Virginia Magazine of History and Biography
Volume 114 / Number 3
Torn Between Family and Politics: John Tyler's Struggle for Balance
- Christopher Leahy, pp. 322–55
In 1821, at nearly thirty-one years of age, and after four years in the U.S. House of Representatives, future president John Tyler retired from national politics. Publicly, he cited ill health as the reason for his departure from Washington. Privately, he acknowledged that family considerations played the crucial role in his decision. Tyler believed leaving politics and focusing on a law career would better allow him to provide for his growing family.
Tyler viewed family duty—and especially the role of father—with ambivalence. Honor demanded that he meet the financial obligations of fatherhood. And he sincerely wished to cultivate meaningful relationships with each of his children. But family and fatherhood often seemed burdensome to Tyler. A law career did not make him happy. Public life held the appeal, and by 1827 he was back in the national political arena again, elected to replace John Randolph in the U.S. Senate.
Throughout his career in national politics, Tyler struggled to balance his manly responsibilities inside the family with personally fulfilling public service. Fueled by intense ambition, he used political success to measure his self-worth. His father had also instilled in him the belief that elite males had an obligation to serve the public, and he took this responsibility seriously. Torn between family and politics, then, Tyler crafted a role of absentee father that had negative effects on his relationships with his wife and children. Despite the separation that characterized these relationships, however, Tyler largely succeeded in preparing his children for adulthood.