Monday, June 09, 2008

Another Tyler Biography

I promise to get back to my look at apologetics soon. However, I feel compelled to write a book review of John Tyler: Champion of the Old South. Do not let the sub title fool you. This is simply a biography of John Tyler and a very fair one at that. It is much better than the previous Tyler biography I read and reviewed. This biography defends Tyler from the charges of inconsistency and does so very well. He endeavors to defend why Tyler went over to the Whig party and how Tyler still remained true to his beliefs at the same time. Although he does not mind criticizing Tyler as he makes it clear that it was a political mistake for Tyler to do it; however, it was not political inconsistency.

That is what makes this book so great. You follow Tyler through his entire life, not just his presidency or his years in the Senate. The writer, Oliver Perry Chitwood, is very insightful. Of course he is critical of the slavery issue with Tyler, but it is not the main focus of the book as the sub title might imply. As you travel through Tyler’s life and one learns of all the things Tyler did you get the occasional aside from Chitwood that examines Tyler’s actions. One that was particularly fascinating was when Tyler and other famous Virginians responded to the call to revamp the State Constitution. Most of the calls of unfairness in the old Constitution came from present day West Virginia, then still a part of Virginia. Yet Tyler and the rest of the leaders of the state came from the East and depended upon the famous families for support who all lived in the East. Thus, while the Constitution was updated some, it did not address they carefully avoided dealing with the real complaints of the westerners. This kept the people on the other side of the mountains furious, underrepresented in Virginia politics, and created a bitter feeling of being cheated by the leaders of Virginia. Chitwood believes that this failure to bind the west to the east in Virginia as South Carolina had done when she rewrote her Constitution directly cost the South the Civil War. Western Virginia was loyal to the North and made Lee have to fight that area of Virginia rather than have it as a base for the South. West Virginia was soon created and the North had a new ally against the Old Dominion. It was an interesting hypothesis that makes you stop and think. That is happened a lot during this very good biography.

Do not expect Chitwood to be a story telling biographer like a David McCullough, but he is a thought provoking biographer and that to me is more important. If you are interested in John Tyler this is the biography you should read.