The Elopement of John and Julia Tyler
John and Julia Tyler
John Tyler was unique in his day or in any day. He was the First Vice President-to-President, the First President to remarry, and the President with the most children – fourteen.
The Rose of Long Island
Long Island-born and bred Julia Gardiner was very pretty, very cultured, very charming, and very very rich. A nineteen-year-old Julia had been involved in an 1840-style scandal!
A New York merchant had obtained a copy of her likeness (perhaps with her permission), and used it on his advertising circulars, identifying her as “Miss Julia Gardiner, the Rose of Long Island.”
Her wealthy and socially upper-crust parents were horrified, and whisked the family off to Europe for two years, to let the talk die down.
Then, since she and her siblings were all of marriageable age, her father took them to Washington. Having hobnobbed with the rich, powerful, and titled in Rome, London, and Paris, the Gardiners decided to do likewise in Washington.
They settled in for the social season and left their cards everywhere – including the White House. As expected, invitations poured in – including one to a Tyler reception, where the President was much taken with “The Rose.”
The President is Lonely
John Tyler came to the White House in April 1841, only one month after William Henry Harrison was inaugurated, President. Harrison, nearing seventy, had died suddenly, making John Tyler the first Vice President to assume office upon the death of a President.
At age fifty-one, Tyler arrived at the White House with his invalid wife (she had suffered a stroke some years before and failed steadily), and seven children between eleven and twenty-five. His daughter-in-law pinched-hit for hosting duties, and Tyler, a Virginian, was known for his southern hospitality. Within the year, his wife died.
While he had met the young Miss Gardiner some time earlier, the President had always maintained an appropriate distance. But now, after a respectful mourning period, the lonely President cast his appreciative eye on the lovely Miss G., a glamorous young woman thirty years his junior.
Julia, however, was only twenty-three and was being pursued by a bevy of would-be wooers, all old enough to be her father. She declined their proposals. The President of the United States, however, was a different story. He pursued and wooed, and she declined. But he persisted. She wavered.
The Proposal and the Tragedy
Then came a terrible tragedy. Julia and her father had been invited by the President for a party cruise down the Potomac. The gunboat Princeton had been fitted with a new cannon that would be demonstrated to some three hundred of Tyler’s guests. All went well. The demonstrations were successful.
Later in the afternoon, as the ladies went below for a luncheon, the gun was demonstrated once more. This time, it misfired, killing several onlookers, including David Gardiner, Julia’s father.
The young woman was understandably distraught, and the solicitous President sent notes and flowers and invitations to the appropriate private luncheons and teas.
Julia, a daddy’s girl who had just lost her daddy, was more receptive to the President’s kind attention. He was, after all, still slim and attractive at fifty-four. This time, when he proposed, she accepted, that is, if her mother consented.
Mrs. Gardiner, who was even richer than her husband had been, did not consent. She did not think Tyler was wealthy enough to support the Gardiner lifestyle. She had a point. Tyler was comfortably well-off, but hardly in the Gardiner class. But President Tyler was nothing if not persistent. He had persevered with Julia and would persevere with Julia’s formidable mother. It paid off. He finally won her approval.
The Elopement of John Tyler
Thus, in due time, the President slipped out of Washington with only one naval escort and came to New York. He checked into a fashionable hotel, asked for the manager, and proceeded to place the hotel and its staff in lockdown. No one was allowed to enter or leave.
Tyler did not want his presence known, nor did he want speculation as to his purpose. The next morning, he released the hotel staff and thanked them for their forbearance. Then he went to the Church of the Ascension, where he met his bride and her family and were married in a small private ceremony. Afterward, they went to the Gardiner townhouse for the wedding breakfast.
Later, the President and the new Mrs. Tyler drove in an open carriage down Broadway, where they were indeed recognized, and the purpose surmised. The news, of course, spread like wildfire.
So why the elopement? The reason the President usually gave was understandable. It was only a few months since David Gardiner had died. Julia was still in mourning and the proper sobrieties must be observed. Political weddings, especially when a President is involved, tend to wreak havoc with a guest list.
It could also be conjectured that John Tyler did not wish to incur gossip about “robbing the cradle.” Finally, there were the seven Tyler children (three of whom were older than their new stepmother). They had not been apprised of the marriage, and it was big news to them, and not particularly welcome. It might also be conjectured that they were concerned that their inheritance might be dissipated should the new marriage be fruitful.
Nevertheless, gossip abounded. Some called calling the President “Lucky John.” Some called him “that old fool.” Turns out “Lucky John” prevailed. His second marriage was a happy one. It was also very fruitful, to the dismay of his “first” family. Seven more little Tylers would make an appearance, the last one when Tyler was nearly seventy. With fourteen children who reached adulthood, Tyler was the most “fathered” of all our Presidents.