Is it Taylor or Tyler? Forgotten Presidents, Part 2

Well, let’s start with names first: it’s John Tyler and Zachary Taylor. John Tyler was the 10th U.S. President, Zachary Taylor, the 12th.

What you need to know about John Tyler

John Tyler, 10th President of the United States. This poor guy (well, not really – he was born into an aristocratic and public Virginian family) got the presidential nickname of “His Accidency.”  Why you ask? Well, he wasn’t elected President, but was voted in as William Henry Harrison’s Vice President in 1840, on the Whig ticket. Harrison died only 32 days into his Presidency, and was the first U.S. President to not fulfil his term in office. Not wasting any time, Tyler was sworn in and immediately moved into the White House. But why the confusion – and name calling? The Constitution had some holes in its wording in regards to Presidential succession in the case of death or incapacitation: in this case, is the VP actually President, or just an “Acting President,” like a steward?  (It wasn’t until 1967, when the 25th amendment was adopted, that Tyler’s “vice president precedent” was formally codified into law.) Add to this that Tyler moved against his own party’s bills (Henry Clay quickly became his nemesis in Congress), most of his Cabinet resigned, and the Whigs expelled him from their party, and you get “His Accidency.” Notably, Tyler was a States’ Rights man and a firm believer in Manifest Destiny.

Though Tyler lost his bid to run for President in the next election, he would later be elected to the Confederate House of Representatives in 1861. (-“The what House of Representatives???” – Ah, you must have grown up north of the Mason-Dixon Line.  We’ll get to the Confederate States of America in a later post.)

Oh right, that other guy – Zachary Taylor.

Taylor’s early life is interesting in that his family moved to the frontier, where he grew up in a woodland cabin, near what would later become Louisville, Kentucky.  His education was sporadic as there were no formal schools in the vicinity.  Later, his family would benefit financially from the growth of Louisville and would hold over 10,000 acres of land, and over 20 slaves.

A career officer, Taylor was a Major General in the U.S. Army, who rose to national hero status during the Mexican-American War (1846-1848). A reluctant political leader, he was voted to lead the Whig ticket in 1848, with this guy as his VP. On the suggestion of running for office, Taylor had written, “Such an idea never entered my head, nor is it likely to enter the head of any sane person.” Though Taylor had the lofty goal of preserving the Union during his presidency, he died only 16 months into the job, on July 9, 1850. (Boy, why do these guys keep dying in office?) He was survived by his wife and three of their six children.

And there you have it; wealthy, political, decisive, vice presidential and accidental Tyler, versus frontiersman, military, and apolitical Taylor.


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