Political party martin van buren
Martin Van Buren by Ted Widmer
One reason I chose to read Times Books “The American Presidents” series was because I suspected there was at least one “almost major” president buried somewhere in the list of forty-five, somebody I’d overlooked entirely. Well, I’ve found him, and its Martin Van Buren, the man from Kinderhook, New York. The United States—particularly the Democratic Party—could not have been what it was without “Little Van.”
The word “little” in his nicknames (“Little Van,” “Little Matt”, “Little Matty,” “The Little Magician”)--he was a man of many nicknames—indicates some of the reasons why he is overlooked by history: he was short in physical stature (5’6”, the second shortest president, after Madison), social status (a tavern owner’s son), and social contacts (the only president who neither graduated from college nor served in the military). He was, in many ways, an outsider: only one of two presidents without a trace of Anglo-Saxon ancestry (Kennedy was the other), the only president who spoke English as a second language (he grew up speaking Dutch), and—later—the first president to lead a third party (the “Free Soil” movement in 1848 to stop slavery in the territories).
This characterization is misleading, however, for Little Van the self-taught lawyer was also the most social of presidents: a charming conversationalist, a former of coalitions, a maker of deals. He fashioned the small farmers, small businessmen and craftsmen of New York State into a formidable opposition to the old Federalist big money boys, namely, the major Dutch landholders (the patroons), the city merchants, and the big bankers. He set up a political system that was adept at communication, both internally (he was an expert vote counter, sensitive both to mutual interests and particular concerns) and externally (he not only maintained good relations and efficient messaging with the general press, but helped promote politically sympathetic newspapers and literary journals. Before long, the political machine of “the Democracy” was a formidable force not only in Albany but in all New England as well.
Van Buren, however, was not content with “The Democracy” being a major regional power, but sought to forge a national coalition. He realized that the interests of Southern states, the cradle of Jeffersonian democracy, still had much in common with those of the political machine he had fashioned, that they both distrusted the pro-British sentiments of the Northern elite. Soon after he became a U.S. senator in 1812, he used his passionate opposition to British violations of American sovreignty to form alliances with many of his future friends—and foes—of the South and the West: Calhoun, Clay, Jackson, Cass. It took many trips by Van Buren to South Carolina, Kentucky and Tennessee, but by the end of the war of 1812, the great North/South coalition had been formed. (We refer to it as “Jacksonian Democracy,’ but it was really Van Buren’s creation.)
“Little Van” began to be referred to as “The Little Magician,” and his political success seemed secure throughout his vice presidency under Jackson. But President Van Buren’s fate was to be blighted by two great evils, one largely accidental and the other unavoidably integral: the first was the devastation wrought by the financial Panic of 1837, and the second was the rift between Northern and Southern Democrats over the institution of slavery, particularly the issue of its western expansion. “The Little Magician” could not make the immorality of slavery disappear, nor the pain of the economic downturn. Soon he had acquired a new nickname: “Martin Van Ruin.” (The ill-fated William Henry Harrison, standard bearer of America’s first thoroughly populist—and thoroughly dishonest—campaign defeated him in 1840.)
Oh, speaking of nicknames and the 1840 election, I forgot about Van Buren’s most enduring legacy—at least where the American language is concerned. They called him “Old Kinderhook,” which during the 1840 election was abbreviated to “OK,” and was used by the Democrats as a slogan, as in the phrase “Vote for OK” (the only acceptable candidate). Thus the popular phrase “Okay” was born.
I know, I know. Some say Okay is derived from the humorous phrase “oll korrect,” and some say it comes from the old Choctaw word okeh, but I’m giving Martin Van Buren the benefit of the doubt. He doesn’t get enough respect anyway.
How Martin Van Buren created the two-party system
Unlike the seven men who preceded him in the White House, Martin Van Buren was the first president to be born a citizen of the United States and not a British subject. He rose quickly in New York politics, winning a U. Senate seat in and presiding over a sophisticated state political organization. Van Buren helped form the new Democratic Party from a coalition of Jeffersonian Republicans who backed the military hero and president Andrew Jackson. After losing his bid for reelection in , Van Buren ran again unsuccessfully in when he lost the Democratic nomination to the pro-southern candidate James K. Polk and as a member of the antislavery Free Soil Party. Martin Van Buren was born on December 5, , six years after the colonists declared their independence from Britain.
Only about 5 feet, 6 inches tall, but trim and erect, Martin Van Buren dressed fastidiously. His impeccable appearance belied his amiability—and his humble background. Of Dutch descent, he was born in , the son of a tavernkeeper and farmer, in Kinderhook, New York. As a young lawyer he became involved in New York politics. Yet he faithfully fulfilled official duties, and in was elected to the United States Senate. By he had emerged as the principal northern leader for Andrew Jackson. As the Cabinet Members appointed at John C.
He studied law and held various political positions before serving as U. He was elected the eighth president of the United States in , but his policies were unpopular and he failed to win a second term. He died on July 24, , in Kinderhook. His parents, Abraham and Maria, were of Dutch descent and modest means. His father was a farmer but also ran a tavern, which frequently served as a political meeting place and where young Martin was first exposed to politics.