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Tyler and Lincoln

April 25, 2017

John Tyler was not the sort of man who would have been elected President in the first place.  Neither was Abraham Lincoln.  Tyler became President only after William Henry Harrison’s untimely death.  Lincoln became the first Republican President because the Democrats were split in 1860.

Tyler left public life in 1845, but in 1861 he seized the opportunity to lead the peace conference whose goal was to prevent the dissolution of the Union.  He failed.  When Virginia seceded from the Union, he followed his home state.

Unlike Tyler, Lincoln had never been Vice President, U.S. Senator, or governor of a state.  Lincoln had served mostly as an Illinois state legislator.  He had served a single term in the U.S. House of Representatives.  When he ran for the U.S. Senate in 1858, his party won the popular vote, but the Illinois state legislature, which was still in the hands of the Democrats, chose Stephen Douglas instead.

In November 1861 Tyler was elected to the Confederate House of Representatives.  He died in January 1862 before he could take his seat.  If he had died during the peace conference of 1861, perhaps historians would have been kinder to his memory.

If Lincoln had died in January 1862, historians would probably have regarded him as a failure.  By that time eleven states had seceded from the Union, Fort Sumter had been seized, and the disastrous 1st Battle of Bull Run had occurred.  Fortunately, Lincoln lived long enough to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, fight for the 13th Amendment, and receive word of Lee’s surrender at Appomattox.  He is generally regarded as the greatest U.S. President.

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