John Tyler, the Accidental President by Edward P. Crapol, Hardcover | Barnes & Noble
John Tyler, the Accidental President

John Tyler, the Accidental President

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by Edward P. Crapol

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The first vice president to become president on the death of the incumbent, John Tyler (1790-1862) was derided by critics as "His Accidency." In this biography of the tenth president, Edward P. Crapol challenges depictions of Tyler as a die-hard advocate of states' rights, limited government, and a strict interpretation of the Constitution. Instead, he argues,


The first vice president to become president on the death of the incumbent, John Tyler (1790-1862) was derided by critics as "His Accidency." In this biography of the tenth president, Edward P. Crapol challenges depictions of Tyler as a die-hard advocate of states' rights, limited government, and a strict interpretation of the Constitution. Instead, he argues, Tyler manipulated the Constitution to increase the executive power of the presidency. Crapol also highlights Tyler's faith in America's national destiny and his belief that boundless territorial expansion would preserve the Union as a slaveholding republic. When Tyler sided with the Confederacy in 1861, he was branded as America's "traitor" president for having betrayed the republic he once led.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Most historians have dismissed John Tyler as an inept failure. In this remarkable study, Crapol, professor emeritus at the College of William and Mary, argues that Tyler was in fact a terrifically strong president who helped strengthen the executive branch. Tyler was William Henry Harrison's vice president. Before Harrison's death in 1841, presidential succession was murky: did the vice president become president, or was he merely a temporary stand-in until an emergency election could be held? Tyler decisively seized the office, setting a precedent that is followed to this day (and was codified in 1967 in the 25th Amendment to the Constitution). Yet Tyler's story, argues Crapol, is ultimately a "tragedy." Tyler's commitment to territorial expansion, which found its keenest expression in the annexation of Texas, was driven in part by his contorted thinking about slavery. The to-the-Virginia-manor-born president believed the contradictions of slavery would be best resolved not by abolition but by extending it into new territories, thus diffusing the slave population. That Tyler died a traitor to the Union, just about to assume his seat in the Confederate Congress, is the final, sad irony. This balanced, fascinating volume will introduce a new generation of readers to an oft-ignored president. (Oct. 9) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
John Tyler who became president after William Henry Harrison died after one month in office remains one of our most obscure chief executives, still seen by most historians as hapless and ineffective. Now Crapol (American history, emeritus, Coll. of William and Mary; James G. Blaine: Architect of Empire) has written a revisionist history of Tyler's presidency, arguing that Tyler was a strong leader who set important precedents, some of which we take for granted (e.g., that the vice president should become president after the death of the chief executive and that he take a separate oath of office). Crapol contends that Tyler was the main architect behind the Texas annexation at the end of his term, his final anti-Whig act that propelled North-South party alignments, and that it was he who pushed for a great American empire in the Pacific with American influence in Hawaii and trade with China. His gravest flaws: his support of slavery and his belief that additional American territory would diffuse the slave population. Crapol's claims seem balanced because he makes them based on the historical record. This book is important in crediting Tyler with the ways in which he imbued the presidency and American expansion with greater power; it will compete with the projected Tyler entry in Times Books' "American Presidents" series. Highly recommended for public and academic libraries. Bryan Craig, Jefferson Madison Regional Lib., Charlottesville, VA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
From the Publisher
The best study yet of Tyler's presidency and his important legacies. . . . Any study of late Jacksonian America must now include Crapol's brilliant study.—Pacific Historical Review

Product Details

The University of North Carolina Press
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.20(d)

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
Highly readable.—Virginia Gazette

Well researched and well written, this fine volume adds to the growing literature on John Tyler, successfully linking his republican views with slavery, expansion, and national destiny.—Journal of American History

This book poignantly portrays the tragic irony of John Tyler's legacy to America. Like Thomas Jefferson, Tyler believed that the expansion of slave territory would insure the survival of republican liberty. But instead it brought secession and Civil War. Siding against the nation he once led, Tyler died in the midst of a war that gave the nation a new birth of freedom by destroying the social order that Tyler had championed.—James M. McPherson, Princeton University

A good book about an obscure, but important president.—Nymas Review

A commendable study that judiciously measures Tyler's qualities and real accomplishments while acknowledging his personal faults and policy mistakes. . . . A fine study of the enigmatic career of John Tyler.—Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

Written clearly and concisely . . . provides a superb examination of Tyler's life and the legacies of his foreign policy initiatives.—Virginia Quarterly

This superbly researched, engaging account proves that 'His Accidency' has been poorly served by historical memory, and that John Tyler, however flawed, was a far more important president than we think. Insistently illuminating and informative, Crapol's John Tyler represents the 'life-and-times' approach to biography in the best sense of the word, and leaves one pondering the relevance of history to modern foreign affairs and today's imperial presidency.—Robert E. May, Purdue University

A worthy contribution to the study of the Tyler presidency and a skillful look at politics in the United States leading up to the Civil War. . . . A subtle blend of biography with presidential history.—The Historian

A fascinating and comprehensive study.—Washington Times

This revelatory study adds a welcomed fresh dimension to the history and historiography of antebellum expansion and diplomacy.—Journal of Southern History


Meet the Author

Edward P. Crapol is William E. Pullen Professor of American History, Emeritus, at the College of William and Mary. He is author of James G. Blaine: Architect of Empire and editor of Women and American Foreign Policy: Lobbyists, Critics, and Insiders.

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