Martin Van Buren (December 5, 1782 – July 24, 1862) was the eighth President of the United States (1837–1841). Before his presidency, he was the eighth Vice President (1833–1837) and the tenth Secretary of State, under Andrew Jackson (1829–1831).
Van Buren was a key organizer of the Democratic Party, a dominant figure in the Second Party System, and the first president not of British or Irish descent—his family was Dutch. He was the first president to be born an American citizen, his predecessors having been born British subjects before the American Revolutionary War. He is also the only president not to have spoken English as his first language, having grown up speaking Dutch, and the first president from New York.
As Andrew Jackson’s Secretary of State and then Vice President, Van Buren was a key figure in building the organizational structure for Jacksonian democracy, particularly in New York State. As president, he did not want the United States to annex Texas, an act which John Tyler would achieve eight years after Van Buren’s initial rejection. Between the bloodless Aroostook War and the Caroline Affair, relations with Britain and its colonies in Canada also proved to be strained.
His administration was largely characterized by the economic hardship of his time, the Panic of 1837. He was scapegoated for the depression and called “Martin Van Ruin” by his political opponents. Van Buren was voted out of office after four years, losing to Whig candidate William Henry Harrison.
In 1848 Van Buren ran unsuccessfully for president on a third-party ticket, the Free Soil Party.
Election of 1836
Although Andrew Jackson was a popular President and the Jacksonian Democrats were the dominant party in the nation, there was another party that was beginning to become influential. The Whig party was led by Henry Clay, Daniel Webster and future President William Henry Harrison. This party was an offshoot of the Democratic party that rose in opposition to the policies of Andrew Jackson.
In the Election of 1836 the Whigs came up with an interesting strategy to take the White House. They ran many regional candidates against Van Buren in hopes of capturing enough electoral votes that would throw the decision of President to the House of Representatives. This strategy failed and Martin Van Buren won decisively.
Presidency (1837 – 1841)
Martin Van Buren took office on March 4, 1837 with intentions of carrying out similar policies of Andrew Jackson. Jackson had allowed the Second Bank of the United States to expire and had begun placing federal money in local banks. This led to a catastrophe that Martin Van Buren had to deal with at the onset of his Presidency. The Panic of 1837 led to record levels of unemployment, a five-year depression, failures of banks, and one of the worst economic crisis in American History. Van Buren did little to help matters and became an easy target for Whig supporters. He quickly went from a popular president to one of the most unpopular presidents.
Texas sought to enter the union during the Van Buren presidency, but he did not admit them. he sought to avoid a conflict with the Mexican government. this would also take a toll on his popularity as he reversed Andrew Jackson’s policies and went against the American Expansionism of the time.
Although he sought peace in many areas of his Presidency, Martin Van Buren personally oversaw the removal of the Cherokee in the notorious “Trail of Tears.” The Trail of Tears expelled more tribes than just the Cherokee. It also removed the Choctaw, Creek and Seminole tribes to the Oklahoma territory. While his foreign policy differed from Jackson’s policies his policies on Indian Removal did not. He also continued the Second Seminole War that begun under Jackson.
Martin Van Buren’s Presidency is remembered due to the Panic of 1837 and his inability to take action when he needed to. The economy continued to get worse and the Whigs dubbed him as “Martin Van Ruin.” The nickname was used as a rallying cry during the upcoming elections. Van Buren took the responsibility for the economy which resulted in disastrous congressional elections for the Democratic party. Even-so Martin Van Buren took retained the Democratic nomination in the elections of 1840 in which he faced off with the Whig candidate, William Henry Harrison. Van Buren was easily defeated and upon leaving office he is recorded as saying, “As to the presidency, the two happiest days of my life were those of my entrance upon the office and my surrender of it.” This was a similar sentiment that John Adams and John Quincy Adams had regarding the office.
As a President, Martin Van Buren, is ranked as one of the worst Presidents in American History. He accomplished little during his four years and never seemed to get a handle on the economy which plagued him. After the Congressional elections of 1837 and 1838 crippled the Democratic party in Congress he had little support. His position on Slavery was that of a politician who said that he opposed it, yet did nothing to intervene. He lacked the political courage that his predecessor Andrew Jackson had.
However, Martin Van Buren was a highly influential person in American History. Although his presidency is forgettable his contributions to American politics are not. He was the leading founder of the modern Democratic Party and helped organize the Second Party System in United States History. He had a sharp mind and was known for his eloquence.
Martin Van Buren Quotes
“Banks properly established and conducted are highly useful to the business of the country, and will doubtless continue to exist in the States so long as they conform to their laws and are found to be safe and beneficial.”
“Between Russia and the United States sentiments of good will continue to be mutually cherished.”
“Every proper exertion has been made and will be continued to carry out the wishes of Congress in relation to the tobacco trade, as indicated in the several resolutions of the House of Representatives and the legislation of the two branches.”
“For myself, therefore, I desire to declare that the principle that will govern me in the high duty to which my country calls me is a strict adherence to the letter and spirit of the Constitution as it was designed by those who framed it.”
“I tread in the footsteps of illustrious men… in receiving from the people the sacred trust confided to my illustrious predecessor.”
“If laws acting upon private interests can not always be avoided, they should be confined within the narrowest limits, and left wherever possible to the legislatures of the States.”
“In a government whose distinguishing characteristic should be a diffusion and equalization of its benefits and burdens the advantage of individuals will be augmented at the expense of the community at large.”
“It affords me sincere pleasure to be able to apprise you of the entire removal of the Cherokee Nation of Indians to their new homes west of the Mississippi.”
“It seems proper, at all events, that by an early enactment similar to that of other countries the application of public money by an officer of Government to private uses should be made a felony and visited with severe and ignominious punishment.”