Welcome to the MAKING OF A NATION – American history
in VOA Special English.
The election of eighteen forty put a new president in
the White House: William Henry Harrison. The defeat of President Martin Van
Buren had been expected. Still, it was a sharp loss for his Democratic Party.
a retired general and a member of the Whig Party. He became the ninth president
of the United States. But he got sick and he died after just a month in office.
His vice president, John Tyler, became president.
leaders, especially Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky, tried to control the new
president. Clay proposed detailed legislative programs for the new
administration. Among them: the establishment of a national bank. This was high
on Senator Clay's list of proposals.
soon showed his independence. He did not approve the plans as proposed by Clay.
Tyler vetoed two bills calling for the creation of a national bank. Tyler
wanted peace and party unity. But he also wanted to show that he -- not Clay --
in our series, Bud Steele and Lew Roland continue the story of John Tyler.
supporters in the cabinet did their best to get Tyler to sign the bank bills.
When the president refused to do so, Whig Party leaders urged the cabinet to
resign. This would show that the president, alone, was responsible for the veto
of the bills.
members, but one -- Daniel Webster -- resigned. Secretary of State Webster was
with the president when one of the letters of resignation arrived.
am I to do, Mr. President?" asked Webster.
must decide that for yourself," Tyler said.
you leave it to me, Mr. President, I will stay where I am." President
Tyler stood up.
me your hand on that," he said, "and I will say to you that Henry
Clay is a doomed man from this hour."
named a new cabinet. And there was not one Clay supporter in it.
president's veto of the second bank bill brought strong public protests from
those who wanted a national bank. A large group of Whig congressmen met and
voted to expel Tyler from the party.
struggle over the bank bills, the Whigs did not forget the other parts of
Senator Clay's legislative program. Clay especially wanted approval of a bill
to give the different states money from the sale of public land. Tyler liked
this idea himself. Many of the states owed large amounts of money. The
distribution bill, as it was called, would help them get out of debt.
president was willing to support the bill. But he saw one danger in it. If all
the money from land sales was given to the states, the federal government might
not have enough money.
feared that Congress then would raise import taxes to get more money for the
federal government. As a southerner, the president opposed taxes on imports. He
finally agreed to accept the distribution bill, but on one condition. The
distribution of money to the states would be suspended if import taxes rose
higher than twenty percent.
signed the bill, and it became law.
year, the government found itself short of money. It was spending more than it
had. Congress decided that import taxes should be raised, some even higher than
twenty percent. The bill was passed by close votes in the House and Senate.
got to the White House, President Tyler vetoed it. He said it was wrong to
raise the tax so high and, at the same time, continue to give the states the
money from land sales. He said the federal government itself needed the
land-sale money. The Whigs were angry.
they did not have enough votes to pass the bill over the president's veto. Then
they approved a new bill. This one raised import taxes, but said nothing about
distribution of federal money to the states. And President Tyler signed it.
Whigs made bitter speeches about the failure of the party's legislative
program, Tyler worked to improve relations with Britain. The United States and
Britain disputed the border that separated Canada from the northeastern United
States. Both Canada and the state of Maine claimed the disputed area. Britain
was also angry because Americans had helped Canadian rebels.
soldiers had crossed the Niagara River and burned a boat that was used to carry
supplies to the rebels. Secretary of State Daniel Webster wanted peace with
Britain. And there was a new government in Britain. Its foreign minister, Lord
Aberdeen, also wanted peace.
Aberdeen sent a special representative, Lord Ashburton, to the United States.
Lord Ashburton had an American wife. And he was a friend of Daniel Webster. He arrived
in Washington in the spring of eighteen hundred forty-two with the power to
settle all disputes with the United States.
Ashburton said Britain regretted that it had not made some explanation or
apology for the sinking of an American boat in the Niagara River. The two men
discussed the border dispute between Canada and Maine.
proposed a compromise border line. Lord Ashburton accepted the compromise. The
agreement gave almost eighteen-thousand square kilometers of the disputed area
to Maine. Canada received more than twelve thousand square kilometers.
approved the Webster-Ashburton agreement. And American-British relations showed
improvement. President Tyler then turned to another problem: Texas. Texas asked
to become a state during President Van Buren's administration. But nothing was
done about the request.
interested in Texas and wanted to make it part of the Union. Secretary Webster
was cool to the idea of Texas statehood.
As a northerner,
he did not want another slave state in the Union. Webster and his supporters
were Tyler's only real strength in the Whig Party outside of Virginia. The
president, therefore, did not push the issue of Texas.
Senate approval of his treaty with Lord Ashburton, Webster decided that he
could be of no more real use to the administration. He resigned as secretary of
state. Tyler named one of his Virginia supporters, Abel Upshur, to the job in
the summer of eighteen forty-three.
a firm believer in slavery. He felt slaves were necessary in the agricultural
economy of the South. Upshur was worried about reports that Britain was
interested in ending slavery in Texas. These reports said Britain had promised
to defend Texas independence and to give economic aid, if the slaves were
other southerners feared what might happen if this were done. Slaves from
nearby southern states would try to escape to freedom in Texas. And the
abolitionists might use Texas as a base for propaganda against the South.
another reason for President Tyler's interest in Texas. He believed it possible
to make political use of the question of Texas statehood. It could help him
build a new political party, a party that might elect him president for another
four years. Four months after becoming secretary of state, Upshur offered a
statehood treaty to Texas.
Texas President Sam Houston refused the offer. He finally agreed to negotiate,
but said the United States must accept two conditions. It must agree to protect
Texas if Mexico attacked it. And it must promise that the United States Senate
would approve the treaty.
told the Texas representative in Washington that Texas would be given military
protection just as soon as the treaty was signed. And he said the necessary
two-thirds of the senators would approve the statehood treaty. Houston was
satisfied. And his representative began secret negotiations with Upshur.
weeks later, before the talks could be completed, Upshur joined the president
and congressional leaders for a trip down the Potomac River. They sailed on a
new American warship that carried two large cannons. The new guns were to be
fired for the president.
standing near one of the cannons during the firing. He and two other men were
killed when the gun exploded. The president was not injured. But nineteen
others were hurt.
Tyler named John C. Calhoun -- a Democrat -- as his new secretary of state. He
did so for two reasons: Calhoun believed that Texas should be part of the
United States. And Tyler -- a Whig -- hoped that Calhoun might be able to get
him nominated as the presidential candidate of the Democratic Party.
Our program was written by Frank Beardsley. The narrators were Bud Steele
and Lew Roland. Transcripts, MP3s and podcasts of our programs, along with
historical images, are at voaspecialenglish.com. Join us again next week for
THE MAKING OF A NATION -- an American history series in VOA Special English.
This is program #70 of THE
MAKING OF A NATION