Wednesday, January 10, 2007

January 10, 1843:

The House Declines to Impeach John Tyler

John Tyler (in marble to the left) scored a number of presidential firsts without trying, the best known of which was his elevation from the vice presidency to the presidency after the death of William Henry Harrison in 1841. Not so well known is that he was the object of a serious attempt at impeachment.

There had been talk of impeachment in Andrew Jackson's time, but ultimately that was just muttering against a powerful president who had made a lot of enemies. Jackson was censured by the Senate in 1834: a way for Senators to say "we don't like you" without any formal consequences. In the Tyler's case, it actually came to a vote by the House on January 10, 1843. The motion was defeated 127 to 83.

Writer Stirling Newberry had this to say about the matter:
"There have been four serious attempts at impeachment: Clinton and Nixon are both within living memory, and the impeachment of Andrew Johnson has entered into legend, both because of its metaphorical significance, and because the outcome was so decisive for politics in America. But the fourth serious attempt is almost forgotten, though it was the model for the Andrew Johnson impeachment: John Tyler.  

"...The Whig Party, formed in response to what was perceived as Andrew Jackson's monarchical ways, found itself with a man as hard-willed as Jackson. When Tyler vetoed the Bank of the United States, which was the most important policy to the Whig Party, it precipitated a crisis within American governance.

"After expelling Tyler, the Whigs attempted to introduce an amendment that would have made a simple majority of Congress capable of over-riding a veto. When this failed, and when they lost control of Congress, they turned to impeachment, hoping that enough Democrats would join the motion. The articles accused Tyler of using the veto wrongly, and of lying to the American public, for abusing his power as President. As later scholars would determine, 'high crimes and misdemeanors' is constitutional language for 'abuse of power.'  

"The articles of impeachment failed, but they would leave behind a model which would be adopted in Johnson's case..." (The full article is here in pdf form.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Tyler, I understand, was also the most philoprogenitive of presidents, with fifteen children by two wives. ANK