John Tyler's father was a Judge, and his future president son became a lawyer and was admitted to the Virginia state bar at age 19. His father served as Governor of Virginia, and John Tyler had a prolific career as an elected official, serving as as a state legislator, Governor of Virginia, U.S. representative, and U.S. senator. In 1840 he was elected as Vice President on a ticket with William Henry Harrison, the former general who was known as the hero of the battle of Tippecanoe. The pair ran on the slogan "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too!" Tyler had been a Democrat, but he ran on the Whig ticket, because Tyler did not support incumbent President Martin Van Buren and the Whigs thought that having him on the ticket would take votes from the Democratic Party.
Tyler was not consulted on Harrison's transition into the presidency, and he was quite surprised when he learned that he had became president just 31 days into his term as Vice-President, following the death of President Harrison in April of 1841. Tyler became the first Vice President to succeed to the office of President on the death of the incumbent. Up to that time no one was sure whether the Vice-President became acting president or the full meal deal when the president died. Tyler asserted his right to the full authority of the Presidency, despite the protests of leading Whig politicians like Henry Clay. It is said that when Whigs would send correspondence addressed to "Acting President Tyler" he would return it unopened.
Tyler was a strong supporter of states' rights, which endeared him to his fellow Virginians but alienated him from many in the Whig Party as well as some Democrats in Washington. Opposition from both the Democratic and the Whig parties hindered his presidency. Eventually, the Whigs expelled him from their party. An attempt to impeach him was unsuccessful. While he was obstructed on domestic policy, he was still able to achieve several foreign-policy accomplishments, including the Webster–Ashburton Treaty with Britain and the Treaty of Wanghia with Qing China.
John Tyler sought to strengthen and preserve the Union through territorial expansion. In the final days of his administration, as a "lame duck" president, he was still able to orchestrate the annexation of the independent Republic of Texas. Tyler sought election to a full term in 1844, but he had alienated both Whigs and Democrats and his efforts to form a new party came to nothing.
Tyler retired from electoral politics and returned to his Virginia estate, known as "Sherwood Forest". When southern states began to secede in 1860, Tyler tried unsuccessfully to broker a peace conference. When the Civil War began in 1861, he sided with the Confederate government, and won election to the Confederate House of Representatives. But he did not live long enough to arrive for the first sitting of the house. Just after midnight, on the morning of January 18, 1862, Tyler, who had been ill for the past few weeks, took a last sip of brandy, and told his doctor, "I am going. Perhaps it is best." He then passed away. It is believed that he had suffered a stroke.
John Tyler is buried in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia.