Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Martin Van Buren by Ted Widmer

  • "When he was elected in 1836, Van Buren became the first chief executive from New York, and the first ethnic president," being a native Dutch-speaker - 6
  • "One of his most courageous decisions was his refusal to join the stampede for admitting Texas, with all of its slave territory, into the union. It cost him the presidency and he knew it, but he stuck to his guns." - 12
  • "Between 1837 and 1841, Americans encountered three important reality checks that suddenly made the future less appetizing. The Panic of 1837 taught that capitalism was fallible. The Log Cabin campaign of 1840, with it false promises and hard cider entreaties, taught that democracy was fallible. And rising rage over slavery taught that the Union itself was fallible." - 16
  • "At twenty-nine, he was the second youngest [state] senator ever elected in New York. From then until the end of his presidency, he would serve almost continuously in government service." - 37
  • "From the moment he started his career, he was he friend of the small farmer. As Franklin Roosevelt would do a century later, he tried to ease the credit burden on rural producers who were cash poor. In particular, he lashed out at the common practice of imprisonment for debt, which in his opinion was the same thing as a jail sentence 'for the misfortune of being poor, of being unable to satisfy the all-digesting stomach of some ravenous creditor.'" - 42
  • "Back in 1813, in his first year as a state senator, Van Buren helped to found a newspaper, the Albany Argus" - 47
  • 1821: "Van Buren ran for the U.S. Senate and won a difficult victory." - 49
  • "Van Buren had laid the foundation for what would become Jacksonian Democracy in only a few short years. With his ideas about party discipline, communications, and enlarged suffrage, he had shown other like-minded individuals how to take democracy beyond the periwigs of the eighteenth century." - 51
  • "Far beyond anything that had existed before, Van Buren envisioned a national structure, tethered together by speedy communications and tight message control" - 56
  • "Those who have wrought great changes in the world never succeeded by gaining over chiefs; but always by exciting the multitude. The first is the resource of intrigue and produces only secondary results, the second is the resort of genius and transforms the universe." - Van Buren, 72
  • "The Democratic Party, still in its infancy, was a stool with three legs. There were Westerners that Jackson had brought in, Southerners under the sway of Calhoun, and Old School Jeffersonians around Van Buren" - 75
  • As Jackson's Secretary of State, "this flattering smooth-talker was good at diplomacy, and before long he had resolved two major problems favorably, winning reciprocal trade benefits from the United Kingdom in the West Indies and securing a large payment of 25 million francs from France for indemnities dating back to Napoleon." - 80
  • August 16, 1831: "Van Buren sailed for England [as the newly appointed, and soon rejected by the Senate, minister]...happy to enjoy 'the quietude of a midsummer Ocean' after twenty years of unceasing political infighting." - 83
  • "Van Buren's idea of a two-party system received support from an unlikely source -- a new party that sprang into existence for the express purpose of defeating Jackson and Van Buren. The Whigs, as they were ultimately known (for opposing Jackson as the revolutionary Whigs had opposed George III), were an unlikely batch of Northern quasi-Federalists and Southern states' rightists, allied more through alienation than shared principles." - 87
  • "At the age of fifty-three, Martin Van Buren was in the ascendant. He was the youngest president elected to date." - 90
  • "He aimed for stability, keeping many of Jackson's appointees and leaning South with new choices. Balance always." - 93
  • March 17, 1837: New York merchant Philip "Hone wrote, 'The great crisis is near at hand, if it has not already arrived.' Over the next month, prices rose and financial houses fell like stacks of cards." - 96
  • "Van Buren inherited a superheated economy that was completely unregulated in some ways and draconically controlled in others [cf. Specie Circular]" - 101
  • "he called for Congress to meet in September to take special measures to alleviate the crisis. It was the first special session ever called that did not address a military crisis." - 102
  • "Van Buren issued an executive order demanding that the slaves [from the Amistad] be taken to a naval vessel, to hasten their return to their Spanish owners" - 121
  • March 31, 1840: "Van Buren issued an executive order creating a ten-hour day for federal workers, a dramatic step forward when many employees worked from sunrise to sunset." - 131
  • "In the spring of 1839, the phrase 'OK' began to circulate in Boston as shorthand for 'oll korrect,' a slangy way of saying 'all right.' Early in 1840, Van Buren's supporters began to use the trendy expression to identify their candidate, whom they labored to present as 'Old Kinderhook,' perhaps in imitation of Jackson's Old Hickory." - 140
  • "The Free Soil campaign was America's first great third party effort." - 155
  • "He lingered into the [Civil] war's second year, and then expired at 2 a.m. on July 24, 1862, a day and a half after Lincoln read the first draft of his Emancipation Proclamation to a startled cabinet." - 164

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