Thursday, February 24, 2011

Reevaluating U. S. Presidents

Recognizing Presidents' Day this past Monday, the Lynchburg News & Advance wrote about the streets in Lynchburg that are named for United States presidents. Some of our most revered presidents are honored: Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe. Some of the more forgettable presidents also give their names to our streets: Taylor, Fillmore, Pierce, Buchanan. Our ninth president, William Henry Harrison, is honored, as is the eleventh president, James Polk. John Tyler, the tenth president, who was Harrison's vice-president and ascended to the presidency following Harrison's sudden death after only a month in office, was at the time not deemed worthy of Lynchburg's honor.

Chris Dumond, writing for the paper, indicates that the omission of Tyler was likely no accident: he had fallen out of favor because of his opposition, as president, to some of the policies favored by the newly formed Whig party and one of its most powerful leaders, Henry Clay. Clay had been a candidate for the presidency, and had received a warm welcome when he visited Lynchburg in 1828. Clay is honored by Lynchburg with a named street, but not his opponent, John Tyler.

It is the more surprising that Tyler was not honored by Lynchburg when we recognize his distinguished service to the Commonwealth. He served many years in the Virginia House of Delegates, the U. S. Congress and Senate, and was a governor of Virginia. He was a champion of states rights and sought to limit the role of the federal government vs. the states. He first tried to keep Virginia from seceding from the Union and was a chief sponsor of the Peace Convention in early 1861 which sought to prevent war. After the war began, Tyler supported the cause of Virginia, and was elected to the first Congress of the Confederacy, but his death prevented him from serving in that capacity.

Many of us who are concerned about the rapid expansion of presidential powers might agree that the legacy of Tyler needs to be reviewed. In The Beacon of the Independent Institute, Mary Theroux writes about John Tyler as a presidential role-model. She references Ivan Eland's 2009 work Recarving Rushmore, in which this author evaluates all the U. S. presidents, ranking them from first to last using criteria of peace, prosperity and liberty. Eland's choice for the best U. S. president? John Tyler.

Theroux's article can be seen here, Presidential Role Model
and at the end of that article is a link to an interview of Eland conducted by Ron Paul on CSpan's Afterwords.

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