Friday, March 14, 2008

Crap Presidents: Tippecanoe and Tyler Also


Above: Political campaigns sure were cooler in 1840, when your campaign could essentially be "I likes to gets DRUNK!"


As you might have noticed in the past seven years, sometimes somebody becomes President and the whole thing just doesn’t really work out. In order to commemorate this rather painful historical truism, I hereby inaugurate the a new running series, The George W. Bush Crap Presidents Series. Our first installment is a double shot: the ninth and tenth Presidents, William Henry Harrison and John Tyler.

Tyler’s rise to the Presidency marked the first time an afterthought held that lofty office. If you’re at all familiar with Tyler, you’ll know that he is the “Tyler” in the famous 19th century political slogan “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too.” “Tippecanoe,” of course, refers to William Henry Harrison, the Whig candidate who won the Presidency in 1840 based on a campaign which celebrated his military accomplishments, his (fabricated) desire to lead a simple, rustic life in the countryside, and love of alcohol, which, with a few tweaks, has essentially become the way that the Republican party always sells its candidates, who all mysteriously buy ranches in the western U.S. the year before they run for President, ranches full of deadly, deadly brush that just demands to be cleared.


Left: Tyler wore the same outfit to clear brush that he wore to give his eternally long speeches in freezing weather.


Harrison, a Crap President if ever there was one, is remembered—when he is remembered at all—for delivering the longest inauguration speech ever, clocking in at nearly two hours. Here is an excerpt:
It was the beautiful remark of a distinguished English writer that ‘in the Roman senate Octavius had a party and Anthony a party, but the Commonwealth had none.’ Yet the senate continued to meet in the temple of liberty to talk of the sacredness and beauty of the Commonwealth and gaze at the statues of the elder Brutus and of the Curtii and Decii, and the people assembled in the forum, not, as in the days of Camillus and the Scipios, to cast their free votes for annual magistrates or pass upon the acts of the senate, but to receive from the hands of the leaders of the respective parties their share of the spoils and to shout for one or the other, as those collected in Gaul or Egypt and the lesser Asia would furnish the larger dividend. The spirit of liberty had fled, and, avoiding the abodes of civilized man, had sought protection in the wilds of Scythia or Scandinavia…

It is safe to assume that Liberty was probably not the only one thinking of fleeing on that cold and wet early March day. Deadly stuff, this speech (literally, it would turn out). As broad as the 68 year old Harrison demonstrated his command of the classics to be, he also demonstrated a rather shocking lapse in judgment in deciding to deliver his endless speech without wearing an overcoat. Sparing the young nation any further pontification on the evils of partisanship in the classical-era Mediterranean, Harrison contracted pneumonia and died within the month.

His successor John Tyler had an undistinguished, crap Presidency, a time that was marked primarily by the creation of a variety of other political parties, almost all of which had “Hating President Tyler” as some part of their platform. He spent most of his presidency fighting Henry Clay over banking policy and almost botching the annexation of Texas. Though he had run with Harrison on the Whig ticket, Tyler had been a Democratic Republican (first a Jacksonian, and later an anti-Jacksonian), and after becoming President he pissed off his party by pretty much vetoing everything they wanted to do. They responded by kicking him out of the party, and his entire Cabinet (except for Secretary of State Daniel Webster) quit. Webster would also quit later, a shrewd move considering what would happen to his successor.


Left: John Tyler, looking like the winner he was.


Tyler also seems to have been a terrible guy to know, as it seems that if you had any sort of association with him, you were apt to drop dead at any moment. On Harrison’s death, Tyler became the first Vice President to become President due to the death of a President, and spent his term losing the battle to keep those around him alive. His wife, Letitia Tyler, became the first First Lady to die mid-term when she passed away in 1842. Then, in 1844, Tyler, members of his Cabinet, his new fiancée Julia Gardiner, and others participated in a ceremony aboard the USS Princeton, where a cannon backfired and killed his new Secretary of State Abel P. Upshur, his Secretary of the Navy Thomas Gilmer, and his fiancée’s father, David Gardiner. Julia married him anyway, and years later he would die and leave her a penniless widow. Though everyone around him died, Tyler managed to have many children who lived to adulthood, and he had a horse named “The General” that lived for 20 years.

Tyler was the first President to have a veto overridden by Congress (which they did as a “fuck you” on his last full day in office). Congress also tried to impeach Tyler, but I guess his aptitude for failure was contagious, and they were not able to. Belonging to no party, and apparently liked by no one except the woman who married him in spite of his indirect role in the death of her father, Tyler did not run for another term. After his presidency, Tyler went on to serve in Congress—the Confederate Congress.

William Henry Harrison and John Tyler demonstrate that you can be a crap President without shoddily planning disastrous wars or by having evil Vice Presidents (Tyler didn’t even have a Vice President). The best thing that you can say about the Harrison presidency is that his grandson (another Crap President candidate) would later become President, and the best thing that you can say about Tyler’s time in office is that he didn’t cause the Irish Potato Famine. Unless he did, which would not be at all surprising.

So the next time you send a text message you shouldn’t have sent, or leave your DNA all over a crime scene, or pay thousands of dollars to a prostitute to cross state lines, don’t beat yourself up about it—just remember that you are, in your own special way, honoring the legacy our most Crap Presidents.

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