Historical Highlights

John Tyler Defends His Vetoes

August 30, 1842
John Tyler Defends His Vetoes Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
This free frank, in which John Quincy Adams mailed a speech he made in the House to a fellow Massachusetts Whig, illustrates three hallmarks of 19th-century congressional life.
On this date, President John Tyler sent a formal message of protest to the U.S. House of Representatives defending his use of executive power. During the 27th Congress (1841–1843), President Tyler repeatedly vetoed bills he opposed including many that addressed the nation’s finances and which had the support of his own Whig Party in Congress. Frustration spread, and many in Congress wondered why Tyler refused to sign their legislation. Some called for impeachment. After a fourth veto in the summer of 1842, Representative John Quincy Adams, a Whig from Massachusetts who had served as President more than a decade  earlier, took to the House Floor on August 10 to declare that Tyler’s actions had placed the legislative and executive branch “in a state of civil war.” The next day, the House referred the President’s latest veto message to the newly created Select Committee on the Veto. The 13-member select committee, led by Adams, set out to investigate why the President exercised his veto power so zealously. On August 16, the select committee’s majority submitted its report which found that the President, “by the mere act of his will,” abused his veto power. In effect, the report continued, Tyler had “strangled” Congress, barring it from addressing the needs of the nation. While the Members did not endorse impeachment, they suggested an amendment to restrict the executive’s veto power. On August 30, President Tyler responded with his protest message. He apologized to the country if the vetoes came off as insults. But he also defended himself, noting that such actions were within his power as executive and adding that he had “been accused without evidence and condemned without a hearing.” He recognized the hostility surrounding his presidency but made it clear that if the House had moved forward with impeachment, he would have stood trial rather than resign. Tyler requested that his letter be entered in the House Journal, but the chamber refused. The battle between Congress and Tyler continued throughout his presidency; he vetoed six additional bills. On the last day of the 27th Congress, however, the House successfully overrode a presidential veto for the first time in American history.

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