Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Bridge from 44 to 10

John Tyler, one of our least well-known presidents, is one of our most consequential, if only for the precedent he set. Tyler, the 10th U.S. president, is the first vice president to ascend to the presidency because of the death of the president. As most American school children are taught, President William Henry Harrison lasted only one month in office before expiring from pneumonia and pleurisy. At the time it was unclear whether or not the vice president would then become president with the full palette of presidential powers, or simply an "acting" president who would be a placeholder until a special election were held. The Constitution was vague on this question and no similar situation had arisen previously.

Some advocated he still be called "Vice President" while others suggested he be referred to as the "Acting President." Others derisively called him "His Accidency." Tyler put these questions to bed when he took the oath of office two days after Harrison's death and insisted on being the President, not anything less. His independence led him to sharply break with his new party, the Whigs, leaving him without a party but also that universal understanding the he was the president.

Now for the really interesting part: the folks over at The American Presidents Blog have posted about a living link to President John Tyler--a grandson. The fact that Tyler would have a number of descendants roaming the earth is unsurprising--he fathered 15 children after all. However, the fact that Harrison Tyler, an 81 year old grandson who still lives in the Tyler ancestral home in Virginia, Sherwood Forest, is still alive, is truly amazing. Think about it this way: according to Who2 Editorial Blog, "John Tyler was the 10th president, and Barack Obama is the 44th, so 34 presidencies have passed between John Tyler and his grandson. For that matter, President Tyler was born in 1790, when George Washington was president... so the three Tyler generations span every single president of the United States."

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