John Tyler was the first U.S. President who wasn’t elected.

  • John Tyler receiving news
John Tyler receiving news
Everett Collection/ Shutterstock

John Tyler became President on April 4, 1841, upon the death of William Henry Harrison, earning him the unflattering nickname “His Accidency.” He was the first of eight Vice Presidents who have been elevated to the nation’s highest office due to a presidential death, as per an interpretation of the vague wording of Article II, Section 1, Clause 6 of the U.S. Constitution. Given the fact that this act of succession had never been tested before Tyler took office, several Whig Party members referred to the new POTUS as “Acting President.” Tyler, however, insisted that his new role as President was full and unqualified, and refused to open any mail that was addressed to the more temporary title.

Some members of Congress disagreed with Tyler, including former President John Quincy Adams, who argued that Tyler’s ascension to the office of President was “in direct violation both of the grammar and context of the Constitution.” On May 31, 1841, Congress held a special session to resolve the issue. A joint resolution was proposed in order to affirm Tyler’s role as President of the United States without any conditions, and both the House and the Senate approved the measure the next day. The vice presidency remained vacant throughout Tyler’s term, until he was succeeded by James K. Polk in 1845. Though the Tyler administration was the first of several to leave the VP office vacant, that changed with ratification of the 25th Amendment in 1967, which created a constitutional process for replacing the Vice President and clarified the rules of presidential succession, establishing what’s now known as the “Tyler Precedent.” 

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