my year with 44 men

Reading the Presidents One by One

Archive for the month “June, 2012”

Looking Forward to This Dapper Fellow

My new friend James Polk, the oft-overlooked 11th president is next up.  Hopefully I can break the recent trend and manage to get this one read before September.



John Tyler is No Friend of Mine


Known as “His Accidency” because of the way he sort of fell (he actually sort of pushed his way) into his position as President, John Tyler was number 10 on my list to read. I am not exaggerating when I say that the only book that has ever taken me longer to read was Moby Dick (barely), and that’s because I read all 1200 pages of that in spurts of 4-5 pages at a time. Before I even blogged about Harrison, way back in late March/early April, I had started John Tyler: The Accidental President. I didn’t like it, so I set it in my backseat (literally). I then spent a lot of time grading papers, writing lesson plans, playing Solitaire, baking cakes that didn’t turn out, and trying to beat my computer’s version of Mahjong (at which I’ve had a very low success rate, you should know). You know what I didn’t do? Read John Tyler: The Accidental President. In fact, until the school year ended and I realized that I couldn’t play Solitaire for 8 hours a day to fill that time that school previously monopolized, I didn’t even get him out of my backseat. Once I did, I started over, sucked it up, sat outside, and thought, “even if this book tanks, maybe at least I’ll get a tan reading it.” That was not the case.

The Book: This book is a little intense. It was pretty clear that Edward P Crapol (I couldn’t make up a last name like that) was super excited about John Tyler. I mean, in order to write a book on a President who has sort of been pushed aside for politicians that have actually done something pleasant while in office, one would have to be excited, but Crapol was still a little special. Crapol (heh) knew that Tyler wasn’t the best politician. He was sensitive only to his own agenda, against nearly everything that his party (the Whigs) advocated, pro-Confederacy, and picked and chose only what parts of the Constitution he wanted to follow. Still, the author tried to spin Tyler in a way that appealing. It was cute to watch him try. It didn’t work. Even upon Tyler’s death when Lincoln refused to lower flags to half-mast and make an eloquent speech about the former leader, Crapol makes Lincoln out to be the bad guy in hopes to push his pro-Tyler agenda. Nobody messes with my home-boy Abe. That made me mad. The book wasn’t the most boring book I’ve read (even among the Pres project), but it certainly wasn’t the best either. It didn’t keep me engaged, and in fact, shall henceforth be known as the “book that furthered my addiction to Solitaire”. It was very focused on Tyler’s political career and didn’t tell much information about his personal life. Not much is out there on his youth, just that his mother died when he was a child, a bit about his education and that he was well connected, as his father roomed with Thomas Jefferson while at college. Even his early political career and the happenings that pushed him into presidency were sort of brushed over (or maybe it was just me rushing to get through them). What I thought was the most heavily focused part of the biography was what happened to Tyler during and after his stint in the White House. 5/5 would not recommend.

The President: Tyler was kind of a boring man too. It is fairly well known that he fathered some children with one of his “prized” slaves, and the fact that he gave two of his children, John and Charles, his last name implies that he wasn’t the least bit private about it (65). Lots of things changed during the time that Tyler was in office, and I don’t know how much credit can be given to Tyler versus how much of that was the natural evolution of the United States. America became a little bit more reputable during his time in office. Between annexing Texas, opening the door to China following the Opium War and beginning a relationship with the East, and approving the Wilkes Exploring Expedition which provided the United States with maps that spanned 800 miles west off of our coast (and these were the maps that we used for over 100 years up until the end of WWII), Tyler did seem to be a fairly efficient man. However, he also managed to piss off his Congress with his reluctance to sign the Tariff of 1842 in order to fund the needs of federal government revenue. This relationship was completed broken by the time he vetoed the bills to reestablish the Bank of the US, and that action caused his entire cabinet to retire, and he was forced to denounce himself as a Whig. Crazy times, y’all. It was a crazy time. Also joining the party during Tyler’s presidency was the first threat of a civil war. The trouble had been looming for years, and gradually building, but by the time Tyler pushed his was into office, it was pretty much undeniable. Tyler, a life-long defender of slavery, continued in the path of his predecessors and just pushed the drama under the rugs. In fact, for years after he was out of office, he continued to deny the problem. When Lincoln was elected, Tyler actually lamented that America had fallen onto evil times, which naturally made my buddy Abe upset. So, in return, when Tyler died no flags were lowered in his honor. By this point, he wasn’t really liked by anyone anyway. He didn’t belong to a political party, and yet he continued to push the buttons of everyone around him. He sort of reminds me of the stereotypical old man who doesn’t like anyone or anything, but continues to voice his opinion because “It’s ‘murica and I can”. I don’t think I would have liked him had I met him, and I want to use my influence to encourage you to also not like him.

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