Presidency of Martin Van Buren

The presidency of Martin Van Buren began on March 4, 1837, when Martin Van Buren was inaugurated as President of the United States, and ended on March 4, 1841. Van Buren, the incumbent Vice President and chosen successor of President Andrew Jackson, took office as the eighth United States president after winning the 1836 presidential election. A Democrat, he garnered 170 electoral votes to 124 for William Henry Harrison and 3 other Whig Party candidates. Van Buren sought a second term in the 1840 presidential election, but he was defeated by Harrison.

The central issue facing the Van Buren administration was its response to the Panic of 1837, a sustained economic downturn that began just weeks into Van Buren's presidency. Van Buren opposed any direct federal government intervention and cut back federal spending to maintain a balanced budget. Central banking was also a major issue, and Van Buren helped establish an independent treasury system that stored federal funds. Van Buren continued the Indian removal policies the Jackson administration, and thousands of Native Americans were resettled west of the Mississippi River. In foreign affairs, Van Buren denied the application of Texas for admission to the Union, concerned that it would touch off an acrimonious debate over the extension of slavery. Relations with Britain were strained by the bloodless Aroostook War and the Caroline Affair, but Van Buren proclaimed American neutrality during a series of insurrections in Canada.

Van Buren's inability to deal effectively with the economic crisis, combined with the growing political strength of the opposition Whigs, led to his defeat in the 1840 presidential election. Van Buren's four-year presidency was marked as much by failure and criticism as by success and popular acclaim, and his presidency is considered average, at best, by historians. His most lasting achievement was as a political organizer who built the modern Democratic Party and guided it to dominance in the new Second Party System.[1]

Mvanburen.jpeg
Presidency of Martin Van Buren
March 4, 1837 – March 4, 1841
PresidentMartin Van Buren
CabinetSee list
PartyDemocratic
Election1836
SeatWhite House
Seal of the President of the United States
Seal of the President

Presidential election of 1836

President Andrew Jackson declined to seek another term in the 1836 presidential election, but he remained influential within the Democratic Party as his second term came to an end. Jackson was determined to help elect Vice President Martin Van Buren in 1836 so that the latter could continue the Jackson administration's policies.[2] Van Buren had emerged as Jackson's preferred successor during the Petticoat affair, and he had been elected vice president in 1832.[3] With Jackson's support, Van Buren won the presidential nomination of the Democratic Convention without opposition.[4] Two names were put forward for the vice-presidential nomination: Representative Richard M. Johnson of Kentucky, and former senator William Cabell Rives of Virginia. Southern Democrats, along with Van Buren, strongly preferred Rives, while Jackson strongly preferred Johnson. Again, Jackson's considerable influence prevailed, and Johnson received the required two-thirds vote after New York Senator Silas Wright prevailed upon non-delegate Edward Rucker to cast the 15 votes of the absent Tennessee delegation in Johnson's favor.[5][4]

ElectoralCollege1836
1836 electoral vote results

Van Buren's competitors in the election of 1836 were three members of the newly established Whig Party, a loose coalition bound by mutual opposition to Jackson's anti-bank policies but lacking the party unity or organizational strength to field a single ticket or define a single platform.[5] The Whigs ran several regional candidates in hopes of sending the election to the House of Representatives, where each state delegation would have one vote and the Whigs would stand a better chance of winning.[6] The three candidates were: Hugh White of Tennessee, Daniel Webster of Massachusetts, and William Henry Harrison of Indiana. Besides endorsing internal improvements and a national bank, the Whigs tried to tie Democrats to abolitionism and sectional tension, and attacked Jackson for "acts of aggression and usurpation of power."[7]

Southern voters presented the biggest potential impediment in Van Buren's quest for the presidency, as many were reluctant to vote for a Northerner.[8] Van Buren moved to obtain the support of Southerners by assuring them that he opposed abolitionism and supported the maintaining of slavery in states where it had already existed.[9] Van Buren personally considered slavery to be immoral, but sanctioned by the Constitution.[10] To demonstrate consistency regarding his opinions on slavery, Van Buren cast the tie-breaking Senate vote in favor of a bill to subject abolitionist mail to state laws, thus ensuring that abolitionist mail would not be circulated in the South.[11]

Van Buren won the election with 764,198 popular votes, 50.9 percent of the total, and 170 electoral votes. Harrison led the Whigs with 73 electoral votes, White receiving 26, and Webster 14.[7] Willie Person Mangum received South Carolina's 11 electoral votes, which were awarded by the state legislature. Compared to Jackson's 1832 campaign, Van Buren performed better in New England but worse in the South and West.[12] Van Buren's victory resulted from a combination of his own attractive political and personal qualities, Jackson's popularity and endorsement, the organizational power of the Democratic party, and the inability of the Whig Party to muster an effective candidate and campaign.[13] Virginia's presidential electors voted for Van Buren for president but William Smith for vice president, leaving Johnson one electoral vote short of election.[14] In accordance with the Twelfth Amendment, the Senate elected Johnson vice president in a contingent vote.[12]

The election of 1836 marked an important turning point in American political history because of the part it played in establishing the Second Party System. In the early 1830s the political party structure was still changing rapidly, and factional and personal leaders continued to play a major role in politics. By the end of the campaign of 1836, the new party system was almost fully formed, as nearly every faction had been absorbed by either the Democrats or the Whigs.[15]

Inauguration

MVan Buren-portrait
Portrait of Martin Van Buren

Van Buren was sworn in as president by Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney on March 4, 1837, in a ceremony held on the East Portico of the United States Capitol.[16] At age 54, he was the youngest person at the time to assume the presidency. Taking the oath as the eighth president, Van Buren defined his role as one of preservation: "sacredly to uphold those political institutions" created by the Founders and especially to safeguard the hallowed Jeffersonian principles of a limited national government and the liberty and sovereignty of "the people and the states."[17]

The inauguration marked the departure of a vital personality–Jackson–and the arrival of his chosen successor–Van Buren–in a new presidential dynasty. They rode together in a small phaeton (built from the wood of USS Constitution) drawn by four gray horses.[18] This was the first time that the outgoing president and incoming president rode together to the Capitol.[16] The days festivities proved less a celebration of the incoming president than a tribute to the outgoing one. Van Buren's inaugural address took wistful note of it:

In receiving from the people the sacred trust twice confided to my illustrious predecessor, and which he has discharged so faithfully and so well, I know that I can not expect to perform the arduous task with equal ability and success. But...I may hope that somewhat of the same cheering approbation will be found to attend upon my path.[19]

Administration

Cabinet

The Van Buren Cabinet
OfficeNameTerm
PresidentMartin Van Buren1837–1841
Vice PresidentRichard Mentor Johnson1837–1841
Secretary of StateJohn Forsyth1837–1841
Secretary of TreasuryLevi Woodbury1837–1841
Secretary of WarJoel R. Poinsett1837–1841
Attorney GeneralBenjamin Butler1837–1838
Felix Grundy1838–1840
Henry D. Gilpin1840–1841
Postmaster GeneralAmos Kendall1837–1840
John M. Niles1840–1841
Secretary of the NavyMahlon Dickerson1837–1838
James K. Paulding1838–1841

Van Buren retained much of Jackson's cabinet and lower-level appointees, as he hoped that the retention of Jackson's appointees would halt Whig momentum in the South and restore confidence in the Democrats as a party of sectional unity.[20] The cabinet holdovers represented the different regions of the country: Secretary of the Treasury Levi Woodbury came from New England, Attorney General Benjamin F. Butler and Secretary of the Navy Mahlon Dickerson hailed from the mid-Atlantic states, Secretary of State John Forsyth represented the South, and Postmaster General Amos Kendall of Kentucky represented the West. For the position of Secretary of War, the lone unfilled post in the cabinet, Van Buren first approached William Cabell Rives, who had sought the vice presidency in 1836. After Rives declined to join the cabinet, Van Buren appointed Joel Roberts Poinsett, a South Carolinian who had opposed secession during the Nullification Crisis. Van Buren's cabinet choices were criticized by Pennsylvanians such as James Buchanan, who argued that their state deserved a cabinet position, as well as some Democrats who argued that Van Buren should have used his patronage powers to augment his own power. But Van Buren saw value in avoiding contentious patronage battles, and his decision to retain Jackson's cabinet made it clear that he intended to continue the policies of predecessor. Additionally, Van Buren had helped select Jackson's cabinet appointees and enjoyed strong working relationships with them.[21]

Dissatisfied with the discipline and morale of the navy, Van Buren pressured Dickerson to resign in 1838, and Dickerson was succeeded by James K. Paulding.[22] That same year, Butler resigned and was replaced with Felix Grundy, a Senator from Tennessee with close ties to Jackson. Grundy was later succeeded by Henry D. Gilpin of Pennsylvania.[23] John M. Niles, a party loyalist and former Senator from Connecticut, became Postmaster General in 1840.[24]

Van Buren was closely involved in foreign affairs and matters pertaining to the Treasury Department, but the Post Office, War Department, and Navy Department all possessed high levels of autonomy under their respective cabinet secretaries.[25] Van Buren held regular formal cabinet meetings and discontinued the informal gatherings of advisers that had attracted so much attention during Jackson's presidency. Van Buren saw himself as "a mediator, and to some extent an umpire between the conflicting opinions" of his counselors. He solicited advice from department heads, tolerating open and even frank exchanges between cabinet members. The president's detachment allowed him to reserve judgment and protect his own prerogative for making final decisions.[26]

White House hostess

Henry Inman - Angelica Singleton Van Buren (Mrs. Abraham Van Buren) - Google Art Project
White House hostess Angelica Singleton

For the first half of his presidency, Van Buren, who had been a widower for many years, did not have a specific person fill the role of White House hostess, instead assuming such duties himself. When his eldest son Abraham Van Buren married Angelica Singleton in 1838, the president quickly acted to install his daughter-in-law as his hostess. She solicited the advice of her distant relative, Dolley Madison,[27] who had moved back to Washington after her husband's death,[28] and soon the president's parties livened up. After the 1839 New Year's Eve reception, the Boston Post raved: "[Angelica Van Buren is a] lady of rare accomplishments, very modest yet perfectly easy and graceful in her manners and free and vivacious in her conversation ... universally admired."[27] As the nation endured a deep economic depression, newspaper coverage of Angelica van Buren's receiving style at receptions, influenced by her heavy reading on European court life, as well as the anecdotal claim that she intended to re-landscape the White House grounds to resemble the royal gardens of Europe, were used to attack her father-in-law. Pennsylvania Whig Congressman Charles Ogle referred obliquely to her as part of the presidential "household" in his famous "Gold Spoon Oration."[29]

Judicial appointments

Van Buren appointed two associate justices of the Supreme Court. Congress had added two new seats on the Supreme Court with the Eighth and Ninth Circuits Act of 1837, but President Jackson had filled only one of those positions. To fill the vacancy, in early 1837 Van Buren appointed Senator John McKinley of Alabama, a key supporter of Van Buren's 1836 presidential campaign. A second Supreme Court vacancy arose in 1841 due to the death of Philip Pendleton Barbour. Van Buren appointed federal judge Peter Vivian Daniel to succeed Barbour.[30] Van Buren also appointed eight other federal judges, all to United States district courts.[31]

Domestic affairs

Panic of 1837 and treasury system

Panic of 1837

Jackson and Van Buren, 1837
The modern balaam and his ass, an 1837 caricature placing the blame for the Panic of 1837 and the perilous state of the banking system on outgoing President Andrew Jackson, shown riding a donkey, while President Martin Van Buren comments approvingly.

When Van Buren entered office, it was clear that the nation's economic health had taken a turn for the worse and that the prosperity of the early 1830s was over. Two months into his presidency, on May 10, 1837, some important state banks in New York, running out of hard currency reserves, suddenly refused to convert paper money into gold or silver. Other financial institutions throughout the nation quickly followed suit. This financial crisis would become known as the Panic of 1837.[19] The panic was followed by a five-year depression in which numerous banks failed and unemployment reached record highs.[32]

Van Buren blamed the economic collapse on greedy business and financial institutions, as well as on the over extension of credit by U.S. banks. Whig leaders in Congress, meanwhile, blamed Democratic economic policies, especially the 1836 Specie Circular.[19] That policy had required the use of specie (coins), rather than paper money, in the purchase of government-held lands, and had had the effect of transferring specie from Eastern banks to Western banks[33] and undermining confidence in banknotes.[34] Whigs also blamed Jackson's dismantling of the Second Bank of the United States, which allowed for state banks to engage in lending and the printing of paper money without effective regulation.[35] Another contributing factor to the panic was the sudden contraction of English credit, which had helped to finance a period of strong economic growth since 1830.[36]

Independent Treasury debate

Though Whig leader Henry Clay promoted his own American System as the means for economic recovery, Van Buren's response to the panic focused on the practice of "strict economy and frugality."[37] The potential repeal of the Specie Circular policy split the Democratic Party, with prominent Democrats like William Cabell Rives favoring repeal.[38] After a long period of consideration, Van Buren announced in May 1837 that he would not revoke the Specie Circular. Van Buren feared that revoking the Specie Circular would hurt western banks and was reluctant to depart from a Jacksonian policy so quickly after taking office.[39] Van Buren's decision to uphold the Specie Circular represented the first step in the central economic policy of his tenure, which was the separation of the government from all banking operations. During Jackson's presidency, the federal government had moved its funds from the Second Bank of the United States to so-called "pet banks." Both the Second Bank of the United States and the pet banks had used those federal deposits to engage in regular banking activities, specifically the extension of loans. Van Buren sought to fully divorce the federal government from banking operations by establishing the Independent Treasury system, essentially a series of vaults, to hold government funds.[40] The Independent Treasury took its name from its supposed independence from banks and British creditors, as British creditors had made large investments in the Second Bank of the United States.[41]

When the 25th Congress convened in September 1837, Van Buren introduced his legislation to create the Independent Treasury system.[42] The system would, he asserted, take the politics out of the nation's money supply, and would help prevent inflation.[43] Van Buren's plan allowed the government to accept paper money as payment, but the government would seek to convert that paper money to specie as quickly as possible.[44] State banking interests strongly opposed Van Buren's proposal, and an alliance of conservative Democrats and Whigs blocked the creation of the Independent Treasury System.[45] Although Clay continued to favor the creation of a new national bank, the Whigs focused their efforts on blocking Van Buren's proposal rather than on implementing their own ambitious legislative agenda.[42] As the debate over the Independent Treasury continued, Rives and some other Democrats defected to the Whig Party, which itself grew more unified in its opposition to Van Buren.[42]

Midterm elections and second downturn

The Panic of 1837 loomed large over the 1838 election cycle, as the carryover effects of the economic downturn led to Whig gains in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. The Democratic Party retained a majority in both chambers after the elections,[46][47] but a split among House Democrats led to the election of Whig Congressman Robert M. T. Hunter as Speaker of the House.[48]

In early 1838, most banks ended their moratorium on converting paper into money into gold or silver, temporarily bringing an end to the monetary crisis.[49] The economy began to recover, and an alliance of Democrats and Whigs repealed the Specie Circular that year. A second economic downturn, known as the Panic of 1839, began as the result of a cotton glut. With less income coming in from the cotton trade, land prices plummeted, industries laid off employees, and banks failed. According to historian Daniel Walker Howe, the economic crisis of the late 1830s and early 1840s was the most severe recession in U.S. history until the Great Depression.[50] Partly in response to this second economic downturn, Congress enacted Van Buren's Independent Treasury proposal in June 1840.[51] The Whigs would abolish the Independent Treasury system in 1841, but it was revived in 1846 and remained in place until the passage of the Federal Reserve Act in 1913.[52]

Indian removal

Federal policy under Jackson had sought, through the Indian Removal Act of 1830, to move all indigenous peoples to lands west of the Mississippi River. Continuing this policy, the federal government negotiated 19 treaties with Indian nations in the course of Van Buren's presidency.[53] By the time Van Buren took office, the Muscogee, Chickasaw, and Choctaw had been removed to lands west of the Mississippi River, but a large number of Cherokee were still in Georgia and the Seminole remained in Florida.[54] An 1835 treaty signed by U.S. government officials and representatives of the Cherokee Nation had established terms under which the entire nation would cede its territory and move across the Mississippi River, but many Cherokee viewed the treaty as fraudulent.[55] In 1838, Van Buren directed General Winfield Scott to forcibly move all those Cherokee who had not yet complied with the treaty.[56] The Cherokee were herded violently into internment camps, where they were kept for the summer of 1838. The actual transportation west was delayed by intense heat and drought, but in the fall, the Cherokee reluctantly agreed to migrate west.[57][58] During the Cherokee removal, part of the Trail of Tears, some 20,000 people were relocated against their will.[59]

Seminole War in Everglades
A U.S. Marine boat expedition searching the Everglades during the Second Seminole War

In the Florida Territory, the Seminole engaged the army in a prolonged conflict known as the Second Seminole War.[53] The Seminole were more resistant to removal than other tribes of the South due in large part to the influence of hundreds of escaped slaves and other African Americans who lived among the Seminole. These escaped slaves feared that the departure of the Seminole would lead to their own re-enslavement.[60] Prior to leaving office, Jackson had placed General Thomas Jesup in command of all U.S. troops in Florida in order to force Seminole emigration to the West.[61] Forts were established throughout the Indian territory and columns of soldiers scoured the countryside. Feeling the pressure, many Seminoles, including head chief Micanopy, offered to surrender. The Seminoles slowly gathered for emigration near Tampa, but in June they fled the detention camps, driven off by disease and the presence of slave catchers who were hoping to take Black Seminoles captive.[62][63]

In December 1837, Jesup began a massive offensive, culminating in the Battle of Lake Okeechobee. Following the American victory in the battle, the war entered a new phase, a long war of attrition.[62] During this time, the government realized that it would be almost impossible to drive the remaining Seminoles from Florida, so Van Buren sent General Alexander Macomb to negotiate a peace with the Seminoles. It was the only time in U.S. history that a Native American nation had forced the United States to sue for peace. An agreement was reached allowing the Seminoles to remain in southwest Florida, but the peace was shattered in July 1839.[62] Fighting was not resolved until 1842, after Van Buren had left office. The United States spent over $30 million in the Second Seminole War, which also cost the lives of over 1400 American military personnel, dozens of civilians, and at least seven hundred Seminole.[64]

Slavery

Slavery policy

Van Buren viewed abolitionism as the greatest threat to the nation's unity. He opposed any attempt on the part of Congress to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia against the wishes of the slave-holding states, and to resist the slightest interference with it in the states where it existed.[65] Reflecting the increasing importance of slavery, Van Buren was the first president to make use of the word "slavery" in an inaugural address, and his stances led to accusations that he was a "northern man with southern feelings."[66] However, Van Buren was also sensitive to northern concerns about the expansion of slavery, and he opposed the annexation of Texas out of a desire to avoid sectional disputes.[67] Congress sought to avoid divisive debates over slavery through the "gag rule," an informal practice in which any attempt to discuss the abolition of slavery in Congress was immediately defeated. While the gag rule was largely successful in stifling the debate over slavery in the Senate, Congressman (and former President) John Quincy Adams earned notoriety for his efforts to resist the gag rule in the House of Representatives.[68]

Amistad case

Like the British and Americans, the Spanish had outlawed the importation of slaves from Africa, but high slave mortality rates encouraged smugglers to smuggle captured slaves from Africa into Spanish colony of Cuba. In June 1839, several recently-kidnapped Africans took control of La Amistad, a slave ship headed to Cuba. The Africans attempted to sail home, but were tricked by one of the crew members into heading towards the United States, where the Africans were apprehended and brought before the federal court of Judge Andrew T. Judson.[69] The Spanish government demanded that the ship and its cargo (including the Africans) be turned over to them. The Van Buren administration, hoping to minimize the political domestic and international fallout from the incident, supported Spain's position at trial.[70]

Judson was widely expected to rule that the defendants be returned to the Spanish, but he ruled that they were legally free. After the federal circuit upheld Judson's ruling, the Van Buren administration appealed the case to the Supreme Court. In March 1841, the Supreme Court upheld Judson's ruling, holding that the Africans had been kidnapped illegally. After the case, the abolitionists raised money to pay for the return of the Africans, and they departed from the United States in November 1841.[71] The unique nature of the Amistad case, involving international issues and parties, people of color testifying in federal court, and the participation of former president Adams and other high-profile lawyers, engendered great public interest. The Amistad case drew attention to the personal tragedies of slavery and attracted new support for the growing abolition movement in the North. It also transformed the courts into the principal forum for a national debate on the legal foundations of slavery.[72]

Mormons

In 1839, Joseph Smith, Jr., the founder of the Latter Day Saint movement, visited Van Buren to plead for the U.S. to help the roughly 20,000 Mormon settlers of Independence, Missouri, who had been forced from the state during the 1838 Mormon War. The Governor of Missouri, Lilburn Boggs, had issued an executive order on October 27, 1838, known as the "Extermination Order". It authorized troops to use force against Mormons to "exterminate or drive [them] from the state".[73][74] In 1839, after moving to Illinois, Smith and his party appealed to members of Congress and to President Van Buren to intercede for the Mormons. According to Smith's grandnephew, Van Buren said to Smith, "Your cause is just, but I can do nothing for you; if I take up for you I shall lose the vote of Missouri".[75][76]

Foreign affairs

Texas

The Republic of Texas had gained de facto independence from Mexico in the Texas Revolution, and Texans had subsequently voted overwhelmingly in favor of annexation by the United States.[77] Just before leaving office in March 1837, Andrew Jackson had extended diplomatic recognition to the Republic of Texas, and the possibility of annexation heightened sectional tensions at home while also presenting the possibility of war with Mexico. New England abolitionists charged that there was a "slaveholding conspiracy to acquire Texas", and Daniel Webster eloquently denounced annexation.[78] Many Southern leaders, meanwhile, strongly desired the expansion of slave-holding territory in the United States.[79]

Boldly reversing Jackson's policies, Van Buren sought peace abroad and harmony at home. He proposed a diplomatic solution to a long-standing financial dispute between American citizens and the Mexican government, rejecting Jackson's threat to settle it by force.[78] Likewise, when the Texas minister at Washington, D.C., proposed annexation to the administration in August 1837, he was told that the proposition could not be entertained. Constitutional scruples and fear of war with Mexico were the reasons given for the rejection,[77] but concern that it would precipitate a clash over the extension of slavery undoubtedly influenced Van Buren and continued to be the chief obstacle to annexation.[80] Northern and Southern Democrats followed an unspoken rule in which Northerners helped quash anti-slavery proposals and Southerners refrained from agitating for the annexation of Texas.[79] Texas withdrew the annexation offer in 1838.[77]

Relations with Britain

Canadian rebellions

British subjects in Lower Canada and Upper Canada rose in rebellion in 1837 and 1838, protesting their lack of responsible government. While the initial insurrection in Upper Canada ended with the December 1837 Battle of Montgomery's Tavern, many of the rebels fled across the Niagara River into New York, and Canadian leader William Lyon Mackenzie began recruiting volunteers in Buffalo.[81] Mackenzie declared the establishment of the Republic of Canada and put into motion a plan whereby volunteers would invade Upper Canada from Navy Island on the Canadian side of the Niagara River. Several hundred volunteers traveled to Navy Island in the weeks that followed, procuring the steamboat Caroline to deliver supplies to Navy Island.[81] Seeking to deter an imminent invasion, British forces crossed to the American bank of the river in late December 1837, and they burned and sank the Caroline. In the melee, one American was killed and others were wounded.[17] Considerable sentiment arose within the United States to declare war, and a British ship was burned in revenge.[82]

DENT(1881) 1.213 DESTRUCTION OF THE CAROLINE
"Destruction of the Caroline", illustration by John Charles Dent (1881)

Van Buren, looking to avoid a war with Great Britain, sent General Winfield Scott to the border with large discretionary powers for its protection and its peace.[83] Scott impressed upon American citizens the need for a peaceful resolution to the crisis, and made it clear that the U.S. government would not support adventuresome Americans attacking the British. In early January 1838, the president proclaimed U.S. neutrality with regard to the Canadian independence issue,[84] a declaration which Congress endorsed by passing a neutrality law designed to discourage the participation of American citizens in foreign conflicts.[82]

Though Scott was able to calm the situation, a group of secret societies known as "Hunters' Lodges" continued to seek the overthrow of British rule in Canada.[85] These groups carried out several attacks in Upper Canada, collectively known as the Patriot War. The administration followed through on its enforcement of the Neutrality Act, encouraged the prosecution of filibusters, and actively deterred U.S. citizens from subversive activities abroad.[86] After the failure of two filibuster expeditions in late 1839, the Hunters' Lodges lost their popular appeal and the Patriot War came to an end.[85] In the long term, Van Buren's opposition to the Patriot War contributed to the construction of healthy Anglo–American and U.S.–Canadian relations in the 20th century; it also led, more immediately, to a backlash among citizens regarding the supposed overreach of federal authority.[86]

Aroostook conflict

A new crisis between Britain and the United States surfaced in late 1838 in disputed territory on the MaineNew Brunswick frontier.[87] Jackson had been willing to drop American claims to the region in return for other concessions, but Maine was unwilling to drop its claims to the disputed territory. For their part, the British considered possession of the area vital to the defense of Canada.[88] Both American and New Brunswick lumberjacks cut timber in the disputed territory during the winter of 1838–39. On December 29, New Brunswick lumbermen were spotted cutting down trees on an American estate near the Aroostook River.[82] After American woodcutters rushed to stand guard, a shouting match, known as the Battle of Caribou, ensued. Tensions quickly boiled over into a near war with both Maine and New Brunswick arresting each other's citizens, and the crisis seemed ready to turn into an armed conflict.[89]

British troops began to gather along the Saint John River. Governor John Fairfield mobilized the state militia to confront the British in the disputed territory[90] and several forts were constructed.[91] The American press clamored for war; "Maine and her soil, or BLOOD!" screamed one editorial. "Let the sword be drawn and the scabbard thrown away!" In June, Congress authorized 50,000 troops and a $10 million budget[92] in the event foreign military troops crossed into United States territory. Van Buren was unwilling to go to war over the disputed territory, though he assured Maine that he would respond to any attacks by the British.[93] To settle the crisis, Van Buren met with the British minister to the United States, and Van Buren and the minister agreed to resolve the border issue diplomatically.[90] Van Buren also sent General Scott to the northern border area, both to show military resolve, and more importantly, to lower the tensions. Scott successfully convinced all sides to submit the border issue to arbitration. The border dispute was put to rest a few years later, with the signing of the 1842 Webster–Ashburton Treaty.[82][84]

Presidential election of 1840

ElectoralCollege1840
1840 electoral vote results

Van Buren easily won renomination for a second term at the 1840 Democratic National Convention, but he and his party faced a difficult election in 1840. Van Buren's term had been a difficult affair, with the U.S. economy mired in a severe downturn, and other divisive issues, such as slavery, western expansion, and tensions with Great Britain provided numerous for opportunities for Van Buren's political opponents to criticize his actions.[13] Although Van Buren's renomination was never in doubt, Democratic strategists began to question the wisdom of keeping Johnson on the ticket. Even former president Jackson conceded that Johnson was a liability and insisted on former House Speaker James K. Polk of Tennessee as Van Buren's new running mate. Van Buren was reluctant to drop Johnson, who was popular with workers and radicals in the North[94] and added military experience to the ticket, which might prove important if the Whigs nominated William Henry Harrison.[5] Rather than re-nominating Johnson, the Democratic convention decided to allow state Democratic Party leaders to select the vice-presidential candidates for their states.[95]

Van Buren hoped that the Whigs would nominate Henry Clay for president, which would allow Van Buren to cast the 1840 campaign as a clash between Van Buren's Independent Treasury system and Clay's support for a revived national bank.[96] Clay had the backing of most Southerners at the 1839 Whig National Convention, but most Northerners favored Harrison.[97] Harrison had served in various governmental positions during his career and had earned notoriety for his military leadership in the Battle of Tippecanoe and the War of 1812, and Northern leaders like William Seward and Thaddeus Stevens believed that Harrison's war record would effectively counter the popular appeals of the Democratic Party.[96] General Winfield Scott also had some support, and he loomed as a potential compromise candidate between Clay and Harrison. After Stevens maneuvered Scott's Virginia supporters into backing Harrison, Harrison triumphed over Clay on the third ballot of the convention. For vice president, the Whigs nominated former Senator John Tyler of Virginia.[97] Clay was deeply disappointed by his defeat at the convention, but he nonetheless threw his support behind Harrison.[96]

Whigs presented Harrison as the antithesis of the president, whom they derided as ineffective, corrupt, and effete.[13] Whigs depicted Van Buren as an aristocrat living in high style in the White House, while they used images of Harrison in a log cabin sipping cider to convince voters that he was a man of the people.[98] Issues of policy were not absent from the campaign; the Whigs derided the alleged executive overreaches of Jackson and Van Buren, while also calling for a national bank and higher tariffs.[99] Democrats attempted to campaign on the Independent Treasury system, but the onset of deflation undercut these arguments.[100]

The enthusiasm for "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too," coupled with the country's severe economic crisis, propelled Harrison to victory.[98] Harrison won the popular vote by a margin of 1,275,612 to 1,130,033, and he won the electoral vote by a margin of 234 to 60.[7] Eighty percent of eligible voters went to the polls on election day,[13] and Van Buren actually won more votes than he had in 1836, but the Whig success in attracting new voters more than canceled out Democratic gains.[101] The Whigs also won control of the House and Senate, making the 1840 election the only time in U.S. history that the Whigs won unified control of Congress and the presidency.[102]

Historical reputation

Martin Van Buren3 1903 Issue-8c
Martin Van Buren on the 8-cent U.S. Postage stamp of the 1938 Presidential Series

Van Buren's presidency is considered average, at best, by historians.[103] His time in office was dominated by the economic disaster of the Panic of 1837, and historians have split on the adequacy of the Independent Treasury as a response to that issue.[104] Van Buren's most lasting achievement was as a political organizer who built the Democratic Party and guided it to dominance in the Second Party System,[1] and historians have come to regard Van Buren as integral to the development of the American political system.[103]

A 2017 C-SPAN survey has Martin Van Buren ranked among the bottom third of presidents of all-time, right below George W. Bush and above Chester A. Arthur. The survey asked 91 presidential historians to rank the 43 former presidents (including then-out-going president Barack Obama) in various categories to come up with a composite score, resulting in an overall ranking. Van Buren was ranked 34th among all former presidents (down from 31st in 2009, and 30th in 2000). His rankings in the various categories of this most recent poll were as follows: public persuasion (30), crisis leadership (35), economic management (40), moral authority (33), international relations (26), administrative skills (26), relations with congress (28), vision/setting an agenda (33), pursued equal justice for all (30), performance with context of times (33).[105] A 2018 poll of the American Political Science Association's Presidents and Executive Politics section ranked Van Buren as the 27th best president.[106]

Several writers have portrayed Van Buren as among the nation's most obscure presidents. As noted in a 2014 Time Magazine article on the "Top 10 Forgettable Presidents":

Making himself nearly disappear completely from the history books was probably not the trick the "Little Magician" Martin Van Buren had in mind, but his was the first truly forgettable American presidency.[107]

References

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Works cited

Further reading

External links

1836 United States presidential election

The United States presidential election of 1836 was the 13th quadrennial presidential election, held from Thursday, November 3, to Wednesday, December 7, 1836. In the third consecutive election victory for the Democratic Party, incumbent Vice President Martin Van Buren defeated four candidates fielded by the nascent Whig Party.

Under the leadership of Andrew Jackson, the Democrats had established a stable party, but the Whigs had only recently emerged and were primarily united by their opposition to Jackson. Unable to agree on a single candidate, and hoping to compel a contingent election in the House of Representatives by denying the Democrats an electoral vote majority, the Whigs ran two primary tickets. Northern and border state Whigs supported the ticket led by former Senator William Henry Harrison of Ohio, while Southern Whigs supported the ticket led by Senator Hugh Lawson White of Tennessee. Two other Whigs, Daniel Webster and Willie Person Mangum, also received electoral votes. The 1835 Democratic National Convention chose a ticket of Van Buren, who was Jackson's handpicked successor, and Congressman Richard Mentor Johnson.

The Whig strategy failed, as Van Buren won a majority of the electoral and popular vote. Van Buren's victory made him the third sitting vice president to win election as president, a feat that was not duplicated until the 1988 presidential election. Harrison finished in second place in both the popular and electoral vote, and his strong showing in the election helped him win his party's nomination in the 1840 presidential election. As Virginia's electors refused to vote for Johnson, the vice president was elected by the United States Senate, marking the first and (to date) only such occurrence. The Senate decided between Johnson and Francis Granger, who were the top two vice presidential electoral vote winners. Johnson was elected on the first ballot.

The election of 1836 marked an important turning point in American political history because of the part it played in establishing the Second Party System. In the 1830s the political party structure was still changing. The Democratic Party was organized, but factional and personal leaders still played a major role in politics. By the end of the campaign of 1836, the new party system was almost complete, as nearly every faction had been absorbed by either the Democrats or the Whigs.

1837 State of the Union Address

The 1837 State of the Union Address was given by the eighth president of the United States, Martin Van Buren, on December 5, 1837. It was presented to the 25th United States Congress by a clerk, because it was not yet the custom for the President to deliver it himself. He began with, "We have reason to renew the expression of our devout gratitude to the Giver of All Good for His benign protection. Our country presents on every side the evidences of that continued favor under whose auspices it, has gradually risen from a few feeble and dependent colonies to a prosperous and powerful confederacy."

Caroline affair

The Caroline affair (also known as the Caroline case) was a diplomatic crisis beginning in 1837 involving the United States, Britain, and the Canadian independence movement. It began in 1837 when William Lyon Mackenzie and other Canadian rebels commanding the ship Caroline fled to an island in the Niagara River, with support from nearby American citizens. British forces then boarded the ship, killed an American crew member in the fighting, and then burned the ship and sent it over Niagara Falls.

This action outraged the United States. In retaliation, a group of American and Canadian raiders attacked a British ship and destroyed it. There were several other attacks in 1838 between the British and Americans. The diplomatic crisis was defused by the negotiations that led to the Webster-Ashburton Treaty in 1842, where both the Americans and British admitted to wrongdoing.

In the aftermath, the incident led to the legal principle of the Caroline test. The principle states that the necessity for [self-defense] must be "instant, overwhelming, and leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation", as formulated by Daniel Webster in his response to British claims that they attacked the Caroline in self-defense. According to some authors, the Caroline test remains accepted as part of international law today. In 2008, Thomas Nichols wrote:

Thus the destruction of an insignificant ship in what one scholar has called a "comic opera affair" in the early 19th century nonetheless led to the establishment of a principle of international life that would govern, at least in theory, the use of force for over 250 years.

Gold Spoon Oration

The Gold Spoon Oration, also called "The Regal Splendor of the President's Palace," was a political speech given in the US House of Representatives by Charles Ogle (Whig-PA) on April 14–16, 1840. The speech reviled then-President Martin Van Buren for his supposedly luxurious lifestyle in the White House, while idealizing Whig presidential candidate William Henry Harrison as a homespun man of the people; compare the idiom "silver spoon".

Shortly after delivering the speech, Ogle had tens of thousands of copies printed and circulated around the nation as campaign literature. Historians, journalists and politicians consider it one of the premier political attacks in American history. Many also rank it as one of the most amusing speeches ever delivered in Congress. The speech is almost coincidentally the most complete inventory of the objects and furnishings of the White House for that time.

It was claimed by the Trenton Emporium that what was published was not the speech made by Ogle. The paper claimed that the published speech was edited multiple times and stuffed with fabrications developed by other Whig Party members.

Gouverneur Kemble

Gouverneur Kemble (January 25, 1786 – September 18, 1875) was a two-term United States Congressman, diplomat and industrialist. He helped found the West Point Foundry, a major producer of artillery during the American Civil War.

Hard times token

Hard-times tokens are American large or half cent-sized copper tokens, struck from about 1833 through 1843, serving as unofficial currency. These privately made pieces, comprising merchant, political and satirical pieces, were used during a time of political and financial crisis in the United States.Today, hard-times tokens are collectible and usually very affordable as coins or as political history.

History of the United States (1789–1849)

George Washington, elected the first president in 1789, set up a cabinet form of government, with departments of State, Treasury, and War, along with an Attorney General (the Justice Department was created in 1870). Based in New York, the new government acted quickly to rebuild the nation's financial structure. Enacting the program of Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton, the government assumed the Revolutionary war debts of the states and the national government, and refinanced them with new federal bonds. It paid for the program through new tariffs and taxes; the tax on whiskey led to a revolt in the west; Washington raised an army and suppressed it. The nation adopted a Bill of Rights as 10 amendments to the new constitution. The Judiciary Act of 1789 established the entire federal judiciary, including the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court became important under the leadership of Chief Justice John Marshall (1801–1835), a federalist and nationalist who built a strong Supreme Court and strengthened the national government.

The 1790s were highly contentious, as the First Party System emerged in the contest between Hamilton and his Federalist party, and Thomas Jefferson and his Republican party. Washington and Hamilton were building a strong national government, with a broad financial base, and the support of merchants and financiers throughout the country. Jeffersonians opposed the new national Bank, the Navy, and federal taxes. The Federalists favored Britain, which was embattled in a series of wars with France. Jefferson's victory in 1800 opened the era of Jeffersonian democracy, and doomed the upper-crust Federalists to increasingly marginal roles.

The Louisiana Purchase from Napoleon in 1803 opened vast Western expanses of fertile land, which exactly met the needs of the rapidly expanding population of yeomen farmers whom Jefferson championed.

The Americans declared war on Britain (the War of 1812) to uphold American honor at sea, and to end the Indian raids in the west, as well as to seize Canadian territory. Despite incompetent government management, and a series of defeats early on, Americans found new generals like Andrew Jackson, William Henry Harrison, and Winfield Scott, who repulsed British invasions and broke the alliance between the British and the Indians that held up settlement of the Old Northwest. The Federalists, who had opposed the war to the point of trading with the enemy and threatening secession, were devastated by the triumphant ending of the war. The remaining Indians east of the Mississippi were kept on reservations or moved via the Trail of Tears to reservations in what later became Oklahoma.

The spread of democracy opened the ballot box to nearly all white men, allowing the Jacksonian democracy to dominate politics during the Second Party System. Whigs, representing wealthier planters, merchants, financiers, and professionals, wanted to modernize the society, using tariffs and federally funded internal improvements; they were blocked by the Jacksonians, who closed down the national Bank in the 1830s. The Jacksonians wanted expansion—that is "Manifest Destiny"—into new lands that would be occupied by farmers and planters. Thanks to the annexation of Texas, the defeat of Mexico in war, and a compromise with Britain, the western third of the nation rounded out the continental United States by 1848.

Howe (2007) argues that the transformation America underwent was not so much political democratization but rather the explosive growth of technologies and networks of infrastructure and communication—the telegraph, railroads, the post office, and an expanding print industry. They made possible the religious revivals of the Second Great Awakening, the expansion of education and social reform. They modernized party politics and sped up business by enabling the fast, efficient movement of goods, money, and people across an expanding nation. They transformed a loose-knit collection of parochial agricultural communities into a powerful cosmopolitan nation. Economic modernization proceeded rapidly, thanks to highly profitable cotton crops in the South, new textile and machine-making industries in the Northeast, and a fast developing transportation infrastructure.

Breaking loose from European models, the Americans developed their own high culture, notably in literature and in higher education. The Second Great Awakening brought revivals across the country, forming new denominations and greatly increasing church membership, especially among Methodists and Baptists. By the 1840s increasing numbers of immigrants were arriving from Europe, especially British, Irish, and Germans. Many settled in the cities, which were starting to emerge as a major factor in the economy and society. The Whigs had warned that annexation of Texas would lead to a crisis over slavery, and they were proven right by the turmoil of the 1850s that led to the Civil War.

History of the United States Democratic Party

The Democratic Party is the oldest voter-based political party in the world and the oldest existing political party in the United States, tracing its heritage back to the anti-Federalists and the Jeffersonian Democratic-Republican Party of the 1790s. During the Second Party System (from 1832 to the mid-1850s) under Presidents Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren and James K. Polk, the Democrats usually bested the opposition Whig Party by narrow margins. Both parties worked hard to build grassroots organizations and maximize the turnout of voters, which often reached 80 percent or 90 percent of eligible voters. Both parties used patronage extensively to finance their operations, which included emerging big city political machines as well as national networks of newspapers. The party was a proponent for slave-owners across the country, urban workers and caucasian immigrants.

From 1860 to 1932 in the era of the American Civil War to the Great Depression, the opposing Republican Party, organized in the mid-1850s from the ruins of the Whig Party and some other smaller splinter groups, was dominant in presidential politics. The Democrats elected only two Presidents to four terms of office for twenty-two years, namely Grover Cleveland (in 1884 and 1892) and Woodrow Wilson (in 1912 and 1916).

Over the same period, the Democrats proved more competitive with the Republicans in Congressional politics, enjoying House of Representatives majorities (as in the 65th Congress) in 15 of the 36 Congresses elected, although only in five of these did they form the majority in the Senate. Furthermore, the Democratic Party was split between the Bourbon Democrats, representing Eastern business interests; and the agrarian elements comprising poor farmers in the South and West. The agrarian element, marching behind the slogan of free silver (i.e. in favor of inflation), captured the party in 1896 and nominated William Jennings Bryan in the 1896, 1900 and 1908 presidential elections, although he lost every time. Both Bryan and Wilson were leaders of the progressive movement in the United States (1890s–1920s).

Starting with 32nd President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932 during the Great Depression, the party dominated the Fifth Party System, with its progressive liberal policies and programs with the New Deal coalition to combat the emergency bank closings and the continuing financial depression since the famous Wall Street Crash of 1929 and later going into the crises leading up to World War II. The Democrats and the Democratic Party finally lost the White House and control of the executive branch of government only after Roosevelt's death in April 1945 near the end of the war and after the continuing post-war administration of Roosevelt's third Vice President Harry S. Truman, former Senator from Missouri (for 1945 to 1953, elections of 1944 and the "stunner" of 1948). A new Republican Party President was only elected later in the following decade of the early 1950s with the losses by two-time nominee, the Governor of Illinois Adlai Stevenson (grandson of the former Vice President with the same name of the 1890s) to the very popular war hero and commanding general in World War II, General Dwight D. Eisenhower (in 1952 and 1956).

With two brief interruptions since the Great Depression and World War II eras, the Democrats with unusually large majorities for over four decades, controlled the lower house of the Congress in the House of Representatives from 1930 until 1994 and the Senate for most of that same period, electing the Speaker of the House and the Representatives' majority leaders/committee chairs along with the upper house of the Senate's majority leaders and committee chairmen. Important Democratic progressive/liberal leaders included 33rd and 36th Presidents Harry S. Truman of Missouri (1945–1953) and Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas (1963–1969), respectively; and the earlier Kennedy brothers of 35th President John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts (1961–1963), Senators Robert F. Kennedy of New York and Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts who carried the flag for modern American liberalism. Since the presidential election of 1976, Democrats have won five out of the last eleven presidential elections, winning in the presidential elections of 1976 (with 39th President Jimmy Carter of Georgia, 1977–1981), 1992 and 1996 (with 42nd President Bill Clinton of Arkansas, 1993–2001) and 2008 and 2012 (with 44th President Barack Obama of Illinois, 2009–2017). Democrats have also won the popular vote in 2000 and 2016, but lost the Electoral College with Al Gore and Hillary Clinton, respectively. The 1876 and 1888 elections were other two presidential elections in which Democrats won the popular vote, but lost the Electoral College (the Democrats candidates were Samuel J. Tilden and Grover Cleveland). Social scientists Theodore Caplow et al. argue that "the Democratic party, nationally, moved from left-center toward the center in the 1940s and 1950s, then moved further toward the right-center in the 1970s and 1980s".

Inauguration of Martin Van Buren

The inauguration of Martin Van Buren as the eighth President of the United States took place on Saturday, March 4, 1837, in a ceremony held on the East Portico of the United States Capitol. U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney administered the presidential oath of office. This inauguration marked the commencement of the only four-year term of Martin Van Buren as President and Richard M. Johnson as Vice President. It also marked the departure of a vital personality (Andrew Jackson) and the arrival of Number Two (Van Buren) in a new presidential dynasty. They rode together in a small phaeton (built from the wood of USS Constitution) drawn by four gray horses. This was the first time that the outgoing president and incoming president rode together to the Capitol.The event proved less a celebration of the incoming president than a tribute to the outgoing one. Van Buren's inaugural address took wistful note of it:

In receiving from the people the sacred trust twice confided to my illustrious predecessor, and which he has discharged so faithfully and so well, I know that I can not expect to perform the arduous task with equal ability and success. But ... I may hope that somewhat of the same cheering approbation will be found to attend upon my path.

With a single exception, the new administration retained Jackson's entire cabinet, and Van Buren pledged to "tread generally in the footsteps of President Jackson."

Independent Treasury

The Independent Treasury was the system for managing the money supply of the United States federal government through the U.S. Treasury and its sub-treasuries, independently of the national banking and financial systems. It was created on August 6, 1846 by the 29th Congress, with the enactment of the Independent Treasury Act of 1846 (ch. 90, 9 Stat. 59), and it functioned until the early 20th century, when the Federal Reserve System replaced it. During this time, the Treasury took over an ever-larger number of functions of a central bank and the Treasury Department came to be the major force in the U.S. money market.

John Forsyth (Georgia)

John Forsyth Sr. (October 22, 1780 – October 21, 1841) was a 19th-century American politician from Georgia. He represented Georgia in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Forsyth also served as the 33rd Governor of Georgia. As a strong supporter of the policies of President Andrew Jackson, he was appointed Secretary of State by Jackson in 1834, and continued in that role until 1841 during the presidency of Martin Van Buren.

Martin Van Buren

Martin Van Buren (; born Maarten Van Buren ([ˈmaːrtə ʋɑŋˈbyːrə], December 5, 1782 – July 24, 1862) was an American statesman who served as the eighth president of the United States from 1837 to 1841. He was the first president born after the independence of the United States from the British Empire. A founder of the Democratic Party, he previously served as the ninth governor of New York, the tenth United States secretary of state, and the eighth vice president of the United States. He won the 1836 presidential election with the endorsement of popular outgoing President Andrew Jackson and the organizational strength of the Democratic Party. He lost his 1840 reelection bid to Whig Party nominee William Henry Harrison, due in part to the poor economic conditions of the Panic of 1837. Later in his life, Van Buren emerged as an elder statesman and important anti-slavery leader, who led the Free Soil Party ticket in the 1848 presidential election.

Van Buren was born in Kinderhook, New York to a family of Dutch Americans; his father was a Patriot during the American Revolution. He was raised speaking Dutch and learned English at school, making him the only U.S. president who spoke English as a second language. He trained as a lawyer and quickly became involved in politics as a member of the Democratic-Republican Party. He won election to the New York State Senate and became the leader of the Bucktails, the faction of Democratic-Republicans opposed to Governor DeWitt Clinton. Van Buren established a political machine known as the Albany Regency and in the 1820s emerged as the most influential politician in his home state. He was elected to the United States Senate in 1821 and supported William H. Crawford in the 1824 presidential election. John Quincy Adams won the 1824 election and Van Buren opposed his proposals for federally funded internal improvements and other measures. Van Buren's major political goal was to re-establish a two-party system with partisan differences based on ideology rather than personalities or sectional differences, and he supported Jackson's candidacy against Adams in the 1828 presidential election with this goal in mind. To support Jackson's candidacy, Van Buren ran for Governor of New York and resigned a few months after assuming the position to accept appointment as U.S. Secretary of State after Jackson took office in 1829.

Van Buren was a key advisor during Jackson's eight years as President of the United States and he built the organizational structure for the coalescing Democratic Party, particularly in New York. He resigned from his position to help resolve the Petticoat affair, then briefly served as the U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom. At Jackson's behest, the 1832 Democratic National Convention nominated Van Buren for Vice President of the United States, and he took office after the Democratic ticket won the 1832 presidential election. With Jackson's strong support, Van Buren faced little opposition for the presidential nomination at the 1835 Democratic National Convention, and he defeated several Whig opponents in the 1836 presidential election. Van Buren's response to the Panic of 1837 centered on his Independent Treasury system, a plan under which the Federal government of the United States would store its funds in vaults rather than in banks. He also continued Jackson's policy of Indian removal; he maintained peaceful relations with Britain but denied the application to admit Texas to the Union, seeking to avoid heightened sectional tensions. In the 1840 election, the Whigs rallied around Harrison's military record and ridiculed Van Buren as "Martin Van Ruin", and a surge of new voters helped turn him out of office.

At the opening of the Democratic convention in 1844, Van Buren was the leading candidate for the party's nomination for the presidency. Southern Democrats, however, were angered by his continued opposition to the annexation of Texas, and the party nominated James K. Polk. Van Buren grew increasingly opposed to slavery after he left office, and he agreed to lead a third party ticket in the 1848 presidential election, motivated additionally by intra-party differences at the state and national level. He finished in a distant third nationally, but his presence in the race most likely helped Whig nominee Zachary Taylor defeat Democrat Lewis Cass. Van Buren returned to the Democratic fold after the 1848 election, but he supported Abraham Lincoln's policies during the American Civil War. His health began to fail in 1861 and he died in July 1862 at age 79. He has been generally ranked as an average or below-average U.S. president by historians and political scientists.

Richard Mentor Johnson

Richard Mentor Johnson (October 17, 1780[a] – November 19, 1850) was the ninth vice president of the United States from 1837 to 1841. He is the only vice president ever elected by the United States Senate under the provisions of the Twelfth Amendment. Johnson also represented Kentucky in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate; he began and ended his political career in the Kentucky House of Representatives.

Johnson was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1806. He became allied with fellow Kentuckian Henry Clay as a member of the War Hawks faction that favored war with Britain in 1812. At the outset of the War of 1812, Johnson was commissioned a colonel in the Kentucky Militia and commanded a regiment of mounted volunteers from 1812 to 1813. He and his brother James served under William Henry Harrison in Upper Canada. Johnson participated in the Battle of the Thames. Some reported that he personally killed the Shawnee chief Tecumseh, which he later used to his political advantage.

After the war, Johnson returned to the House of Representatives. The legislature appointed him to the Senate in 1819 to fill the seat vacated by John J. Crittenden. As his prominence grew, his interracial relationship with Julia Chinn, an octoroon slave, was more widely criticized. It worked against his political ambitions. Unlike other upper class leaders who had African American mistresses but never mentioned them, Johnson openly treated Chinn as his common law wife. He acknowledged their two daughters as his children, giving them his surname, much to the consternation of some of his constituents. The relationship is believed to have led to the loss of his Senate seat in 1829, but his Congressional district returned him to the House the next year.

In 1836, Johnson was the Democratic nominee for vice-president on a ticket with Martin Van Buren. Campaigning with the slogan "Rumpsey Dumpsey, Rumpsey Dumpsey, Colonel Johnson killed Tecumseh", Johnson fell one short of the electoral votes needed to secure his election. Virginia's delegation to the Electoral College refused to endorse Johnson, abstaining instead. However, he was elected to the office by the Senate. Johnson proved such a liability for the Democrats in the 1836 election that they refused to renominate him for vice-president in 1840. President Van Buren campaigned for re-election without a running mate. He lost to William Henry Harrison, a Whig. Johnson tried to return to public office but was defeated. He finally was elected to the Kentucky House of Representatives in 1850, but he died on November 19, 1850, just two weeks into his term.

Specie Circular

The Specie Circular is a United States presidential executive order issued by President Andrew Jackson in 1836 pursuant to the Coinage Act and carried out by his successor, President Martin Van Buren. It required payment for government land to be in gold and silver.

Sumter, South Carolina

Sumter is a city in and the county seat of Sumter County, South Carolina, United States. Known as the Sumter Metropolitan Statistical Area, the namesake county adjoins Clarendon and Lee to form the core of Sumter-Lee-Clarendon tricounty area of South Carolina that includes the three counties in the east central Piedmont. The population was 39,643 at the 2000 census, and it rose to 40,524 at the 2010 census.

Timeline of United States history (1820–1859)

This section of the Timeline of United States history concerns events from 1820 to 1859.

Presidency timelines

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