Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

William J. Cooper, Jr


This dissertation explores the political career and personal life of John Tyler from 1790 to 1840. Tyler, the tenth president of the United States, was born into an influential planter family that lived in the Tidewater region of Virginia. His father, for whom he was named, instilled in him a devotion to principle and political service and an appreciation for the role of Virginia in America's history. The elder Tyler, a prominent politician and judge, was also an admirer of Thomas Jefferson and an ardent republican. Tyler dedicated himself to a career in politics imbued with the belief that men of his class had a duty to serve in public life. His states' rights political ideology was shaped by a conviction that only a strict interpretation of the Constitution---the Jeffersonian ideal---could best protect the interests of the slave South. Before succeeding to the presidency, Tyler enjoyed a long, productive, and often controversial, career. He became a member of the Old Dominion's general assembly at age twenty-one and was later elected governor of the state. He also served in the United States House of Representatives and in the Senate, becoming an outspoken champion of Virginia and the South. My work traces the development of Tyler's career before the White House, showing his importance in Virginia politics and analyzing his rhetoric and fundamental assumptions on such hotly-contested issues in the national arena as internal improvements, a national bank, the tariff, and slavery. I examine his view of his constituency and conclude that he was a far shrewder politician than historians have traditionally maintained. I also explain the process by which he landed on the Whig ticket along with William Henry Harrison in the election of 1840. Finally, I probe his private life. I detail the relationships he shared with family and colleagues and investigate the effects chronic illness had on these relationships and his career. I examine his efforts as both an attorney and slaveholder. I contend that the interplay between his private and public lives frustrated Tyler greatly, though he achieved tremendous personal fulfillment from politics.