The New York Times’ excellent series Disunion, on the period leading up to the War Between the States, this week profiled one of the more interesting individuals to ever sit in the Oval Office.
John Tyler was the first vice president to assume the presidency upon the death of a chief executive, when William Henry Harrison died a month into his term after contracting pneumonia during his inauguration speech.
“Many Americans in 1841 believed that the Constitution did not mandate that the vice president actually assume the highest office in the land, but merely that he execute its powers while retaining his title,” according to the Times. “So when Tyler asserted that he was actually president, he was condemned as a usurper and ridiculed as ‘His Accidency.'”
Tyler never wavered from his conviction that he was the rightful president; when his political opponents sent correspondence to the White House addressed to the “Vice President” or “Acting President,” Tyler had it returned unopened, according to Edward Crapol’s biography, John Tyler, the Accidental President.