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The Vice Presidency of Martin Van Buren

Instructor: Joanna Harris

Joanna has taught high school social studies both online and in a traditional classroom since 2009, and has a doctorate in Educational Leadership

Anyone looking for information on influential politicians of the antebellum era in American History would find great source material in this lesson. This lesson will discuss the vice presidency of political power player Martin Van Buren.

Political Beginnings

The Van Buren family of Dutch New York were of small means but high ideals of self. Martin Van Buren was raised to believe he could rise above his station in life and was educated along with his siblings to the best of his parents' abilities. After completing his apprenticeship in law, Van Buren began a legal career in 1803 and set forth on a journey that would forever change New York state politics for his generation.

Martin Van Buren
Martin Van Buren

Van Buren's entry into the political arena took place within the Republican Party of New York supported by the political dynasty of the Clinton family. For a time, Van Buren enjoyed the connections the Clintons offered his career and was elected to county and state offices. However, with the War of 1812, all of that changed.

The Clintons were against a second war with England and blocked funding for the defense of New York to Van Buren's displeasure. By the war's end, Van Buren was state attorney general and the head of an anti-Clinton group called the Bucktails who took steps to wrestle power away from rich political elites like the Clintons, by granting voting rights to poorer masses in New York, who under state law couldn't vote before 1822.

By the time Van Buren made it to the U.S. Senate in 1821, the Bucktails were rival to none in state politics among Republicans.

Multitasker Extraordinaire

As a Senator, Van Buren formed a tight-knit group of New York Congressmen. He watched as Henry Clay organized the ''Corrupt Bargain'' that saw Andrew Jackson lose the Election of 1824. Van Buren played his defeat to his favor by forming a close relationship with Jackson that saw Van Buren to the head of Jackson's 1828 campaign.

He wrote Jackson's speeches, formed his agenda, advised Jackson on his policies, and even worked as fundraiser. With Van Buren's invaluable assistance, Andrew Jackson won the Election of 1828. Van Buren's close friend John Calhoun became vice president that year as well.

Van Buren, all the while managing Jackson's campaign and working as Senator, also won election as governor of New York in 1828. Jackson, however, selected Van Buren as his Secretary of State, so he stepped down as governor after the election. Again, it was Van Buren who was the head of the Jackson administration and even enjoyed daily horse rides with the president around the Capital.

The Petticoat Scandal, regarding the shunning of Peggy Eaton, the wife of Cabinet member John Eaton, ended with Van Buren and the rest of Jackson's Cabinet stepping down to help Jackson ease tensions in his administration. Jackson saw Van Buren's resignation as honorable, and the move only solidified Jackson's love and dedication. However, it had been Calhoun's wife who led the charge against Mrs. Eaton which only intensified the growing contention between Calhoun and Van Buren for Jackson's affection within the Cabinet.

When the nullification debacle firmly placed Calhoun out of favor with Jackson, Van Buren who was then ambassador to England, made his move. Van Buren didn't need to maneuver or manipulate to earn the nomination for running mate in 1832. In fact, he didn't even need to show up. Van Buren remained in England while the convention resoundingly made him the nominee on the first vote.

Van Buren then returned home, helped Jackson solve the tariff issue, guided Jackson through the proposed de-chartering of the Second Bank of the United States, and campaigned. He also helped create the Democratic Party and set up the first Democratic Party convention in 1832.

The duo won handily and Van Buren easily won the role of managing Jackson's Cabinet.

Vice President

Jackson had many advisors during his second term, but chief among them was Van Buren. He secretly wrote Jackson's speeches, managed Jackson's Cabinet, worked Jackson's policies through Congress, and still managed New York state politics.

From the Senate, Van Buren took his place as its head, fighting Jackson's enemies. Henry Clay and John Calhoun (who was back in the Senate) formed an alliance against Jackson for different reasons. Calhoun was still bitter over tariffs, nullification failures, and being removed from the ticket in 1832. Clay was angry over the de-chartering of the Second Bank of the United States, and both declared war against Jackson from Congress.

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