Truman gets a bad rap. He dropped the atomic bombs, he failed to reign in Stalin, and led America into the Korean War. Nevertheless, he led America out of World War II and depression, saved Western Europe from Stalin, and promoted a wise domestic policy. There was little Truman did that FDR would have disapproved of. When Truman left office he had few supporters. Historians and octogenarians agree FDR is one of the greatest presidents. The Truman fan club is much smaller.
The same situation goes for Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren. Van Buren kept many of Jackson’s cabinet and continued most of his policies. Yet, Andrew Jackson is on the ten dollar bill, and the best you can say for Van Buren is he was mentioned on Seinfeld. Has Van Buren’s legacy been as unjustly maligned as Truman?
I have never hid my total hatred for Martin Van Buren. In elementary school, each student was given a president to report on. Unlike some classmates who got “awesome” presidents like Lincoln, Jefferson, Washington and the Roosevelts, my assignment was the eighth president of the United States. I combed his story for amazing details but was left with sadness. As a young student in 1991, I knew there was a bad president. His name was Richard Nixon and he was a mean man who almost ruined America. I also knew America did bad things in the past. Slavery wasn’t a good thing. Also we weren’t too nice to the “Indians” (excuse me for the pre-1992 lingo). With my introduction to Martin Van Buren, my childhood innocence (presidents-wise) was lost. This man was awful.
“Martin Van Buren was the Vice President under Andrew Jackson, and he oversaw the Trail of Tears. In conclusion, Martin Van Buren was the eighth president of the United States. The End.”
B+. How dare you ruin my perfect grade in social studies.
Andrew Jackson started two major policies which ruined Van Buren in the short and long-term. The short term disaster was the elimination of the second national bank. Jackson entrusted the states with handing finances. In Van Buren’s first year in office, banks closed, inflation and unemployment grew, and the president did nothing to assuage the crisis. Another panic occurred two years later, leaving America (and Van Buren) in further ruin. The crisis was relatively temporary, but cost Van Buren any chance of reelection.
The long term disaster set-up by Jackson was the Indian Removal Act of 1830. The law allowed the United States, as they saw fit, to remove Native Americans from their land. During Van Buren’s presidency, the Treaty of New Echota was ratified, leading to the forced removal of the Cherokee. The Chickasaw were also kicked off their land at the start of his term.
In Florida, Van Buren fought Seminoles who refused to leave their land. In his 1838 State of the Union speech, Van Buren said action of the Seminoles left “no alternative but to continue the military operations against them until they are totally expelled from Florida.” This was a costly and bloody success.
In the same speech, Van Buren summed up the Trail of Tears.
“The recent emigrants, although they have in some instances removed reluctantly, have readily acquiesced in their unavoidable destiny.”
Unavoidable destiny? You’re awful! I have not seen a more vile statement by any other American president (prove me wrong). For more awful Van Buren quotes, visit this site. If you don’t hate Van Buren yet, reread that statement again.
Although he was vocally against slavery later in life, as president he did nothing of importance to affect this critical issue. In fact, Van Buren opposed the mutinying slaves in the Amistad case. Not cool, Martin.
Van Buren was the first in a long line of terrible presidents. He was followed by William Henry Harrison (died a month in), John Tyler (hated by both parties, later joined the Confederacy), James Polk (started land-grab war against Mexico), Zachary Taylor (slave-owner but otherwise okay), Millard Fillmore (know-nothing loser), Franklin Pierce (terrible president, Confederate sympathizer), and James Buchanan (do-nothing apathetic loser). Quite simply, these eight incompetent presidents presided over the worst bit of American History. The mediocrity began with Martin Van Buren, with the help of his mentor and predecessor, Andrew Jackson.