Martin Van Buren's Domestic Policy

Instructor: Evan Thompson

Evan has taught high school History and has a bachelor's degree in history with a master's degree in teaching.

Martin Van Buren's single term as president was plagued by an inter-sectional dispute over the annexation of Texas, the forced removal of the Cherokee and Seminole from the Southeast, and the Panic of 1837.

Martin Van Buren

Imagine being the handpicked successor of the most popular president in over a generation. Now imagine that the economy collapses five weeks into your term, and that nothing you do makes it better. Welcome to what Martin Van Buren faced during his term as president. His term not only saw the Panic of 1837 but two other major domestic issues: the Texas controversy and the forced removals of the Cherokee and Seminole from the Southeast.

President Martin Van Buren
President Martin Van Buren

Van Buren's Election

After two terms as president, the immensely popular Andrew Jackson nominated his vice president -- Martin Van Buren -- to succeed him as president. Van Buren won the subsequent election with 170 electoral votes out of the 294 possible. (Only one sitting vice-president has been elected president since then -- George H.W. Bush in 1988.) Van Buren's inauguration ended up being more like a retirement party for Jackson. Consequently, Van Buren had grand expectations to live up to -- and he couldn't do it, although it really wasn't his fault.

1836 US Presidential Election
1836 US Presidential Election

Texas Annexation Controversy

Texas had declared independence from Mexico in March of 1836, and the United States recognized the Republic of Texas very quickly. The Republic wanted to become a U.S. state, but Congress was deadlocked over the matter. Van Buren inherited this conflict. His party -- the Democrats -- favored annexation and statehood, especially the Southerners. The Whigs were against it. Why? Texas allowed slavery, and its admission would mean there would be more slave states (states that allowed slavery) than free states (states that didn't). The slavery issue stayed calm partly because there was an equal number of slave states and free states, and, at the time, there was not a potential state to admit that would be a free state. Because of this, Van Buren announced that he was against the annexation of Texas.

Forced Removals

Van Buren also inherited a mess involving indigenous peoples of the Southeast, particularly the Cherokee and Seminole. The Cherokee were forced to move west from their land in northwest Georgia to what is now Oklahoma in 1835. About 16,000 refused to leave, and in 1838, Van Buren sent troops to force them out. After leaving them penned up in internment camps during the summer, the Army finally moved the people west. During the move, known as the Trail of Tears, roughly 20% of the Cherokee perished. The Seminole had a sizeable group stay behind in central and southern Florida, going to war with the U.S. Army to avoid being relocated. In 1838, their chief, Osceola, was killed in an ambush, but that did not stop the fighting, which continued until 1842, killing thousands in the process. Van Buren faced heavy criticism -- especially from the Whigs, who found the forced removals to be abhorrent -- for allowing these two situations to occur.

Map of the Trail of Tears
Map of the Trail of Tears

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