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tv   First Ladies Anna Harrison Letitia Tyler and Julia Tyler  CSPAN  May 25, 2015 12:00am-1:33am EDT

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the ability to have video of things from the scene being sent to incoming responders to have pictures from the scene, to be able to have important situational awareness data on where everyone is on that particular scene. today, not everyone would have the ability to see where the other invalid as her stage that would be coming in to pick up additional patient. you could leverage it for triage. today there's technology like wearable technology in the fitness world. but if that was done for emergency medical services where they can paste -- place that on a patient at the other to get vital signs, for example? think of the innovation that could happen. you would be a attractive current vital signs be up to send them to hospitals and track them there and make sure they are handed off and there's continuity of care. >> monday night at 8:00 eastern on the communicators.
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>> american history tv is featuring c-span's original series, first ladies, influence and image on sundays for the rest of the year. c-span produced a series with cooperation with the white house historical series and questions , from c-span viewers, we tell the story of first ladies. this is about 90 minutes. ♪ >> she was not happy that her husband had been elected president. she was not looking forward to being first lady. the problem was of course that he died only one month into his presidency and she never made it to washington. in 1836, when john tyler
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resigned from the united states senate he and his wife letitia and their family moved here to williamsburg. it's right here that letitia tyler suffered her stroke in 1839, john tyler learned that he was elected as vice president to william henry harrison and it's also here in the spring of 1841 where he was informed that he became 10th president of the united states and that letitia tyler learned that she became the first lady. >> she has another terrible stroke and dies and her husband goes into great mourning. and then he meets julia gardiner who is this -- another young lovely in her 20s. >> julie, i think of as the madonna, you know, of first ladies. [laughter]
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>> she loved publicity. she had actually posed as a model at a time when that was maybe, say, frowned upon but all accounts was bewitching. >> julia was at sherwood forest at the beginning of the war. there were a total of almost 90 slaves and they were totally her supervision. julia did, i just use the word "lobby" for her husband and she, she supported him tremendously in everything that she did. susan: untimely deaths, a secret marriage and outsized personalities are a part of the stories of the three women featured in our program tonight. as our political system grapples with the first time a vice president steps into the office of the presidency and sectional differences continue to grow in the country. good evening and welcome to c-span's series "first ladies: influence and image." tonight the election of 1840 which brings william henry harrison into office and just a month later, he dies, the first time a president dies in office. to learn about the tumultuous period of time, we have asked edna greene medford to our set tonight. she is the chair of the history department of howard university and has been working with c-span
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many times over the years in our history series. edna, nice to see you again. edna: nice to be here. susan: well, school children have all grown up with the, the phrase from the 1840 election, tippecanoe and tyler too. it was william henry harrison's campaign. he was elected at the age of 68, a record that no president broke again until ronald reagan was elected. who was this man and why did he so easily defeat martin van buren? edna: well, let me see. at the outset, i announce with a bit of pride that he was from charles city county, virginia, my hometown, my home county, but he moved to ohio. he was a military man initially. he had actually studied medicine for a short period of time and decided to join the military shortly thereafter. moved to ohio. he became the territorial governor of indiana and was before that a noted indian fighter.
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the term "tippecanoe" comes from the battle of tippecanoe where he fought against tecumseh and his brother. the two native americans who were attempting to establish a pan-indian movement. and as territorial governor, tyler was instrumental -- excuse me -- harrison was instrumental in securing land for white settlers and of course, that clashed with native american interest. and so at that battle, harrison was considered the victor. we're not so certain about that but he became important enough in that battle that it carried him into public office, was one of the things that did. susan: his wife, anna harrison was not happy about him being drawn back into politics. in fact, we have a quote from her that says, "i wish my
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husband's friends had left him where he is, happy and contented in retirement." how was he drawn into politics again? and then let's talk about what kind of a political spouse she was. edna: well, it's an interesting time in american political history because it's the period of the second american party system. there are two very distinct parties, the democratic party with andrew jackson as leader and then the whig party that grows out of opposition to jackson primarily. and so william henry harrison becomes a member of the whig party soon after it is founded and in fact, he is the first candidate for that party in 1836. but because they didn't have themselves together, there was no possibility of him winning. but in 1840, they were organized well enough and the democrats were divided enough that he was able to win. susan: so anna harrison, his
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spouse, had been with him through a long political career. what do we really know about this woman? edna: we don't know an awful lot about her. we know that she was a very religious woman. we know that she was a reluctant first lady. she didn't get to be first lady in the white house, of course, because the day that her husband and other members of the family left to go to washington, she was too ill to travel and curiously enough -- well ironically enough, i guess, the day that she was all packed up and ready to join him in washington was the day that she got notification that he had died. susan: how did he die? edna: that's an interesting question. the argument has always been that he died because he was not prudent enough to wear a top hat and coat at his inauguration. and he spoke too long and so he was exposed to very cold weather and he caught a cold and died. i think it's a little bit more complex than that.
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he was an older gentleman. as you said, he was 68. he was exhausted by all of the office seekers in the first month of his presidency and i think the -- all of that compromised his health. and so he did eventually catch a very bad cold that turned into pneumonia and as a consequence of that, he did die. susan: of anna harrison, we do know from some biographies that she was the first first lady to have a public education. and that she was an avid reader of political journals throughout her life. do we have any sense if she'd had more time at all, from historic research, about what kind of first lady she might have been? edna: she certainly did read political journals but i don't know that she was a very political person.
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i don't believe that she would have had the role that some other first ladies did later on and especially the person who follows her as first lady, the second person actually, john tyler's second wife. but i think that -- well at least she certainly, during the time that -- even though she didn't come to the white house, she did use her influence, what influence she had, to get appointments for her nephews and for her sons and grandsons. so she would have been political in that way but not in the way that we would think of someone like julia tyler. susan: which we'll learn much more about as our program continues tonight. on twitter, president ponderings asks this question or makes this comment, "anna harrison's husband became president, her son a congressmen, her grandson also a president. she must have had good genes." what was going on in the harrison family that it produced so many political leaders? edna: well, they considered the first -- one of the first
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families of virginia. and so you would've had harrisons who were very much involved in the american revolution. you had one signing the declaration of independence. so they have this long history of political involvement. i think too, it's where they're located by the mid-1800s in that northwest territory in this area that's opening up for the country and these men are getting very politically involved because of that. susan: related, rj wilson on our facebook page asked, "is it true that anna harrison helped raised her grandson benjamin harrison who became president? any sense of what kind of influence she had on him as a future president?" edna: well, she certainly did live with the family in her later years. her home burned and she went to live with one of her sons and of course he was the father of benjamin. what influence she had on him, we really don't know but we assume that as grandmothers are wont to do, they do have influence.
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susan: well, there was a brief tenure, only a month in the white house, but there were some social things that had to happen. so how did that role that fulfilled without a first lady here? edna: because she was not there, there were two other women who carried out her duties. one was jane irwin harrison who actually was a widow. she was married to one of the harrison men but he had died and so william henry apparently asked her to serve in that capacity. and she was assisted by one of her aunts by the same name, jane irwin findlay, who was an older woman and gave her son guidance. she was not the official hostess of the white house but she did give her a lot of guidance. susan: and is it true that dolly madison, who seems to pop up regularly as we progress along here, also was around to offer advice? edna: i think dolly madison offered advice whenever she got away with it and so yes, she would have been nearby to help
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out from time to time. susan: so one lasting legacy is that she was the first presidential widow that was able to get a pension for her service. how did that happen? what were the politics of that? edna: well, you know, her husband had died in office and she needed the assistance and so they -- congress did appropriate $25,000 for her. susan: which is not an unsubstantial amount of money if you were to calculate it today $25,000. edna: pretty big piece of change, yes. susan: in lump sum. and when he dies in office, this is the first time that this had happened. did it create a constitutional crisis? edna: it certainly did. the constitution does indicate that if the president is not there -- it doesn't say specifically death, i don't believe, but if the president is unable to perform the duties then those duties fall on the vice president. but it didn't say what the
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status of that person would be. would he be carrying out the duties and responsibilities as vice president, as acting president, or as the new president? and so john tyler decided that he was not going to let them think too long about that and so he declared himself the president. and he had congress -- well congress agreed to pass resolutions -- both houses to pass resolutions declaring him president. not everyone agreed with that, however, and so occasionally mail came to the white house addressed to the acting president or to the vice president and tyler had those documents returned unopened. susan: who was john tyler? edna: he too was born in charles city county, virginia. he lived only a couple of miles -- he was born only a couple of miles down the road from the harrison estate at berkeley plantation.
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he was born in greenway. he was an interesting president because although he was elected on the whig ticket with william henry harrison, he actually had been a jacksonian democrat earlier on in his political career and had clashed with jackson and the democrats and had joined the whig party. but once he became president, he sort of abandoned the whig platform and angered them and they expelled him from the party. susan: well, we're going to learn more about the john tyler presidency and the two women who served as his -- his first lady. we're going to do that by introducing you to the life that they had in what we call now today, colonial williamsburg. let's look. >> in 1836 when john tyler resigned from the united states senate, he and his wife letitia and their family moved here to williamsburg to establish his law practice. in fact, we've reconstructed his
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law office and his laundry. the house that they lived in is no longer here. but here in williamsburg they're perfectly situated at the center of the town, at the center of the legal part of the town -- the courthouse is right across the street -- near all of the markets, near all of the shops that are up and down duke of gloucester street. now this is sort of the beating heart of williamsburg even in the 1830s. and so all of the political activity, the social activity, they're really living at the center of it in this fantastic 18th century house that they were living in as john tyler is resurrecting his political career. after they move here when letitia is sort of running this household and running the entire tyler family, she's going to be operating out of the house, kind of the business that is the tyler family running their various plantations all over the place. it's right here that letitia tyler suffered her stroke in 1839 that partly paralyzed her
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although she was still able to retain control of the family -- the family accounts, of all of the family business while john tyler was actually getting back involved in politics. it's right here in this space that john tyler learned that he was elected as vice president to william henry harrison and it's also here in the spring of 1841 where he was informed that he became 10th president of the united states and of course, here that letitia tyler learned that she became the first lady of the united states. susan: and now we're back on the set and joining us is the gentleman that you saw in that video. taylor stoermer is a colonial williamsburg historian. he's also an expert on the history of the tidewater area in virginia where the tylers hailed from. how important -- well, give us a sense of tidewater, virginia in that period of time and what kind of characteristics a person in public life would bring with them to the office from having been there? taylor: i think that when you're talking about virginia in that
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period, they're still getting over the american revolution or maybe not quite yet. they're not letting go of the american revolution, not letting go of thomas jefferson and the kind of revolutionary principles that are supposed to inform public conduct and public virtue. but by the time he get to the -- by the time you get through john tyler's career in public office, by the time you get to the 1820s and 1830s, those things start to be coalesced into notions about states' rights, notions about what is the proper use of the constitution, notions about what the extent of federal authority is. you hear people like john tyler talk a great deal about the principles of 1798 thinking about the kentucky and virginia resolutions and the ability of the states to override unconstitutional or, so they think, unconstitutional federal actions. and so these principles of the american revolution are being -- are being still thought about, they're being thought over but also the kind of things that come to what are the
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expectations of a public leader? they need to be virtuous, they need to be disinterested and that is the only way that you can actually make good public policy. susan: so letitia and john tyler, bethany johnson wants to know where did they meet? taylor: letitia and john tyler actually they met where almost everybody on the tidewater meets, in williamsburg. they -- they actually live not that far from one another. john tyler is from charles city county and in a place called greenway and letitia tyler is from new kent county, which is really just a stone's throw away from charles city county. and they -- we don't know exactly where they met but we know that they met at -- in about 1811, 1812. john tyler went to william and mary with letitia's brother. and so their families certainly became involved with one another and they met a very young age. they were both the exact same
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age so they were 21, 22 when they met and they fell in love quite quickly. we've already been incorporating some of your tweets and facebook comments into our program tonight but you can also call us with your questions and we look forward to your participation. if you live in the eastern or central time zones, our number is 202-585-3880. if you live in the mountain, pacific, or farther west 202-585-3881. and we're hoping you texans will line up in your phone calls tonight because this white house was responsible for the annexation of texas into the union and we'll learn more about the role that john tyler's second wife played in that very momentous decision. so the tylers, letitia and john, had a lot of children. taylor: they have a lot of children. that's one of the things that really kept them apart for a great chunk of their married life because john tyler was constitutionally incapable of being out of public office. he was addicted to it to a certain extent so left letitia
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at home to run the family, to run the business and to continue to manage this incredible brood of children that they had almost from the -- almost from the very start. susan: and running their plantation would've been how large an operation? taylor: well they had a number of different plantations. one of the issues with john tyler and with the family is that they are always on the very edge of solvency and so they never live in one place for longer than 10 years. they were always moving around. and so their plantations, they own probably no more than between 30 and 35 slaves at a particular time and they're growing mainly wheat and corn over about 600 to 900 acres and that's between -- they owned plantations -- several plantations in charles city county, they then moved to
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gloucester county on the other side of the york river in virginia and so they're continuing to try to figure out a way during these very -- these very striking economic -- very striking economic changes to the country like what follows, the panic of 1819 or that go into what's going on in the -- in the late 18 -- in 1837 to find a way that they can keep their heads economically above water. and with john tyler gone for so long, that -- and for so often six months out of every year while he's in public office this leaves a lot of that burden resting on letitia's shoulders. susan: one gets the sense -- and listening to the video we saw from colonial williamsburg -- that this was a pretty tough woman. i mean, she had a stroke and was partially paralyzed and yet continued to handle the operations. edna: and i think that's indicative of -- of the kind of life that women lived during that time, even wealthy women, you know. this was not -- it was rural living and life was tough for
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them but life was made easier for them by their enslaved laborers and they certainly did use those to great advantage for them. susan: what is known -- question for both of you about the tyler's attitude at this point -- with letitia tyler and john about their attitude toward slavery? taylor: we know quite a bit. john tyler is one of the staunchest supporters of slavery that ever inhabited the white house. he was vocal about it throughout most of his career and he believed firmly and he said that slavery is the greatest property that a southerner can own. he believes this is the backbone of the society. letitia, we know a little bit less about. we know from -- from a story that actually ends up in some of the abolitionist press later on in the 19th century of a -- of a former enslaved man who had been a member, in fact, of the christian family who recalled that that -- that john tyler actually would -- he may have been less kind to -- to the
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enslaved men and women who are out in the fields. but when it came to the enslaved men and women in the household that he -- that he -- that he stopped right there, that they were under letitia's protection and they were treated very well. now you can read a little bit too much into a story like that. but whereas we have some very clear understanding of what john tyler's views are and they're consistent throughout his life letitia is a bit different. susan: dr. medford, we've been, each program, looking at the census statistics for the time period and here's the 1840 view of america through the census. the population had reached 17 million in now 26 states. that's a 32% growth since the 1830 census and we consistently see 30% each 10 years. the slaves numbered 2.5 million, which was almost 15% of the population and another sea change, new orleans joins the list of the largest cities in the united states. so i want to ask you two things
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on that. we heard about the tylers and their attitudes toward slavery. give us a quick capsulation of what was happening in the country at large over slavery at this point in 1840. edna: this is a tremendous period of sectional tension. there -- we -- we sometimes like to think that the country's divided regionally, that everyone in the north is anti-slavery and everyone in the south is pro-slavery. it's not quite that simple but at the same time, it does tend to fall along those lines for specific reasons. first of all, people in the north who had benefited from slavery and the slave trade certainly, until it was ended in 1808, now had moved into a different economic arena. they no longer need slavery and in fact, slavery is a threat to them because of the free labor system in the north. and the kind of economy that is needed to preserve institutions in the north are different from
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those in the south. and so what's happening in congress is both groups want to control the legislation because if you are a more industrialized region then you want certain kinds of laws passed that are going to support that economy. if you're more agrarian than you're going to be at laws that will -- will support that. and so there's a tremendous amount of concern about the expansion of slavery. it's not so much that northerners are anti-slavery because they're humanitarians but it's because of how slavery impacts them or how the expansion could impact them. susan: barbara is our first caller tonight from brownstown michigan. you're on the air, welcome. barbara: good evening, c-span. i love this series. i would like to know what was
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the duration of both of the president's marriages and how many children would he have had as a result of both marriages? thank you so much. susan: thank you. i saw one book that referred to john tyler as the father of our country. [laughter] susan: how many children between the wives? taylor: i think that they had 16 or 17 children. it depends upon whether you count the ones who lived 16 or 17. i think a total of 15. totally? edna: i believe a total because there were eight by letitia. right. and i think one died very quickly, that was in 1825, and then seven by julia but with a very, much shorter marriage too. right. taylor: that's because they -- he was married to letitia for 29 years and then he was married to julia from 1844 to when he died in 1862 so 18.
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susan: well, the -- the tylers learn, as you tell us, of the fact that they are coming to the white house and he is the 10th president of the united states. letitia's health is precarious. how does she carry out the role of first lady? taylor: well, it depends what you mean by first lady and i think that it gets us into a very interesting conversation about what is a first lady? is it just someone who happens to be married to the president or they have to fulfill these very particular roles? and so with letitia, she is by nature a retired person. she prefers to stay at home. she prefers a quiet life. she does not like the kind of public activities that a -- that a first lady -- we normally associate with the first lady. so even -- even without her illness, even without the stroke, i think it would have been a fairly quiet white house in the residence. however, that doesn't mean that there aren't other people there to fulfill these roles. that just means that she has to have other people do it for them. and it's a big family as we pointed out.
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it is a -- it is a closely knit family, they have their -- a lot of their daughters were living in the white house. they have a son and -- a son and daughter-in-law living in the white house. so she really turns all of that extraordinary social energy over to them, in particular their daughter-in-law priscilla cooper tyler. susan: well, gary robinson timely, asks us by twitter "what role did priscilla cooper have during letitia's white house and after her death?" edna: she is serving as unofficial hostess and -- and with -- especially with the tyler daughter, letitia, the namesake. she is an interesting person because she was an actress at a time when it was not a good thing for a woman to be doing that, it was not considered respectable. but the tylers accepted her and more importantly, letitia accepted her. she was very close to her. and so she would have been performing most of the functions that mrs. tyler would have been performing had she been able to
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do so. and it's not so much that she is not doing anything. even though she's disabled because of the stroke, she's still giving orders from her bedroom, so to speak, and she can't go out in the way that priscilla can and her daughter can. but she's doing some things. susan: john tyler's presidency was full of momentous issues. do we have any evidence that letitia tyler counseled him politically? taylor: yes, we have -- we have evidence that she counseled him in one very, very important way. earlier in their life, she told him to get out of politics, come home, stay out of it, i want you here. but of course, as we talked about, he couldn't stay out of politics. so by the time he was in the senate in 1830s, she gave up. after that, while he -- mentioned over and over again in letters to their children that she -- he respected deeply her prudence and her judgment, that political issues, he generally reserved those kind of discussions with his male friends.
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susan: there was a big debate in the congress about whether or not there should be appropriations for this vice president who assumed the presidency and whether or not they should pay for his expenses in the white house yet you suggest that they entertain quite a lot. how did they do that? edna: it had to have been with his own funds. [laughter] edna: because congress did not appropriate money for them, at least not to fix up the white house and the white house was an absolute mess at that time, just really in very poor repair. so he must have used some of his own funds to -- to -- to entertain people and they did entertain lavishly. susan: but you suggested earlier that they were always on the edge of solvency so how did they do that? taylor: there were on a shoestring so you assume that a lot of this is coming out of his salary as president. one of the people who is the most extravagant in that entire white house is john tyler himself.
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he spends most of his life in one sense -- in one sort of complicated debt after another and having his family, particularly people like letitia, trying to -- trying to keep them outside of it yet there are these -- there are these lavish entertainments, so priscilla who probably was taking a page out of louisa catherine adams' book, she holds two -- during the congressional session, she'll hold two formal dinner parties every week. she'll do -- every other week, she'll do public receptions in the evenings. she will hold public parties every month that would have as many as a thousand people. she opened up the white house on new year's eve -- on new year's, she opened up the white house on july 4th and she started the tradition of having the marine band do -- perform in the south lawn. they are finding ways to do that. but as dr. medford says, that -- that they might be doing it with mirrors because congress given
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their battles with john tyler, they don't appropriate a cent for the upkeep of that white house during his entire presidency. susan: next is a call from marvin in los angeles. hi marvin. marvin: hello. my question has to do with a constitutional question. article ii, section 1 says, "the elector shall meet in their respective states and vote by ballot for two persons of whom one, at least, shall not be an inhabitant of the same state with themselves." and if both of them came from the same county in virginia, how was it that they could both be president and vice president? and the second part of my question is, is it true that tyler was called "his accidency" because of the way he took over as president through the death of harrison? thank you very much for taking my question. susan: thanks for asking it, marvin. dr. medford? edna: first of all, they were born in charles city county, they were not living in charles city county at the time that they were elected. harrison was in ohio. john tyler was in virginia but
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harrison was in ohio. and the other question was about -- taylor: "his accidency." edna: oh, "his accidency. as one of the things he was called. absolutely. yes. the accidental president or "his accidency" because no one when expected that john tyler was going to ascend to the presidency. susan: what kinds of issues that he face when he came to office? taylor: well, there are the personal ones and then there are the broader political ones. the personal ones are that people didn't trust him, they didn't like him, they didn't expect that he was going to be on the ticket in the first place, he wasn't even the first choice of being a vice presidential candidate for the whig party and so they were fine with letting go off and live in williamsburg while william henry harrison was in the white house. so those are sort of the personal things he has to deal with. the broader political issues are really -- there is certainly the issue over the renewal of the bank of the united states.
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there are major issues over the tariff and over protective tariffs depending upon -- and how you felt about it depended upon what part of the country you lived in as to what was being protected and what wasn't. but of course the biggest one that comes up to define the presidency i think is really about the expansion of slavery is the -- is the annexation of texas and how -- what that means for the -- either the strength of the republic or its weakness in terms of what you think of the impact that has on slavery. susan: next is a call from harold watching us in sioux city, iowa. harold: yes, thank you for taking my call and i really enjoy the program. my question is will you -- you had a number of talks about jackson and tyler and they both had slaves. how did those slaves fare after enduring the civil war and were those plantations burned by the yankees or how did that come out? i'll hang up and i'll let you answer. thank you. edna: well, certainly the union
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army is coming though twice actually as a consequence of mcclellan's peninsula campaign. and each time that the union army comes though, the enslaved population leaves, they take the opportunity to leave. what's happening in charles city on the tyler plantation, sherwood forest, is that julia has left, she has fled and gone to new york at staten island to live with her mother. and so there are enslaved people left behind and they -- it is reported that some of them take over the plantation certainly the house is -- there are some things that are done by the union army probably and perhaps by local people as well. the plantation is in a bit of a mess when the war was over which is not that unusual for plantations in certain areas of
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the south at that time. they certainly do -- enslaved people certainly do suffer during the war, but they get their freedom as a consequence of it as well. and so there is an incident where julia writes to president lincoln because one of her neighbors who is a notorious secessionist is arrested by the union army and it happens to be a part of the union army that's under the control of general wild who is commander of the african brigade and some of the people who are attached to that unit had been enslaved by this gentleman, william clopton and they are allowed to beat him and julia is absolutely enraged of the idea. she is also concerned as well that her niece is left behind so she is concerned about her well-being. but she actually writes to president lincoln and complains
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about it and she signs her letter "mrs. ex-president tyler," she loved to use that. susan: well we have not even introduced julia into our tale yet so tell us about the death of letitia tyler in the white house. taylor: she died on september 10 in 1842. she had another massive stroke. susan: did she die instantly? taylor: she -- there is no evidence that there's any kind of lingering, that she dies fairly quickly and it is -- it hits the family like a ton of bricks. susan: was there a white house funeral for her? taylor: not that we know of, that they kept things very private. in fact, she was buried at her home, a place in new kent county, rather than at greenway court or rather than anyplace else that they -- that they may have lived. she was buried at her home with her parents. and so it was a very -- it was a very, very quiet -- a very quiet event but it was mostly
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manifested in the kind of impact that it had in her children. they were devastated. susan: what about the president himself? what was his reaction to losing his wife? taylor: well, at that time from his letters, we know that he was, you know, obviously emotionally attached to letitia. she ahd been-- had been a huge part of his life for a very long time and he loved her dearly. however, we also have evidence that he is seeing julia gardiner tyler probably about four months after her death. susan: and who is julia gardiner? taylor: julia gardiner, who richard norton smith called perhaps the madonna of the period -- julia gardiner is a -- she's a young woman from long island, new york from east hampton from where in fact anna harrison had gone to school. she is from a very well-known longstanding new york family with ties deep into the 17th century. they own gardiner's island and
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the family still owns gardiner's island and she -- her father was a new york state senator. they were in washington frequently for the social seasons and she was well-known at the white house and was well-known to the daughters of the tylers and was even known to come over not just for the levies, but -- and for the parties but to do things like quiet games of whist. and so the families -- the family knew her quite well. she was quite beautiful and quite rambunctious and was very well-educated, both here and in europe, so it made her quite a charming woman to be around. susan: and she quickly caught the widowed president's eye? taylor: she quickly caught the widowed president's eye. this moved -- this moved shocking very quickly. when -- susan: we have to establish the difference in age between the two. taylor: yes, julia gardiner is 30 years, almost exactly younger -- was 30 years younger than john tyler. and so when they got married
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she was 24 and he was 54. susan: one of the amazing things -- we told you how many children john tyler had. one of his grandchildren is still alive and inhabits sherwood forest, which is the tyler's home in the tidewater area of virginia -- you're looking at a picture of it right now -- and he and his wife are residents of the house but they also make it available for tours. harrison tyler is his name. he's 84 years old and we visited him recently in sherwood forest, the tyler's home, where he told us the story of the fateful event that brought julia and john tyler together. harrison: so in march of 1844, she came to the anacostia naval yard in washington and they fell-- sailed down the potomac. when they got to fort belvedere, put a barge out into the bay
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you know, they'd fire the big cannon at the barge and it does not report whether they hit it or not but everybody was very pleased with that cannon. the ship turned around and headed back to washington. the hardcore few wanted "let's fire this gun again." so they sent request down to the captain to stop the ship, "let's fire the gun." so all the handsome young officers were surrounding my grandmother.
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grandfather had been but it was trying to get down and talk to her. turned down. well, at that point, somebody looked over and as they're passing mount vernon. so the request was changed to stop the ship and fire the gun in honor of our first president and they couldn't turn that down. but when the ship did face downstream, the gun -- to fire the cannon -- the gun, instead of firing, the right breach blew up and it killed seven people. when she heard that, my grandmother faded right back into the arms of the president. he caught her tenderly and gently. so the ship did go and dock and when it docked, he picked her up and carried her down the gangplank. as she was going down the gangplank, she came to. later, she wrote her mother, saying that the first thing she remembered was going down the gangplank in the arms of the president and she struggled and her head had -- it fell over into the crook of his arm and she could look up into his eyes and she wrote her mother saying "i realize for the first time that president loved me dearly."
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susan: we promised at that outset that there would be a tale of a secret marriage. so tell the story. [laughter] taylor: june 26, 1844, it's only four months after the disaster of the uss princeton so julia's father has only been dead for four months and so there is still a period of mourning that should be publicly and appropriately observed. but he has -- but john tyler has secured -- even in that rough period of time secured the permission of her mother for them to get married. she was worried about his financial situation and about whether or not he would be able that was accustomed and when he was able to do that sufficiently she gave her permission. so she had -- they had a very, very small, private secret wedding at an episcopal church in new york city. there were only a handful of people there, one of his sons, a couple of his political friends and a few members of her family.
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but the public didn't know about it until the next day. susan: so the president disappears from washington checks himself into a hotel in new york city and gets married. taylor: yeah, it shows up in the newspaper that -- well, he's just going off to basically -- he's going off for his health. he's going to take a little bit of a vacation and he pops up in new york city and then it's in the newspaper the next day, oh by the way, the president has just gotten married to one of new york's most prominent social families. susan: what was the reaction at that time? edna: well, people, you know gossiped about it. it was were so soon after his wife's death although it really was not that soon after her death. but they were very much concerned about the age difference with many people feeling that it was unfair to julia that she was married to this man who was so much older than she was. so a lot of people didn't like it, his daughters certainly did not. taylor: they certainly thought that it was too soon. absolutely because they were-- edna: absolutely because they were very loyal to their mother, understandably.
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but there was one daughter who never got over letitia and the other daughters made their peace and that the sons never seemed to have a problem with it. but that one daughter never reconciled with her stepmother. susan: here is julia tyler who was quite a letter writer. so here's one of the letter she wrote to her mother about this event, "the secrecy of the affair is on the tongue and the admiration of everyone. everyone says it was the best managed thing they ever heard of." taylor: that that was secret was, yeah. susan: yeah and let's go on to this because this is -- this could be rather self-revealing. the president says, "i am the best of diplomatists. i have commenced my auspicious reign and am in the quiet possession of the presidential mansion." this is a 24-year-old woman. what should we learn from this quote about her? edna: she sees herself as queen of the land, ok. she had spent some time in europe after she had very
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notoriously posed for an engraving where she was advertising a product, a store actually, and that's something that respectable women did not do during that period so her parents had taken -- she and her sister to europe where they were introduced at the -- the court of louis philippe of france and she admired how the queen received her guest. and it was on -- she was seated of course and on a bit of a pedestal and so julia decided to do the same thing for a time. but she saw it very much as she was the first lady of the land and she was going to make the most of it. susan: from a family perspective, president pondering asked, "did john tyler have children older than his second wife, julia?" taylor: yes, his oldest daughter was several years older than julia. susan: and what was the family reaction?
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taylor: the family reaction was -- as dr. medford pointed out, it was -- at first, it was -- among the daughters, it was very negative and very virulent that it took -- as she said, letitia never reconciled to it. lizzie, it was three months before she even acknowledged that the marriage had taken place. for the youngest daughter, that she eventually came around, the oldest daughter came around. but the sons who were already familiar enough with julia that they were -- that they were ok with it by then. susan: but reading that quote, do we have the sense that this was a young woman with great aspirations or was this really a love match? taylor: i think that there's probably a little bit of both in that. it is tough for us to divide it out mainly because the correspondence that exists between them and whatever happened in terms of their portrait, we know that john's
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head-over-heels for her and we know that he's writing shakespearian sonnets to her. we know he's engaging in that kind of -- in that kind of very cavalieresque way of -- way of courting her. with her, the -- it depends on who you believe in terms of what her goals are. in the end, she ends up being his biggest supporter and biggest defender and if it -- and thanks to some very timely advice from her mother, was able to really put that -- was really able to put that in action. susan: next is a question from claire in owings mills maryland. hi, claire. claire: hi. i just wanted to say that a few years ago, a couple of us went to the sherwood plantation and tyler's grandson was then and he spoke to us for about an hour. he was very gracious. and i wonder if you could just discuss a little bit about their connection with william and mary. thank you. taylor: wow, their connection with william and mary goes back to the very beginning. you cannot separate william and
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mary from the tyler family at all. even to the -- even to the present day, the tylers go there. harrison's, you know, father lyon gardiner tyler who was president of william and mary, his father john tyler had obviously gone -- the president had gone to william and mary and had been chancellor of william and mary, his father john had gone to -- had gone to william and mary and -- and the place is as tied with the tylers as the university of virginia is tied with thomas jefferson. susan: another quote, which may hit some indication of the match between the tylers. this is julia writing about the president again in a letter to her mother, "really, do you think there was ever a man so equal to any emergency? it is a sort of inspiration for his ideas are expressed at the moment of any emergency with perfect fluency and effect." [laughter] susan: a question from rachel davidson schmoyer. "how did julia gardiner, a northerner, feel about becoming a slave-owner upon her marriage
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to john tyler?" taylor: that's an easy one. she comes from a family of slave-owners. new york does not abolish slavery until 1817, the gardiners owned slaves, there are slaves at -- there are slaves at gardiner's island when -- that are owned by her family when she's born in 1820. she's as much born into the slave culture as anybody living in the tidewater. susan: were there slaves in the white house in 1840? edna: there must have been. the tylers would have brought enslaved people with them and we know that when the peacemaker -- the gun blew up on the princeton, one of the enslaved men owned by tyler was killed and so clearly he had some of his enslaved people there in the white house with him. now you talked earlier about-- susan: now you talked earlier about julia tyler having done this advertisement, she earned the moniker, the rose of long island. and she brought that sense -- the sensibility to her job, her eight months as the first lady. it is written in some books that
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she actually had the services of what was -- what would be thought of is a press agent. edna: yes. taylor: she is the hannah -- hannah august of -- [laughter] taylor: of the 1840s. susan: the president himself didn't have a press. taylor: no. no, not at all. susan: she loved publicity. edna: yeah. she -- the more notorious, the better. she made it a point of cultivating the friendship of a reporter and she would report what was happening in the white house in terms of the social events and he gave her a lot of personal attention in the articles that he wrote about her. so she was out there in a way that, as i indicated before, respectable women did not do. but this is a new era. i mean, think -- this is the time when the women's movement is under way and interestingly enough, you know, someone like julia tyler sort of fits in, to a certain extent. she's very conservative in some ways.
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but in terms of breaking through the traditional way that a woman should behave, she's doing it in a way that other women are not at that time. susan: well, this series is called "influence and image," so let's spend a few minutes on this image question with julia tyler. in addition to having loving publicity, as you describe her and having someone helping her with her press, she had these young women who travelled with her. they became known as the "vestal virgins." who were they? how is she using them? taylor: well, it seems that what we she did was develop her own court and perhaps it was my own belief but the notion that a first lady could not possibly be seen alone, that there is -- that she is representing -- and this is an interesting point about the development of the institution -- that she's representing something much bigger. and so she had these young women who were joining her. they would call them the "vestal
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virgins." they will call them a number of different things depending upon which newspaper you were reading. but that she really believed that, that she was representing something much bigger than just being the wife of the president and to do that, it requires display, it requires a very conscious shaping of image as an element of political communication, which gets back to the point you were just making. edna: and she receives her guests surrounded by these women all dressed in white. susan: and what was the public reaction to this? did they love it or criticize it? edna: you know, she seemed to be able to do no wrong. i mean, she had her critics but a lot of people loved her, especially men. [laughter] susan: she also brought dancing to the white house. taylor: right. she brought -- she brought the waltz, she brought the polka she brought a number of things to -- to the white house. but -- but i think that when you're starting -- you're starting to get into the perceptions of that. i mean, it does work both ways. that -- especially with the
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growth of the abolitionist press, that the abolitionist press starts to see these kind of things that julia is doing in the white house, this level of extravagance as being yet another example of the corruption of the slave party. how -- particularly in -- during a distressed economic period how could they possibly be doing that? the only way they could be doing that is because they are gathering all of their wealth and benefits from the fact that they own other people. so -- so the -- in terms of a growth of that, of that abolitionist press and the abolitionists send people just to keep an eye on the tyler white house and report back on things like this, that what julia is doing is in fact, in some quarters, very detrimental to that broader image while in other quarters, you know, it's very beneficial to supporting the idea of the imperial presidency. edna: it appears to a certain extent that she redeems herself when she responds to the duchess of sutherland who had criticized
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slavery at america and she writes a letter back and says pretty much, you need to take care of business at home. you've got people from the lower classes there who were starving. and so she doesn't say slavery is right but she does imply that slavery's not as bad as what's happening. susan: joe is in palmerton pennsylvania. you're on for our panel. go ahead please. joe: hi, i love your series. susan: what's your question? joe: i read somewhere that john tyler played the violin. and did any of his wives play any musical instrument? thank you. susan: do we know? taylor: i haven't the faintest clue. i'd be certainly -- he certainly -- but john tyler certainly played the violin and if you go to sherwood forest, you can see the violin. edna: and julia played the guitar. taylor: oh, she played the guitar. susan: well, speaking of music and image-making, it said that she was the one who had the idea of "hail to the chief" being played whenever the president entered a room. edna: that may have been mrs. polk. susan: and she was, obviously
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from the photographs of her, just rather fashion-conscious and wore beautiful outfits. did she become a trendsetter for women at that time? edna: i don't know. susan: was it -- had it become the point, do we known, where women were beginning to watch what the first lady wore and imitate these things? taylor: well, i think that this gets into the development of mass communication of the period and really what you're able to do in terms of emulating dress that while engravings are certainly appearing in more and more newspapers, you're still relying mainly on the written word in order to be able to get across the impression of any kind -- of any kind of clothing. so in a particular way, you might be able to set a trend if she's wearing veil or dolly madison's turbans or something like that. but for the most part, it's not until much later when there are many more images that are able to show up in a more sophisticated, technologically speaking, american press that you're able to get to the point where you have trends that can
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be identified in order to -- in order to move on. susan: julia tyler was also very political and interested in her husband's political career and we move on to the influence part of her role as first lady, again eight short months that she was in this role. she was very much involved in a major policy issue that we've talked about or referenced already and that's the annexation of texas. we return now to sherwood forest for panie tyler, the spouse of the president's grandson, talks about julia's lobbying for this policy. let's listen. panie: and she lobbied politically, phenomenally, oh my dear for her husband. she had soirees at the white house to lobby. tyler was immensely dedicated to the concept of the annexation of texas to the union. and during that period, she was able to sway john c. calhoun who is a kinsman of my mother's, from south carolina and she was able to sway john c. calhoun to vote for the annexation of texas
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and she worked on henry clay but i don't know whether she really was successful and i -- but she took henry clay out to dinner and this is a woman without a chaperone, a president's wife alone having dinner with henry clay and she didn't mind at all. and she wrote her mother a letter which i think is priceless. she says "mother, mr. clay was a little insulting. when i told him that my husband wanted him to vote for the annexation of texas, he said to me 'i am right, texas should not be annexed to the union and mrs. tyler, i want you to know that i'd rather be right than be president.' and i replied, 'my dear sir, my husband is both.' i truly think that the reply is almost better than the statement from clay which we hear so frequently."
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susan: how significant was julia tyler's role in the ultimate decision to annex texas? edna: well, you know, she's keeping tabs of where people stand because she is going to congress, she's listening to debates. she's trying to twist a few arms. i don't think she is that important to it. she is representing her husband's interest certainly. she supports that but whether or not she has influence over any particular congressman, i am not so sure about that. susan: do you have an opinion about that? taylor: well, she certainly believes she has a lot of influence. i mean i am with dr. medford in thinking that her -- there are much more complicated balls in the political air over the texas annexation issue then anything that julia gardiner tyler is going to solve, especially in those months after the election and people know that james polk is going to be the next president. the treaty to annex -- the treaty to annex texas had already been defeated by the senate and they have to come up with a new, perhaps not terribly
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constitutional way of trying to accomplish this if they're going to accomplish it at all. and so they do have to go through these machinations of the joint resolutions for december for about 1844 but that involves much broader political questions in terms of where people are from -- in this political realignment of america that is going on at the time.
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