- Hardcover: 496 pages
- Publisher: American Political Biography Press; Revised edition (June 1, 1990)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0945707029
- ISBN-13: 978-0945707028
- Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.5 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 18 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #133,973 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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John Tyler: Champion of the Old South Revised Edition
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Tyler, however, knew what the Constitution (which he had sworn to uphold and defend, as all Presidents have to do) said was and was not permitted. He steadfastly obeyed his oath and refused to approve any law passed by Congress, no matter how popular the legislation and no matter how unpopular his veto would make him with Congress and with the Whig party, on whose platform he had been brought into office. These positions were not unknown by members of the party before he was nominated to become Vice-President, but members of the party for some reason thought that he would ignore his own principles and "tow the party line". Tyler, however, was brought up under the influence of Thomas Jefferson, who was a close friend of his father, and would not betray his conscience in regard to the text of the Constitution for anyone. This resulted in the lack of a political party to support him regularly for the whole of his presidency and no nomination for re-election, causing the end of his political career. He was in fact, however one of the most honest and upright Presidents to serve in the executive office.
It is a pity that historians tend to ignore presidents like Tyler who are true to their oath of office while lauding those who yield to the popular sentiments of the moment, calling the latter "great" despite their violation of heir oath of office and the trampling of the Constitution they perform while in office (think Abraham Lincoln).
I found this book to be a very interesting read and wish I could recommend it higher than just 5 stars. If only we had candidates for President of the caliber of Jefferson, Tyler, Pierce, Cleveland, and Coolidge these days!!!
Tyler had trouble financing his first trip to Washington as a Senator so he got rid of some property – a household slave named Eliza Ann. At first he tried to get a friend to buy her but when that didn’t work she had to go on the auction block. Chitwood mentions this as another anecdote about Tyler’s life with no commentary or conclusions. One could argue that Chitwood’s job is to present Tyler’s actions and way of life and that any negative commentary would go beyond biography. Yet, on the other hand, he has no problem in multiple places giving a positive connotation, clearly expressed through the language used, to Tyler’s actions and, according to Chitwood, his actions were virtually always due to Tyler’s integrity and nobility of character. If the reader reflects a bit, he or she will realize that there may well be other reasons for Tyler’s actions, many not as noble as the ones Chitwood gives. These actions include joining the Confederacy, again done for supposedly noble reasons. Chitwood claims that, if Tyler (or Virginia) had done things a little differently, Lincoln might have held off on war and the “invasion” of the South might not have happened. Most of this is pure speculation and the origin of the Civil War is simplified enormously. (Chitwood also does this by saying that Tyler’s actions on the tariffs and other economic acts while in Congress may have changed the economic situation the United States found itself in in 1939 – another highly speculative and simplifying claim.) While a biographer needs to be sympathetic to his or her subject, the constant repetition of Tyler’s nobility and integrity wears thin quite soon into the book. The reader needs to cut Chitwood some slack because of the different educational and cultural climate in 1939 but I am not sure if “slack” can excuse the lack of objectivity about Tyler in the book.
Crapol’s full biography of Tyler is much more objective about Tyler’s motives and Tyler’s character. But the best thing I have read on Tyler is Gary May’s short biography of Tyler in the American Presidents Series. May says at one point: “… Tyler began his Senate career with monies generated by the sale of a human being.” Perhaps facts like this say as much about Tyler’s motives as his noble and honorable defense of states’ rights, a claim Chitwood makes ad nauseam throughout the book. I recommend May or Crapol over Chitwood.
A great portion of the book is based on his presidency which is fantastic. Quite a few of the biographies I have read to date spend too little time on the presidency.
If I had to ding this book with any negative commentary, it would be that the author sometimes makes some assumptions that I do not believe are completely warranted. Additionally, at times the author is extremely PRO Tyler. More so than perhaps he should have been.
But, this is an easy read and has a lot to do with his political career. Not as much about his personal life, although there is some there.
I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn about an obscure president and enjoy their reading experience.