John Tyler began his Senate career as a Jacksonian, but he began to break from the Administration during the Nullification Crisis of 1832-33. His was the only Senate vote against the Force Bill, which permitted the president to use military force to protect duty collectors in states refusing to comply with federal tariff laws. Ironically, Tyler’s sympathy for South Carolina’s nullifiers caused him to become personally and politically closer to Anti-Jacksonians such as Henry Clay, who typically embraced more exalted visions of federal legislative power.
And although Tyler believed Congress went beyond the scope of its enumerated powers in chartering the First Bank of the United States in 1791, he considered Jackson’s order to successive Treasury Secretaries to remove government deposits from the Bank a gross usurpation. (The Second Bank’s Congressional charter wouldn’t expire for over two years, after all.) He voted for Henry Clay’s resolution to censure President Jackson for “assum[ing] upon himself authority and power not conferred by the constitution and laws, but in derogation of both.”
In February 1836, the largely Democratic Virginia House of Delegates formally instructed Senator Tyler to vote ‘yea’ on a bill designed to expunge the successful censure resolution from the Senate Journal. If I remember correctly, Tyler argued that a post-hoc alteration of the Senate Journal would have violated the constitutional command that “[e]ach House shall keep a Journal of its Proceedings, and from time to time publish the same.” Furthermore, he considered state legislative instructions binding on Congressmen—indeed, one of his first public acts had been to secure the Virginia House of Delegates’ censure of the state’s U.S. Senators, both of whom defied the House of Delegates’ instructions to vote against the recharter of the First Bank. (Edit: a loyal reader points out that Tyler may not have believed that these instructions were binding on Representatives, who were popularly elected, but were binding on Senators, who were then chosen by their “instructors.” Makes sense to me!) So out of fidelity to his political and constitutional principles (and surely aware that a rebuffed Virginia legislature would not return him to Washington), Tyler resigned his Senate seat.
Here are images of his resignation letter, addressed to Vice President (also Senate President) Van Buren:
“I beg leave through you to inform the Senate that I have on this day resign’d into the hands of the General Assembly of Virginia, for reasons fully made known to it, my seat in the Senate of the U. States, as a Senator from that State. This annunciation is now made so as to enable the Senate at its earliest pleasure, to fill such vacancies on the several Committees, as may be created by my resignation.
In taking leave of the body over which you preside, I should be faithless to the feelings of my heart if I did not frankly confess that I do so with no ordinary emotions. I look to the body itself as the representative of those federative features of our system, to preserve which unimpaird has been the unceasing object of my public life. I separate from many with whom I have been associated for years, and part with friends whose recollection I shall cherish to the close of my life. These are sacrafices which it gives me pain to make. Be pleas’d to assure the Senate that I carry with me into retirement sentiments of respect towards its members, and that in bidding them adieu I extend to each and all my best wishes for their health, happiness and long life.”
Tyler was never a Clay-Adams-Webster Whig, but his apparent political conversion created the conditions for his eventual succession to the presidency in a Whig administration. Like the man he came to loathe, Tyler, too (hehe!), had the opportunity to sign or veto Bank recharter legislation. The majority-Whig 27th Congress failed to override Tyler’s veto. As one scholar has pointed out, President William Henry Harrison’s untimely death actually prevented the Taney Court’s anticipated overruling of McCulloch v. Maryland. Harrison (adamantly pro-Bank) undoubtedly would have signed the recharter legislation, but Tyler’s veto ensured that no case respecting the Bank’s constitutionality could arise.
I’ll close by relating the incredible fact that John Tyler, who was born in 1790 and elected to the House of Representatives in 1816, has two living grandsons!