John Tyler (1790–1862) was the first vice president to succeed to the office on the death of a sitting president. When Tyler took over after William Henry Harrison’s death, his presidency established the right of a vice president-turned-president to assume the full powers and privileges of that office, on equal terms of legitimacy with a directly elected president. Though Tyler did eventually win grudging acknowledgement of his authority, it was at great political cost. In his inauguration speech, he had appeared to espouse solid Whig principles, but the party soon realized that Tyler was not so easily dominated. The Whig program had effectively died along with Harrison. At the next election, in 1844, the Whigs nominated Henry Clay for president. Tyler attempted to form a third party but could only muster the organization of a splinter group of so-called “Tyler Democrats.” Soon realizing the hopelessness of the election, Tyler spurned his fellow Whigs and backed the Democratic dark horse candidate, James K. Polk.

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