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations, and he acquired a lifelong love of Shakespeare. His political opinions were shaped by Bishop James Madison, the college's president and namesake of the future president; the bishop served as a second father and mentor to Tyler.