Krystal D. Aaron

422-17-3246
HY 201, section 2
April 4, 2004
Martin Van Buren – His Presidential Years
1837 to 1841
picpic
The Eighth President of the United States
In the election of 1836, Van Buren won easily with 170 electoral votes
against 73 for Harrison, 26 for White, 14 for Webster and 11 for Mangum. In
popular votes Van Buren received a total of 764,176 votes compared to
550,816 for Harrison, 146,107 for White and 41,201 for Webster.

Major Issues of the Election of 1836
Van Buren disagreed with Whig candidate William Henry Harrison’s
revenue-sharing scheme that would return federal surplus from the proceeds
of federal lands directly back to the states. Harrison was willing to
revive the Bank of the United States if the economy got out of control,
while Van Buren opposed the Bank in all circumstances. While Harrison
called for a number of internal improvements, while Van Buren only intended
on federally funding projects that were truly national in scope.

We Will Write a Custom Essay Specifically
For You For Only $13.90/page!


order now

Van Buren’s major political opponents were:
. William Henry Harrison (Whig)
. Hugh Lawson White (Whig)
. Daniel Webster (Whig)
. Vice President: Richard Mentor Johnson (1780-1850)
Martin Van Buren’s expertise as a political strategist which earned him
the name “little magician” was used to promote Andrew Jackson, but it was
of no use to him in furthering his own career as President. The main
problem was the economic depression that persisted throughout most of his
administration. He was further hampered by his taste for the finer things
in life, which caused his critics to portray him as a dandy, indifferent to
the country’s sufferings. He was dubbed “Martin Van Ruin “for these
economic problems, even though they were already on the scene before he
took office.

Almost at once a financial panic struck the nation. Bankers begged Van
Buren for aid, but he pointed out that the crisis was due to ruinous
speculation. He insisted that government manipulation would only further
weaken the economic structure. As a step to guard the nation’s own money,
he repeatedly pressed Congress to set up an independent treasury. It was
voted in 1840 but repealed in 1841. Van Buren attributed the Panic of 1837
to the overexpansion of the credit and favored the independent treasury. In
1840, he established a 10 hour day on public works.

Van Buren also inherited from former president Jackson the Seminole
Indian War in Florida. The conflict, during which thousands of lives on
both sides were lost, cost the government between 40 and 60 million
dollars. Meanwhile Van Buren had to handle the undeclared Aroostook War, a
dispute between Maine and New Brunswick, Canada, over Maine’s northeast
boundary on the Aroostook River. Maine called out troops in 1839, but Van
Buren managed to have the quarrel settled by Britain and the United States.

Van Buren’s calm approach to problems angered people who demanded quick
action. Despite heated public opinion he carefully weighed both sides of
any question. Today he is regarded as having been a sound statesman in a
troubled era. Martin Van Buren was among the first American politicians to
understand the role of political parties in a democracy. Before him,
parties were viewed disdainfully as dangerous factions threatening the
unity of society. The party competition of an earlier era, between the
Federalists and Democrat Republicans, was barely tolerated, with those in
power tending to view the opposing party as traitors and often subjecting
them to persecution. Van Buren saw parties as salutary institutions within
a working democracy, and as a New York state politician, he built the first
real political party apparatus in the United States.

The popular image of Andrew Jackson as the backwoods representative of
the people was largely Van Buren’s invention, and Jackson’s electoral
victories owed as much to Van Buren’s organizational skills as they did to
Jackson’s charisma. In turn, Van Buren’s election in 1836 owed everything
to Jackson. Van Buren was Jackson’s hand-picked successor, and he rode that
endorsement into office. But Jackson’s reputation could not help Van Buren
solve the economic depression that plagued his years in office. In the end,
the genteel Van Buren became a victim of the very political techniques he
had developed for Jackson. In 1840 he was defeated for reelection by Whig
candidate William Henry Harrison, a backwoods Indian fighter who portrayed
himself (falsely) as a Jacksonian log-cabin and hard-cider representative
of the people. Memories of the financial crisis did not help him either.

Van Buren lost the election by an electoral count of 234 to 60; the popular
votes were Van Buren 1, 128, 854 to Harrison’s 1, 275, and 390. Martin Van
Buren was the leading contender for the Democratic nomination in 1844 until
he publicly opposed immediate annexation of Texas, and was subsequently
beaten by the Southern delegations at the Baltimore convention. After
working behind the scenes among the anti-slavery Democrats, Van Buren
joined in the movement that led to the Free-Soil Party and became its
candidate for president in 1848. He subsequently returned to the Democratic
Party while continuing to object to its pro-southern policy.

Presidential Positions
. He opposed slavery.

. Opposed annexation of Texas.

. Fought an unpopular war with the Seminole Indians in Florida.

Cabinet Members
. Secretary of State John Forsyth
. Secretary of the Treasury Levi Woodbury
. Secretary of War Joel R. Poinsett
. Attorney General Benjamin F. Butler ( 1837-1838)
Domestic Policy
Martin Van Buren was faced with his first important crisis only weeks
after his inauguration. The nation entered the worst depression it had
experienced in its short history. Known as the Panic of 1837, it was the
direct result of Jackson’s policies, which had been supported and/or
initiated by Van Buren. One of the primary causes was the Federal
Government’s Hard Money Policy. This stated that gold or silver (hard
money) must be used to purchase lands in the west. Another major cause of
the depression was due to Jackson and Van Buren’s opposition to the Bank of
the United States. They withdrew all federal funds from the National Bank
and transferred them to smaller pet banks. Many of these banks invested
unwisely and in May of 1837 were forced to close. People lost their jobs
and homes, as well as confidence in the new president. They demanded he
call a special session of Congress to solve the problem. He decided to wait
until September to have the meeting. This allowed him to use his acute
political strategy skills to develop a plan of his own. An important part
of the plan he came up with involves the creation of an independent
treasury to hold federal funds. He did not feel that it was his
responsibility to help those who had suffered due to the Panic. The
Congress did not approve his plan, and the session ended in name-calling
and finger-pointing. The solution accepted by the Congress involved
increasing overseas trade by allowing importers to pay customs in paper
money. Before the end of his term, Van Buren was able to pass the
Subtreasury Bill.

As a consequence of extensive borrowing fueled by the demise of the
Bank of the United States, the failure of the 1836 wheat crop, a 50% drop
in the price of cotton, the requested payment of many short-term American
loans due to the demise of several European banks, and the order that
government lands be paid for in coin, leading to the withdrawal of large
amounts of hard currency from circulation, the United States was thrown
into a financial panic in 1837. The panic caused a severe increase in
unemployment and the demise of many U.S. banks; and the increased cost of
flour caused several riots in New York.

The Slavery Issue and Amistad
New York was still a slave state when Van Buren was growing up, and
his family owned slaves. As a young man Van Buren owned a slave himself, a
man named Tom. When Tom ran away, Van Buren made no effort to recover him.

But ten years later, in 1824, the escapee was discovered living in
Worcester, Massachusetts, and at that point Van Buren agreed to sell him to
another man if he could be captured without violence. Subsequently Van
Buren came around to oppose slavery in principle. But as a matter of public
policy, he adhered closely to his sense of the compromises that the
Constitution and Congress had set up to preserve both slavery and the
union. And as a politician trying to build a national party, he found
himself obliged to accommodate growing southern anxieties about northern
abolitionism over the 1830s. He was a northerner, a Yankee, of course, and
that was enough to make him suspect in southern eyes. So in 1835, preparing
to run for president, he had to assure southern politicians and editors
that he did not oppose slavery in those states where it already existed,
that he opposed abolitionism, and specifically that he opposed the campaign
to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia
As president from 1836-1840, Van Buren continued this policy of
protecting the Democratic Party’s southern flank. He tried to steer a
middle course, avoiding both the taint of abolitionism on the one hand and
utter capitulation to radical southern pro-slavery demands on the other. He
faced a stiff race for reelection in 1840. He therefore needed, or was
convinced he needed, to find and make gestures demonstrating that he was
prepared to protect the peculiar institution from its radical opponents. He
appointed a disproportionate number of southerners to the Supreme Court,
and his cabinet featured prominent southern representation. One of the most
important of these southerners, from the perspective of the Amistad
Africans, was John Forsyth of Georgia, Van Buren’s Secretary of State.

Van Buren was not in Washington when the affair broke; he was
campaigning in upstate New York. His cabinet therefore formulated the
administration’s initial response: meeting in mid-September, they took
Forsyth’s lead and arranged for federal authorities to support Spanish
demands that the slaves be returned to Cuba to face trial as murderers and
pirates. Van Buren soon returned to the capital, but he seems to have paid
little attention to the matter, letting Forsyth continue to handle the
situation. The president did not replace any judges in the case. But he did
put federal attorneys on the case and he did sign off on an effort to have
the Africans shipped immediately to Cuba if the court found for the
administration, before any appeals could be filed. In sum, Van Buren wanted
this problem to go away, cleanly and quietly. From his point of view, this
was not only a potential diplomatic crisis with Spain, but more
fundamentally a slave revolt — a dangerous provocation to southerners
already unsettled by the rise of northern abolitionism.

The “Trail of Tears”
The major conflict of the Van Buren administration was the “Trail of
Tears ” march. The forced removal of some 18,000 Cherokees, most from
Georgia, to the Indian Territory west of the Mississippi, was ordered by
President Jackson, but executed during the term of President Van Buren.

Though the removal was widely denounced by humanists and constitutional
experts, and despite the Supreme Court’s ruling that the Indians had the
legal right to remain at their ancestral homes, President Jackson ordered
the army, under the leadership of General Winfield Scott, to move the
Indians out of Georgia; and when Van Buren came into power, he did not
interfere with this policy, despite its frequent criticism. During the
march, many Indians died of starvation, heat-induced diseases, and over-
exposure to cold, leading Indians to name the long journey “The Trail of
Tears”
Though Van Buren did not do anything about the forced march that his
predecessor had begun, he had the opportunity, the encouragement, and the
power to do so. Jackson had begun the march against the wishes of most of
his colleges, and, even if it had been generally accepted that the march
was a good and necessary thing, which it had not, Van Buren probably could
have stopped it. However, by declining to take action, Van Buren advanced
the views of Jackson, while foregoing the will of the general public. The
other war Van Buren was involved in was the Indian War in 1835. The
Seminoles, who didn’t want to move west, revolted with a force of 2,000
Seminoles fighting a guerrilla war. The people did not support the war,
because it drained funds that could be used on them.

Martin Van Buren’s term as President was one full of many dilemmas and
a lot of adversity, thus he was not re-elected.


Bibliography
Martin Van Buren, The autobiography of Martin Van Buren. (ed John C.

Fitzpatrick). (New York,A.M. Kelley, 1969).


Donald Cole, American National Biography; Dictionary of American Biography;
Martin Van Buren and the American Political System. Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 1984.

Glyndon Van Deusen, Thurlow Weed: Wizard of the Lobby (Boston, 1947).

Robert Remini, Martin Van Buren and the Making of the Democratic Party; New
York: ColumbiaUniversity Press, 1959.pic