Monday, March 29, 2010

The cost of leadership: Learning from John Tyler

What makes a good leader? Is it someone who follows the advice of others or follows their gut instinct? This can be either a difficult choice or a delicate balance. Recently I've been stewing over these questions.

This past week, for my last spring break (tear), my Dad and I took a trip to Washington D.C. Not only did the city capture my heart, I learned a lot while I was there too. On Saturday of our trip, we took a
tour of the White House. This house, this place that I've dreamed of was so wonderful and left me awestruck. To stand in the East Room, where President Lincoln signed the emancipation of slaves and where Lincoln's and Kennedy's bodies laid after their assassination was so moving and so powerful.

While walking through the Blue Room, the weight of it all hit me. Growing up in a family that watches the news every night, I was flooded with memories of all the interviews that have taken place in this very spot. Hanging powerfully over the fireplace was a portrait of John Tyler. I'll admit, I had no idea who he was.

John Tyler was the 10th president of the United States. He ascended the presidency after the death of President William Henry Harrison. He was the first Vice President "to be elevated to the office of President by the death of his predecessor." He was a man known for his strong convictions.

When President Harrison died, Tyler took the office of the presidency and gave an inaugural address. As he took office, he took to implementing some changes. His cabinet on the other hand, the Whig Party, didn't believe that he was really the president or had presidential power. Tyler believed in the constitution and was determined to uphold it whatever the cost. After putting his foot down and insisting that he was in fact the president, President Tyler's cabinet resigned, every single member except for Secretary of State Webster. In the end, President Tyler helped to pass some very significant legislation including the "Long Cabin Bill," which gave more land rights to settlers.

I was struck by this man's courage. He gave up so much for ethical leadership. What loneliness he must have felt in such a big house with so many responsibilities, all resting on his shoulders. Sometimes, doing the right thing isn't the popular thing. Basing your life and your work around public opinion can be a dangerous road to walk. I am personally very thankful for his leadership and for the example he set.

Below are some other photos of my trip. On a personal note, I seriously fell in love with this city.