The battle over slavery and states rights greatly divided the country in the years leading up to the Civil War. The office of the presidency was not spared this division, and one former president, John Tyler, actually briefly served in the provisional Congress of the Confederate States of America in 1861. Tyler was an ardent advocate of states rights and a loyal Virginian throughout his life, including during his term as president from 1841 to 1844.
John Tyler (1790-1862) led an illustrious life as a statesman and politician. He was born in Virginia as part of the aristocratic planter class. Tyler studied law at the College of William and Mary, but at age 21, he left law and became a politician. Tyler had a long career as a politician at many levels. He was at varying times a member of the Virginia House of Delegates and U.S. House of Representatives, a U.S. senator, vice president, president, and, at the end of his life, a member of the Confederate House of Representatives. He spent his political career fighting for states rights and opposing nationalism and a strong federal government.
Tyler the President
Although initially a Democrat, Tyler joined the Whig Party due to dissatisfaction with Jacksonian Democrats, who controlled the party. He was part of a small group of states-rights influential southerners who bolted from the Democratic Party due to Jackson’s egalitarianism and nationalism. Tyler was added as running mate to William Henry Harrison during the 1840 election, primarily to get the disillusioned southern conservative vote. Harrison died after only one month in office, and Tyler assumed the presidency. Due to his unwillingness to support the Whig version of a National Bank, Tyler and the Whigs parted ways during his presidency. With the lack of Whig support, he did not win the party nomination in 1844, and thus Tyler only served one term.
By March 1861, before the Civil War had even begun, the Confederacy had already formed a government and adopted a Constitution. The Confederate Constitution was very similar to the U.S. Constitution but with a greater emphasis on state sovereignty. Like the federal Constitution, the Confederate version allowed for a Congress of Confederate States composed of a House and Senate. Also similar, Confederate representatives were to serve two years and senators six years. Elections were held in 1861 to replace the provisional Congress with a duly elected one. The Confederate States of America ceased to exist when the war ended in 1865.
Tyler the Confederate
John Tyler initially opposed the brewing Civil War, and he led a peace convention with leaders from northern and southern states in February 1861 to try to avoid war. When negotiations failed with President-elect Abraham Lincoln, Tyler became a secessionist and a Virginia delegate to the provisional Confederate Congress. Tyler was elected to the Confederate House of Representatives later in 1861. However, he died on January 18, 1862, before he could serve in the Confederate House.
- University of Virginia Miller Center: John Tyler Life Before the Presidency
- The White House: John Tyler
- University of Virginia Miller Center: The Campaign and Election of 1840
- School of Law Washington and Lee University: Recovering the Legal History of the Confederacy
- TeachingAmericanHistory.org: Constitution of the Confederate States of America
- University of Virginia Miller Center: John Tyler Life After the Presidency
- United States Senate: John Tyler, Tenth Vice President (1841)
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