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Lucky John, indeed

Kat Kinsman
June 09, 2017

Vice President John Tyler was in the middle of breakfast at his home in Williamsburg, Virginia, when he heard a knock at the door. Two men had arrived on horseback to inform him that President William Henry Harrison had died—just 30 days after taking office—and that he was to return to Washington D.C. to be sworn into the highest office in the land. Harrison had fallen very ill with pneumonia and this wasn't a tremendous shock, so Tyler calmly but quickly finished his breakfast and prepared to make the one-day journey by horseback and boat back to the nation's capital. He was ready to serve.

By most historical assessments, President John Tyler did so pretty poorly. His entire Cabinet, save for one, quit on him. He was kicked out the Whigs, the party that got him elected. He used the power of veto 10 times and became the first American president to have impeachment proceedings started against him. He was rather bluntly nicknamed "His Accidency." But if America's tenth president excelled at nothing else (OK, fertility—he fathered 15 children), he managed two historically significant breakfasts in his lifetime, which is two more than most of us. 

The first, of course, was the aforementioned, "Crap, I'm the president now" breakfast on the morning on April 4, 1841. The second was the wedding breakfast hosted by Tyler and his brand new bride Julia Gardiner on June 26, 1844. It was the second marriage for the 54-year-old widower and the first for the three-decades-younger Gardiner, whom he'd been wooing for quite a while. Several months before their wedding, Gardiner's father perished in a freak cannon accident during a boat party at which both of the couple were present, and she eventually succumbed to his charms in the wake of the tragedy.

Due to the difference in the couple's ages, and the mourning period for Gardiner's father still in social effect, Tyler and his son John Jr. quietly traveled to New York City, checked into the fancy Howard's Hotel, and placed the staff on lockdown. The next morning, he and Gardiner exchanged their vows at the Episcopal Church of the Ascension—essentially eloping—and traveled via ferry from Jersey City to Philadelphia, then made their way to the Gardiner family townhouse. But before they embarked, they stopped at a house on Lafayette Street's Colonnade Row to enjoy an elaborate breakfast of "omelets, spring chicken, pigeons and woodcock, ham and eggs, salmon, beefsteaks, kidneys, boiled eggs, and young duck," according to Poppy Cannon and Patricia Brooks' The Presidents' Cookbook.

As it happened, the President did not avoid a touch of snickering scrutiny, earning himself the nicknames "Lucky John" and "The Old Fool," (his oldest daughter Mary was five years older than her new stepmother) but he and the second Mrs. Tyler had the last laugh. They had seven children together (including his youngest son, Lyon, born when the former president was nearly 68) and were married until Tyler's death in 1862.


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