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Trump’s support for the January 6 rioters is wrong. But another former president was worse.

It’s important to keep in mind that Trump is not – yet – the worst ex-president in US history. Trump made a serious effort to dishonor his post-presidency, of course. He likely encouraged future insurgencies by promising to pardon rioters who ransacked the Capitol on January 6, 2021. And he hid boxes of top-secret documents at his home in Mar-a-Lago, raising serious security concerns. national.

But John Tyler, a Whig who held the office from 1841 to 1845, was even worse. Tyler actually tried to destroy the Union by joining the Confederate Treason War to defend slavery. Tyler’s betrayal deserves to be remembered as a warning of the real danger a former president can pose.

Tyler’s betrayal deserves to be remembered as a warning of the real danger a former president can pose.

But this story is also a good example of how principled political leaders can stand up to a rogue president, even at the risk of damaging their parties’ prospects. During Tyler’s presidency, the Whigs actually kicked him out of the party when he violated Whig principles. After the party finally split over the issue of slavery, Abraham Lincoln and William Seward defended the Union which Tyler betrayed.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., took a small step in their direction when he announced Tuesday that he would support the Voter Count Reform and Improved Presidential Transition Act. , which aims to prevent future efforts to overturn elections like those at the heart of the January 6 insurgency. The decision put him at odds with Trump but bolstered the bill’s chances of passing.

Unfortunately, it’s not clear that all Republican lawmakers will follow McConnell’s lead. And beyond that legislation, Republican leaders have mostly continued to allow Trump’s reckless conduct because they seem unwilling to defend democracy against his “big lie.”

While Trump can never disgrace the presidency as thoroughly as Tyler, the stain of his actions will taint the legacy of all his fellow Republicans if they don’t try to stop him before he gets close. Members of Lincoln’s party would better serve themselves and their country by showing their allegiance to democracy rather than to Trump.

Tyler, like Trump, was a somewhat unexpected president who did not originally belong to the party that elected him. A slave from a prominent Virginia family, Tyler started out as a Jacksonian Democrat. He broke with the Democrats during the Cancellation Crisis of 1832-3, when President Andrew Jackson threatened to forcibly impose tariffs on the state of South Carolina. In a foreshadowing of his later conduct, Tyler believed that so-called state rights took precedence over federal law.

Tyler was made vice president on the Whig ticket in 1840 to provide regional and political balance for Ohioan William Henry Harrison, who was sometimes suspected of abolitionist sympathies.

As the Democrats were in disarray after the economic panic of 1837, the Whigs handily defeated incumbent Martin Van Buren. But Harrison died a month after his inauguration, making Tyler the first vice president to succeed to the presidency.

Although there are serious doubts about Tyler’s precise constitutional status — Article II only says that the president’s “powers and duties” “belong to the vice president” — he did not wait for clarification. Tyler was immediately sworn in and declared himself President of the United States

The greats of the Whig party, including Henry Clay and Daniel Webster, thought they would wield great influence over the new chief executive, whom many had taken to calling His Accidency. They were quickly disappointed. Like Trump, Tyler had little respect for the party establishment that put him in power. His vetoes of national banking legislation led to clashes with members of his cabinet, who expected to be the adults in the room.

Tyler’s vetoes led to his expulsion from the Whigs, who nominated party loyalist Henry Clay in 1844. Tyler graciously retired to his Virginia plantation, managing his vast estates and carrying on the lifestyle of the nobility of the South while spending the summer at a resort not called Mar-a. -The girlfriend.

In 1860, Lincoln secured a solid majority of the electoral vote. But many southerners believed his election was illegitimate and began promoting resolutions for secession. Tyler returned to public life in February 1861 as president of the Washington Peace Conference, which was held in a last-ditch effort to avoid disunity. Along with other Southern delegates, Tyler opposed the conference’s final resolutions because there were no provisions to extend slavery into federal territories, even though they included a proposed constitutional amendment to protect slavery where it existed.

Tyler’s disloyalty became evident even as he presided over the peace conference; he was concurrently a delegate to the Virginia secession convention. After Confederate forces fired on Fort Sumter, South Carolina, he voted to disunite and then chaired the committee negotiating Virginia’s entry into the Confederacy. He was first elected to the Provisional Confederate Congress and then to the current Confederate House of Representatives. His betrayal only ended with his death just days before the Confederate Legislature met for the first time in Richmond, Virginia.

The political issues of the mid-19th century were very different from those of today, but the Whig response to Tyler’s presidency still shows that it is possible to put principle before expediency. Rather than recast in Tyler’s image, all but one of his cabinet members resigned in protest at his preference for states’ rights over national politics. Senate Whigs, meanwhile, declined to confirm many of his nominations, including several Supreme Court nominees. Less than six months after taking office, the Whigs expelled him from the party.

A party’s total repudiation of its own sitting president was unprecedented at the time and has never been repeated. (In 1974, a majority of Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee voted against impeachment of Richard Nixon.) The Whigs would elect only one more president – ​​Zachary Taylor, in 1848, who also died in office. Figures such as Lincoln were ultimately unable to coexist with Southerners like Alexander Stephens, who would be the Confederate Vice President, and the party imploded before the 1856 election.

Lincoln, Seward, and other anti-slavery Whigs soon formed the nucleus of the new Republican Party, which led the Union to victory in the Civil War. The refusal of the Whigs to embrace the presidency of Tyler, at the cost of splitting their party and losing future elections, proved to be a small step towards the defeat of a criminal rebellion and the abolition of the ‘slavery. Republicans today would do well to take note.

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