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John Tyler, the Accidental President by…
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John Tyler, the Accidental President

by Edward P. Crapol

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1165164,303 (3.19)14
"The first vice president to become president on the death of the incumbent, John Tyler (1790-1862) was mocked by his adversaries as "His Accidency." Yet Tyler proved to be a bold and determined leader who used the malleable executive system outlined in the Constitution to his advantage. In this biography of the tenth president of the United States, Edward P. Crapol challenges traditional depictions of Tyler as a die-hard supporter of states' rights, an unwavering spokesman for a strict interpretation of the Constitution, and a faithful disciple of the republican vision of the founding fathers." "When it served his political ambitions, President Tyler did not hesitate to trample on states' rights, Crapol observes. In pursuit of his domestic and diplomatic agendas, Tyler exploited executive prerogatives and manipulated constitutional requirements in ways that violated his professed allegiance to a strict interpretation of the Constitution. His actions helped establish the tradition of a strong and energetic chief executive, setting precedents that his successors in the White House invoked to create an American empire and expand presidential power." "Crapol also highlights Tyler's enduring faith in America's national destiny and his belief that boundless territorial expansion would preserve the Union as a slaveholding republic. When Abraham Lincoln rejected this formula for endless expansion in 1861, Tyler, a Virginian, opted for secession and the Confederacy. He was ultimately stigmatized as America's "traitor" president for having betrayed the republic he once led. As Crapol demonstrates, Tyler's story anticipates the modern American presidency in all its power and grandeur, as well as its darker side."--Jacket.… (more)

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Showing 5 of 5
I have the same gripes that other reviewers mentioned: repeats, lack of chronological narrative (each chapter is rather an essay on specific aspect of Tyler's policy). I can't really call this book a biography since there are some aspects of John Tyler life that just are not covered. For example, there is a fleeting mention of his first wife, but we know nothing about her nor the circumstances they met. I found the description of each of policy challenges to be quite good, very well explained - I just wish each chapter wouldn't be so self-contained, with some things described anew in each chapter. ( )
  everfresh1 | Jul 2, 2014 |
Well, this book was highly recommended, but was quite a disappointment. While I appreciated how well-researched it was there were many flaws, most of which are probably just subjective criticisms. First, the book was organized topically and not chronologically. The first and last chapters were chronological, but nothing in the middle was. There was much tumult in Tyler's cabinet and it would have been helpful to be able to place when everything was happening. Instead, each chapter just seemed to be cyclical and kept referring to upheaval, but I could never figure out when in his term things were actually happening. Along the same lines, parts of each chapter were repetitive. For instance, Crapol would reference in each chapter about Daniel Webster being Tyler's Secretary of State. I began to feel that each middle chapter would have made a better journal article than part of a book.

Also, while I greatly appreciated the endnotes which pointed to copious research, there were two problems I had with them. First, at the bottom of each page was the title of the chapter, not the actual chapter number; however, the endnotes were organized by chapter number, not the title of the chapter. This was extremely frustrating when I went to look at a particular endnote as it meant that I would first have to figure out the number of the chapter before I could reference the note. Too much work! Second, many notes I felt were incomplete. In several places, Crapol would reference "other historians" or "more recently, historians. . ." but when I went to look at the endnote to try to figure out which historians, Crapol only pointed to the primary sources (i.e. Tyler's letters or other official papers). Thus, other than relying on his word, I could never figure what other historians really felt or believed about Tyler, his presidency or legacy. ( )
  weejane | Dec 22, 2013 |
I had trouble with this book and didn't finish it the first time I tried. This is why.

My problems:

1. Tells the reader what to think instead of presenting facts and guiding through the rough parts.
2. Overwrites.
3. Peats and repeats.
4. Gives many pointless facts, like a kid padding his term paper.
5. Confused narrative.
6. Seems more like a meditation than a biography.

It was expedient for John Tyler to become vice president. Expedient for himself and expedient for others. It didn’t matter that he was barely a Whig. Hell, that was everybody’s problem. He was just going to be vice president. Who cared what he thought?

Then William Henry Harrison stayed out too long in the cold, got sick, and died. Suddenly Tyler was the whole ball of wax. Oh, Henry Clay and a few others tried to hold him down but he shook them off like an old dog shakes off playful kittens.

He decided that he didn’t need the Whig Party because he controlled King Patronage and could buy his own party. So the man who had decried patronage in the past suddenly became the most draconian patron of all, firing everyone he didn’t trust and hiring only his cronies. As a strategy it didn’t work so well and by the time the next election rolled around nobody would vote for him.

He was a surprisingly effective president nonetheless. He made the acquisition of Texas inevitable, opened up trade routes to China, settled Maine’s boundary dispute with England, and used government money to secretly influence events more than any president before him. He did all the things he’d said he hated most about government.

Tyler also liked women, having more kids (white and black) than he could shake a stick at before courting a young woman soon after his wife died (taking her on one date for a boatride where her father was blown up by a gun called “Peacemaker”) and begetting a passel more. Who can’t get behind a president like that?

Afterward, he went back to Virginia and seceded with the rest of the South but died soon after the start of the war, a traitor to his country if not to his state.

Not the best written bio but there ain't much else out there.
1 vote wcpweaver | Oct 29, 2009 |
Before picking up John Tyler: The Accidental President, I didn't know much about Tyler - after all, he's generally considered a less than spectacular President and his main claim to fame is being the first Vice President to take over after the death of a President. Well, that and being the only "traitor President" given his involvement with the Confederacy later in life. After reading it, I still don't know all the much about Tyler. Instead of giving us a sense of the man, he chose to present the development of the major political issues and how Tyler responded to them. That's fine, but the discussion of a chapter per issue really missed the interconnections between the issues and became really repetitive. For instance, Crapol attempted to make similar points about Tyler's actions in say, the annexation of Texas just after addressing the same points in discussing relations with Hawaii. These two issues developed simultaneously, and a different presentation of events and Tyler's actions may well have resulted in a deeper understanding of the man.

I'll give Crapol this: he genuinely wants to give Tyler credit where it's due. I hadn't realized that he was so heavily involved in the opening of Asia and the expansion of US influence in the Pacific. I also didn't realize how much he was driven by preservation of the Union over the issue of slavery - as much as previous, more highly regarded Presidents such as Madison. And yet, he remained a slave owner and when the time came, supported the secession of VIrginia from the Union.

Honestly, part of the problem with Crapol's book may be the subject. I get the feeling that there's just not that much of Tyler worth writing about. Yes, he led the country, but that doesn't mean he was that difficult to understand or that there was much beyond what's presented here. He strikes me as a politician mostly concerned about preserving his way of life as a Southern gentleman farmer and his reputation in history. It may simply be that Tyler was no Lincoln and Crapol ran out of things to say about him. I suspect that I need to get another biography to find out. ( )
1 vote drneutron | Oct 18, 2009 |
4299 John Tyler the Accidental President, by Edward P. Crapol (read 11 Apr 2007) I read a biography of Tyler on Mar 12, 1988, but when I saw this 2006 one of him I decided to read it, especially since antebellum American history is so fascinating. The author finds more bad than good things to say about Tyler--our only traitor president, at least so far. (He adhered to the Confederacy.) Crapol is kind of a naive-sounding writer, and his language seems aimed at students rather history scholars. But it was an all right book, though I prefer biography to be more chronological than this one was. Tyler had 15 children--more than any other president. He had slaves, but never freed any. But he did some good things, though this biography spends little time on the political events which left him without the support of any party. ( )
  Schmerguls | Oct 29, 2007 |
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