1938 10¢ John Tyler
Issue Date: September 2, 1938
First City: Washington, DC
Quantity Issued: 3,849,605,900
Printing Method: Rotary press
Perforations: 11 x 10 ½
Color: Brown red
Known affectionately as the “Prexies,” the 1938 Presidential series is a favorite among stamp collectors.
The series was issued in response to public clamoring for a new Regular Issue series. The series that was current at the time had been in use for more than a decade. President Franklin D. Roosevelt agreed, and a contest was staged. The public was asked to submit original designs for a new series picturing all deceased U.S. Presidents. Over 1,100 sketches were submitted, many from veteran stamp collectors. Elaine Rawlinson, who had little knowledge of stamps, won the contest and collected the $500 prize. Rawlinson was the first stamp designer since the Bureau of Engraving and Printing began producing U.S. stamps who was not a government employee.
From an early age, John Tyler held the belief that the U.S. Constitution was one of our nation’s most important documents and that it must be strictly followed. In 1841, unclear terminology in this document forced Tyler to take a stand against Congress, which eventually set a precedent for future Vice Presidents. President William Henry Harrison died when Tyler had served as Vice President for just one month, leaving the nation questioning Vice President Tyler’s role in such a situation.
Tyler believed the powers, duties, and title of the President are to be transferred to the Vice President upon the President’s death. He argued his point in front of Congress, and within two days became America’s first Vice President to take the nation’s highest office following the death of a President. Tyler’s term as President proved no easy task, as nearly all of his Cabinet resigned. He was even left “a man without a party” after his own political party rejected him. In spite of this, Tyler left his mark on the presidency, opening trade with China, settling border disputes with Canada, and annexing Texas to the United States.
Tyler’s Early Life
John Tyler was born on March 29, 1790, in Charles City County, Virginia. One of seven children, Tyler was raised as part of the Southern elite. The son of a Virginia governor and later federal judge, John Tyler learned early in life the importance of the Constitution and the necessity that it be strictly followed.
Tyler attended private schools until the age of 12, when he entered the College of William and Mary’s collegiate preparatory course. He began his higher education three years later and graduated in 1807 at the age of just 17. Over the next two years he studied law with his father, cousin, and later Edmund Randolph – America’s first attorney general. In 1811, Tyler started his own legal practice, where he fought many criminal defense cases.
Early Political Career
At this same time, Tyler was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates. He quickly became a well-known and respected politician for his convincing arguments that led to the censure of two senators. They had refused to vote against the recharter of the Bank of the United States, which was a politically charged issue of the day. Tyler served five one-year terms in the Virginia House of Delegates, until he was selected to sit on the state executive council. In 1817, he began four years of service in the U.S. House of Representatives. However, by the end of this period, Tyler was in ill health as well as experiencing financial difficulties, and decided to leave politics. He ended his short-lived retirement three years later when he returned to the Virginia House of Delegates. He then went on to serve as Governor of Virginia until 1827, when he was elected to the U.S. Senate.
During his term in the Senate, Tyler served as President pro tempore (second in rank in the Senate after the Vice President). He was the only U.S. President to have held this position. At the time of his election, Tyler was part of the Jacksonian Party. However, Tyler did not support Jackson’s force bill during the Nullification Crisis – which used armed force to collect taxes in South Carolina. Tyler soon found himself closer to Henry Clay’s new Whig Party. When the Virginia legislature instructed the senators to withdraw their censure of Jackson from the record, Tyler resigned from the Senate.
By the election of 1836, Tyler was officially part of the Whig Party, and was on the ballot for Vice President in several states. He ran as Vice President on the tickets of three Presidential nominees – William Henry Harrison, Hugh Lawson White, and Willie Mangum. The election went to Democrat Martin Van Buren, although Tyler came in third for Vice President with 47 electoral votes. In 1838, Tyler was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates for the third time. The following year, he was unanimously chosen as speaker.
Election of 1840
Due to his impressive military record, the Whigs selected William Henry Harrison as the Presidential nominee for the election of 1840. In searching for Harrison’s running mate, the Whigs wanted someone from a slave state to appeal to the largest possible audience. Tyler had done well in the South in the previous election and was popular there for his stance on states’ rights. The Harrison-Tyler campaign appealed to the common man, using log cabins and cider to symbolize Harrison’s connection to the frontier. They also emphasized Harrison’s military background with the famous slogan “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too.” Throughout his campaign, Harrison repeatedly promised to follow the directions of Congress, as that most closely represented the interests of the general public. The result was a close popular vote, and a strong electoral vote victory of 234 to 60. In all, over 80% of the nation’s eligible voters participated – the greatest percentage in U.S. election history. With this victory, both houses of Congress were under Whig control.
Vice President Tyler
Tyler was inaugurated to his new position on March 4, 1841. His three-minute inaugural address called it an honor “to occupy a seat which has been filled and adorned...by an Adams, a Jefferson, a Gerry, a Clinton, and a Tompkins.” He also expressed his views on states’ rights, saying “Here [in the Senate] are to be found the immediate representatives of the States, by whose sovereign will the Government has been spoken into existence. Here exists the perfect equality among the members of this confederacy, which gives to the smallest State in the Union a voice as potential as that of the largest. To this body is committed in an eminent degree, the trust of guarding and protecting the institutions handed down to us from our fathers, as well against the waves of popular and rash impulses on the one hand, as against attempts at executive encroachment on the other.” Shortly after the inauguration, Tyler returned to Williamsburg, “with the expectation of spending the next four years in peace and quiet,” as President Harrison did not expect to need his help.
However, the peace and quiet only lasted one month. In the early morning hours of April 5, 1841, two horsemen woke the Vice President with a letter from the cabinet, informing him that Harrison died the day before. By the next morning, Tyler was back in the capitol, while the nation questioned what would happen next.
No President had died in office up to that point, and the wording of the Constitution resulted in several interpretations of its meaning. It said that the “Powers and Duties of the said Office...shall devolve on the Vice President...[who] shall act accordingly, until the Disability be removed, or a President shall be elected.” Some believed that Tyler did not need to be President to fulfill the duties of the office, while others believed he should serve as President for the remainder of the term. Tyler interpreted this to mean that he would become President, not “Vice President, acting as President,” as Harrison’s cabinet proposed. Despite the opposition from the cabinet, Tyler took the presidential oath on April 6.
Very early in his administration, Secretary of State Daniel Webster informed Tyler that Harrison had brought all issues to the Cabinet where everyone, including the President, had one vote. To this, Tyler replied, “I am the President, and I shall be held responsible for my administration. I shall be pleased to avail myself of your counsel and advice. But I can never consent to being dictated to as to what I shall do or not do. When you think otherwise, your resignations will be accepted.”
Tensions between Tyler and his Cabinet continued to rise. One of the first major issues Tyler faced concerned the creation of a new banking system. Whig Senator Henry Clay, with whom Tyler had a long friendship (despite their philosophical differences) supported the national bank, internal improvements, and protective tariffs. Tyler believed state sovereignty was more important than Clay’s “American System.” Further, Clay expected Tyler to allow him to run the country from the Senate and support his policies. However, Tyler had plans of his own – to create a weaker bank that would only be present in the states that wanted it. Neither man was willing to back down from his position, causing Tyler to address his Cabinet member, “Go you now, Mr. Clay, to your end of the avenue, where stands the Capitol, and there perform your duty to the country as you shall think proper. So help me God, I shall do mine at this end of it as I shall think proper.”
The hostilities continued and despite compromise efforts, in September of 1841, Tyler’s entire Cabinet (with the exception of Daniel Webster) resigned in an attempt to force Tyler to resign as well. The move proved unsuccessful, as the following Monday, Tyler appointed a new Cabinet. Later that day, 60 Whigs congregated in a plaza near the Capitol, claiming they could no longer be responsible for Tyler’s actions – leaving the President without a party. For the nearly four years of his term, Tyler had “the most disrupted Cabinet in presidential history.”
Tyler’s battle with Congress continued as he vetoed two more tariff bills. However, when government revenues dropped dangerously low, Tyler agreed to the Tariff Act of 1842. This helped the economy, but put Tyler at odds with both the Northern Whigs (who criticized him for not creating a properly protective tariff) and the Southern states’ rights allies (who viewed the tariff as overly protective).
Tyler remained focused on his job in spite of his troubles with the Cabinet. Early in his administration, he realized the importance of opening trade with China, and organized a diplomatic mission there. This mission established an American consulate in China and initiated commercial trade between the two nations.
In 1842, Daniel Webster, Tyler’s only remaining original Cabinet member, negotiated the Webster-Ashburton Treaty with Great Britain. This settled a long-standing border dispute between the two countries that more than once nearly led to war. Although they were unable to establish the boundaries of Oregon, the treaty clearly defined the border between Maine and Canada. Tyler also invoked the Monroe Doctrine on Hawaii, warning the British to stay out of Hawaii’s affairs. This began Hawaii’s annexation to the U.S.
As he had served for some time without a party, Tyler wanted to create his own. He hoped that by annexing Texas to the U.S., he could build up enough support to establish his party. Tyler named his party the Democratic Republicans and used the slogan “Tyler and Texas!” With slavery supporter John C. Calhoun as his new Secretary of State, the Senate would not pass the treaty annexing Texas. Eventually, Tyler dropped out of the race. James K. Polk won the election, at which point both houses finally approved annexation. Tyler signed the bill annexing Texas to the United States three days before the end of his term in office. On his last day in office, March 3, 1845, Florida was admitted to the U.S. as the 27th state.
Life After the Presidency
After leaving Washington, Tyler retired to his Virginia plantation that he named “Sherwood Forest,” because he had been shunned by the Whigs. Tyler remained out of the public eye until February 1861, when he attended the Virginia Peace Convention that was intending to prevent civil war. However, Tyler’s stance on slavery and states’ rights led him to side with the Confederacy when the war began. He became a delegate to the Provisional Confederate Congress and was elected to the House of Representatives of the Confederate Congress, but died before he could take office. Tyler’s death is marked as the only one in presidential history not mourned in Washington, due to his support of the Confederacy. He is also considered to be the only President to die outside of the U.S., as Virginia was then a part of the Confederate States of America.