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September 11th, 2019

Ranking the Presidents: John Tyler

On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest ranking, how would you grade the performance of John Tyler as President of the United States? You can go to this link to cast your vote. Historical assessments of the presidency of John Tyler have been divided, tending more toward the negative side. One the one hand, as the first Vice-President to ascend to the Presidency following the death of a sitting President, Tyler has been praised for his firm resolve in insisting that he was not merely an "acting president" and in establishing precedent for what is supposed to occur in such an event. On the other hand, like many other Presidents who tried to support the cause of slavery, Tyler is generally held in low esteem by historians. One of his more recent biographers, Edward P. Crapol, begins his 2006 biography John Tyler, the Accidental President (2006) with the observation: "Other biographers and historians have argued that John Tyler was a hapless and inept chief executive whose presidency was seriously flawed."

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Tyler was the tenth President of the United States from 1841 to 1845 after briefly being the tenth vice president. He was elected as Vice-President on the Whig ticket in the 1840 election with President William Henry Harrison. Tyler became President after Harrison's death in April 1841, only a month after the start of the new administration. Tyler was a very strong supporter of states' rights. As president he supported nationalist policies only when they did not infringe on the powers of the states. His unexpected rise to the presidency clashed with the presidential ambitions of Henry Clay and other Whigs and it left him estranged from both major political parties.

Tyler was born into a prominent Virginia family. He represented his state in the US House of Representatives from 1816 to 1821. In the 1820s the nation's only political party, the Democratic-Republicans, split into factions. Tyler was initially a Democrat, but he opposed Andrew Jackson during the Nullification Crisis, seeing Jackson's actions as infringing upon states' rights. He also criticized Jackson's expansion of executive power during the Bank War. This caused Tyler to leave the Democrats and join the Whig Party. Tyler served as Governor of Virginia from 1825 to 1827 and as and a U.S. Senator from Virginia from 1827 to 1837. He was put on the 1840 presidential ticket to attract states' rights Southerners to a Whig coalition in an effort to defeat Martin Van Buren's bid for re-election.

With the death of President Harrison, Tyler became the first vice president to succeed to the presidency without election. He served as President longer than any other president not elected to the office. He acted decisively in establishing his authority as president in a time of constitutional uncertainty. Tyler immediately took the oath of office, moved into the White House, and assumed full presidential powers, creating a precedent that governed future successions. This was eventually codified in the Twenty-fifth Amendment.

Tyler did sign into law some of the Whig-controlled Congress's bills, but he offended the party leadership when he vetoed the party's bills to create a national bank and raise the tariff rates. Tyler believed that the president should set policy rather than Congress. He tried to to bypass the Whig leadership in Congress, most notably Kentucky Senator Henry Clay. Most of Tyler's Cabinet resigned early on in his term. Whigs mocked him by calling him "His Accidency". They expelled him from the party. Tyler became the first president to see his veto of legislation overridden by Congress.

Although he met considerable congressional resistance when it came to domestic policy, Tyler had several foreign-policy successes, including the Webster–Ashburton Treaty with Britain and the Treaty of Wanghia with Qing China. But it was in his dealing with the then-independent Republic of Texas that was the centerpiece of his presidency. Texas had separated from Mexico in 1836. Tyler saw its annexation as providing an economic advantage to the United States, and he worked diligently to bring about this goal. That he was able to do so without the backing of his own political party is quite impressive.

Tyler hoped to win election to a full term as president, but he failed to gain the support of either Whigs or Democrats. On learning that the Democratic candidate James K. Polk also favored annexation of Texas, Tyler withdrew his candidacy to support Polk. Polk won the election, and Tyler signed a bill to annex Texas three days before leaving office. The process was completed under Polk.

At first Tyler's retirement saw the former president disrespected by his contemporaries. But when the Civil War approached in 1861, Tyler played the role of elder statesman as he tried to broker a peace. When this was unsuccessful, he won election to the Confederate House of Representatives shortly before his death. He is the only former President to be buried with a Confederate flag draping his coffin.

Despite his political resolve in asserting his authority and creating a lasting precedent, Tyler is considered an obscure president and has little presence in American cultural memory. In The Republican Vision of John Tyler, author Dan Monroe wrote that the Tyler presidency "is generally ranked as one of the least successful". A survey of historians conducted by C-SPAN in 2017 ranked Tyler as 39th of 43 men to hold the office. But Tyler's assumption of complete presidential powers set an important precedent. His successful insistence that he was president, and not a caretaker or acting president, was a model for the succession of seven other presidents and the correctness of Tyler's action in assuming both the title of the presidency and its full powers was legally affirmed in 1967, when it was codified in the Twenty-fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Professor Crapol argues that Tyler "was a stronger and more effective president than generally remembered". Tyler was a president without a party." Crapol argues that Tyler's allegiance to the Confederacy overshadows much of the good he did as president. He writes, "John Tyler's historical reputation has yet to fully recover from that tragic decision to betray his loyalty and commitment to what he had once defined as 'the first great American interest'—the preservation of the Union." His lack of success as president was due to external factors that Harrison would have had to confront. In the aftermath of Jackson's aggressive use of the powers of the Executive Branch, the Whigs wanted a president who would be dominated by Congress. Henry Clay treated Tyler as a subordinate. Tyler refused to go along with this, leading to the conflict between these two branches of government. Crapol and others argue that Tyler does not get enough credit for sticking to his principles on this.

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But today the general public has little awareness of John Tyler at all. As Robert Seager II, the author of the 1963 book And Tyler Too: A Biography of John and Julia Gardiner Tyler out it, "His countrymen generally remember him, if they have heard of him at all, as the rhyming end of a catchy campaign slogan." In a 2014 Time Magazine article on the "Top 10 Forgettable Presidents", the writer notes: "After John Tyler earned the vice presidency on the strength of a campaign slogan that tacked him on as a postscript — 'Tippecanoe and Tyler too' — his fate as a historical footnote seemed likely; and when he ascended to the presidency following the death of William Henry Harrison, being dubbed 'His Accidency' made it a lock."

The 18th Anniversary of 911

Today is the 18th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 Al Qaeda attacks on New York City and on the Pentagon in Washington, DC. They occurred when President George W. Bush was in Sarasota, Florida. He was told about the attacks when he was reading to a group of elementary school students.

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Bush continued reading to the children for several minutes after receiving the news. He was later interviewed for a documentary on the National Geographic Channel in which he said "it was like watching a silent movie. In the back of the room, reporters were on their cell phones. They were getting the same message I got. Which meant that a lot of people would be watching my reactions to these crises." He said that his first reaction was "anger, who the hell would do that to America?" But he said that he "made the decision not to jump up immediately. I didn't want to rattle the kids. I wanted to project a sense of calm."

Following is a timeline of President Bush's activities that day:

9 a.m. – President Bush arrives at a Sarasota, Florida school for speech. White House chief of staff Andrew Card tells him a plane has crashed into the World Trade Center.

9:05 a.m. – Bush is visiting a second-grade class when Card whispers to him that a second plane has struck the towers. President delays plans to address the tragedy, deciding to get more information first.

9:30 a.m. – Bush meets privately with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, who briefs him. He delivers first remarks on the tragedy.

10 a.m. – Aboard Air Force One en route to Louisiana, Bush calls Vice President Dick Cheney and puts America's military on a high alert status. Sifts through reports from staff, including erroneous report that a car bomb had struck the State Department. Gets news that plane has crashed near Pittsburgh.

11:40 a.m. – Bush arrives at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., where he makes series of telephone calls from a general's conference room. Tells Cheney in telephone call, "It's the faceless coward that attacks." He also talks to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and New York Senator Chuck Schumer of New York.

1:15 p.m. – Bush departs conference room for Air Force One in a camouflaged Humvee. Talks to Cheney again en route to Nebraska air force base and schedules a 4 p.m. meeting of his national security staff. Also talks to New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Gov. George Pataki. "I know your heart is broken and your city is strained and anything we can do, let me know," Bush says.

3:07 p.m. – Bush arrives at U.S. Strategic Command at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska.

4:36 p.m. – Bush departs for Washington. En route, he calls first lady Laura Bush and says, "I'm coming home, see you at the White House." Works with aides on his prime-time speech.

7 p.m. – Bush arrives at White House to prepare for address.

8:30 p.m. – Bush speaks to nation.

8:35 p.m. – Bush attends national security meeting.

10:21 p.m. – Meeting has ended. Secret Service radio squawks with news that Bush has gone home to bed: "Trailblazer. Second floor of the residence."



Following is the text of Bush's remarks to the nation that evening, followed by a YouTube video of them:

Good evening. Today, our fellow citizens, our way of life, our very freedom came under attack in a series of deliberate and deadly terrorist acts. The victims were in airplanes or in their offices: secretaries, business men and women, military and federal workers, moms and dads, friends and neighbors.

Thousands of lives were suddenly ended by evil, despicable acts of terror. The pictures of airplanes flying into buildings, fires burning, huge structures collapsing have filled us with disbelief, terrible sadness and a quiet, unyielding anger.

These acts of mass murder were intended to frighten our nation into chaos and retreat. But they have failed. Our country is strong. A great people has been moved to defend a great nation.

Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shatter steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve.

America was targeted for attack because we're the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world. And no one will keep that light from shining.

Today, our nation saw evil, the very worst of human nature, and we responded with the best of America, with the daring of our rescue workers, with the caring for strangers and neighbors who came to give blood and help in any way they could.

Immediately following the first attack, I implemented our government's emergency response plans. Our military is powerful, and it's prepared. Our emergency teams are working in New York City and Washington, D.C., to help with local rescue efforts.

Our first priority is to get help to those who have been injured and to take every precaution to protect our citizens at home and around the world from further attacks.

The functions of our government continue without interruption. Federal agencies in Washington which had to be evacuated today are reopening for essential personnel tonight and will be open for business tomorrow. Our financial institutions remain strong, and the American economy will be open for business as well.

The search is underway for those who are behind these evil acts. I've directed the full resources for our intelligence and law enforcement communities to find those responsible and bring them to justice. We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them.

I appreciate so very much the members of Congress who have joined me in strongly condemning these attacks. And on behalf of the American people, I thank the many world leaders who have called to offer their condolences and assistance.

America and our friends and allies join with all those who want peace and security in the world and we stand together to win the war against terrorism.

Tonight I ask for your prayers for all those who grieve, for the children whose worlds have been shattered, for all whose sense of safety and security has been threatened. And I pray they will be comforted by a power greater than any of us spoken through the ages in Psalm 23: "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil for you are with me."

This is a day when all Americans from every walk of life unite in our resolve for justice and peace. America has stood down enemies before, and we will do so this time.

None of us will ever forget this day, yet we go forward to defend freedom and all that is good and just in our world.

Thank you. Good night and God bless America.


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