TYLER, John. Autograph letter signed ("John Tyler"), as former President, to his son Robert Tyler, Sherwood Forest, 11 March 1847. 2 pages, folio, address panel WITH AUTOGRAPH FREE FRANK signed ("J. Tyler"), integral blank, tipped to another sheet, creases on address leaf repaired.
TYLER COMPLAINS THAT NATIONAL AFFAIRS NOW "TURN ON THE ISSUE OF SLAVERY
A fascinating letter that details the bitter enmity between John C. Calhoun and Thomas Hart Benton during the Mexican War. "I am happy to say to you that [name rubbed out] is appointed a Captain in the U.S. Army," Tyler begins. "He promised me to abandon the use of ardent spirits if I got him a Captcy. The consideration was so very valuable that I wrote directly to the President who has lost no time in making the appointment." Tyler discusses his travels then turns to the Mexican War debate and comments that "Calhoun has confirmed his character for extreme selfishness by his speech on the war. [Thomas Hart] Benton sought through C.'s unpopularity to reestablish himself in the ground he had lost in the election of 1844, by ascribing everything to Calhoun; and the latter was weak enough to swallow the bait. I am strongly tempted to give a full history of the whole affair. He represents the Executive power as being in abeyance when in fact it was most active. And then to cause the whole question to turn on the question of slavery? It is too bad..."
Even before the war with Mexico ended, American lawmakers were at each other's throats about whether the newly conquered territory should be slave or free (the Wilmot Proviso). This gave Benton and Calhoun an opportunity to renew their long-standing feud, which dated back to the Nullification Crisis of the Jacksonian era. For Benton, Calhoun embodied the worst of Southern sectionalism, seeking new lands for slave cultivation, even if it threatened the Union. When Calhoun, as Secretary of State under Tyler, accomplished the acquisition of Texas, Benton voted against it, even though he was a slaveholder himself, and a Senator from the slaveholding state. This "profile in courage" won him inclusion into John F. Kennedy's famous book a century later, but won him no friends among his fellow Democrats, and destroyed his Presidential aspirations. Tyler, for his part, resents both men for their assumption that Texas annexation was all Calhoun's doing and that the "Executive power"--i.e. Tyler--was in "abeyance."