To this letter was signed the names of Daniel Webster and other members of President Harrison's Cabinet.
He very soon showed that he was a boy of more than ordinary ability. He had a quick mind, an excellent memory, was very fond of his books, and got a good start in his happy home under the training of his parents. He was only twelve years old when he was prepared to enter the William and Mary College, at Williamsburg, in Virginia. Here he studied so hard and did so well that he graduated with honor from this famous old college at the age of seventeen.
The boy was ambitious and determined to rise to the top of his profession, the law. His father was prominent in politics, and had served, as we have seen, in the Continental Congress. He had also served in the House of Burgesses, which was the name given to the Legislature of Virginia. He was still more honored in 1838, when he was made Governor of that State. This was a great help to the young lawyer, who eagerly went into politics and began to deliver political speeches--or stump speeches, as they are often called to-day.
The young orator belonged to the Democratic party, which was then the leading party of the country, the one to which
Madison had belonged. He was only twenty-one years of age when his neighbors and friends nominated him for the House of Burgesses, and he was elected.
As Governor, he showed that he was deeply interested in the welfare of his State, and through his efforts a great twenty-six many useful laws were passed improving the condition of the people. Before this time Mr. Tyler was happily married. He had fallen in love with an attractive young lady of Cedar Grove, Virginia, named Miss Letitia Christian. He was twenty-three years old when the wedding took place. The newly wedded pair settled at Greenway, on a part of the Tyler estate, where they lived in great harmony and happiness.
It was not long before there was an opportunity for the young Governor to be elected to the United States Senate. About that time John Randolph, a distinguished orator from Virginia, but who had done a great many things to displease the people of the State, was a candidate for re-election. John Tyler was nominated to run against him, and was elected, having the honor of defeating one of the most famous men of the old Congress. This was in 1827, when he was only thirty-seven years of age. At this time John Quincy Adams was President of the United States. He served only a short time when he resigned and returned to Virginia and to his law practice. In this way he was able to earn a large amount of money for those times.
Although he had withdrawn from Congress, he continued to be very popular in his State. He was a Democrat still, but people began to call him the "Southern Whig " ; for though he differed with the Whigs of the North in some things, yet in many others he agreed with them. That was why, when the time came for the Whigs to nominate a President, and wanted a Southern man to run with William Henry Harrison for President, they nominated John Tyler for Vice-President. It was the votes of the Northern Whigs that, in the famous log-cabin campaign, made John Tyler the Democrat Vice-President of the United States.
At the time this was done no one imagined that he would be called upon to be President, and no one thought it made much difference what ideas the Vice-President might hold. You know the Vice-President is the man who presides over the United States Senate. He is sometimes called the President of the Senate. So it occurred that when William Henry Harrison was elected President, John Tyler became the presiding officer of the United States Senate.
President Harrison, as you have been told, lived only one month after he was inaugurated, and when he died the Presidency came to John Tyler. It was then that word was sent him, at his quiet home in Williamsburg, that he had become President of the United States. On receiving this important notice, he hurried with all speed to Washington and took the oath of office.
At that time some of the high Cabinet officials did not know what title to give him. He was the first Vice-President to become President, and they said it was not right for him to have the full title. There was a political question in this, for they did not know if Mr. Tyler would carry out the Whig policy. But he made short work of their objections, and at once took the title of President, as the Constitution gave him the right to do.
An interesting incident is told of what happened when he came to Washington. President Harrison had several very distinguished men in his Cabinet, probably the most distinguished being Daniel Webster, the great orator and statesman. He himself had also been a candidate for the Presidency. At the very first meeting the new President had with the Cabinet, he was told that it was customary for the President to take the advice of his Cabinet, and not to act upon anything before it was voted upon. The President, they said, should have one vote, and each one of his Cabinet officers should have one vote. Mr. Tyler listened quietly to what they had to say, and then informed them that he considered he was President of the United States. He was ready to follow their advice and counsel, if he approved of it, but he himself was responsible for the decision that was reached, and was not willing to have it settled by a Cabinet vote. If they did not like it that way they could resign. This rather surprised his Cabinet, but they knew very well that he was right, and they concluded to stay where they were.
Mr. Tyler had nearly four years to serve as President of the United States. He soon made it plain to the people of the United States that he did not agree at all with the ideas that President Harrison held on a great many subjects. He had been elected as a Whig, but he was really a Democrat.
President Tyler's position became soon very unpleasant. The people who had elected him did not like him, and many of those who had voted against him did not approve of what he had done; so the four years he was in office were very bitter and quarrelsome ones. When a new election took place Mr. Tyler was not nominated, and on the 4th of March, 1845, he was succeeded by James Knox Polk.
But the years that followed were very stirring years, for the great slavery contest had now come on. Finally the North and South could no longer agree, and the great Civil War broke out. Mr. Tyler was then living in Virginia, and he went with the South. He was elected to the Confederate Congress, but was not able to take much part. He was an old man now, and the excitement of the time bore heavily on him. He was attacked by a severe illness in 1862, and on January 18th he died at his home near Charles City.
Source: "The Lives of the Presidents and How They Reached the White House" by Charles Morris, LL.D., 1903.
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