When William Henry Harrison dies of pneumonia in April 1841, just one month after his inauguration, Vice President John Tyler assumed the presidency. No president has ever before died in office, and the succession proved controversial for this Southern gentleman, who had been placed on he fractious Whig ticket with the hero of Tippecanoe in order to sweep Andrew Jackson's Democrats, and their imperial tendencies, out of the White House. Despite his desire to join fellow Virginians Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe in the pantheon of great presidents, Tyler soon found himself beset by the Whigs' competing factions. He vetoed the Whig-supported charter for a new Bank of the United States, which he deemed unconstitutional, and was expelled from his own party. As his battles with Congress intensified, Tyler turned his attention to foreign policy, where he believed he could act more freely, and to his personal life. He engaged secret agents to help resolve a border dispute with Britain and, recently widowed, pursued his infatuation with a young New York socialite. Although his hopes for a second term were dashed, he remained determined to win fame by annexing the Republic of Texas, even without the Senate's approval—a clear refutation of his beloved Constitution. The resulting sectional divisions roiled the country and eventually led to the Civil War. Gary May, a historian known for his dramatic accounts of secret government, sheds new light on Tyler's tumultuous presidency, which saw him set aside his principles to gain his two great ambitions: Texas and a place in history.
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1The High Road to FameThe young John Tyler met the revered Thomas Jefferson, founding father and former president of the republic, on October 21, 1809, when Jefferson came to dine at the Tyler home. For Jefferson, recently retired from the presidency after the election of his protégé James Madison, the visit to Richmond was something of a homecoming, although perhaps not a pleasant one. Jefferson would be dining at "The Palace," the residence of the governor of Virginia, Judge John Tyler. When Jefferson had occupied the office from 1779 to 1781, he had been forced to flee