John Tyler was quite a controversial president. Since he is branded as tyrannically abusing the presidential veto, it is no wonder why political parties would get shaken up. This was especially true for the Whigs, who at first entrusted high hopes in Tyler’s presidency and allowed him into their party. Who knew that Tyler would “go against” his own political party, which caused much backlash from the Whigs? It is without a doubt that President John Tyler and the Whigs did not have a very friendly relationship throughout the early 1840s.
First off, the Whig Party was a group of anti-democrats that emerged in the 1830s out of opposition to Andrew Jackson, who crushed the National Republicans when he won the presidency in 1829 and 1833. Whig party members also included states’ rights advocates, liberal Jackson critics, and American System, supporters. Led by former-national republican Henry Clay, they strongly opposed Jacksonian democracy--a democracy that demonstrated “policies of anti-banking” (Holt, 1999, p. 247). Since Jackson assaulted the US Bank during his presidency, the Whigs grew to dislike him, as they believed in national banking for internal improvements in manufacturing (e.g., canals, roads, river clearance). They also advocated for “minority interests against majority tyranny,” whereas, on the other hand, the Jacksonians believed in a democracy “ruled by the common man” (Holt, 1999, p. 249).
Moreover, John Tyler was a Democrat-Republican who became a Whig out of dislike for President Andrew Jackson (“The US Bank and the Whigs”). Tyler switched parties while he was a U.S. senator from Virginia, but he has been both a Democrat-Republican and Democrat before being a Whig. Moreover, Tyler was a House of Representatives member from 1816 to 1821 (“John Tyler”). He usually was against nationalist legislation and the Missouri Compromise at the time. After serving five years in the House, he became Governor of Virginia, but as a senator, he did not fully support Jackson for president. When President Harrison died, Tyler replaced him, instilling hope among the Whig Party at first, since Tyler called himself a “Democrat”. He clearly became a Whig since he shared one thing in common with the Whig Party--a dislike for President Jackson. However, when Tyler’s presidential term came up, his presidential moves caused controversy and anger throughout America, especially with the Whig Party.
At first, the Whigs entrusted hope to John Tyler to lead the nation away from Jacksonian democracy. In 1840, they nominated him for vice president, thinking he would help them gain support from southerners--particularly the minority groups--who were fed up with the “tyranny” of Jacksonians (Sidey, 2006). Suddenly, in April of 1841, President William Henry Harrison died, so Tyler succeeded to the White House. At first, the Whigs had fate in Tyler’s presidency, optimistic that he would accept their program after they heard his Inaugural Address that was filled with good Whig doctrine. However, they would turn out to be disillusioned.
Little did the Whigs know that Tyler would not agree to establish a National Bank. Over the summer of 1841, Whig politician Thomas Ewing drafted a bank bill, planning for a modified version of the old US bank, and introduced it to Congress, where most people presumed that the bill had Tyler’s approval (Malone, n.d.). Clay revised the bill so that there would be restrictions on the bank’s power to establish branches in different states. The bank bill passed both houses; however, on August 16, 1841, Tyler used his constitutional powers to veto it, claiming that the U.S. bank would be a threat to individual states’ rights (Sidey, 2006). Shocked by this seemingly un-Whiggish use of the veto, Clay and the Whigs immediately made further efforts to create an acceptable bank bill. This time, the newly revised bill was supposed to create a limited-scoped “fiscal corporation” (Malone, n.d.). Yet again, on September 9, 1841, Tyler vetoed it, providing minor and unconvincing objections, such as not being given enough time to deeply reflect on how he would best meet the need to regulate the currency and safeguard the public funds. Undoubtedly, the Whigs felt betrayed by these two unexpected bank vetoes.
Not only was re-establishing a national bank important to Clay, but he also cherished his objective of distribution. He proposed that monies from public land sales be distributed among states, which would in turn carry out vital public works (Malone, n.d.). Additionally, he believed eliminating land sales as a source of federal revenue would force the government to keep important duties at a high level. Thus, all these proposals shaped the Preemption Act of 1841--a special session that called for the 90-percent distribution of land-sale revenues to the states and preemption that allowed squatters to acquire 160 acres for $1.25 per acre (Chitwood, 1964, p. 341). This and several other Whig-sponsored enactments were approved by Tyler, but that did not change the fact that Tyler’s two bank vetoes damaged his relations with the Whig party.
The Whigs saw Tyler’s vetoes as a major betrayal to their party and to his promise to accept the Whig political agenda. Tyler was expelled from the Whig party in retaliation, making him a president without a party (“Tyler is burned in effigy outside White House,” 2009). Additionally, the vetoed bills’ Congressional supporters formed a mob outside the White House, firing guns, hurling stones, and hanging and burning an effigy of Tyler. The mansion was unprotected by security at the time, and Tyler and his family feared for their safety. As a result of these violent demonstrations, Congress decided to expand the District of Columbia’s police force in 1842, having the city patrolled heavily at night from then on (“Looking back: One of the ugliest protests in White House history,” 2018).
Not only did Tyler veto two crucial bank bills, but he also controversially vetoed tariff bills, angering the Whigs. Since the US government was predicting a deficit of $14 million, out of $32 million as the total budget, Tyler knew he had to increase tariff revenues (Malone, n.d.). However, he clearly pointed out that if the rate of “reduction of tariff duties” exceeded 20 percent, he must end distribution--an objective so crucial to the Whigs to distribute the wealth among the southern states. Clay, on the other hand, insisted on both raising the tariff and continuing distribution since he knew that a higher tariff without a tie to distribution would not be supported by the southern Whigs. In the summer of 1842, Clay and the Whigs called for the enactment of a temporary tariff that would postpone tariff duty reduction until August of that year and continue distribution, hoping that Tyler would approve of it (Morgan, 1954, p. 87). However, Tyler disapproved of the distribution feature, and also vetoed the temporary tariff, vaguely arguing that it was unnecessary. Persistent, the Whigs passed a permanent tariff in August of 1842, again tying it to distribution, but unsurprisingly, another presidential veto occurred (Morgan, 1954, p. 88). Tyler claimed that no distribution shall occur so long as the treasury’s condition made it necessary to “impose tariff duties in excess of 20 percent” (Morgan, 1954, p. 90). Moreover, the Tariff of 1842 was finally yielded by Congress to undo the series of rate reductions since 1833, and Tyler signed this bill since it protected northern manufacturers (Sidey, 2006). However, the Whigs still opposed Tyler for his many other presidential vetoes.
Tyler had become very unpopular with more than just the Whigs. On July 22, 1842, the House of Representatives attempted a presidential impeachment for the first time in American history (Sidey, 2006). The attempt was not fully successful, though, and the president stayed in office, but Tyler remained without a party. Meanwhile, he wallowed himself in the fruitless hope that he could lead a new party of conservative Democrats, southern extremists, and anti-Clay Whigs (Chitwood, 1964). However, the Whigs would not allow any of their members to associate in any way with Tyler. He remained an unpopular president, especially with the Whigs, due to his “anti-Whig propaganda” (Holt, 1999, p. 252).
Eventually, Tyler departed from office on March 4, 1845, due to the ongoing tensions with the Whigs. He left the White House since Congress overrode his latest presidential veto of a bill allowing two vessels to be constructed for the Revenue Cutter Service. This was the first presidential veto override in American history, and Tyler was age 54 when he left office, making him the youngest ex-president at the time (Holt, 1999, p. 254).
Overall, the Whigs undoubtedly had pretty unfriendly relations with President Tyler. They definitely had fate in Tyler to restore the national bank and continue distribution, only to have their Whig doctrine betrayed by tyrannical abuses of the presidential veto. Throughout all the violent demonstrations and failed attempts to pass bills and impeach the president, the Whigs have shown America their strong opposition to a Democratic-Republican like John Tyler in the White House. Never again shall our nation’s voices have to be silenced by an overpowered executive branch.