Jacki: John Tyler

John Tyler, by Gary May

John Tyler is one of those forgotten presidents. He was the first vice president to take over after the death of a president and to be perfectly honest, he didn’t really do much in office. He got himself really hooked on Texas and slavery and tried to get stuff done in those departments. Because of the forever-villian Henry Clay, he didn’t succeed there or really anywhere else.

The real problem was that he had very different beliefs than William Henry Harrison, who he took over for. In fact, at one point his entire cabinet (minus one!) just walked into his office and quit. He was even nearly impeached. During his term, his party dumped him and he had to start his own party. Wild, right? Why don’t they teach this stuff?

Also, he married a 23 year old while he was in office. He was 55. Seriously. They had a bunch of kids (I want to say like 7 or 8?), including one when Tyler was 70 years old.

He didn’t run after his term was up, he just headed back home to Virginia. While he was there, the Civil War started and he ran for and got elected to the Confederate Congress.

One little tidbit at the end of the book said that John Tyler was born the year that Washington was inaugurated and his last child died when Truman was president. I guess that that is one benefit of marrying someone less than half your age, huh?

Anyway, I really thought that John Tyler was super interesting. I think part of it was the fact that he never really aspired to be president, and had William Henry Harrison not died in office, he never would have been. They called him the Accidental President and it was way interesting to see how someone who had not really wanted the position did with it. The answer was not very much at all.

Because I thought John Tyler was going to be pretty boring and forgettable, I just read a little, skinny book about him. It was another one from the American Presidents series, which has been really hit-or-miss for me so far. What I really enjoyed about this book was that the author seemed to just tell Tyler’s story. He wasn’t trying to push an agenda and he wasn’t obsessed with Tyler. It was just really factual and unbiased. That was refreshing.

I thought that the little political skirmishes got to be a bit much, but if you are into that kind of stuff I’m sure that you’d be way interested. He was, however, a president, so I guess I can forgive him for talking too much about politics ;)

Seriously though, pretty good book on a really interesting guy. I may try to go back and read a little bit more about him (and Henry Clay! He keeps popping up!) when I complete the challenge.

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Jessica: Millard Fillmore

Milliard Fillmore: Biography of a President, by Robert Rayback

One day at work the fire alarm started ringing and we needed to evacuate the building, so I grabbed Millard Fillmore and proceeded to the parking lot. While waiting for the fire trucks to arrive I figured why not read. My boss looked over and noticed the book in my hands and said “Millard Fillmore? He’s got to be the most boring president, why on earth are you reading that?”. Ask anyone what they know about Millard Fillmore and they will probably respond with the fact that he was the most boring president.

Going into this biography, I have to admit that I did not have high hopes based just upon the general principal that Pres. Fillmore would in fact be boring. However, I ended up being quite satisfied.

This biography painted Millard Fillmore to be born to a family that was by no means wealthy. He grew up with a limited education, but because of his strong ambition to be so much more, he took all steps necessary to rise above his station and seek out ways to procure an education through books, friendships and even teaching. He was an avid reader and built up quite a library during his lifetime and even went so far as to build the first “library’ in the White House.

Fillmore was not the most politically ambitious president and was never very good at making decisions in stressful hat, but he did have a knack for looking toward the right people to make the decisions.

It was surprising to see that once Fillmore’s term as president ended that he was ready for it to be over even though he had no idea what to do with the rest of his life seeing he was still relatively young and didn’t know what he wanted to do. And I found it further surprising that he then turned around and ran for the Presidency again in 1852.

I went into this book underestimating Millard Fillmore, but now I realize that while he was not a formidable president, he was still an interesting figure in our polical tapestry.

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