John Tyler’s White House Letter To James Knox Polk

Since the election, Americans have been asking what it means to be presidential. For the last several months, social media users have sent around various stately letters from George Bush to Bill Clinton. And recently, the media published Barack Obama’s very gracious letter to Donald Trump.

Now, historians have discovered, in the White House archives, yet another letter between presidents from two rival parties. This is the extremely gracious letter that John Tyler (a Whig) wrote to James K. Polk (a Democrat) when Tyler was succeeded by Polk in 1845.

Dear “11”,

Walking through this great house one last time, I recall the awe and humility I felt upon first stepping inside, taking in the beauty, and sniffing the whale oil in the lamps. I know you will soon feel the same. Some have called me an “accidental” president as I am only here because medicine was not available to treat William Henry Harrison’s bullet wound infection (the druggist said it won’t be in stock for another 97 years). But I take my duties to my country seriously and have some advice and observations to offer you. I know there are many changes coming soon in both society and technology; I heard that your administration is planning to switch from oil lamps to gas lights, and there will likely even be a time when gas lighting is inappropriate in the White House.

I hope these thoughts provide valuable insight.

First, I believe this should be a time for healing. Although our parties had differences – I a reluctant Whig, you a Democrat – It seems the time is drawing near when parties will become obsolete and we will focus solely on candidates and issues. I am so grateful that the Democratic-Republican party recently faded into history, the Whigs seem to be headed in that direction, and I don’t see any individual Republican party ever forming to speak of. How wonderful that the American people will never again suffer from acrimonious party divisions!

Secondly, as a lawyer from Virginia – one of five Virginia lawyers to serve as president – it pleases me to see a lawyer from Tennessee take office. I hope in the future we will see even more diversity in the presidency, such as white male lawyers from other Southern states and perhaps more from the North as well.

Finally, you should be conscious of the fact that every president must leave a legacy. Despite my attempts to preserve constitutional law during my term, the nay-sayers are already claiming I will leave no mark. As a result, I’ve decided to father 15 children in order to leave my legacy in a different way. Some of my children will likely live long enough to see horseless carriages, and the grandchildren may survive into the twenty-first century with its flying carriages. Sadly, several statesmen of the recent past did not leave a legacy and will almost definitely be forgotten, men like John Adams, John Q. Adams, and of course, Alex Hamilton.

One more note: members of press recently have charged that I fathered some illegitimate children. If you become a victim of that sort of idle talk, simply pay it no mind. It is a great big bowl of Nothing Porridge.

As I prepare to leave, I will bid you good luck, godspeed, and please get to work with Sarah on creating all those offspring!

Whig out,