The American Cyclopædia (1879)/Van Buren, Martin
VAN BUREN. I. Martin, the eighth president of the United States, born at Kinderhook, N. Y., Dec. 5, 1782, died there, July 24, 1862. He began the study of law at the age of 14, and passed the last year of his studies in the office of W. P. Van Ness in New York. At 18 he was a delegate in a nominating convention of the republican (afterward called the democratic) party. In 1808 he was appointed surrogate of Columbia co. In 1812 he was elected to the senate of the state, and in that body voted for electors pledged to support De Witt Clinton for president of the United States. From 1815 to 1819 he was attorney general of the state, and in 1816 was again a member of the senate, the two offices being held together. In 1818 Mr. Van Buren set on foot a new organization of the democratic party in the state, and became the ruling spirit of a coterie of able politicians, known as the Albany regency, among whom B. F. Butler, W. L. Marcy, and Edwin Croswell were afterward prominent, who held the political control of the state uninterruptedly for more than 20 years. In 1821 Van Buren was chosen to the United States senate, and was elected a member of the convention to revise the state constitution. In the latter body he advocated an extension of the elective franchise, but opposed universal suffrage, as also the plan of appointing justices of the peace by popular election. He voted against depriving colored citizens of the franchise, but supported the proposal to require of them a freehold qualification of $250. In 1827 he was reëlected United States senator, but resigned that office on being chosen governor of New York in 1828. As governor he proposed the safety fund banking system adopted by the legislature in 1829. In March, 1829, he became secretary of state in the administration of President Jackson, but resigned on April 7, 1831. He was appointed minister to England, and arrived in that country in September; but his nomination to the office, submitted to the senate in December, was rejected, on the ground that while secretary of state Mr. Van Buren had instructed the United States minister to England to beg from that country as a favor certain concessions in regard to trade with her colonies in the West Indies, which he should have demanded as a right; and that he had carried our domestic party contests and their results into foreign diplomatic negotiations. This event was followed on May 22, 1832, by the nomination of Mr. Van Buren for the vice presidency by the same democratic national convention which nominated Gen. Jackson for reëlection to the presidency; and in the subsequent election Mr. Van Buren received the electoral votes of all the states which voted for Gen. Jackson, with the exception of Pennsylvania. The democratic national convention which met at Baltimore on May 20, 1835, unanimously nominated him for president. The election in November, 1836, resulted in giving him 170 electoral votes out of 283, 73 being cast for his principal antagonist, Gen. W. H. Harrison, 26 for Hugh J. White, and 14 for Daniel Webster. He was inaugurated March 4, 1837. The country, for some time a prey to pecuniary excitements and embarrassments, was now involved in a crisis of unprecedented severity. Commerce and manufactures were prostrate; hundreds of wealthy mercantile houses in every quarter were bankrupt; imposing public meetings attributed these disasters to the policy of the government; and two months after the president's inauguration the crash was consummated by the universal suspension of specie payments by the banks. On May 15 he summoned an extraordinary session of congress to meet the following September. The president in his special message advised that a bankrupt law for banking and other corporations should be enacted; and that the approaching deficit in the treasury be made good by withholding from the states the fourth and last installment of a previous large surplus ordered to be deposited with them by act of June 23, 1836, and by the temporary issue of $6,000,000 of treasury notes. He also recommended the adoption of what was called the independent treasury system, which was passed in the senate, but was laid on the table in the other house. The payment of the fourth installment to the states was postponed, and the emission of $10,000,000 of treasury notes was authorized. The independent treasury, again recommended in the president's annual message in December, was again rejected by the house of representatives, after it had been passed by the senate. Another presidential measure was more fortunate, a so-called preëmption law being enacted, giving settlers on public lands the right to buy them in preference to other persons. An insurrectionary movement begun in Canada in the latter part of 1837 having found aid and sympathy within our borders, Mr. Van Buren issued two proclamations, enjoining all citizens to refrain from violating the laws and the treaties of the country; and he sent a military force to the frontier under Gen. Scott to preserve the peace there. The closing session of the 25th congress witnessed the temporary stoppage in the house of representatives of the agitation of slavery. Mr. Slade of Vermont introduced the subject in a long and elaborate anti-slavery speech, whereupon the southern members withdrew for separate deliberation, and Mr. Rhett of South Carolina proposed to declare that it was expedient that the Union should be dissolved; but on motion of Mr. Patten of Virginia it was determined by the house that for the future all petitions or other papers touching slavery should be laid on the table without being debated, printed, read, or referred. For this resolution the friends of the president unanimously voted, as did many of his opponents. Van Buren's third annual message, in December, 1839, was largely occupied with financial discussions, and especially with the argument for the divorce of the government from the banks, and for the exclusive “receipt and payment of gold and silver in all public transactions;” that is to say, for the independent treasury. This measure, by which his administration is especially distinguished, became a law on June 30, 1840. — The canvass preliminary to the presidential election of 1840 was begun uncommonly early and with unwonted energy by the opposition. The whig national convention on Dec. 4, 1839, nominated for president William Henry Harrison, and for vice president John Tyler. On the democratic side Mr. Van Buren had no competitor, and he was definitively made the candidate of his party by its national convention on May 5, 1840. Never in the political history of the United States was a canvass conducted amid such absorbing public excitement. The financial distress which had existed more or less oppressively since Mr. Van Buren's inauguration was a standing text for the opposition journals and for the orators who assailed him at monster meetings in every part of the country. Charges of extravagance, of corruption, of indifference to the welfare of the laboring classes, were freely brought against the democratic candidate; while the enthusiasm of the supporters of Harrison was inflamed by log cabins emblematic of his popular origin and habits, by songs, by processions, by assemblages counting tens and hundreds of thousands. The result was the discomfiture of the democrats in every state except Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Missouri, New Hampshire, Virginia, and South Carolina. Mr. Van Buren received only 60 electoral votes, while Gen. Harrison had 234; and yet so universal was the participation in the election, that the number of popular suffrages cast for the former was now 1,128,702, or over 367,000 more than had sufficed to secure his return four years previously. His last annual message set forth anew the benefits of the independent treasury system; announced, not without a natural movement of satisfaction, that the country was without either a national debt or a national bank; and concluded with advising the enactment of more stringent laws for the breaking up of the African slave trade. — In 1844 Mr. Van Buren's friends once more urged his nomination for the presidency by the democratic national convention at Baltimore; but he was rejected there on account of his opposition to the annexation of Texas to the Union, avowed in a public letter to a citizen of the state of Mississippi who had called for his opinion on that question. Though a majority of the delegates in the convention were pledged to support him, a rule fatal to this purpose was adopted making the votes of two thirds of the whole number necessary to the choice of a candidate. For several ballots he led all the competitors, when his name was withdrawn from the contest, and on the ninth ballot Mr. Polk was nominated. In 1848, when the democrats had nominated Gen. Cass, and avowed their readiness to tolerate slavery in the new territories lately acquired from Mexico, Mr. Van Buren and his adherents, adopting the name of the free democracy, at once began to discuss in public that new aspect of the slavery question. They held a convention at Utica on June 22, which nominated Mr. Van Buren for president and Henry Dodge of Wisconsin for vice president. Mr. Dodge declined the nomination, and at a great convention in Buffalo on Aug. 9, Charles Francis Adams was substituted. The convention declared that “congress has no more power to make a slave than to make a king;” and that “it is the duty of the federal government to relieve itself from all responsibility for the existence or continuance of slavery wherever the government possesses constitutional authority to legislate on that subject, and is thus responsible for its existence.” In accepting the nomination of this new party, Mr. Van Buren declared his full assent to its anti-slavery principles. The result was that in the state of New York he received the suffrages of more than half of those who had hitherto been attached to the democratic party; and that Gen. Taylor, the candidate of the whigs, was elected. After that time Mr. Van Buren remained in private life on his estate at Kinderhook, with the exception of a prolonged tour in Europe in 1853-'5. On the outbreak of the civil war he declared himself decidedly and warmly in favor of maintaining the republic in its integrity. He left a work entitled “Inquiry into the Origin and Course of Political Parties in the United States,” which was edited by his sons in 1867. II. John, an American lawyer, son of the preceding, born in Hudson, Feb. 18, 1810, died at sea, Oct. 13, 1866. He graduated at Yale college in 1828, studied law, and was admitted to the bar in 1830; was attached to the legation while his father was minister to England in 1831-'2; was elected in February, 1845, by the legislature of New York, attorney general of the state; and after the conclusion of his term of office on Jan. 1, 1847, was a prominent member of the bar in the city of New York. In the presidential canvass of 1848 Mr. Van Buren greatly distinguished himself as a popular advocate of the free democratic party, and of the exclusion of slavery from the federal territories. He afterward returned to the democratic party. In 1866 he made a tour in Europe, and died on his passage homeward.