The Big Walkout

The Big Walkout

In your business, can you image everyone in your senior management, except for one, all quitting at the same time? This is what happened to President John Tyler.

No one really cared too much about the vice president. Tyler, a former Democrat, was on the 1840 Whig ticket to balance it. Virginia was an important state for the Whigs, and it did not hurt to have a slave owner like Tyler to help gain southern votes. 

How quickly the political winds changed when President William Henry Harrison suddenly died in office, the first to do so in U.S. history. Tyler now clashed with Henry Clay, one of the major Whig centers of power. Ever since Tyler entered politics in Virginia, he opposed the Bank of the United States and federally funded internal improvements, issues that Clay endorsed.

The feud between Tyler and Clay intensified over two bank bills that Clay refused to negotiate with the White House and Tyler ultimately vetoed. In protest, every cabinet official, except Secretary of State Daniel Webster, resigned on September 11, 1841. Webster did not like Clay, but beyond that, he felt had no justified reason to leave.

So, Tyler’s administration was not only important because of succession, but one could argue how the vice presidency is seen. History would repeat itself in 1865 when Abraham Lincoln died and Andrew Johnson departed from his course with his own Reconstruction policies. With Tyler’s example and with the fact that four other presidents died in office, the vice president is still considered in the light of balancing the national ticket, but equally important, the presidential nominee vets the vice presidential candidate to make sure the presidential nominee feels comfortable with this person in the terms of continuity if the nominee might die in office.

Bryan Craig is a Senior Researcher for the Presidential Oral History Program at the Miller Center.