Jessica: John Tyler

John Tyler: Champion of the Old South, by Oliver Chitwood

John Tyler truly was the ‘accidental president’. He went to sleep one night knowing as Vice President that his role in the government was pretty minimum and woke up the next morning to find out that Harrison had died and boom, Tyler was President.

Apparently there was some hemming and hawing from certain government leaders as well as the public thinking that maybe Tyler shouldn’t be promoted to President upon the death of Harrison. As this was the first case of a President dying in office, there was some confusion as to how the Constitution dealt with the dilemma. Some thought the Constitution was too vague in its defining how a President that passes would be succeeded. Eventually though, the fuss died down and Tyler continued on as President.

This book gives the reader an opinion that Tyler had more enemies than friends in the government. He even was known a the president without a party because neither the Whigs or the Democrats wanted anything to do with him. It was almost as if he spent his entire Presidency fighting with all of Washington to be accepted.

Tyler’s private life was not a big focus in this book. He did have a lot of kids. It looks like there might have been 7 children total. He was also married twice. The author did not give the reader any insight as to which wife had which kids. I am still not sure if the kids were all from his first marriage or if they are from both marriages combined. I would have liked to have learned a bit more about Tyler’s private life.

Tyler was a man who did not write a lot of letters or keep a diary, unlike Adams or Jeffersn, so I can understand how writing a biography on him might be difficult. Because of this fact, I do appreciate the obstacles that the author must have been presented with to write this book. Granted the book is a bit dated as it was originally published in the 1930’s, and it did skip around during Tyler’s career which made it difficult to keep facts straight, but all and all it was an informative read on a little known president.

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Jacki: John Quincy Adams

John Quincy Adams: A Public Life, A Private Life, by Paul C. Nagal

Let me just start by saying that this was not one of the biographies that I was really excited about.  After reading John Adams, I kind of thought that I had a pretty basic idea of JQA’s life and thought this would be just a giant re-cap for me.

Um, no.

Turns out that JQA had this really full, amazing life that he basically lived pretty far removed from his father.  Not in a bad way, I don’t want to come across wrong.  He just wanted success on his own terms, not because his dad was president too.

I loved that this biography focused in on his life and the person who JQA was, as opposed to his politics and yadda yadda.  The biographer read a lot of previously unread parts of JQA’s diary/journals/letters and put together just this really great character sketch of JQA as a man, not so much a politician.  Really amazing.

The thing is: he was sort of a boring dude.  He was a reader/a writer/a really introspective guy.  When he was a bit younger he was lively, but early in his life he was faced with the idea that he HAD to open a law practice and go into politics.  He did it really grudgingly and knowing that it wasn’t really what he wanted to do with his life.  Because of this, he had bouts of depression for the rest of his life. He was really interested in science and literature and just couldn’t pursue those things like he wanted too.  It’s kind of sad, really.

His presidency was only given 1 chapter in this book and I think it is because it was only 4 years and it was the most miserable 4 years of his life.  He pretty much hated it and just wanted it to be over. He wasn’t very effective and when he left office, it was kind of this sigh of relief.

Here’s what is cool: the best part of his life was after his presidency.  He maintained public office and was a lawyer in the Amistad case and got to spend more time with his wife and his books, and after this long, somewhat grueling life he finally got a kind of happy ending.  I like that.

So. This is a great biography.  Parts of it are a little dry, but I think that it is just because JQA was a little bit boring.  The author did a great job of showing the person of JQA and I would recommend this to anyone who is interested in American history.

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