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An insightful reassessment of an unexpected presidency

John Tyler, the Accidental President - Edward P. Crapol

Dismissed by his contemporaries and forgotten by subsequent generations, John Tyler does not immediately stand out as one of America’s more notable presidents.  Yet as Edward Crapol demonstrates in this book, such obscurity unfairly obscures his contribution to American history.  His assertion of authority upon taking over the White House after William Henry Harrison’s death established a precedent that has since come to be taken for granted, his annexation of Texas and extension of the Monroe Doctrine to the Hawaiian Islands furthered the nation’s scope, and his outreach to east Asia paved the way for the Open Door policy with China.  Crapol’s biography of Tyler seeks to give the tenth president his due, demonstrating that his years in the White House left a far more lasting imprint on the nation than is traditionally believed.

 

As was the case historically with vice presidents, Tyler was selected as Harrison’s running mate for the geographical balance he brought to the Whig ticket.  Upon taking office, though, Tyler soon demonstrated his indifference to Whig party goals.  As president Tyler was a staunch defender of slavery and a strong supporter of national expansion, seeing the two as key to America’s success as a nation.  Despite being isolated politically by the Whigs, he nonetheless found supporters of his goals and achieved a number of foreign policy triumphs.  Yet he failed to achieve his most cherished goal of winning the presidency in his own right, and he left office with the issues he championed serving increasingly to divide the nation – a divide that ultimately forced Tyler at the end of his life to make a momentous decision to renounce his allegiance to the union he had once led.

 

Though advertised as a biography of Tyler, Crapol’s book is not so much a biography as it is a study of the issues that defined Tyler’s presidency with an examination of the prevalence of those issues throughout his career.  Much of his initial goal of writing a more narrowly focused study of Tyler’s foreign policy as president is reflected in its pages; his pre-presidential career is addressed in passing, and details of both his personal life and his domestic agenda are scanty.  Readers seeking an introduction to Tyler are better off starting off with Gary May’s more concise study , yet for anyone seeking to understand the legacy of our nation’s tenth president this book is an indispensable and insightful study that cannot be missed.