by Gary North
I am not a regular reader of the New York Times, in part because of its non-functioning log-in software, which has not worked predictably from day one. I have described this problem before. I was never a reader of the "Style and Fashion" section, a politically correct way of describing what in most papers was once called the Women's Section.
In a political blog, I came across a reference to a cattier-than-thou column by Susan Saulny, "Will Her Face Determine His Fortune?" It was a column of Fred Thompson's wife, age 40. Here, we read:
Now, with the possible candidacy of Fred D. Thompson, the grandfatherly actor and former Republican senator from Tennessee, whose second wife is almost a quarter-century his junior, comes a less palatable inquiry that is spurring debate in Internet chat rooms, on cable television and on talk radio: Is America ready for a president with a trophy wife?
The question may seem sexist, even crass, but serious people — as well as Mr. Thompson's supporters — have been wrestling with the public reaction to Jeri Kehn Thompson, whose youthfulness, permanent tan and bleached blond hair present a contrast to the 64-year-old man who hopes to win the hearts of the conservative core of the Republican party. Will the so-called values voters accept this union?
The accompanying photo of Mr. and Mrs. Thompson is of such a nature that neither her face nor her hair color are what caught my attention. (And age 40? Are you kidding me?)
In any case, the question of presidents and trophy wives reminded me of the original trophy-wife example in American presidential history. Ms. Saulny is apparently unaware of it.
THE CONSOLATION PRIZE
In September, 1842, the wife of President John Tyler died.
On February 28, 1844, President Tyler, his Secretary of State, and a group of friends took a tour on the U.S.S. Princeton. The President went below decks. Secretary Upshur and other guests remained above. During a demonstration of a canon, it exploded, killing Upshur and several guests. One of them was a New York State Senator, David Gardiner.
His daughter had accompanied her father on board. She survived the accident. For over a year, Julia Gardiner had been the belle of Washington, D.C. This pretty, witty young woman had caught the eye of many eligible bachelors, possibly even President Tyler.
Tyler decided to comfort her in her grief. He continued to comfort her. But she needed more than comforting. She needed true consolation. So, on June 26, 1844, he married her. He was 54. She was 24. She became the first First Lady to gain the unofficial office by marrying a President, mid-term.
There was the usual chatter regarding their three-decade difference in age — and, I suspect, a great deal of masculine jealousy. This did not appear to bother the Tylers.
John Tyler was not a popular President. In 1841, he had been expelled from the Whig Party for vetoing a series of boondoggles proposed by the Whig-controlled Congress, including the chartering of a Third Bank of the United States, which he vetoed twice. He had no political base. He did not gain the nomination in 1844.
So, in 1845, three days after he signed a bill annexing Texas into the Union, he took his wife and returned to the family plantation in Virginia, where he fathered seven children, adding to his existing seven. He died in 1862. She died in 1889.
His grandson, Harrison Ruffin Tyler, is still alive. He resides on the family land that was occupied long ago by his grandparents. (It must be something to be the grandson of a man born in George Washington's Presidency, let alone his first term.)
When it comes to trophy wives, few have ever matched Julia Tyler. But an incumbent President is something of a trophy himself, even one without a political party. I would say especially one without a political party.
The case of the Tylers neither supports nor refutes Ms. Saulny's suggestion that Mrs. Thompson may be a political liability. All I can add is this: If Mr. Thompson fails to gain the high office he seeks, he can console himself in the same way that ex-President Tyler consoled himself after 1845.
There is nothing like a little consoling when you're in your sixties, I always say, or at least have been saying ever since I turned 60.
July 9, 2007
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