On this day in 1790, future President John Tyler is born in Charles City County, Virginia. Tyler was the last president to hail from the colonial Virginia planter class that also produced George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe. Through influential family ties, Tyler gained a seat in the Virginia House of Delegates in 1811, and then went on to serve in the army during the War of 1812 and in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1816 to 1821.
Tyler was elected as William Harrison’s vice president in 1841 and was suddenly thrust into the role of acting president when Harrison died one month into office. (Tyler was often referred to as His Accidency.) He was the first vice president to immediately assume the role of president after a sitting president’s untimely exit and set the precedent for succession thereafter.
Tyler’s planter background made him a natural proponent of states’ rights and the perpetuation of slavery, and, as such, a threat to his own political party. When Tyler vetoed his fellow Whigs’ attempt to reestablish the National Bank, most of his cabinet resigned and he was thrown out of the Whig Party. He also alienated the Democrats by denouncing the policies of former President Andrew Jackson, a popular Democrat. As a result, Tyler was a president without a party who received death threats from both sides and earned the enmity of Congress. His four years in office were contentious, although he is credited with settling American and Canadian border disputes with Britain and beginning the annexation of Texas.
Though politically despised, Tyler was a devoted husband and father. He holds the record for the most children sired (legitimately, at least) by a president. Tyler fathered 15 children: eight with his first wife, Letitia (who died early into his presidency) and 7 with his second wife, Julia, who was 30 years his junior. He was 70 years old when his last child was born. The extended nature of his family and his penchant for overspending left Tyler perpetually in debt.
After his tenure as president, Tyler tried to broker a Peace Convention between the north and south on the eve of the Civil War, but failed to reach an agreement with Abraham Lincoln on key issues. Denounced as a traitor by the North, Tyler fell in line with southern secessionists and in 1861 was elected to the Confederate House of Representatives. Tyler died on January 16, 1862, in Richmond, Virginia, a few days before the first meeting of the Confederate Congress.