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Was John Tyler never really president of the U.S.?

Dear Cecil:

A friend and I are having an, uh, open exchange of views on the topic of John Tyler. My friend said, "The United States never had a president named Tyler," and pulled out some reference that said Tyler had no constitutional authority to assume the presidency when William Henry Harrison died but was only the vice president performing the duties of the president. I pulled out the Encyclopaedia Britannica, where John Tyler is listed as "10th president of the United States." My friend, and at this point I am using the term loosely, disputes this but has agreed to abide by Cecil's opinion, which is hereby requested. NB: There is a fairly expensive meal riding on providing the correct information. Not that you need any incentive.

Fania, via the Internet

Cecil replies:

Of course not. But while Cecil’s soul hungers only for knowledge, his body wouldn’t mind a nice steak. Your friend is being obnoxious. Tyler was the first vice president to assume the powers of the presidency upon the death of the incumbent. There was some question at the time whether he was president or merely acting president, the Constitution being ambiguous on this point. Tyler’s detractors in fact referred to him as “His Accidency.” What practical consequence the matter had is debatable, but in the interest of clarity both houses of Congress passed resolutions declaring that Tyler was president, period. That settled things for all but a few nitpickers, of whom your friend regrettably is one. When do we eat?

Cecil Adams

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