Martin Van Buren
What Number President was He?
Martin Van Buren served as the eighth President of the United States from 1837 to 1841. Prior to his presidency, he held the positions of the eighth Vice President and the tenth Secretary of State, both under President Andrew Jackson. Despite the country's initial prosperity upon his election, the financial panic of 1837 struck less than three months later, undermining the favorable economic conditions.
Standing at about 5 feet 6 inches tall, Martin Van Buren possessed a neat and upright appearance, complementing his friendly demeanor and unpretentious background. Born in 1782 to Dutch heritage, he grew up as the son of a tavernkeeper and farmer in Kinderhook, New York.
Van Buren delved into New York politics during his early career as a lawyer. As the leader of the "Albany Regency," an influential New York political organization, he skillfully distributed public offices and favors to garner votes. Despite this, he conscientiously fulfilled his official duties and was elected to the United States Senate in 1821.
By 1827, Van Buren had emerged as a key northern ally of Andrew Jackson. Jackson acknowledged his loyalty by appointing him Secretary of State. Amidst the growing lack of allegiance among Cabinet Members recommended by John C. Calhoun, Van Buren stood as Jackson's most reliable adviser, earning the President's trust. Jackson famously described him as "a true man with no guile."
The schism in the Cabinet intensified due to Jackson's disputes with Calhoun, who aspired to the Presidency. Van Buren proposed a solution: both he and Secretary of War Eaton would resign, prompting Calhoun supporters to follow suit. Jackson enacted this plan, creating a new Cabinet and seeking to reward Van Buren by nominating him as Minister to Great Britain. However, Vice President Calhoun, in his capacity as President of the Senate, cast the deciding vote against the appointment, inadvertently making Van Buren a martyr.
Dubbed the "Little Magician," Van Buren secured the Vice Presidency on the Jacksonian ticket in 1832 and later won the Presidency in 1836.
In his Inaugural Address, Van Buren extolled the American experiment as an example to the global community. However, the nation's prosperity was short-lived, as the panic of 1837 struck within three months.
The fundamental issue stemmed from the cyclical economic pattern of the 19th century characterized by "boom and bust." While adhering to this regular rhythm, Jackson's financial measures played a role in precipitating the crash. By dismantling the Second Bank of the United States, he eliminated constraints on inflationary practices of certain state banks. This, combined with rampant land speculation fueled by lenient bank credit, resulted in a crisis. In 1836, Jackson issued the Specie Circular, which required land purchases to be made with hard currency like gold or silver, in a bid to curb speculation.
The panic commenced in 1837, leading to the collapse of numerous banks and businesses. Many lost their lands, and the United States grappled with the most severe economic depression it had encountered thus far, lasting about five years.
Both Van Buren and his opponents were unable to implement programs that could alleviate the economic crisis. Van Buren's approach, which entailed continuing Jackson's deflationary policies, only exacerbated and extended the depression.
Attributing the panic to business recklessness and excessive credit expansion, Van Buren focused on safeguarding the national Government's financial stability. He opposed the establishment of a new Bank of the United States and resisted depositing Government funds in state banks. He championed the creation of an independent treasury system for handling Government transactions. Additionally, he curtailed federal aid for internal improvements, going so far as to sell the tools previously used for public works.
Growing increasingly opposed to the expansion of slavery, Van Buren thwarted the annexation of Texas due to its potential to expand slave territory and trigger conflict with Mexico.
Defeated by the Whigs in the 1840 presidential election, he subsequently ran unsuccessfully as a Free Soil candidate in 1848. He passed away in 1862.
"As to the presidency, the two happiest days of my life were those of my entrance upon the office and my surrender of it." "The people under our system, like the king in a monarchy, never dies." "It is easier to do a job right than to explain why you didn't."