Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
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Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
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VAN BUREN, Martin, vice-president of the United States 1883-7, and president 1837-41, was born at Kinderhook, N. Y., Dec. 5, 1782, and died there July 24, 1862. He was admitted to the bar in 1803, and served in the state senate 1813-20, in the United States senate 1821-8, as governor in 1829, as secretary of state 1829-31, and as minister to Great Britain 1831-2, this latter nomination being rejected by the senate. (See ALBANY REGENCY, NEW YORK.) On his return he was successively elected vice-president and president, but was defeated in 1840. (See BANK CONTROVERSIES, IV.; LOCO-FOCO; INDEPENDENT TREASURY.) In 1844 his disapproval of the annexation of Texas cost him the democratic nomination; and his New York supporters were naturally in an attitude of armed neutrality toward the new administration. This state of things verged naturally toward open war; Van Buren was nominated for president in 1848; and his nomination was successful in defeating Cass, the regular democratic nominee. This result compelled a compromise between the two factions, but it left Van Buren definitively out of politics until his death. (See BARNBURNERS; ANNEXATIONS, III.; FREE-SOIL PARTY; DEMOCRATIC PARTY, IV.)


—Van Buren is commonly known as a master of political intrigue, the democratic "little magician"; as the one who introduced into the national civil service the debauching influences which had for thirty years controlled the civil service of his own state; as the forerunner of that class of mere politicians which has since 1829 generally supplanted the previous race of trained statesmen; as a smooth, easy and adroit manager of political machinery, without political principles, constitutional training, or scruples in party warfare, revering in politics only the Albany regency, and Martin Van Buren as its prophet. All this must be admitted, but only in part. That Van Buren had political principles and the courage to maintain them, even in opposition to his own party, is shown by his opposition, in the New York convention of 1821, to the popular idea of universal suffrage, to "cheapening the right of suffrage by conferring it with an indiscriminating hand upon every one, black or white, who would be kind enough to condescend to accept it"; by his opposition, in the same convention, to the equally popular proposal to exclude the blacks from the right of suffrage; by his refusal, during the panic of 1837, to violate his political creed by recommending interference by government with the course of business; and by his refusal in 1844 to compass his own nomination to the presidency by indorsing the annexation of Texas. On the whole, he may be set down midway between the earlier and the later schools of politicians, with defined principles derived from his education among the former, and yet with sufficient power of adaptation to make use of the vicious machinery of the latter.


—See Holland's Life of Van Buren; Dawson's Life of Van Buren; W. A. Butler's Martin Van Buren; Emmons' Life of Van Buren; Abbott's Lives of the Presidents, 241; 3 Parton's Life of Jackson; 2 Hammond's Political History of New York; Jenkins' Governors of New York, 346; 4 Tucker's United States, 294; Bradford's Federal Government, 434; 2 von Holst's United States, 147; 2 Statesman's Manual, 1153 (for his messages). There is a pen portrait of Van Buren in 2 von Holst, 149. Mackenzie's Life and Times of Van Buren is a collection of stolen private letters of Van Buren and others, giving a painful interior view of "practical politics" in 1819-37.


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