Former U.S. President John Tyler Became Loyal to the Confederacy

An interesting article on Yahoo! News relates that two grandsons of John Tyler,  the 10th President of the United States, are still alive.

The presidential grandchildren were born in the 1920s. Lyon Gardiner Tyler, Jr., was born in 1924, and Harrison Ruffin Tyler was born in 1928. Their father, Lyon Gardner Tyler, was in his 70s when he fathered them.

John Tyler was born in 1790 and was 63 years old when his son Lyon was born. As crazy as that may seem, Lyon was not John’s youngest. Tyler had two more children: a son, Robert, born in 1856; and, his youngest, a daughter, Pearl, born in 1860. She passed away in 1947.

Tyler had 8 children with his first wife, Letitia, and 7 with his second wife, Julia.

John Tyler was president 20 years before the Civil War. He was a Virginian who served as Governor of that state in the 1820s. He also had been both a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate before being elected Vice President in the 1840 election as the running mate of William Henry Harrison. Harrison died in office just one month into his term, and Tyler was elevated to the presidency. Tyler served out the term and did not run for reelection in 1844.

Early in his presidency, Tyler was attacked by abolitionists, most notably, Joshua Leavitt and William Lloyd Garrison. Leavitt alleged that Tyler fathered children by his slaves and sold some of them; Garrison unequivocally stated that Tyler was “ipso facto unqualified to rule, or to hold office, in a free republic.”

There are African-American families in Virginia today who believe themselves to be descended from John Tyler. Well, it’s certainly possible to find out, with the grandchildren still around and today’s sophisticated DNA tests … if proven true, would it sully Tyler’s reputation even more than his post-presidency actions?

After his presidency, he retired from political life to his plantation in Virginia. In February 1861, he reentered public life as the nation moved closer to civil war. Tyler presided over a peace conference in Washington convened by Virginia to help work out a compromise. The conference was a failure. Like many prominent southern politicians of his day, Tyler was a strong advocate of states’ rights, and despite the fact he had once been President, he became a proponent of secession once the peace conference failed.  He was elected to the first Confederate House of Representatives, and was in Richmond awaiting the opening session when he became ill. Tyler died January 18th, 1862 at age 72.

Although Tyler was the only former President of the United States to switch sides, there was also one former vice president who cast his lot with the Confederacy. Kentuckian John C. Breckinridge, who was vice president under President James Buchanan from 1857-1861, ran for president in 1861 as a Southern Democrat, while Stephen A. Douglas ran as a Northern Democrat. Even though he lost the presidency to Abraham Lincoln, the Kentucky legislature elected Breckinridge to the U.S. Senate. (U.S. Senators were elected by the state legislatures until the 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1913).

While a divided Kentucky remained in the Union, Breckinridge became a pro southern Senator. He was expelled from the Senate in December 1861, and joined the Confederate Army, rising to the rank of Major General.  Breckinridge fought in several important battles in both the east and west, and was appointed Secretary of War in 1865. After the war, he left the country but returned home to Kentucky in 1869 and became a lawyer. He died in Lexington, Kentucky in 1875.

One final note on the Yahoo! article. 99-year-old Jane Garfield, granddaughter of James A. Garfield, is mentioned as the oldest living presidential grandchild. James A. Garfield was the 20th President of the United States, who served less than a year in 1881 before being assassinated.  Garfield was also a Major General in the Union Army who saw action at the Battles of Shiloh and Chickamauga, among others.

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4 Responses

  1. Skye says:

    what about the black children he fathered.All together he fathered well over 20 children so why is this not part of his story.My blood line is his blood line.Charles City is my families home land and majority of them are still there.Why is our names not associated with him.

    • Mark says:

      This post is a commentary on a 2012 Yahoo! News article and the fact that Tyler had two living grandchildren at the time it was written. Both articles make mention of African American descendants.

  2. Erica says:

    I also believe we are also descendants of John Tyler and see it in my family members with brown skin, we have relatives from this area and carry the name. Can someone please reach out so we can settle this, once and for all. Thank you.

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