U.S. Senate: Martin Van Buren, 8th Vice President ()
Accessible and a master of detail, Van Buren received advice from scores of obscure As Buckingham noted, Van Buren in followed Andrew Jackson's policy of . British-American relations, aggravated further by the Aroostook War. As President of the United States of America, Andrew Jackson invited change, increased Andrew Jackson to Martin Van Buren His relationship with “the people” throughout his first term convinced him that he was the only . with many in Washington, offering his insights and advice from The Hermitage in Nashville. Against all advice, Jackson made him collector of the New York City by military force in , under Jackson's successor Martin Van Buren. died abroad under mysterious circumstances not long before her marriage to Eaton Jackson was drawn to Van Buren both by his courtliness to Peggy Eaton and his policy views.
Such an arrangement would blur the very real differences between the administration and the New England opposition, he lectured, and would leave Jackson open to charges that he had placed politics above principle. Persuaded by the force of Van Buren's argument, Grundy deferred to the vice president. The Senate began the balloting to elect chairmen and members of its standing committees on December 16, Van Buren's first day in the chair.
With only a slight majority, the Anti-Jackson forces did not win complete control of the committees. But other coveted chairmanships went to opposition senators: The Senate Censures Jackson: Van Buren Versus Clay During the four years that Van Buren served as vice president, the president's war on the Bank of the United States was one of the most important and controversial subjects on the Senate's agenda. Anticipating Jackson's order to withdraw the government deposits, bank president Nicholas Biddle had persuaded the bank's directors to order sharp reductions in credit.
The directors subsequently decreed that the bank would accept only hard currency from state banks with loans outstanding, a move that forced state banks to adopt similar measures and wreaked havoc in the credit-dependent West and in the nation's financial markets.
When Van Buren assumed the chair on December 16,he found the Senate in a state of turmoil. The Senate's December 11 request that Jackson provide a copy of his withdrawal directive had been met with a curt response that infuriated opposition senators.
Van Buren's legendary poise served him well as Clay and his lieutenants began their attack, dropping not-so-thinly-veiled hints that the vice president was also to blame for the wave of bank and business failures sweeping the nation. Smiling and genial, he took care to maintain order in the chamber, ordering the galleries cleared when necessary.
To all outward appearances, he seemed oddly unperturbed at the opprobrium that Clay and his allies heaped on the administration. Early in the debate, however, Van Buren had orchestrated a spirited rejoinder to Clay's attacks. Unable to join in the debate himself, he had persuaded Silas Wrightthe New York senator widely regarded as his spokesman in the Senate, to deliver the administration's response.
Unmoved by Wright's plea that "[t]he administration had several friends in the Senate more competent for the task than myself," Van Buren offered to "reduce all we want to have said to writing. His lengthy address—the product of Van Buren's pen—emphasized that the question before the public was "Bank or no Bank. One senator pronounced the speech "a hit," while Webster fretted about the "effect which the recent debate in the Senate.
During one particularly heated March session, Clay addressed him directly, pleading with him to tell Jackson "in the language of truth and sincerity, the actual condition of his bleeding country. Clay rose to his feet as the vice president deliberately approached his desk, and the crowds in the galleries fell silent.
Then, with a deep bow, and a voice dripping with sarcasm, Van Buren returned fire: Senator, allow me to be indebted to you for another pinch of your aromatic Maccoboy. Van Buren helped himself and returned to the chair, all the while maintaining his studied composure. When the Senate finally voted to censure the president on March 28,Van Buren was not unduly alarmed, convinced that the American people would not take kindly to this dramatic assault on their hero and champion.
But he was deeply disturbed by the response that Jackson sent to the Senate in mid-April. The president's critics, and even some of his allies, were shocked to learn that Jackson, as he explained in his infamous "Protest," considered himself the direct representative of the American people—responsible, along with his appointees, for "every species of property belonging to the United States.
He was greatly relieved when the midterm elections affirmed that the American people approved of the war that Jackson waged against the bank on their behalf. Jackson ultimately killed the bank, as he had predicted he would, but the struggle took its toll on Van Buren, who eventually came to regard his duties as president of the opposition-controlled Senate as "so distasteful and so wearing" that, according to a modern biographer, he suffered "more than his share of colds and debilitating upsets.
The abolition movement, which sent scores of antislavery petitions to Congress during the s, posed particular difficulties for a northern politician who had supported emancipation in his own state but was anxious to remain on good terms with southern voters and regarded slavery as a matter best left to the states. Like many northern voters at the time, Van Buren had little use for the abolitionists, dismissing their crusade for emancipation in the District of Columbia as an attempt to "distract Congress and the country.
The bill was similar to one that Jackson had proposed after a mass mailing of abolitionist literature to Charleston, South Carolina, caused a near-riot there the previous summer.
But the administration proposal would have authorized the federal government to determine which materials should be embargoed, while Calhoun's would have delegated this function to the states. Calhoun engineered a tied vote on the motion to proceed to the third reading of his bill. If he did so to embarrass Van Buren, as one scholar of the period has suggested, he miscalculated. The "weasel," as Calhoun now disparagingly referred to Van Buren, had once again outmaneuvered his rival.
The unanimous vote of the delegates present belied serious divisions in a party that was, in the words of a contemporary journalist, comprised of "the Jackson party, proper; the Jackson-Van Buren party; the Jackson-anti-Van Buren party. But Jackson had made his preference known.
The president was equally adamant that Richard Mentor Johnson, a Kentucky Democrat and military hero who had served in both houses of Congress, should be Van Buren's running mate, a legacy that cost the ticket support among southern voters who regarded Johnson as an "amalgamator" because of his relationship with his slave mistress.
Van Buren was opposed by a field of regional opposition candidates endorsed by state and local Whig organizations. The Whigs, still more a coalition than a party, with no candidate capable of defeating Van Buren outright, hoped that each regional candidate would so weaken the Democratic ticket in his own section that the election would be thrown into the House of Representatives.
During the campaign, opposition strategists reviled Van Buren as an abolitionist, a manipulator, and a trimmer—a "third-rate man," in the words of one detractor. David Crockettformerly a member of the anti-Jackson coalition in the House and one of "Aunt Matty's" sharpest critics, ridiculed the vice president's appearance as he presided over the Senate, "laced up in corsets, such as women in a town wear, and, if possible, tighter than the best of them.
More serious detractors warned that Van Buren would continue the aggrandizement of executive power that Jackson had begun. Democrats countered with pointed allusions to the Federalists, who had supported the First Bank of the United States, they reminded voters, as well as such equally repugnant measures as the Alien and Sedition Acts.
They coupled these attacks with paeans of praise for the president who had slain the "monster bank. He assumed office under a cloud, overshadowed at his presidential inauguration by the crowds that flocked to catch a final glimpse of Old Hickory. He would never be as beloved or as respected as his predecessor. Richard Mentor Johnson had failed to receive an electoral majority after Virginia's electors withheld their votes in protest, forcing the vice-presidential election into the Senate for the first and only time in the nation's history.
With his controversial personal history and complete disdain for prevailing norms of social discourse and personal hygiene, Johnson would remain a source of continuing embarrassment for Van Buren. American settlers in Texas had declared their independence inprecipitating a war with Mexico, and a request for annexation by the United States was pending at the time of Van Buren's inauguration.
Reluctant to involve the nation in a war that northern antislavery interests would inevitably characterize as a war to extend slavery, but equally reluctant to offend southern expansionists, he pursued a dilatory and evasive course until Texas ultimately withdrew its petition.
Van Buren could not, however, afford to remain equally indecisive with respect to the economic maladies besetting the nation. On the day that he assumed office, one of the nation's most prominent trading houses suspended payments, the first in a wave of brokerage house failures that swept the nation during the panic of Jackson's "hard money" fiscal policies were only partly to blame for the panic.
A trade imbalance and a sharp decline in the price of American cotton had also contributed to the crisis, which was international in scope. But Whigs were quick to blame the nation's economic woes on Jackson and, by extension, on Van Buren, sometimes dubbed "Martin Van Ruin" during this period. He had inherited a situation that one scholar has characterized as a "potentially devastating emergency, probably the worst facing any new President on taking office until James Buchanan had to cope with slavery and the Dred Scott decision in Whigs succeeded in blocking this initiative untilwhen Congress finally passed an independent treasury bill.
In the meantime, the panic gave way to a depression of unprecedented severity. Up to one third of the factory workers in some northeastern towns were thrown out of work; in the South, vast expanses of once productive farmland went untilled. Prices of food and other necessities skyrocketed, with soup kitchens the only source of sustenance for many destitute residents of Washington, D. Van Buren lost his bid for reelection to William Henry Harrisona military hero touted as a "common man" by the Whig strategists who ran an extraordinarily effective campaign on his behalf.
After one Democrat made the mistake of dismissing "Old Tippecanoe" as a cider-swilling rustic content to live in a log cabin, Whigs appropriated these symbols to their advantage. The log cabin and the cider barrel were powerful images during the depression, images that contrasted sharply with the picture that Whigs painted of Van Buren as a nattily attired, high-living schemer, a "used-up man" hopelessly out of touch with the American electorate.
Out-maneuvered and out-campaigned, Van Buren's party lost not only the White House, but control of both houses of Congress, as well. He had received a mere 60 electoral votes, a dismal showing compared with Harrison's electoral votes, and a defeat made even more galling by his failure to carry New York.
He gave little outward sign of his disappointment and extended more than the customary courtesies to Harrison when "Old Tip" arrived in Washington shortly before the inauguration. Van Buren was anxious to return to private life, he cheerfully informed friends, and seemed to enjoy the rousing welcome that awaited him New York City.
He had, of course, conveniently informed friends that he would arrive in the city on March 23, allowing them plenty of time to prepare a "surprise" in his honor. But he was deeply shaken at the outcome of the election, and would have announced his retirement from politics had Silas Wright not intervened with a timely lecture about his responsibilities to the Democratic Party. Van Buren retired to Lindenwald, his Kinderhook estate, cautiously pondering his prospects for while maintaining that "his ambition had been fully satisfied.
The voters who had turned him out of office were amazed to discover that the man demonized by Whigs as an insensitive dandy and a shrewd, cunning schemer was merely a plain-spoken, unassuming, and quite ordinary man. The leading contender after the first ballot at the Democratic convention, he ultimately lost the nomination to James K. Polk, a darkhorse candidate who supported the immediate annexation of Texas. Resolved never again to seek elective office, he focused his energies on securing New York for Polk.
After Polk's inauguration, Van Buren watched with mounting alarm as disagreement over the extension of slavery into the territory acquired from Mexico began to split his increasingly fragile party.
He was deeply troubled by southern Democrats' claims that Congress could not bar slavery from the new territories; he had always believed that the institution, where it already existed, was a matter best left to the individual states.
But when events in Texas offered southern slaveholders the opportunity to extend their reach toward the Southwest, Van Buren decided that he could not support the expansion of a practice that he regarded as evil.
Inthe Free Soil party—a coalition of antislavery Democrats, antislavery Whigs and disaffected Whigs—nominated Van Buren as their presidential candidate.
Andrew Jackson is the only president in American history to pay off the national debt and leave office with the country in the black.
- Martin Van Buren, 8th Vice President (1833-1837)
Furthermore, he recognized that whites desired their lands and feared if the Native Americans remained in those areas they would eventually be exterminated. Though he had railed against government corruption in the past, Jackson largely ignored the shady treaties forced upon the various tribes and the corrupt actions of government officials.
The Indian Removal process was completed two years after Jackson left office with great loss of Native American life due to this corruption, inadequate supplies and removal by force. Trouble with the Bank With the Eaton Affair behind him and his programs in full swing, Jackson turned his attention to an issue that would define his presidency and forever reshape the office he held.
Bank profits benefited private stockholders as well as the U. In its early years, the bank was riddled with corruption and poor financial management. This resulted in economic hardship in the U. Jackson realized their important role in the U. Furthermore, he saw the Bank as a threat to national security since its stockholders were mainly foreign investors with allegiances to other governments.
The crux of the issue for Jackson was what he saw as the never-ending battle between liberty and power in government. In his belief system, people should sacrifice some individual liberty for the beneficial aspects of government. But if any government institution became too powerful it stood as a direct threat to individual liberty.
Martin Van Buren - People - Department History - Office of the Historian
Jackson signaled early on in his administration that he would consider re-chartering the Bank, but only if its powers were limited. Clay decided that he would force Jackson to make the Bank a campaign issue in by re-chartering the Bank early. Clay secured Congressional approval of the re-charter forcing Jackson to promptly veto it on constitutional and policy grounds.
Clay and Jackson then put the issue of who or what was the greater danger to individual liberty, to the people. The people overwhelmingly re-elected Jackson.
Vindicated by the people, Jackson prepared to finish his fight with the Bank in his second term, but first had to deal with a threat to the Union. It must be preserved! Calhoun advanced the idea that the states had the constitutional right to nullify or invalidate any federal law and that states could secede from the Union. In lateSouth Carolina nullified the Tariff of and threatened secession. Jackson rejected these ideas and promised the use of force if South Carolina disobeyed the law. After much brinksmanship, Congress passed a compromise tariff that placated South Carolina and a bill that authorized the use of force against nullification.
While Jackson pushed his banking plan through Congress he handicapped the Bank by ordering the removal of government deposits. Andrew Jackson inas quoted by William A. Not only did he keep America out of war, but he did it twice, first with Mexico and then with England. Historians tend to glorify strong presidents, and nothing makes a president stronger than being a wartime leader. In a collection of scholarly articles on "America's Ten Greatest Presidents," for instance, half the presidents were men who had led the country into war.
Yet managing to keep out of war can sometimes be an even greater achievement than rattling the war drums. A few of his closest advisers even went so far as to advise him to start a war to win back the war vote and distract public attention from the administration's difficulties, but Van Buren refused. This is that plain, simple, humble, hard-headed democrat whom [the people] have been taught to believe is at the head of the democratic party He may call himself a democrat- such, no doubt, he professes to be- but then there is a great difference between names and things.
The son of a tavernkeeper, he received his earliest education helping his father manage the tavern where he watched the patrons eat and drink and listened to their conversation- political and otherwise. Observers later commented on his great knowledge and understanding of human nature; undoubtedly much of it was acquired during these early years.
He went to the village academy for a formal education, and then to the law offices, successively, of Francis Silvester and William P.
In he began the practice of law and slowly built a reputation for himself as a hard-working and resourceful lawyer. It did not take the intelligent young lawyer Van Buren very long to learn what he must do to survive.
Within ten years after his arrival in Albany as a senator, Van Buren gained control of the state's Republican organization. His success was due partly to his personality as a leader, partly to his ability to conceive and execute intricate plans to weaken his opponents, partly to his above-average talents as a speaker and writer, and partly to his genius for political organization.
Without that charm, that ingratiating, refined and affable manner, he could never have succeeded as well as he did.
Martin Van Buren
Men and women vied for his companionship, and maneuvered to get him to accept invitations to their dinners. He was courteous to all- which some misinterpreted- and possessed the "high art of blending dignity with ease and suavity. In the spring ofthe phrase "OK" began to circulate in Boston as shorthand for "oll korrect", a slangy way of saying "all right.
Van Buren even wrote "OK" next to his signature. It spread like wildfire, and to this day it is a universal symbol of something elemental in the American character- informality, optimism, efficiency, call it what you will. It is spoken seven times a day by the average citizen, two billion utterances overall.
And, of course, it goes well beyond our borders; if there is a single sound America has contributed to the esperanto of global communication, this is it. It is audible everywhere- in a taxicab in Paris, in a cafe in Instanbul, in the languid early seconds of the Beatles' "Revolution," when John Lennon steps up to the microphone and arrestingly calls the meeting to order.
There are worse legacies that a defeated presidential candidate could claim. Ted Widmer, Martin Van Burenp. He would never hold elective office again; his career ended as prematurely as it had begun. The winds of fortune blow very strong in American politics. But despite a presidency that was disappointing in many ways, he could return to New York satisfied that he had remained true to his understanding of Democracy, imperfect as that may have been, and that most others would have fared worse under the difficult circumstances he had faced.
In fact, many were about to, as the United States entered the dreariest presidential season in its history, a twenty-year drought that did not end until the watershed of the election. He arrived by ship at Manhattan, and found a surprise that must have warmed his jaded heart. A huge number of the city's poor came out in the rain to greet him, conscious that, for all his imperfections, this New Yorker had somewhere represented their interests in a government where they had precious few allies.
His presidency produced no lasting monument of social legislation, sustained several disastrous reverses, and ended with ignominious defeat after one short term. There will never be an animatronic Van Buren entertaining children at Disneyland alongside Abraham Lincoln.
But still, he lives wherever people find gated communities shut to them. He lives particularly in the places far from the presidential stage where democracy does its best work- in the back rooms of union halls, fire stations, immigrant social clubs, granges, and taverns like the one he grew up in. Or even far from American shores, where courageous men and women are risking their lives every day to form opposition parties against the wishes of their governments.
Quite simply, it's antidemocratic to expect all of our leaders to be great, or to pretend that they are once they are in office and using the trappings of the presidency for theatrical effect. It goes without saying that we need our Lincolns and Washingtons- the United States would not exist without them.
But we need our Van Burens, too- the schemers and sharps working t defend people from all backgrounds against their natural predators. For democracy to stay realistic, we need to remain realistic about our leaders and what they can and cannot do. In other words, we need books about the not-quite-heroic.