John Tyler, who in 1841 would become the first Vice President to ascend to the White House due to presidential vacancy - and who in 1861 would turn traitor, chairing Virginia's secession convention and serving in the Provisional Congress of the Confederacy.

The First Presidential Vacancy

On March 4, 1841, Ohio's William Henry Harrison was inaugurated as the ninth President of the United States.  On April 4, he was dead.

For the first time in the 52 year history of the United States, it was now more than mere academic exercise:  was John Tyler, Harrison's Vice President, now the nation's third President in just 32 days time?  Or was he merely an "Acting President" to serve out the remaining 3 years, 11 months of Harrison's term?  Congressional debate on the subject would be brief, as Tyler himself would resolve the matter in his own way.

On April 6, Tyler arranged to have the presidential oath of office administered to him at Washington's Brown Hotel by William Cranch, Chief Judge of the United States Circuit Court.  Tyler then proceeded to do the job as if he'd been elected President in his own right.  When presented with an act of Congress which left a signature line with the words "Acting President" on his signature line?  Tyler crossed out "Acting."  Then in their first meeting after Harrison's death, the Cabinet advised Tyler that they'd collectively lead on matters of governing, as a means of uniting the nation.  Tyler responded that the Cabinet could show themselves as united:  by resigning, en masse.

From that point forward, everyone pretty much decided to let the matter go.  The "Tyler Precedent," as it would become known, would remain in place as custom - but not codified law - for the next 126 years.