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The Attempted Impeachment of John Tyler

John Tyler was elected to Congress in 1816 as a Democratic-Republican. In 1825 he served as the Governor of Virginia and from 1827 to 1836 as a US Senator from Virginia. He remained a Democrat for much of that time, but broke with the party after he found himself unable to agree with President Andrew Jackson's position on patronage (or the "spoils system") as well as with Jackson's practice of making recess appointments. He finally broke with the Democrats in 1833 over the nullification issue. Tyler supported South Carolina's position on the right of the federal government to use force against a state who tried to nullify a federal law. He switched to the Whig Party in 1834.



When Tyler became President in 1841 following the death of William Henry Harrison, he soon found himself a man without a party. Though elected as a Whig, he twice vetoed legislation championed by Henry Clay to establish a national bank. Most of the members of Tyler's cabinet resigned and Clay hoped that this would force Tyler to resign as well, but when he did not, the Whigs voted to expel Tyler from their party. Tyler was heavily criticized by Whig newspapers and received hundreds of letters threatening his assassination.

The Whigs supported high protectionist tariffs and national funding of state infrastructure. The Distribution Act of 1841 created a distribution program with a proviso requiring tariffs to remain below 20 percent. This plan left the federal government in dire fiscal straits. In a recommendation to Congress, Tyler decided that it would be necessary to override the Compromise Tariff of 1833 and raise rates beyond the 20 percent limit. The Whig Congress refused to raise tariffs if it would affect the distribution of funds to states. In June 1842 they passed two bills that would raise tariffs and unconditionally extend the distribution program. Believing it improper to continue distribution at a time when federal revenue shortage necessitated increasing the tariff, Tyler vetoed both bills, burning any remaining bridges between himself and the Whigs.

Shortly after the tariff veto, Whigs in the House of Representatives initiated the first impeachment proceedings against a President in American history. Until the presidency of Andrew Jackson, Presidents vetoed bills rarely, and then generally on constitutional rather than policy grounds. Tyler's actions also went against the Whigs' concept of the powers of the presidency. John Minor Botts of Virginia, who had been Tyler's greatest critic, introduced a resolution on July 10, 1842. It levied several charges against the President and called for a nine-member committee to investigate his behavior, with the expectation of a formal impeachment recommendation. Henry Clay found this measure premature. He favored a more moderate progression toward Tyler's "inevitable" impeachment. The Botts bill was tabled until the following January, when it was rejected, 127-83.



A House select committee headed by former President John Quincy Adams, who was now a member of Congress, condemned Tyler's use of the veto and assailed his character. Adams, an ardent abolitionist, disliked Tyler for being a slaveholder. While the committee's report did not formally recommend impeachment, it clearly established the possibility. In August 1842, by a vote of 98–90, the House endorsed the committee's report. Adams sponsored a constitutional amendment to change the two-thirds requirement to override a veto to a simple majority, but neither house passed such a measure. The Whigs were unable to pursue further impeachment proceedings in the subsequent 28th Congress, because in the elections of 1842 they lost control of the House (although they retained a majority in the Senate).

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kensmind
Jan. 27th, 2013 06:25 pm (UTC)
Thank you, that's very kind of you to say.
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