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Letters and times of the Tylers.

A review, by Judge Wm. Archer Cocke, Florida.
The above work by Lyon G. Tyler, son of John Tyler, President of the United States, is in two large volumes. As the title imports, it is biographic and historic, embracing the philosophic bearing of those political questions which were prominent in the constitutional and practical administration of State and Federal government.

The two distinguished men forming the subject of the work, father and son, were of the State of Virginia. The name is historic in England, as in America; the American branch claiming descent from the celebrated Wat Tyler. Biographically the work begins with John Tyler, Judge of the United States District Court of Virginia, the father of the President. The position occupied by the colony, and subsequently State of Virginia, in the early and revolutionary history of the country, is not only national, but forms a beautiful picture in that political philosophy which adorns our constitutional forms and principles of government, and should address itself to the admiration of the enlightened patriot of every country of this age, as it excited and propelled the minds and hearts of those who acted in establishing those principles of constitutional and moral freedom which now blesses the subsequent generations basking under their mild and soft, yet strong and brilliant rays.

Judge Tyler was elected Governor of Virginia in the year 1808. He was three times elected to that office, and subsequently appointed, after his resignation as governor, Judge of the United States District Court, under a commission from President Madison. This was the second appointment he had received to the Federal Bench, which he retained until his death.

The selection of letters, judiciously made by the careful writer of the work under consideration, between Judge Tyler and Presidents Madison and Jefferson, forms a very interesting personal, biographic, and political feature of the work, and illustrates the combination of those elements in the literature, as well as the philosophy of the times, and its history. Judge Tyler not only enjoyed the friendship of such men as Jefferson, Madison, Marshall, and Roane, but was very much admired by them, not only for his high order of talent, but for those exalted moral qualities which constitute the great necessary virtues which render public men truly useful in official [377] life, and without which there is no greatness that can be of much value to a community, or nation. Talent is oftener a curse than a blessing, either individually or officially. Without the benefits resulting from pure Christianity with its moral power raising the man to his proper position and influence, for morality, in its highest tones, is and always will be, the true basis, as well as the light and life of national happiness and permanent success. This makes high-toned honor and incorruptible virtue a sine qua non in official station.

‘The most important public measures connected with the memory of Judge Tyler were the resolution, whose passage through the Legislature he secured in 1786, convoking an assembly of the States at Annapolis for the purpose of amending the articles of confederation—that assembly being the immediate precursor of that which met at Philadelphia in 1787 and framed the Federal Constitution; the Literary Fund, which was established on the recommendations of his message in 1809; and the revision of the laws, which he supported as speaker of the House of Delegates and as Governor of the State with the ardor of a reformer.’

The Legislature of Virginia passed a highly complimentary resolution on Judge Tyler's character. An obituary written on his death, by Judge Spencer Roane—who ranked with Pendleton and Marshall as one of the first jurists of the nation—gives expression to a tone of moral life that should pervade official station, and is worthy of record in the philosophic literature of the age, and should be a national motto for every period. He remarks in reference to Judge Tyler's character: ‘It is less a tribute of justice to the memory of the deceased than an act of utility to the public to hold up the mirror of his virtues. The present and future generations have a deep interest in the subject, and thousands of useful men and virtuous patriots yet unborn may be formed upon the model of his example.’ The example of incorruptible virtue in public men should ever be held up as a mirror to the rising generation and the polar star for official duty to every public officer.

The work continues with the times and biographical sketches and political history of the State of Virginia and national politics, and brings to the attention of the reader John Tyler, the son of the Judge and future President of the United States.

John Tyler was born in 1790; graduated at William and Mary College in 1807; in 1809 was admitted to the bar; two years later was elected a member of the Legislature, and re-elected for five successive [378] years. His career along the pathway of an honorable distinction was rapid. In 1816 he was elected to Congress, and was twice re-elected. Ill health induced him to resign before the expiration of his term. In 1823 and the two following years he was elected a member of the Legislature, and in 1825 was chosen Governor of the State by the Legislature. The next session he was re-elected unanimously, by the Legislature, Governor.

Tyler was a cultivated man with a refined taste in literature. On the death of Thomas Jefferson he was requested to deliver, in Richmond, Virginia, a funeral oration, which he did on the 11th of July, 1826. It is a beautiful eulogy, and will compare favorably, in literary style and in pure sentiments and sound political philosophy, with any of the very many pronounced on the life and services of the distinguished statesman, Thomas Jefferson.

His official life was almost continuous. In March, 1827, he succeeded John Randolph as United States Senator, having been elected over Mr. Randolph by a decided vote. In 1833 Tyler was reelected.

The writer of the work now under consideration presents a very accurate and interesting history of the rupture of the great Republican party of the Jeffersonian school, which, in 1824, had been split in many factions, but which, at this period, was combining under what was known as the Democratic and National Republicans. Tyler was opposed to the United States Bank policy, to internal improvement by the General Government, and to the protective tariff policy. In the Jeffersonian application of Democrat, Tyler was a Democrat; but when the Whig party took its rise, Tyler co-operated with them, and was never, in the Jackson sense, a Democrat, but a decided Whig.

The history of the rise of the Whig party, occasioned by the violent Federal measures and principles of the Jackson Democratic party, which was in no sense Democratic, is very fairly presented by the writer of the ‘Letters and Times of the Two Tylers.’ It was characterized by the exhibition of the talent of such men as Webster, Clay, Calhoun, Tyler, Leigh, Archer, Badger, Berrien, Preston, White, Prentice, Reverdy Johnson, and many others, determined to resist the violent measures of Andrew Jackson as President of the United States. We will not enter into a discussion of the many points on which the Whig party acted. It is known, historically, how Federal the so called Democratic party of the Jackson school became, and, in truth, the Whigs were more Democratic than the professed Democrats. It was under that influence that Mr. Webster [379] said the Whigs had, in England, been a party opposed to power, and asked, in one of his speeches against the Jackson party, what shall we call ourselves? We are Whigs; and it was on the floor of the Senate that he gave the name Whig to what was truly the American Democratic party. This is history, and it is well treated in biographical notices and on philosophic principles as history, free from mere political bias, by the writer of the work under consideration.

Tyler had approved the choice of Adams in preference to Jackson, by the House of Representatives, but perceiving in the very first message of Adams ‘an almost total disregard of the federative principle,’ he took steps in the Senate with the opposition to Adams, which was composed of the followers of Jackson, Crawford, and Calhoun. He made, during the debate on Clay's tariff resolutions in 183-32, a three days speech, of much force, against a tariff for protection, yet he advocated a tariff for revenue, with incidental protection.

‘He voted against the tariff of 1832, and sympathized deeply with the sufferings of South Carolina, but did not approve either the expediency or the principle of nullification; condemning also, in even severer terms, the principles enunciated in the celebrated proclamation of President Jackson, which attacked, not alone nullification, but also the right of secession and the sovereignty of the States. Mr. Tyler's vote was the only one cast against the “ Force Bill” on its final passage, and he was mainly instrumental in securing the passage of the Compromise Tariff of 1833, whose principle he suggested to Mr. Clay, its patron.’

In 1833-34 he sustained Clay's resolutions of censure upon President Jackson for the removal of the deposits, which he thought an unwarrantable exercise of power, though he considered the bank unconstitutional.

In relation to the famous expunging resolution, introduced by Mr. Benton into the Senate, to relieve President Jackson of a just censure, passed on him some years before, Mr. Tyler—receiving instructions from resolutions adopted by the Virginia Legislature, to vote for those resolutions—resigned his seat and returned home. Mr. Tyler may be considered a firm and decided Whig. In 1836, as a Whig candidate for the Vice-Presidency, he obtained the votes of Maryland, Georgia, South Carolina, and Tennessee. In 1838 he was a member of the Legislature from James City county, and fully cooperated with the Whig party.

In relation to the Whig party, in its position to the second term of [380] Jackson and the opposition to the election of Martin Van Buren, Calhoun truly remarked: ‘It is also true that a common party designation (Whig) was applied to the opposition in the aggregate. But it is no less true that it was universally known that it consisted of two distinct parties, dissimilar in principle and policy, except in relation to the object for which they had united the National Republican party and the portion of the State Rights' party, which had separated from the Administration on the ground that it had departed from the true principle of the original party.’ This reflects in several instances the views expressed above in this sketch, and will sustain us in views subsequently to be taken in relation to the elements composing the Whig party in its organization and action during the Van Buren administration.

In May, 1835, Van Buren was unanimously nominated by the Democratic National Convention for President, and was inaugurated March 4th, 1837. The country, for some years a prey to the most violent pecuniary embarrassments, was now involved in a crisis of unprecedented severity; commerce and manufactures were prostrate. The President called an extra session to meet in September, 1837. This extra session ‘witnessed,’ to quote the language of our writer, ‘the debut in Van Buren's message of the new system of finance,’ Vol. I, page 584. It also witnessed, as he observes, a split in the ranks of the Democratic party. This faction called themselves conservatives, among which were some men of great virtue and ability— Rives, Tallmadge and Legree being of that party. But what is also remarkable Calhoun, Tazewell, Gordon, Troup and many others of the Whig party, who had been bitter opponents of the Jackson measures, co-operated with the Democrats on the specie platform of the sub-treasury. We will not trace out at this time the history of the sub-treasury. It was a scheme used as a substitute for a national bank, and its very existence depended upon and practiced daily all of the essential features of banking, except lending money on good security.

In the Whig National Convention, on December 4th, 1839, Harrison was nominated for the Presidency and Tyler for Vice-President. Van Buren, as the representative of the Democratic party, was nominated without opposition by a national convention of May 5th, 1840.

The contest between Harrison and Van Buren was conducted with more absorbing interest and public excitement than ever before exhibited in the United States in any political canvass. The financial distress which had overshadowed the country during Van Buren's [381] administration, with charges of official corruption and defalcations of public officers, were alleged with force and truth by the orators and press of the Whig party—much glory and mere party excitement in the log-cabin songs and processions which may, and doubtless did, excite the illiterate and ignorant voter—yet there were sufficient valid political reasons to sustain the citizens in the overwhelming triumph that wafted Harrison and Tyler into office with a strong Congressional delegation to sustain them. Van Buren received only sixty electoral votes, while Harrison had two hundred and thirty-four.

The death of Harrison occurring one month after inauguration, the administration devolved on Tyler, who became President. The Administration was very much perplexed by a dissent in the party on the bank question. The writer of the work under consideration does not enter into the history of this administration with much fullness or minutiae.1 The details of it are sufficiently known, however, and the work is devoted, in this particular, chiefly to the party quarrel with the President on the bank question, and the true position he occupied on it. The compiler of the Letters and Times of the Tylers considers the Whig party guilty of great duplicity on the bank question, and accuses Clay of apostacy. We think it clear that President Tyler acted consistently with his uniform views on the bank question, and did not violate any principle set forth in his message of June 1, 1841. It was, however, thought by the Whig members that the President would sign a bank bill, drawn as it was attempted in conformity to this message, in consequence of this belief. Ewing sent in a bill for the incorporation of the ‘Fiscal Bank of the United States.’ The bill of Ewing finally passed Congress with a slight alteration concerning branch banks.2 It was sent to the President, by whom it was returned with a veto declaring the act unconstitutional, and stated the points on which he so held. This occasioned great excitement. It was, however, on this veto message that another bill was prepared with a view and desire, [382] as alleged, to meet the objections of the first bill and to conform to the opinion of the President. It is said it was privately submitted to him and approved by him and his Cabinet, ‘but it is clear from the evidence that the President never at any time gave his consent to any particular form of bill, and tried all in his power to get the bill, when introduced in the House, conformed to his view of the subject. Yet every amendment looking to the consent of the States was voted down by the Whigs.’

Soon after this, the Cabinet, with the exception of Webster, resigned. The second veto message of the bank bill explained the reasons actuating the President for the course taken, but it was unsatisfactory to a large portion of the Whig party. The members of the Cabinet resigning their seats were Ewing, Bell, Badger, Granger and Crittenden. They reflected severely on the President. Granger's letter was not published, but it was understood that he agreed with the other members who had resigned. Webster did not sustain the President, yet he expressed no censure at his course, and in his letter to the National Intelligencer said he saw no reason for a dissolution of the Cabinet, and had confidence in the hope that the President would co-operate with the Legislature in overcoming all difficulties in obtaining a bank bill that would not be objectionable. We refer to the letter of Webster in the National Intelligencer of September 13, 1840. The President, in his second veto, was sustained by some of the first statesmen of the day, among whom may be mentioned Rives and Wise of Virginia.

The compiler of the work under consideration presents in the second volume a full history of this question, with a statement from the President of the reasons sustaining his course. We think the President not only acted in strict honor on this great occasion, but was consistent; and yet, while we do not agree with many leading statesmen of that day in denouncing the President, we also differ from the writer in attaching duplicity to the leading members of the Whig party, or apostacy to Clay in his connection with the bank bills. The men on each side of this excited contest were of an honor and integrity that would never have stooped to anything reflective on their character. The cordial union of Webster and the President, and the Cabinet he appointed, consisting of Forward, McLean, Upshur, Wickliff, Legare, Gilmer, Calhoun and Mason, is strong proof of his honor and integrity, and we are pleased to think that John Tyler, President of the United States, outlived every slander and abuse uttered against his name and character, and that the voice of those [383] by whom he was well known to the day of his death, and the historic page, alike concur in one belief of his untouched honor. The statement of the President, published in the work before us, which was, however, well known in the history of the bank question, is in every respect satisfactory. Vol. II, pages 66, 98.

An excited contest arose on the tariff bills [the two first tariff bills had the protective land distribution clause] sent to the President; two had been vetoed on his known constitutional objections to protection under such laws, yet a third bill was passed by Congress, which, notwithstanding its protective features, was signed by the President. The history of this bill is peculiar and interesting, to which reference is made, Volume II, pages 180-1. The President signing it under the conviction that protection was, under it, only incidental, it was, however, a protective bill.3

The most brilliant event of Tyler's administration, it may be said, of any event since the war of 1812, was the annexation of Texas. Tyler acted with great wisdom and skill, and deserves great credit for the success that attended his efforts. The event belongs to American history, above and beyond the application or touch of politics, as a gem in American statesmanship that will retain its brilliancy on the historic page as long as American history is read. The work we are noticing gives due praise to Tyler, but does not go minutely4 into the history of annexation; indeed, it would take many pages to do it justice, yet, as far as the writer goes, he is fair, just and accurate. We cannot go into the history of the event, and the many interesting circumstances attending annexation. It is part of our public history, and should be read carefully by every one interested in American statesmanship. Bitter war had existed between Mexico and Texas. Negotiations were pending between Santa Anna and General Houston for an armistice, when President Tyler made proposals to the President of Texas for annexation to the United States. The proposition was favorably received, a treaty was signed by the Texan commissioners and Mr. Calhoun, Secretary of State, April 12th, 1844; in June of the same year it was submitted to the Senate [384] of the United States, and rejected. This proceeding occasioned the ill will of Mexico, and met with great disapproval from France and England, they being opposed, without any right or reason, to the United States extending its territory over Texas. Public opinion in the United States was divided on the subject, some of our most eminent men opposing annexation because it might involve us in war with Mexico, and others because it was unconstitutional.

After much debate, and different plans were discussed in Congress in relation to this important measure, involving many questions of constitutional and national law, it was brought to a successful termination. Joint Resolutions—a most significant term, which, from being a political phrase, became an expression of dignity in our constitutional history—were introduced for the annexation of Texas After much debate they passed the House of Representatives, January 25th, 1845, by a vote of 120 to 98. In the Senate, after a month's delay and opposition, they passed by a vote of 27 to 25, with an amendment, which was concurred in by the House the next day by a vote of 132 to 76. It is due to history, and the statesmanship of President Tyler, to observe that the joint resolutions, on his suggestion, were introduced into the House by J. L. Ingersoll, of Pennsylvania, and George McDuffie, of South Carolina, in the Senate. Thus it is shown, as appears also by the vote in each House, that it was based on a statesmanship above sectional or party considerations.

President Tyler approved these resolutions for annexation on March 1, 1845, three days before his term of office expired, thus concluding his administration, in what Thomas Ritchie, editor of the Enquirer, expresses as a ‘blaze of glory.’ In the entire history of the annexation question, the proceedings present John C. Calhoun, whose fame requires no praise wherever his name is known, as one of the most prominent statesmen connected with successful termination and triumphant progress amidst the opposition of able men of both parties and different sections.

Among other great questions settled by the Tyler administration may be mentioned the Northeastern boundary question by treaty with Great Britain, Webster being Secretary of State, and while Mr. Tyler did not secure the confidence of either party sufficient to obtain a re-election, his administration was marked by honesty, ability, and brilliant success, that will ever make it a model in American history. The foreign relations, alike with the home affairs, were conducted with marked ability and success.

The work of Lyon G. Tyler very properly belongs to an elevated branch of literature, embracing the science of government in its constitutional, [385] diplomatic and practical administration. Such subjects address themselves to the highest order of our intelligent and cultivated citizens. The work also presents a very beautiful feature of American literature in the elegant and eloquent addresses delivered by President Tyler; and also a very interesting feature, on which our literature will ever smile and brighten, is the many very tender, yet tastefully written family letters, which attract our attention as in every respect delicately illustrating the social refinement in which a cultivated literature may well delight.

The work continues its historical and biographic account of the events occurring during the life of President Tyler, embracing his connection with the action of the State of Virginia in her effort to avoid the late war against the Federal government, ‘his course in the Provisional Congress of the Confederate States, to which he was unanimously elected,’ and his election to the permanent Congress, of which he was a member, but in which he never occupied a seat; he died before it ever assembled. Though he had been the subject of severe party temper during his Presidential term, it is due to history to say he outlived every unkind feeling ever expressed against him, and when overtaken by death, the unanimous voice of praise and affection from the press and public bodies, and distinguished men with whom he had served, united in one brilliant stream of admiration for nearly a lifetime of official service, and deep regret at the loss of one so capable and so spotless in the discharge of every duty. ‘Mr. Tyler was never a sectionalist. His views were broad and far-reaching, and the State rights that he advocated meant the equal rights of all the States. On the slavery question he occupied the old Virginia position. Slavery was a great political evil, but it was one that required time for its obliteration. When the agitation ensued in Virginia, on Nat. Turner's rebellion, he introduced a bill in the United States Congress to abolish the slave trade in the District, and in 1857, when the immediate abolition programme of the North had driven many of the Southern people to advocating slavery as a blessing, he wrote a public letter denouncing the attempt of the Southern Convention at Knoxville of Southern fire-eaters to reopen the slave trade.’

We differ with the author of this work in his views of some men of great distinction, to whom frequent allusion is made, as well as to the spirit of the Whig party under which they acted, and also as to the motives attributed to Henry Clay and some of his political associates and allies. It is a .work of ability and refined literary taste, [386] written in a high and pure sense of justice, and deserves a conspicuous place in Southern and we also think in our national literature, for many of the leading events which distinguished the active career of John Tyler were national, and have become entwined in the historic literature of our people and age, and were above sectional or party considerations or influence.

It is a very beautiful and excellent feature in the history of the highest official stations in the United States—not excepting that of President—that they have been graced by men, not only of exalted talent, but of very extensive learning, scholarship and literary acquirements and taste, manifested in writings that have become embodied in the history of the country. This may be said of Adams, father and son, each President of the United States; of Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe, distinguished for their writings, and also of Buchanan and Tyler. The same is true of cabinet officers from Hamilton, of Washington's administration, down through many administrations, embracing such learned authors and men distinguished in literature and science as are rarely found connected with official station. Among them may be found Rodney, Gallatin, Wirt, Calhoun, Rush, Kendall, Woodbury, Poinsett, Paulding, Webster, Legare, Walker, Bancroft, Marcy.

It is also a striking truth that each branch of our national Congress has been elevated by many members distinguished for science, literature and authorship. With the United States there is in learning and science—and all the beautiful accomplishments of literature, as in the constitutional forms of government—a true republicanism that admits to favor the deserving and meritorious of all classes, and this constitutes its national nobility reflective of virtue, learning and cultivated talent. In most of the European governments we have seen at different periods some genius incarnate itself in a man. France has had its Richelieu, its Voltaire, its Napoleon, and so has other countries; and, for the time being, these incarnated geniuses made all other talent gravitate to it as controlling even the very current of national thought. Happily such is not the case in the United States. Here every grade of learning and talent has its powers, unimpaired by social or public stamp, and rises and develops its light and strength in any department to which it can truly and justly apply itself. True genius and cultivated talent—with virtue and moral principle ever incorruptible—can, like the rising sun, seek and obtain their own latitude until they reach their meridian with ever increasing light, force, purity, and beauty.

1 I do not know what Judge Cocke means by lack of ‘details.’ I was afraid I had gone too much into them. The Bank Question takes 18o pages and the other questions—the Exchequer, the Loan Bill, Bankrupt Bill, etc., are treated at much length in chapter V.—author.

2 The bill that passed Congress, which Judge Cocke describes as ‘slightly’ altered from that of Ewing, walked right over the constitutional difficulty. If the difference was only ‘slight,’ why did not Mr. Clay accept Ewing's bill as it stood? The President implored him to do so. Volume II, page— The fight turned wholly on the branch banks and Mr. Archer's time.

3 The title of the bill declared it for ‘revenue,’ and the President had no authority to look behind the title and pass upon its protective features. That power belonged exclusively to the Legislature. Hon. John Randolph Tucker told me two years ago that the Democrats in Congress would gladly agree to get back to the tariff of 1842.—the author.

4 My account is the longest, the fullest and most minute account that has ever been given of this subject of annexation.—L. G. T.

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