Educated at the College of William and Mary, he studied law under his father, John Tyler (1747-1813), governor of Virginia from 1808 to 1811, and was admitted (1809) to the bar. A state legislator (1811-16, 1823-25) and U.S. Representative (1817-21), Tyler was an unswerving states' rights Democrat. He joined the condemnation of Andrew Jackson's actions in Florida and voted against the Missouri Compromise.
Governor of Virginia (1825-27) and a U.S. Senator (1827-36), Tyler reluctantly supported Jackson as the least objectionable of the presidential candidates in 1828 and 1832. Although he did not approve South Carolina's nullification act, he violently opposed Jackson's measures against it (see force bill). The President's fiscal policies further alienated him, so that he was eventually drawn to the new Whig party, joining its states' rights Southern wing, which differed with many of the nationalistic policies associated with the Clay leadership. He resigned from the Senate rather than abide by the instructions of the Virginia legislature to vote for the motion to expunge Henry Clay's censure of Jackson from the records.
In 1840, Tyler was chosen running mate to the Whig presidential candidate, William Henry Harrison, and they waged their victorious "Tippecanoe and Tyler too" campaign. One month after his inauguration Harrison died, and on Apr. 4, 1841, Tyler became the first Vice President to succeed to the presidency. His antipathy toward many Whig policies soon became apparent (he had never concealed it), and a rift developed between him and Henry Clay, the party leader.
After his second veto of a measure creating a national bank with branches in the states (on the grounds that it violated the constitutional rights of the states), his cabinet, except for Daniel Webster, resigned (Sept., 1841). Webster stayed on as Secretary of State until the negotiations for the Webster-Ashburton Treaty with the British were completed (May, 1843). Bitterly denounced by the Whigs and with few friends among the Democrats, Tyler became a President without a party.
Nevertheless he accomplished much toward the annexation of Texas. Abel P. Upshur, Webster's successor, was killed when a gun on the U.S.S. Princeton blew up, and John C. Calhoun continued Upshur's negotiations for a treaty with Texas. The treaty was rejected by the Senate. Tyler then supported a plan for a joint resolution to annex Texas and had the satisfaction of seeing it accepted by Texas just before he left office in 1845. The completion of annexation was brought about under James K. Polk, Tyler's Democratic successor.
Tyler, nominated by a small Democratic faction, had withdrawn from the 1844 election. In Feb., 1861, he presided over the unsuccessful conference at Washington that attempted to find some last-minute solution to avert the Civil War. Later, he served in the provisional Confederate Congress and was elected to the permanent Confederate Congress, but he died before he could take his seat.
See L. G. Tyler (his son), Letters and Times of the Tylers (3 vol., 1884-96, repr. 1970); biography by O. P. Chitwood (1939, repr. 1964); studies by R. J. Morgan (1954) and N. L. Peterson (1989).
Turning to politics, Morgan became a presidential elector on the Democratic ticket in 1860, and supported John C. Breckinridge. He was delegate from Dallas County to the State Convention of 1861, which passed the ordinance of secession.
When Rodes was promoted to major general and given a division in the Army of Northern Virginia, Morgan declined an offer to command Rodes's old brigade and instead remained in the Western Theater, leading troops at the Battle of Chickamauga. On November 16, 1863, he was appointed as a brigadier general of cavalry and participated in the Knoxville Campaign. His brigade consisted of the 1st, 3rd, 4th (Russell's), 9th, and 51st Alabama Cavalry regiments.
His men were routed and dispersed by Federal cavalry on January 27, 1864. He was reassigned to a new command and fought in the Atlanta Campaign. Subsequently, his men harassed William T. Sherman's troops during the March to the Sea. Later, he was assigned to administrative duty in Demopolis, Alabama. When the Confederacy collapsed and the war ended, Morgan was trying to organize Alabama black troops for home defense.
After the war, Morgan resumed the practicing of law in Selma, Alabama. He was once again presidential elector on the Democratic ticket in 1876 and was elected as a Democrat to the United States Senate in that year, being re-elected in 1882, 1888, 1894, 1900, and 1906, and serving from March 4, 1877, until his death. For much of his tenure, he served as Senator alongside a fellow former Confederate general, Edmund W. Pettus.
Morgan advocated for separating blacks and whites in the U.S. by encouraging the migration of black people out of the U.S. south. Hoschild wrote, "at various times in his long career Morgan also advocated sending them [negroes] to Hawaii, to Cuba, and to the Philippines - which, perhaps because the islands were so far away, he claimed were a "native home of the negro.
He introduced and fought for numerous legislative bills in support of legal lynching. Morgan also staunchly worked for the repeal of the Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that was intended to prevent the denial of voting rights based on race. He was chairman of Committee on Rules (Forty-sixth Congress), the Committee on Foreign Relations (Fifty-third Congress), the Committee on Interoceanic Canals (Fifty-sixth and Fifty-seventh Congresses), and the Committee on Public Health and National Quarantine (Fifty-ninth Congress). In 1894, Morgan chaired an investigation, known as the Morgan Report into the Hawaiian Revolution which concluded that the U.S. had remained completely neutral in the matter. He authored the introduction to the Morgan Report based on the findings of the investigative committee.
He was a strong supporter of the annexation of Hawaii and visited Hawaii in 1897 in support of annexation. He believed that the history of the U.S. clearly indicated it was unnecessary to hold a plebiscite in Hawaii as a condition for annexation. A strong advocate for a Central American canal, Morgan was also a staunch supporter of the Cuban revolutionaries in the 1890s.
An article by history professor Thomas Adams Upchurch in the April 2004 Alabama Review says:
"The snows will fall from heaven in sooty blackness, sooner than the white women of the United States will consent to the maternity of negro families."
"It has become the solemn necessity on our part to protect the Caucasian race on this continent against the intrusion of Oriental people."