Yes, you read the headline correctly.
The grandsons of John Tyler—born in 1790, who took office as America’s 10th president in 1841, and died in 1862 before the end of the Civil War—are still kickin’. (Kickin’ it old school, you might say, but surely with enough spunk that one Tyler grandson slammed Newt Gingrich as a “big jerk.” More on that later.)
So how is it that two grandsons were born almost 140 years after their grandfather? Two successive generations of men who fathered children at advanced ages—even by today’s standards—with much younger wives.
In 1853, when President Tyler was 63, his second wife Julia Gardiner (30 years his junior) gave birth to Lyon Gardiner Tyler, one of 15 Tyler children—the most born to a U.S. president.
Lyon became an attorney, historian, author, and president of the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va. He died in 1935, but not before fathering two sons when he was in his 70s—Lyon Gardiner Tyler Jr. (b. 1924) and Harrison Ruffin Tyler (b. 1928)—with Sue Ruffin, his 36-years-younger second wife.
Lyon Gardiner Tyler, Jr., 88, graduated from William & Mary, attended the University of Virginia Law School, then practiced law, according to a profile by the Lion’s Club of Franklin, Tenn., where he resides. He was director of the Virginia Civil War Centennial Commission from 1959-1963 and lectured about history, later earning his history Ph.D. from Duke University.
Harrison Tyler, 84, also graduated from William & Mary (chemistry degree) and attended Virginia Tech for graduate-level engineering, according to a 2007 profile in Virginia Tech magazine. He worked with Virginia-Carolina Chemical Corp. and cofounded an industrial water treatment firm, ChemTreat Inc., in 1968. He lives on Sherwood Forest Plantation Foundation, a national historic landmark in Charles City, Va. and his grandfather’s home.
Harrison told Politico that he hasn’t decided which 2012 presidential candidate will get his vote. In fact, he doesn’t “really like any of them,” particularly Newt Gingrich, whom he called a “big jerk.”
The former speaker of the house “needs to stick with the same wife, that’s what my mother taught me,” Harrison said regarding Gingrich’s three marriages. “But that doesn’t seem to happen much today.”
Harrison, who considers himself a conservative, said Mitt Romney’s business experience is an important factor. President Obama, however, lacks the right pro-business policies to get his vote.
“I think he’s a charming man,” Harrison said, “but he grew up in the society where he believes in running the show and changing the apple cart and taking it away from those that have.”
President Tyler—who also attended William & Mary—was elected vice president with William Henry Harrison, the ninth U.S. president. Their campaign slogan, “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too,” is one of the most enduring in American history. After only a month in office, Harrison died of pneumonia, and Tyler became the first vice president to rise to commander in chief due to the death of his predecessor.
Once in office Tyler stood against his Whig Party’s platform and vetoed several pieces of legislation. Most of his cabinet resigned, and the Whigs—dubbing Tyler “His Accidency”—expelled him from the party. Talk about vicious politics.
Still, Tyler got a few things accomplished, including the 1845 annexation of the Republic of Texas.