Before he was President: John Tyler
John Tyler, 1841-1845 lawyer
Tyler was taught to play the fiddle by his father and Tyler dreamed
of become an accomplished concert violinist but pursued the law
instead. At the age of 14 Tyler entered William & Mary college. John
Tyler was admitted to the bar at 19 in 1809. The legal age was 20
but no questions were ever asked or raised. (John Tyler's father was
a friend of President Jefferson.) After he retired from public life,
he often performed for guests at parties. His second wife, Julia,
sometimes accompanied him on the guitar.
Vice President Tyler was on his knees playing marbles when informed
that he had become president upon the death of William Harrison.
James Knox Polk, 1845-1849 clerk
of the state senate
James Polk entered the University of North Carolina as a sophomore
in 1816, graduating with honors in 1818. He then studied law under
Felix Grundy, a prominent lawyer in Nashville who later became a
U.S. senator and attorney general in the Martin Van Buren
administration. Polk passed the state bar exam in 1820. While
working on his legal studies, he secured a job as clerk of the state
senate—the bureaucratic post responsible for directing the flow of
legislative paperwork. It was a wise move for the young man, who by
then had decided to use the law and his statehouse connections as
stepping stones to a political career.
Zachary Taylor, 1849-1850 solider
Although educated, Zachary was a poor student. His handwriting,
spelling, and grammar were crude and unrefined throughout his life.
Even as a boy, he wanted a career in the military; for a planter's
son, it was a respectable alternative to law and the ministry.
Taylor received his first commission as an officer in 1808 and was
immediately assigned to command the garrison at Fort Pickering,
located in modern-day Memphis. From that moment until his election
as President, Taylor was in the military, stationed at a succession
of frontier outposts.