Tyler Becomes President After Harrison’s Death

1841

William Henry Harrison showed enthusiasm for the office he won at age 68 by delivering the longest inauguration speech in history – 8,600 words in 90 minutes – in a driving ice storm. He was dead from pneumonia within a month. On April 6, 1841, John Tyler becomes the first vice president to assume the presidency. Harrison’s death puts Vice President Tyler in the center of a political debate over the rules of presidential succession. The Constitution does not specify whether a vice president who replaces a president assumes the full responsibilities of the office for the remainder of the term, or only until a special election can be held to fill the presidency. Tyler claims the right to serve out all of the nearly four years left in Harrison’s term, but Congress and the Cabinet unite in opposition. Many of Tyler’s opponents insist on calling him the acting president, and newspapers refer to him as His Accidency. Tyler resists the attempts to deny him full presidential powers and successfully complete Harrison’s term. Since Tyler, no one has seriously challenged the right of a vice president to the full powers of the presidency upon a president’s death.