In his book , Ivan Eland ranked John Tyler as the best American president of all time. (The Marxist Left that dominates the American academic history profession usually ranks him near the bottom). Eland’s ranking is so at odds with the hard-Left history profession because their criteria give higher scores to presidents who spend and tax the most, consolidate the most power in Washington, D.C., oppress civil liberties the most, centrally plan the economy the most, and are the most belligerent in foreign wars. Hence, Lincoln, FDR, and Wilson have long been at the top of their ratings (although Wilson is recently out of favor after the historians finally acknowledged that he re-segregated the U.S. military).
The American history profession sneers at John Tyler and calls him “the accidental president.” They do this because of how he became president: He was William Henry Harrison’s vice president, and when Harrison died of pneumonia one month after taking office Tyler ascended to the office.
John Tyler was a Virginia statesman who strongly opposed Andrew Jackson’s attempt to enforce the “tariff of abominations” on South Carolina, among other things. Because of his dislike of Jackson he left the Democratic Party and joined the Whig Party which at that time was controlled with an iron fist by Henry Clay. In the 1840 election the Whigs were desperate for Southern votes, so they nominated Tyler as their vice presidential candidate. After running a succession of former military generals (Zachary Taylor and Winfield Scott), they finally achieved success with General William Henry Harrison with the famous campaign slogan of “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too” (Harrison was known for his participation in the Battle of Tippecanoe during the Indian wars in Indiana, where he was governor in 1811).
At the time the Whig Party, formed in 1832, was the successor of the nationalist tradition of the Federalist Party. Its platform was Alexander Hamilton’s mercantilist platform of high protectionist tariffs, a national bank run by politicians modeled after the Bank of England, and corporate welfare for road-, canal-, and railroad-building corporations. Hamilton himself labeled this British-style crony capitalism “The American System.” Henry Clay was the successor of Hamilton in this regard, the man who Abraham Lincoln once said was the source of of his ideas about politics and his “beau ideal of a statesman.”
In 1840 the Whig Party’s beloved Bank of the United States, referred to as the precursor of the Fed by former Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, had become extinct thanks to President Andrew Jackson’s veto of the re-chartering of the bank several years earlier, something that John Tyler agreed with. With their man finally – finally!—in the White House after a fifty-year (almost entirely unsuccessful) battle for “The American System” the nationalists controlled the House of Representatives under the thumb of the imperious Henry Clay as well as the presidency and the U.S. senate. Clay, who was known as “The Prince of Hemp” because he owned a large Kentucky hemp-growing slave plantation, wanted desperately to impose high tariffs on imported hemp (and other products), corporate welfare for road and canal building to help transport his hemp to market, and a politicized bank controlled by people like himself and his Whig compatriot Senator Daniel Webster to subsidize it all. (At the time, there were already thousands of miles of privately-financed roads in America, most of which were toll roads known as “turnpikes”). Victory was at hand!
Then along came President John Tyler, a Jeffersonian states’ rights strict constructionist. He had been on the ticket in 1840 only to coax some Southern votes. His biographer, Oliver Chitwood, wrote that “what little attention was paid to Tyler’s role in the campaign was due mostly to the fact that ‘Tyler Too’ rhymed with ‘Tippecanoe.’” Henry Clay was like a shark with the smell of blood in the water and quickly created new legislation for the resurrection of the Bank of the United States and high protective tariffs. President John Tyler vetoed all of it, causing an explosion of apoplectic hatred toward Tyler on the part of Clay and the Whigs rivaled only by today’s extreme, vitriolic hatred of Donald Trump by the congressional Democrats and their sock puppet media mouthpieces.
Tyler vetoed the bank bill by saying: “The power of Congress to create a national bank to operate over the Union has been a question of dispute from the origin of the Government . . . . [M]y own opinion has been uniformly proclaimed to be against the exercise of any such power by this Government.” Kaboom! He also vetoed protectionist tariffs for the same reason that South Carolinians had earlier nullified the 1828 Tariff of Abominations: It was an obvious plot to plunder the agricultural South for the pecuniary benefit of Northern manufacturers.
Henry Clay and the Whigs became unhinged and deranged, organizing a mob to literally break down the gates to the White House (the Secret Service was not created until the Lincoln administration), throw rocks at the White House while shouting “A Bank! A Bank” and “Down with the veto!” as recounted by Oliver Chitwood’s biography of Tyler. They imposed an early-day version of Guantanamo Bay-style sleep-deprivation torture with incessant shouting, pounding on drums, blowing trumpets and horns, and firing rounds from blunderbusses. They burned President Tyler in effigy, threw the “corpse” out into the street, and (Willard “Mitt” Romney, call your office). Every member of the cabinet resigned except for Daniel Webster, who was in the middle of a treaty negotiation. A letter-writing campaign was organized that resulted in hundreds of letters being sent to the White House that threatened the assassination of the president. Like today’s Democrats, the Whig Party was paralyzed with obscene hatred.
John Tyler also became the first president to be subjected to Articles of Impeachment, which were filled with rather hilarious political bluster. He was accused of “arbitrary and despotic abuse of the veto power”; “open hostility to the Legislative department of the Government,” as though that was a bad thing; and “vacillation, weakness, and folly,” among other absurdities. The Articles of Impeachment were ultimately rejected.
You know John Tyler was a good man, and that Ivan Eland is probably spot on in ranking him as America’s best president (he reduced the size of the army by one-third, among other things) since he elicited the hatred of such a cabal of political gangsters, rent seekers, idiots and tyrants led by Lincoln’s “beau ideal of a statesman” Henry Clay.
Thomas J. DiLorenzo [send him mail] is professor of economics at Loyola University Maryland and the author of The Real Lincoln; How Capitalism Saved America; Lincoln Unmasked; Hamilton’s Curse; Organized Crime: The Unvarnished Truth About Government; and most recently, The Problem With Socialism.