John Tyler was born on March 29, 1790, the first President to be born Under the Administration of a President. From birth he was politically tied to his future running mate William Henry Harrison: both were born in Charles City County, Virginia, descended from aristocratic and politically entrenched families. The Tyler family proudly traced its lineage to colonial Williamsburg in the 17th century. John Tyler, Sr., popularly known as Judge Tyler, was a friend and college roommate of Thomas Jefferson and served in the Virginia House of Delegates alongside William's father Benjamin Harrison V. Judge Tyler served four years as Virginia Speaker of the House before becoming a state court judge. He would later serve as governor and as a judge on the U.S. District Court at Richmond. His wife, Mary Marot (Armistead), was the daughter of a prominent plantation owner, Robert Booth Armistead. She died of a stroke when her son John was seven years old.
The young Tyler was raised with his two brothers and five sisters on Greenway Plantation, a 1,200-acre estate with with 40 slaves. Tyler was an unhealthy child, very thin and prone to chronic diarrhea. Such afflictions would continue to burden him throughout his life. At the age of twelve, he entered the preparatory branch of the elite College of William and Mary, continuing the Tyler family's tradition of attending the college. Tyler graduated from the school's collegiate branch in 1807, at age seventeen. After graduation Tyler went on study law with his father, who was a state judge at the time. Tyler was admitted to the bar at the age of 19, in violation of bar regulations: the judge who administered the bar exam neglected to inquire about his age. By this time his father had become Governor of Virginia (1808–1811), and the young Tyler started a practice in Richmond.
At twenty-one, Tyler had used his father's contacts to gain a seat in the Virginia House of Delegates where he began immediately fighting the Bank of the United States, which he opposed as a broadening of nationalist power. After serving an uneventful stint in the military during the War of 1812, Tyler won election to the House of Representatives and quickly became a Washington insider, seen frequently at Dolly Madison's posh parties.
As a southern planter, Tyler bitterly opposed a strong standing army, tariffs, and extending the vote to men without property, resenting this challenge to traditional southern power. The popular Andrew Jackson of Tennessee represented everything in politics that Tyler was against, especially the new voting power of the West. When Jackson's government attempted to restrict slavery in new states west of Missouri, Tyler saw it as such an abuse of federal power that he resigned from Congress in disgust.
When he returned to Washington in 1827, Tyler reluctantly supported Jackson's reelection in 1832 but became furious when Jackson threatened to use federal force against South Carolina when the state renounced federal tariffs. Twice he stridently condemned the President on the Senate floor for what he considered the President's abuse of executive power. Disgusted with Jackson, Tyler teamed up with Henry Clay and Daniel Webster to form the new Whig Party.
Martin Van Buren's failure to alleviate the economic depression which followed Andrew Jackson's presidency gave the Whigs the chance they needed in 1840. The Whigs' presidential candidate, William Henry Harrison, was marketed as a humble frontiersman, the "Log Cabin and Hard Cider" candidate, despite the fact that he was highly educated, wealthy, and descended from Virginia's ruling class. John Tyler was selected as his running mate to appeal to the South. Under the slogan, "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too," Harrison and Tyler won the election with broad populist support in a backlash against Van Buren's insider ways. Ironically, Tyler was propelled into office by the commoners he had formerly tried so hard to lock out. President Harrison died just 32 days after his inauguration.
Once he became president John Tyler stood against his party's platform and vetoed several of their proposals. As a result, most of his cabinet resigned, and the Whigs, dubbing him His Accidency, expelled him from the party. While he faced a stalemate on domestic policy, he still made several foreign policy achievements, signing the Webster–Ashburton Treaty with Britain and the Treaty of Wanghia with China. Tyler dedicated his last two years in office to his landmark accomplishment, the 1845 annexation of the Republic of Texas. With little hope that he would be elected in 1844, he created a third party to move public opinion in favor of annexation, which led to the 1844 presidential election of expansionist Democrat James K. Polk over Tyler opponents Henry Clay and Van Buren. Tyler essentially retired from electoral politics until the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861. He sided with the Confederate government, and won election to the Confederate House of Representatives shortly before his death. Although some have praised Tyler's political resolve, his presidency is generally held in low esteem by historians; today he is considered an obscure president, with little presence in the American cultural memory.