Martin Van Buren - People - Department History - Office of the Historian
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. Van Buren hoped that his cabinet appointments would stop Whig momentum in Indeed, Andrew Jackson had never managed to create a workable relationship with The president continued to rely on informal advice but resumed regular. Few people ever really knew Martin Van Buren. to "Old Hickory," a relationship that continued after Van Buren became vice president in .. of time " advising members of the cabinet, ghosting significant parts of Jackson's messages.
A skilled political journalist, he had been a key member of the Kitchen Cabinet and instrumental in directing the attack on the bank. Appointed postmaster general inKendall had remained fiercely loyal to Jackson and openly suspicious of Van Buren. Like Woodbury, Kendall expected to maintain his status as a member of the inner circle and architect of both fiscal and political strategy. Van Buren exerted more personal control over the two remaining cabinet posts.
He convinced his friend and former law partner, Benjamin F. Butler, to continue as attorney general, a post Butler had accepted at Van Buren's urging in Van Buren was well aware that Butler felt uncomfortable in Washington and longed to return to Albany. The resignation of a former member of the Albany Regency at the outset of his administration would have embarrassed Van Buren and fed rumors of serious Democratic dissension.
While succeeding in his entreaties with Butler, Van Buren failed in his efforts to convince Secretary of the Navy Mahlon Dickerson to retire to An political cartoon depicts a modern version of Macbeth, with President Van Buren recoiling in horror at the sight of the "ghost of commerce" in the midst of the economic crisis of the Panic of Van Buren would have preferred to replace the sixty-six-year-old New Jerseyite with a younger man.
- Martin Van Buren
- Presidency of Martin Van Buren
Despite the political pressures created by the Panic ofVan Buren managed to restore the cabinet's traditional role. He continued weekly meetings and discontinued the informal gatherings of advisers that had attracted so much attention during Jackson's presidency.
Van Buren solicited advice from department heads, especially during times of domestic and foreign turmoil. In such emergencies, the cabinet met daily. Van Buren tolerated open and even frank exchanges between cabinet members, perceiving himself as "a mediator, and to some extent an umpire between the conflicting opinions" of his counselors. Such detachment allowed the president to reserve judgment and protect his own prerogative for making final decisions.
These open discussions gave cabinet members a sense of participation and made them feel part of a functioning entity, rather than isolated executive agents.
Always an astute politician, Van Buren realized that the cabinet could communicate official decisions to the states and work to ensure party cohesion. In his efforts to restore party harmony, Van Buren worked closely with key Democrats in Congress, where divisiveness had reached alarming proportions during the nullification crisis.
New York's Churchill Cambreleng, chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee and long an intimate friend, took an active role in fashioning legislation to respond to the Panic of Cambreleng and Wright were extremely effective leaders. A study of congressional voting behavior in the first two sessions of Congress during Van Buren's administration shows a partisan coherence in both houses of better than 85 percent. He held that office until and continued to serve in the state senate untildelegating his growing legal practice to his junior partner, Benjamin F.
Van Buren soon emerged as the guiding force of the "Bucktail" faction, one of several groups jockeying for control of the New York Republican Party. The Bucktails, opponents of De Witt Clinton who took their name from the distinctive plumes they affixed to their hats, rapidly gained in influence under Van Buren's tutelage.
A Bucktail-controlled convention made major revisions in New York's constitution inexpanding the suffrage and curbing aristocratic influence, reforms that helped break De Witt Clinton's hold on the state Republican Party. InVan Buren won election to the United States Senate, leaving behind a formidable political organization, popularly known as the "Albany Regency," that would manage the New York Republican Party—and through it, the state—while he was away.
The Regency maintained rigid discipline, rewarding loyalty with patronage appointments and disciplining errant members. Although centered in Albany, the organization's control also extended to local political organizations and clubs. Powerful as Van Buren's apparatus became, "It was not," one scholar of the period emphasizes, "so much the rewarding of partisans and the mass lopping off of rebellious heads that explained the Regency success as it was the skillful, highly judicious manner in which the power was exercised.
The "Little Magician" Once in Washington, Van Buren set about organizing the New York congressional delegation, a difficult undertaking in light of the fact that John Taylorthe unofficial dean of the delegation and Speaker of the House Representatives, was firmly in the Clinton camp. In an effort to curb Taylor's influence, Van Buren helped orchestrate the election of Virginia representative Philip Barbour as House Speaker during the 17th Congress, a narrow victory that increased his own influence while cementing his ties to Virginia Republicans.
He tried but failed to block the appointment of a Federalist as postmaster of Albany, but his effort to derail the nomination, chronicled at length by the press, enhanced his reputation.
The two had a great deal in common: Crawford was a states' rights advocate, a strict constructionist, and—a consideration of overriding importance to Van Buren—a dedicated party man. But the Republican coalition was rapidly splintering, and many Republicans, calling for reform of the nominating process, refused to heed the will of the caucus. Four other candidates ultimately entered the race, all claiming membership in the party of Jefferson: Consumed by his single-minded effort to secure Crawford's election, even after his candidate became so seriously ill that he could neither see, hear, nor walk, Van Buren was bitterly disappointed when the House of Representatives elected Adams president.
After the election, Van Buren, as the new acknowledged leader of the "Crawford" Republicans, also known as "Radicals," kept his peace while others denounced the "corrupt bargain" with Henry Clay that many suspected had elevated Adams to the White House.
He voted to confirm Clay as secretary of state, but he broke his silence after Adams outlined an ambitious domestic and foreign policy agenda in his first annual address.
Van Buren particularly objected to the president's plan to send representatives to a conference of South and Central American delegates in Panama and enlisted the aid of Vice President John C. Calhoun and his allies in an effort to prevent the confirmation of delegates to the conference. The Senate ultimately confirmed the nominees, but the debate over the Panama mission had helped forge a tentative coalition of "Radicals" and Calhoun supporters under Van Buren's leadership.
In Decemberthe Little Magician formalized his alliance with Calhoun, who had already pledged his support for Andrew Jackson in the forthcoming presidential race. Each man had his own agenda: Calhoun intended to succeed Jackson, after serving a second term as vice president; Van Buren, alarmed by Adams' grandiose agenda and convinced that Republicans had strayed from the Jeffersonian creed, intended to restore the party to its "first principles.
The candidate remained in the background while the Little Magician orchestrated a battle plan of unprecedented energy and vigor. His campaigning was, in the words of one scholar, "little short of brilliant. Several states had, prior to the election, revised their election laws to expand the franchise. With parades, rallies, speeches, and calls for "reform," Van Buren and his lieutenants mesmerized these first-time voters, as well as others who had become disenchanted with the administration.
The growing protectionist sentiment in the West and in the Northeast posed particular problems for Van Buren, who could not afford to alienate southern free-trade advocates.
Courting both camps, he studiously avoided making a definitive pronouncement on the tariff, even as he deftly guided a protectionist bill through the Senate. The tariff, known in the South as the "Tariff of Abominations," reassured westerners, who might otherwise have remained in the "Adams-Clay" fold, that a Jackson administration would take their interests into account.
Van Buren realized that protectionism was anathema to southern agriculturalists, but he also realized that most southerners regarded Jackson as the lesser of two evils. As one scholar has conceded, during the tariff debate Van Buren "said some very equivocal things to Southerners," helping them convince themselves that, once elected, Old Hickory would support tariff reform.
Secretary of State Van Buren Jackson won an impressive victory inwidely heralded as a triumph of the "common man.
But he served less than two months in this position, resigning to accept an appointment as secretary of state in the new administration.
Van Buren was easily the most capable individual in Jackson's cabinet, an assortment of second-rank appointees chosen to achieve sectional and ideological balance. During his two years as secretary of state from tohe became one of the president's most trusted advisers. He arrived in the capital shortly after Jackson's inauguration to find the cabinet—and Washington society—at odds over Mrs.
Calhoun's adamant refusal to socialize with the wife of Secretary of War John Eaton, a woman with a spirited disposition and a notorious reputation. Several cabinet wives had followed suit, avoiding official functions for fear of encountering the tainted couple.
The "Petticoat War" was, as Van Buren realized, much more than a dispute over protocol or public morals; it was a symptom of the deep divisions in an administration that included both free-trade advocates and protectionists.
The tension became even more pronounced after Jackson delivered his first annual message. His speech, prepared with Van Buren's assistance, convinced Vice President Calhoun and his allies that they would obtain no relief from the Tariff of Abominations. As for Van Buren, he suspected—correctly, as it turned out—that Calhoun was somehow behind the talk of "nullification" emanating from South Carolina. Van Buren at first tried to cure what he called "the Eaton malaria," the malaise that threatened to paralyze the administration, by entertaining the Eatons.
As a widower with no wife to object if he showed courtesy to a woman of questionable repute, he had nothing to lose by entertaining Mrs.
Martin Van Buren - Administration and cabinet
Eaton and everything to gain, given the high regard that Jackson felt for Peggy and her husband. He was no match for the formidable Floride Calhoun, however, and he soon became persona non grata among the Calhoun set, but his gallantry endeared him to the president.
Accompanying Jackson on horseback for their customary rides throughout the countryside surrounding Washington, Van Buren became the president's sounding board and friend, offering well-timed and perceptive counsel to the care-burdened and lonely old hero. He helped craft the president's memorable toast: It must be preserved" that electrified the April 13,banquet commemorating Jefferson's birthday, and he helped persuade Jackson to run for a second term.
Calhoun simmered with resentment as the man he considered a "weasel" gained the upper hand in a rivalry that was becoming increasingly bitter. Van Buren, although every bit as ambitious as Calhoun, became increasingly discomfited at the widespread speculation that he, and not Calhoun, would succeed Jackson as president. Recoiling at the thought that his opponents might interpret his labors on Jackson's behalf as a crude form of electioneering, he informed the president in late March of that "there is but one thing" that would bring peace to Jackson's troubled administration: Van Buren's departure precipitated the mass resignation of the entire cabinet, except for Postmaster General William Barry.
The new cabinet was distinctly more sympathetic to Jackson—and to Van Buren. As a reward for his "highly patriotic" sacrifice, the Little Magician received an appointment as minister to England. Van Buren sailed for England before the Senate confirmed his nomination.
His easy, elegant manners made him an instant hit in London. Almost immediately, he received the British foreign minister's pledge to respect the rulings of the panel arbitrating the longstanding boundary dispute between Maine and New Brunswick. Jackson had predicted that Van Buren's enemies would not dare oppose this appointment, for fear that "the people in mass would take you up and elect you vice Pres.
Jackson was furious when he heard the news but, after sober reflection, realized that he now had ample justification for removing Calhoun from the ticket in the coming election. He had already settled on Van Buren as his next vice president, but Calhoun's effrontery strengthened his resolve. Once Van Buren's most formidable rival for the soul of the organization soon to be known as the Democratic Party, he had become a sectional leader and would remain a sectional leader for the rest of his life.
The Election of Van Buren found every reason imaginable to remain abroad after learning of his rejection by the Senate. He could not break his lease or abruptly discharge his servants, he protested, nor could he pack up his household on such short notice. But his biographer suggests that he delayed his departure because he believed that the "opposition would splinter.
Although anti-tariff southern Democrats had serious reservations about Van Buren, Jackson's sentiments prevailed. By an overwhelming margin, the convention chose Van Buren on the first ballot. Finally returning home in Julythe Little Magician was immediately summoned to Washington. Jackson needed his help in drafting a message to Congress explaining his impending veto of a bill to recharter the Second Bank of the United States.
Van Buren approved of the veto message, a ringing denunciation of the bank as an instrument of privilege. At Jackson's request, he attended the Senate and the House of Representatives on July 10, in order to lobby against the inevitable attempt to override the veto.
Also at Jackson's request, he lobbied for a compromise tariff designed to keep would-be nullifiers in the Jacksonian camp. Successful in both efforts, he departed for New York after Congress adjourned. He remained in New York until shortly before the inauguration, attempting to reconcile die-hard New York protectionists to the compromise tariff. The election was, as one scholar of the period has observed, a referendum on the Second Bank of the United States, the first presidential election in which the candidates submitted a single, specific question to the electorate.
Jackson was a "hard-money" man, deeply suspicious of banks, credit, and paper money after suffering near ruin in an early land speculation venture. Regarding the Second Bank of the United States, a government-chartered but privately owned institution, as an instrument of aristocratic, monied interests, he would have announced his intention to destroy the bank in his first annual message had his advisers not counseled restraint.
Fully confident that the voters would signal their assent by electing him to a second term, Jackson had vetoed the bank recharter bill before the election. National Republican candidate Henry Clay, who considered the bank essential to the nation's fiscal stability, was quick to make an issue of the veto. Clay's partisans took aim at the Little Magician, as well, charging that his feats of legerdemain had secured the throne for a president who had abused his office.
Political cartoons showed Jackson, Van Buren, and their cronies assaulting the bank with a battering ram, Van Buren crowning Jackson, and "King Andrew the First" brandishing the "veto. But the National Republicans were no match for the well-organized party that Van Buren had helped create. One scholar has suggested that the majority of American voters still regarded Jackson as their champion, even though they may well have approved of the bank, which provided the nation with the stable currency so essential to its prosperity.
The Democrats, now a full-fledged political party, won a solid victory, although by a somewhat smaller margin than in Jackson was easily reelected, and Van Buren won a substantial victory over Clay's running mate, John Sergeant. Vice President Van Buren Jackson had every reason to rejoice at the outcome of the election.
The voters had, he believed, given him a mandate to destroy the bank, and he was rid of Calhoun. In Van Buren, Jackson had a vice president more to his liking. Old Hickory respected his second vice president and seems to have felt sincere affection for him, as well. Some longtime Jackson cronies were deeply jealous of the New Yorker, who, as one critic put it, stuck "close to the President as a blistering plaster.
Van Buren was not his only confidant; throughout his two terms as president, Jackson also relied on his "Kitchen Cabinet," an informal group of trusted friends, supporters, kinsmen, and hangers-on, for advice and moral support.
In orchestrating the transfer of government deposits from the Bank of the United States to state depositories, for example, Jackson rejected the cautious course that Van Buren proposed in favor of the more precipitate approach advocated by Amos Kendall, the fourth auditor of the treasury.
After Jackson informed his advisers early in his first term that he intended to remove the deposits, Kendall urged immediate action. Van Buren, sensitive to the political and financial repercussions of a hasty withdrawal but reluctant to challenge the president, advised Jackson to wait at least until the 23rd Congress convened in December Apprehensive—with good reason, as it turned out—that he would be regarded both as the author of this controversial move and as the pawn of Wall Street bankers who expected to benefit from the Philadelphia-based bank's demise, Van Buren was conspicuously absent from Washington that fall.
The opposition would inevitably "relieve the question. York, and as it is not your habit to play into the enemies hands you will not I know request me to come down unless there is some adequate inducement for my so doing.
Presidency | Andrew Jackson's Time in Office as President
He helped Treasury secretary Roger B. Taney coax the president into a less belligerent posture when Jackson, outraged at France's failure to comply with the treaty for the payment of U.
Van Buren then helped Jackson draft a reply to McLane's letter of resignation and suggested his longtime ally Senator John Forsyth of Georgia to fill the position. Van Buren shouldered a workload that, in the words of a biographer, "would have crushed lesser men. Jackson faced sustained opposition during his second term from an opposition coalition of National Republicans, nullifiers, states' rights advocates, and eventually from disaffected Democrats who came to regard him as an overreaching despot.
Bythese disparate elements would unite to form a new party, calling themselves "Whigs" to signal their opposition to a chief executive they called King Andrew. The rhetoric was particularly heated in the Senate, where the opposition commanded a slim majority after the election. The coalition's ranks included such luminaries as Henry Clay, the bank's most avid defender; Massachusetts senator Daniel Websterlike Jackson a staunch unionist but also a defender of the bank; and Calhoun, the author of nullification.
Van Buren began his duties in the Senate on December 16,two weeks after the 23rd Congress convened. Having served there from tohe was familiar with the body's customs and procedures.
He knew that the vice president was not expected to attend the Senate for several days at the beginning of each Congress, a practice that allowed the Senate to attend to organizational matters and appoint committees without interference from the executive branch. But in a unique combination of events prevented the Senate from attending to this important task before Van Buren arrived. Under normal circumstances, President pro tempore Hugh Lawson White would have appointed the committee members and chairmen at the start of the 23rd Congress.
The rule adopted in December governing the appointment of committees directed that "[t]he President pro tempore. But White found himself in a "delicate" position. Although he was a longstanding friend and supporter of the president, he was becoming disillusioned with the administration, and he particularly resented Jackson's designation of Van Buren as his political heir. A firm defender of the Senate's prerogatives, he had refused to let Jackson dictate the composition of a select committee appointed to consider Clay's compromise tariff during the previous Congress, a stand that had deeply offended the president.
White would eventually become a Whig, but at the start of the 23rd Congress, Clay and the rest of the opposition still regarded him as a Jackson man. On December 9, White stated that "he should have announced the standing committees this morning.
Van Buren finally arrived in Washington on the evening of December 14 and met with the president and Tennessee senator Felix Grundy the following morning. He learned that Grundy, painfully aware that his party could no longer count on a majority in the Senate and reluctant to proceed with the selection of committees until Van Buren could provide advice, had offered a motion to postpone the elections until December