33 Martin Van Buren

This is a post in My Presidential Rankings series, linked here: https://sdu754.wordpress.com/2014/01/05/presidential-rankings/

Martin Van Buren was the 8th president of the United States. He was Andrew Jackson’s hand-picked successor. Van Buren continued Andrew Jackson’s programs, most of which were bad.

Van Buren’s term was consumed by the Panic of 1837, which was the Great depression of its day. While the panic was created by Andrew Jackson’s bank war and specie circular, Van Buren does desrve some of the blame for his mishandling of the economy. First of all, Van Buren was unwilling to rescind the specie circular, he then followed that decision up with his creation of the Independent Treasury. The specie circular and independent treasury both create a credit crunch, which prolonged and deepened the recession. In the end, the panic of 1837 ended Van Buren’s  presidency in the election of 1840.

Van Buren’s  Indian policy was basically an extension of Andrew Jackson’s. Van Buren oversaw the completion of Jackson’s Indian removal policy, which would be termed ethnic cleansing by todays standards. Van Buren also continued the Second Seminole War, which was the longest and costliest indian war ever. Unfortunately Van Buren didn’t have the foresight of John Tyler, who simply ended the war.

The Amistad case was a major occurence during Van Buren’s term. The Amistad was a Spanish vessel that was transporting slaves that were captured in Africa. During the voyage, the African captors took over the ship and directed the remaining crew to take them back to Africa. The crew tricked the Africans, and sailed north at night, where they were captured by an American ship. Van Buren wanted the Africans to be returned to the Spanish to become slaves, even though the Spanish had broken international treaties against the slave trade. Van Buren even ordered his Secretary of state, John Forsythe, to direct the US Attorney to keep the matter out of the courts and under executive control. In the end the US Supreme court ruled that the Africans should be freed and returned to Africa.

1938 Mormon war and “extermination” order forced the Mormons from Missouri. Van Buren refused to help the Mormons for political reasons, as he didn’t want to lose Missouri vote in the upcoming 1840 election. Because of this, President Van Buren holds a place of particular disrepute in the Mormon consciousness. In the fall of 1839 Joseph Smith and a small party traveled to Washington D.C. to meet with as many influential politicians as they could to seek redress for the Mormons being driven from the state of Missouri. The President meet with Smith twice, and on his second visit gave this famous reply to the Smith’s request: “Gentlemen, your cause is just, but I can do nothing for you. If I take up for you I shall lose the vote of Missouri.”

Under Van Buren a boundary dispute disrupted between Maine and New Brunswick that came to be termed the Aroostook War. While both sides sent militia to the area, hostilities never ensued. Van Buren should be given some credit for avoiding war, but he basically kicked the can down the road by not actually settling the disputed border.

Another incident where Van Buren kicked the can down the road was the Texas issue. After winning independence from Mexico, Texas wanted to be annexed into the United States. Considering the make up of Texas’s citizenry, and it’s desire to be a part of the United States, annexation was a forgone conclusion. Van Buren further forgave Mexican debts for seemingly no reason other than to appease Mexico. Had Van Buren been able to see the writing that was clearly on the wall and annexed Texas, he could have used the debts as a bargaining chip to a peaceful resolution of the Texas-Mexico border. Unfortunately, Van Buren decided not to act, and event eventually led to the Mexican-American War, which was a major catalyst for the civil war.

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