by Al Bloomfield
Monday August 15, 2016
COMMENTARY – Thursday night my two younger children and I were trying to remember the American president who had the shortest presidency but could not remember his name. Friday, during family group text chat, I revealed that he was General William Henry Harrison – president for 31 days during the Age of Jackson. I was reacquainted with this fact while watching the first part of “the Presidents” – a History Channel documentary series I have on my shelf.
President William Henry Harrison served for only 31 days – the shortest American presidency. During his inaugural address he caught a cold that became pneumonia and died. He was the first American president to die in office.
But what really caught my attention was President Harrison’s vice president who succeeded him – John Tyler. It was not that President John Tyler was the first person to become US President by constitutional succession rather than by presidential election, or because he was the first president to see his presidential veto overridden by a congressional 2/3rds majority (engineered by his enemy – Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky). What caught my attention concerning John Tyler was that he – like Donald J. Trump – did not play ball with leading members of his party. He did not play nice with the other kids in Congress.
However, we Americans today would simply see Mr. Tyler’s actions as helping to establish the independence of the executive branch as a co-equal partner in government. This was important since the Whig Party and the Whig Congress believed that the US Congress – not the president – should make policy. Perhaps in 175 years – 2191 A.D. – Americans will determine that Donald Trump was doing something similarly useful to American political exceptionalism. But not today!
When Congressional Whigs led by Senator Henry Clay failed to provoke President Tyler into an unprecedented resignation, Congressional Whigs on September 13, 1841 literally expelled President John Tyler from the Whig Party. The Whigs literally had it within their party rules that those invited in could be shown the door. What the Whig Party did in 1841, the Republican Party can do in 2016. For John Tyler the move left him a president without a party – literally the first Independent in the White House. This is a historical fact you have not heard on CNN, MSNBC or Fox News.
For Donald Trump, party expulsion would remove him from the Republican Party’s nomination. But it would not remove him from the ballots of all 50 states. He would simply become a dangerous third-party-like Independent. So, what does the Republican Party truly have to lose?
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