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Van Buren and Sectional Issues

Van Buren and Sectional Issues

With varying measures of success, Martin Van Buren attempted to follow a moderate approach on matters of regional concern, but won little public support for these actions. Notable events included the following:

  • He continued Jackson’s Seminole War in the Everglades, but offended Northerners who feared that Florida was being prepared for statehood as a slave state
  • He actively opposed the annexation of Texas, realizing that sectional passions would be ignited; this angered proslavery forces in the South
  • He completed Jackson’s removal policy of the Native Americans in the Southeast; in 1838-39 the Cherokees were forced to move westward along the “Trail of Tears.”

Robert V. Remini (1921–2013)

At the age of 80, Robert Vincent Remini transformed from history professor to public historian. The US House of Representatives had passed legislation-introduced by a former high school history teacher, Representative John Larson-to direct the Librarian of Congress to facilitate the writing of a privately funded narrative history of the House. To meet this request, Robert Remini was appointed distinguished visiting scholar of American history at the Library of Congress, where he spent the next three years writing The House (2006), a 200-year survey that drew in large part from his many biographies of political leaders. The effort led to his appointment as the historian of the House of Representatives, an unexpected turn after his long career teaching at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Born in New York City, Bob Remini graduated from Fordham University in 1943. He had been planning to go to law school, but during his three years in the navy during World War II he spent so much of his free time on ship reading history that he returned from service to study history in graduate school at Columbia, receiving his PhD in 1951. At the suggestion of Richard Hofstadter, he wrote his dissertation on Martin Van Buren, which became his first book, Martin Van Buren and the Making of the Democratic Party (1959). It provided an analysis of sectional coalition-building from which the shadowy Van Buren emerged as the shrewd political operative behind the Jacksonian political movement.

In 1948, Remini married Ruth Kuhner, whom had met in kindergarten, and to whom he remained married until she died in 2012. They had three children: Robert, Elizabeth, and Joan. He taught first at Fordham University for a dozen years before moving to Chicago in 1965 to be chair of the history department at the newly created University of Illinois at Chicago Circle. He also founded and headed the university's Institute for the Humanities.

A popular educator, Remini was also a prolific author. He had expected to write Van Buren's full biography until the more compelling figure of Andrew Jackson intervened. A series of shorter books, The Election of Andrew Jackson (1963),Andrew Jackson (1966), and Andrew Jackson and the Bank War (1967) led to his epic, multi-volume Life of Andrew Jackson: Andrew Jackson and the Course of American Empire (1977), Andrew Jackson and the Course of American Freedom (1981), and Andrew Jackson and the Course of American Democracy (1984), the last of which won the National Book Award. In later years, Remini continued writing about Jackson, notably addressing the changing historical views of Jackson's Indian policies. Without excusing Jackson' views on race and gender, he placed them within his time and culture.

His attention then turned to Jackson's political opponents. He wrote biographies of John Quincy Adams, Daniel Webster, and Henry Clay, presenting their side of the political arguments of the Jacksonian Era. His last book, At the Edge of the Precipice (2010), dealt with Henry Clay's Compromise of 1850 "that saved the Union." Remini liked to recount how he once began to deliver an address from the steps of Clay's home in Lexington, Kentucky, just as a loud thunderclap sent his audience scurrying for cover. He took it as a sign of General Jackson's disapproval.

He continued his research and writing after becoming professor emeritus in 1991. That year he also delivered a lecture on Andrew Jackson at the White House. Over his career, he received numerous awards, among them the Chicago Public Library's Carl Sandburg Award, the Lyndon Baines Johnson Foundation Award, the Capitol Historical Society's Freedom Award, and the American Historical Association's Award for Scholarly Distinction (he was an AHA member for 63 years). He also traveled as a visiting professor at the Jilan University of Technology in China, the University of Richmond, the University of Notre Dame, and Wofford College. In 1997, he was named University Historian and began work on The University of Illinois at Chicago: A Pictorial History (2000), co-authored with Fred Beuttler and Melvin Holli.

Remini described himself as "pleasantly surprised" when House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert invited him to become historian of the House in 2005. After decade in which the office was vacant due to ideological differences, Remini helped restore its nonpartisan, professional stature, and was well regarded by members of both parties in both houses. Illinois Senator Dick Durbin described him as "a great historian, a great personality, with a smile on his face every minute of the day."

As House historian, he fielded questions from reporters, conducted oral histories, and gave talks to students, teachers, and others curious about the "People's House." Bob Remini called his experiences dealing with Congress unparalleled. "This has been such an extraordinary opportunity. I wouldn't give it up for the world," he told a reporter. "When you get into the inner workings [of Congress], when you walk in the chamber itself and you talk to people and you learn what they're doing-you really have a sense of being part of history, not just writing about it."


Van Buren is a Victory Against Overbroad Interpretations of the CFAA, and Protects Security Researchers

The Supreme Court’s Van Buren decision today overturned a dangerous precedent and clarified the notoriously ambiguous meaning of “exceeding authorized access” in the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, the federal computer crime law that’s been misused to prosecute beneficial and important online activity.

The decision is a victory for all Internet users, as it affirmed that online services cannot use the CFAA’s criminal provisions to enforce limitations on how or why you use their service, including for purposes such as collecting evidence of discrimination or identifying security vulnerabilities. It also rejected the use of troubling physical-world analogies and legal theories to interpret the law, which in the past have resulted in some of its most dangerous abuses.

The Van Buren decision is especially good news for security researchers, whose work discovering security vulnerabilities is vital to the public interest but often requires accessing computers in ways that contravene terms of service. Under the Department of Justice’s reading of the law , the CFAA allowed criminal charges against individuals for any website terms of service violation. But a majority of the Supreme Court rejected the DOJ’s interpretation. And although the high court did not narrow the CFAA as much as EFF would have liked, leaving open the question of whether the law requires circumvention of a technological access barrier, it provided good language that should help protect researchers, investigative journalists, and others.

The CFAA makes it a crime to “intentionally access[] a computer without authorization or exceed[] authorized access, and thereby obtain[] . . . information from any protected computer,” but does not define what authorization means for purposes of exceeding authorized access. In Van Buren, a former Georgia police officer was accused of taking money in exchange for looking up a license plate in a law enforcement database. This was a database he was otherwise entitled to access, and Van Buren was charged with exceeding authorized access under the CFAA. The Eleventh Circuit analysis had turned on the computer owner’s unilateral policies regarding use of its networks, allowing private parties to make EULA, TOS, or other use policies criminally enforceable.

The Supreme Court rightly overturned the Eleventh Circuit, and held that exceeding authorized access under the CFAA does not encompass “violations of circumstance-based access restrictions on employers’ computers.” Rather, the statute’s prohibition is limited to someone who “accesses a computer with authorization but then obtains information located in particular areas of the computer—such as files, folders, or databases—that are off limits to him.” The Court adopted a “gates-up-or-down” approach: either you are entitled to access the information or you are not. If you need to break through a digital gate to get in, entry is a crime, but if you are allowed through an open gateway, it’s not a crime to be inside.

This means that private parties’ terms of service limitations on how you can use information, or for what purposes you can access it, are not criminally enforced by the CFAA. For example, if you can look at housing ads as a user, it is not a hacking crime to pull them for your bias-in-housing research project, even if the TOS forbids it. Van Buren is really good news for port scanning, for example: so long as the computer is open to the public, you don’t have to worry about the conditions for use to scan the port.

While the decision was centered around the interpretation of the statute’s text, the Court bolstered its conclusion with the policy concerns raised by the amici, including a brief EFF filed on behalf of computer security researchers and organizations that employ and support them. The Court’s explanation is worth quoting in depth:

If the “exceeds authorized access” clause criminalizes every violation of a computer-use policy, then millions of otherwise law-abiding citizens are criminals. Take the workplace. Employers commonly state that computers and electronic devices can be used only for business purposes. So on the Government’s reading of the statute, an employee who sends a personal e-mail or reads the news using her work computer has violated the CFAA. Or consider the Internet. Many websites, services, and databases …. authorize a user’s access only upon his agreement to follow specified terms of service. If the “exceeds authorized access” clause encompasses violations of circumstance-based access restrictions on employers’ computers, it is difficult to see why it would not also encompass violations of such restrictions on website providers’ computers. And indeed, numerous amici explain why the Government’s reading [would] criminalize everything from embellishing an online-dating profile to using a pseudonym on Facebook.

This analysis shows the Court recognized the tremendous danger of an overly broad CFAA, and explicitly rejected the Government’s arguments for retaining wide powers, tempered only by their prosecutorial discretion.

Left Unresolved: Whether CFAA Violations Require Technical Access Limitations

The Court’s decision was limited in one important respect. In a footnote, the Court left as an open question if the enforceable access restriction meant only “technological (or ‘code-based’) limitations on access, or instead also looks to limits contained in contracts or policies,” meaning that the opinion neither adopted nor rejected either path. EFF has argued in courts and legislative reform efforts for many years that it’s not a computer hacking crime without hacking through a technological defense.

This footnote is a bit odd, as the bulk of the majority opinion seems to point toward the law requiring someone to defeat technological limitations on access, and throwing shade at criminalizing TOS violations. In most cases, the scope of your access once on a computer is defined by technology, such as an access control list or a requirement to reenter a password. Professor Orin Kerr suggested that this may have been a necessary limitation to build the six justice majority.

Later in the Van Buren opinion, the Court rejected a Government argument that a rule against “ using a confidential database for a non-law-enforcement purpose” should be treated as a criminally enforceable access restriction, different from “ using information from the database for a non-law-enforcement purpose” (emphasis original). This makes sense under the “ gates-up-or-down” approach adopted by the Court . Together with the policy issues the Court acknowledged regarding enforcing terms of service quoted above, this helps us understand the limitation footnote, suggesting cleverly writing a TOS will not easily turn a conditional rule on why you can access, or what you can do with information later, into a criminally enforceable access restriction.

Nevertheless, leaving the question open means that we will have to litigate whether and under what circumstance a contract or written policy can amount to an access restriction in the years to come. For example, in Facebook v. Power Ventures , the Ninth Circuit found that a cease and desist letter removing authorization was sufficient to create a CFAA violation for later access, even though a violation of the Facebook terms alone was not. Service providers will likely argue that this is the sort of non-technical access restriction that was left unresolved by Van Buren.

Court’s Narrow CFAA Interpretation Should Help Security Researchers

Even though the majority opinion left this important CFAA question unresolved, the decision still offers plenty of language that will be helpful for later cases on the scope of the statute. That’s because the Van Buren majority’s focus on the CFAA’s technical definitions, and the types of computer access that the law restricts, should provide guidance to lower courts that narrow the law’s reach.

This is a win because broad CFAA interpretations have in the past often deterred or chilled important security research and investigative journalism. The CFAA put these activities in legal jeopardy, in part, because courts often struggle with using non-digital legal concepts and physical analogies to interpret the statute. Indeed, one of the principle disagreements between the Van Buren majority and dissent is whether the CFAA should be interpreted based on physical property law doctrines, such as trespass and theft.

The majority opinion ruled that, in principle, computer access is different from the physical world precisely because the CFAA contains so many technical terms and definitions. “When interpreting statutes, courts take note of terms that carry ‘technical meaning[s],’” the majority wrote.

The rule is particularly true for the CFAA because it focuses on malicious computer use and intrusions, the majority wrote. For example, the term “access” in the context of computer use has its own specific, well established meaning: “In the computing context, ‘access’ references the act of entering a computer ‘system itself’ or a particular ‘part of a computer system,’ such as files, folders, or databases.” Based on that definition, the CFAA’s “exceeding authorized access” restriction should be limited to prohibiting “the act of entering a part of the system to which a computer user lacks access privileges.”

The majority also recognized that the portions of the CFAA that define damage and loss are premised on harm to computer files and data, rather than general non-digital harm such as trespassing on another person’s property: “The statutory definitions of ‘damage’ and ‘loss’ thus focus on technological harms—such as the corruption of files—of the type unauthorized users cause to computer systems and data,” the Court wrote. This is important because loss and damage are prerequisites to civil CFAA claims, and the ability of private entities to enforce the CFAA has been a threat that deters security research when companies might rather their vulnerabilities remain unknown to the public.

Because the CFAA’s definitions of loss and damages focus on harm to computer files, systems, or data, the majority wrote that they “are ill fitted, however, to remediating ‘misuse’ of sensitive information that employees may permissibly access using their computers.”

The Supreme Court’s Van Buren decision rightly limits the CFAA’s prohibition on “exceeding authorized access” to prohibiting someone from accessing particular computer files, services, or other parts of the computer that are otherwise off-limits to them. And the Court’s overturning the Eleventh Circuit decision that permitted CFAA liability based on someone violating a website’s terms of service or an employers’ computer use restrictions ensures that lots of important, legitimate computer use is not a crime.

But there is still more work to be done to ensure that computer crime laws are not misused against researchers, journalists, activists, and everyday internet users. As longtime advocates against overbroad interpretations of the CFAA, EFF will continue to lead efforts to push courts and lawmakers to further narrow the CFAA and similar state computer crime laws so they can no longer be misused.


Political career: Senate and vice presidency

In 1812 Van Buren ran for a seat in the New York Senate on the campaign trail, he opposed the Bank of the United States and supported the impending war with Great Britain over maritime rights. He was narrowly elected and served two terms (1812–20). During his tenure he was also appointed state attorney general, holding that post from 1815 to 1819.

Van Buren developed a reputation as a gifted politician, and his skill was apparent when he created the Albany Regency, an informal political organization in New York state that was a prototype of the modern political machine. It became a powerful force in state politics and helped ensure Van Buren’s election to the U.S. Senate in 1821. Van Buren, who regarded himself as a disciple of Thomas Jefferson, was a member of the Jeffersonian faction of the Republican Party. He supported the doctrine of states’ rights, opposed a strong federal government, and disapproved of federally sponsored internal improvements. After John Quincy Adams was elected president in 1824, Van Buren brought together a diverse coalition of Jeffersonian Republicans, including followers of Andrew Jackson, William H. Crawford, and John C. Calhoun, to found a new political party, which was soon named the Democratic Party.

In 1828 Van Buren resigned his Senate seat and successfully ran for governor of New York. However, he gave up the governorship within 12 weeks to become Pres. Andrew Jackson’s secretary of state. In this role he was criticized for expanding the system of political patronage, though some later historians considered the criticism unfair. Resigning as secretary of state in 1831 to permit reorganization of the cabinet, he served briefly as minister to Great Britain.

In 1832 Van Buren was nominated for the vice presidency by the first national convention of the Democratic Party he replaced John C. Calhoun as Pres. Jackson’s running mate. The two men ran on a platform that opposed the continued operation of the Bank of the United States. They easily defeated the National Republican ticket of Henry Clay and John Sergeant.


10.3 The Nullification Crisis and the Bank War

The crisis over the Tariff of 1828 continued into the 1830s and highlighted one of the currents of democracy in the Age of Jackson: namely, that many southerners believed a democratic majority could be harmful to their interests. These southerners saw themselves as an embattled minority and claimed the right of states to nullify federal laws that appeared to threaten state sovereignty. Another undercurrent was the resentment and anger of the majority against symbols of elite privilege, especially powerful financial institutions like the Second Bank of the United States.

THE NULLIFICATION CRISIS

The Tariff of 1828 had driven Vice President Calhoun to pen his “South Carolina Exposition and Protest,” in which he argued that if a national majority acted against the interest of a regional minority, then individual states could void—or nullify—federal law. By the early 1830s, the battle over the tariff took on new urgency as the price of cotton continued to fall. In 1818, cotton had been thirty-one cents per pound. By 1831, it had sunk to eight cents per pound. While production of cotton had soared during this time and this increase contributed to the decline in prices, many southerners blamed their economic problems squarely on the tariff for raising the prices they had to pay for imported goods while their own income shrank.

Resentment of the tariff was linked directly to the issue of slavery, because the tariff demonstrated the use of federal power. Some southerners feared the federal government would next take additional action against the South, including the abolition of slavery. The theory of nullification , or the voiding of unwelcome federal laws, provided wealthy slaveholders, who were a minority in the United States, with an argument for resisting the national government if it acted contrary to their interests. James Hamilton, who served as governor of South Carolina in the early 1830s, denounced the “despotic majority that oppresses us.” Nullification also raised the specter of secession aggrieved states at the mercy of an aggressive majority would be forced to leave the Union.

On the issue of nullification, South Carolina stood alone. Other southern states backed away from what they saw as the extremism behind the idea. President Jackson did not make the repeal of the 1828 tariff a priority and denied the nullifiers’ arguments. He and others, including former President Madison, argued that Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution gave Congress the power to “lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises.” Jackson pledged to protect the Union against those who would try to tear it apart over the tariff issue. “The union shall be preserved,” he declared in 1830.

To deal with the crisis, Jackson advocated a reduction in tariff rates. The Tariff of 1832, passed in the summer, lowered the rates on some products like imported goods, a move designed to calm southerners. It did not have the desired effect, however, and Calhoun’s nullifiers still claimed their right to override federal law. In November, South Carolina passed the Ordinance of Nullification, declaring the 1828 and 1832 tariffs null and void in the Palmetto State. Jackson responded, however, by declaring in the December 1832 Nullification Proclamation that a state did not have the power to void a federal law.

With the states and the federal government at an impasse, civil war seemed a real possibility. The next governor of South Carolina, Robert Hayne, called for a force of ten thousand volunteers (Figure 10.9) to defend the state against any federal action. At the same time, South Carolinians who opposed the nullifiers told Jackson that eight thousand men stood ready to defend the Union. Congress passed the Force Bill of 1833, which gave the federal government the right to use federal troops to ensure compliance with federal law. The crisis—or at least the prospect of armed conflict in South Carolina—was defused by the Compromise Tariff of 1833, which reduced tariff rates considerably. Nullifiers in South Carolina accepted it, but in a move that demonstrated their inflexibility, they nullified the Force Bill.

The Nullification Crisis illustrated the growing tensions in American democracy: an aggrieved minority of elite, wealthy slaveholders taking a stand against the will of a democratic majority an emerging sectional divide between South and North over slavery and a clash between those who believed in free trade and those who believed in protective tariffs to encourage the nation’s economic growth. These tensions would color the next three decades of politics in the United States.

THE BANK WAR

Congress established the Bank of the United States in 1791 as a key pillar of Alexander Hamilton’s financial program, but its twenty-year charter expired in 1811. Congress, swayed by the majority’s hostility to the bank as an institution catering to the wealthy elite, did not renew the charter at that time. In its place, Congress approved a new national bank—the Second Bank of the United States—in 1816. It too had a twenty-year charter, set to expire in 1836.

The Second Bank of the United States was created to stabilize the banking system. More than two hundred banks existed in the United States in 1816, and almost all of them issued paper money. In other words, citizens faced a bewildering welter of paper money with no standard value. In fact, the problem of paper money had contributed significantly to the Panic of 1819.

In the 1820s, the national bank moved into a magnificent new building in Philadelphia. However, despite Congress’s approval of the Second Bank of the United States, a great many people continued to view it as tool of the wealthy, an anti-democratic force. President Jackson was among them he had faced economic crises of his own during his days speculating in land, an experience that had made him uneasy about paper money. To Jackson, hard currency—that is, gold or silver—was the far better alternative. The president also personally disliked the bank’s director, Nicholas Biddle.

A large part of the allure of mass democracy for politicians was the opportunity to capture the anger and resentment of ordinary Americans against what they saw as the privileges of a few. One of the leading opponents of the bank was Thomas Hart Benton, a senator from Missouri, who declared that the bank served “to make the rich richer, and the poor poorer.” The self-important statements of Biddle, who claimed to have more power than President Jackson, helped fuel sentiments like Benton’s.

In the reelection campaign of 1832, Jackson’s opponents in Congress, including Henry Clay, hoped to use their support of the bank to their advantage. In January 1832, they pushed for legislation that would re-charter it, even though its charter was not scheduled to expire until 1836. When the bill for re-chartering passed and came to President Jackson, he used his executive authority to veto the measure.

The defeat of the Second Bank of the United States demonstrates Jackson’s ability to focus on the specific issues that aroused the democratic majority. Jackson understood people’s anger and distrust toward the bank, which stood as an emblem of special privilege and big government. He skillfully used that perception to his advantage, presenting the bank issue as a struggle of ordinary people against a rapacious elite class who cared nothing for the public and pursued only their own selfish ends. As Jackson portrayed it, his was a battle for small government and ordinary Americans. His stand against what bank opponents called the “ monster bank ” proved very popular, and the Democratic press lionized him for it (Figure 10.10). In the election of 1832, Jackson received nearly 53 percent of the popular vote against his opponent Henry Clay.

Jackson’s veto was only one part of the war on the “monster bank.” In 1833, the president removed the deposits from the national bank and placed them in state banks. Biddle, the bank’s director, retaliated by restricting loans to the state banks, resulting in a reduction of the money supply. The financial turmoil only increased when Jackson issued an executive order known as the Specie Circular, which required that western land sales be conducted using gold or silver only. Unfortunately, this policy proved a disaster when the Bank of England, the source of much of the hard currency borrowed by American businesses, dramatically cut back on loans to the United States. Without the flow of hard currency from England, American depositors drained the gold and silver from their own domestic banks, making hard currency scarce. Adding to the economic distress of the late 1830s, cotton prices plummeted, contributing to a financial crisis called the Panic of 1837. This economic panic would prove politically useful for Jackson’s opponents in the coming years and Van Buren, elected president in 1836, would pay the price for Jackson’s hard-currency preferences.

WHIGS

Jackson’s veto of the bank and his Specie Circular helped galvanize opposition forces into a new political party, the Whigs , a faction that began to form in 1834. The name was significant opponents of Jackson saw him as exercising tyrannical power, so they chose the name Whig after the eighteenth-century political party that resisted the monarchical power of King George III. One political cartoon dubbed the president “King Andrew the First” and displayed Jackson standing on the Constitution, which has been ripped to shreds (Figure 10.11).

Whigs championed an active federal government committed to internal improvements, including a national bank. They made their first national appearance in the presidential election of 1836, a contest that pitted Jackson’s handpicked successor, Martin Van Buren, against a field of several Whig candidates. Indeed, the large field of Whig candidates indicated the new party’s lack of organization compared to the Democrats. This helped Van Buren, who carried the day in the Electoral College. As the effects of the Panic of 1837 continued to be felt for years afterward, the Whig press pinned the blame for the economic crisis on Van Buren and the Democrats.

Click and Explore

Explore a Library of Congress collection of 1830s political cartoons from the pages of Harper’s Weekly to learn more about how Andrew Jackson was viewed by the public in that era.


John Quincy Adams for the Defense

To defend the Africans in front of the Supreme Court, Tappan and his fellow abolitionists enlisted former President John Quincy Adams, who was at the time 73 years old and a member of the House of Representatives. Adams had previously argued (and won) a case before the nation’s highest court he was also a strong antislavery voice in Congress, having successfully repealed a rule banning debates about slavery from the House floor.

In a lengthy argument beginning on February 24, Adams accused Van Buren of abusing his executive powers, and defended the Africans’ right to fight for their freedom aboard the Amistad. At the heart of the case, Adams argued, was the willingness of the United States to stand up for the ideals upon which it was founded. “The moment you come to the Declaration of Independence, that every man has a right to life and liberty, an inalienable right, this case is decided," Adams said. "I ask nothing more in behalf of these unfortunate men, than this Declaration.”


Later Senate Career

Webster returned to the U.S. Senate in 1845. He had tried to secure the Whig nomination for president in 1844 but lost to longtime rival Henry Clay. In 1848, Webster lost another attempt to get the nomination when the Whigs nominated Zachary Taylor, a hero of the Mexican War.

Webster was opposed to the spread of enslavement to new American territories. In the late 1840s, however, he began supporting compromises proposed by Henry Clay to keep the Union together. In his last major action in the Senate, he supported the Compromise of 1850, which included the Fugitive Slave Act that was highly unpopular in New England.

Webster delivered a highly anticipated address during Senate debates—later known as the Seventh of March Speech—in which he spoke in favor of preserving the Union. Many of his constituents, deeply offended by parts of his speech, felt betrayed by Webster. He left the Senate a few months later, when Millard Fillmore, who had become president after the death of Zachary Taylor, appointed him as Secretary of State.

In May 1851, Webster rode along with two New York politicians, Senator William Seward and President Millard Fillmore, on a train trip to celebrate the new Erie Railroad. At every stop across New York State crowds gathered, mostly because they were hoping to hear a speech by Webster. His oratory skills were such that he overshadowed the president.

Webster tried again to be nominated for president on the Whig ticket in 1852, but the party chose General Winfield Scott at a brokered convention. Angered by the decision, Webster refused to support Scott's candidacy.


Contents

Van Buren was born as Maarten Van Buren [4] on December 5, 1782, in Kinderhook, New York, about 20 miles (32 km) south of Albany on the Hudson River.

His father, Abraham Van Buren, was a descendant of Cornelis Maessen, a native of Buurmalsen, Netherlands who had emigrated to New Netherland in 1631 and purchased a plot of land on Manhattan Island. [5] [6] Abraham Van Buren had been a Patriot during the American Revolution, [7] [8] and he later joined the Democratic-Republican Party. [9] He owned an inn and tavern in Kinderhook and served as Kinderhook's town clerk for several years. In 1776, he married Maria Hoes (or Goes) Van Alen (1746-1818) in the town of Kinderhook, also of Dutch extraction and the widow of Johannes Van Alen (1744-c. 1773). She had three children from her first marriage, including future U.S. Representative James I. Van Alen. Her second marriage produced five children, of which Martin was the third. [10]

Van Buren received a basic education at the village schoolhouse, and briefly studied Latin at the Kinderhook Academy and at Washington Seminary in Claverack. [11] [12] Van Buren was raised speaking primarily Dutch, and learned English at school as of 2021, [update] he remains the only President whose first language was not English. [13] Also during his childhood, Van Buren learned at his father's inn how to interact with people from varied ethnic, income, and societal groups, which he used to his advantage as a political organizer. [14] His formal education ended in 1796, when he began reading law at the office of Peter Silvester and his son Francis. [15]

Van Buren, at 5 feet 6 inches (1.68 m) tall, was small in stature, and affectionately nicknamed "Little Van". [16] When he began his legal studies he wore rough, homespun clothing, [17] causing the Silvesters to admonish him to pay greater heed to his clothing and personal appearance as an aspiring lawyer. He accepted their advice, and subsequently emulated the Silvesters' clothing, appearance, bearing, and conduct. [18] [19] Despite Kinderhook's strong affiliation with the Federalist Party, of which the Silvesters were also strong supporters, Van Buren adopted his father's Democratic-Republican leanings. [20] The Silvesters and Democratic-Republican political figure John Peter Van Ness suggested that Van Buren's political leanings constrained him to complete his education with a Democratic-Republican attorney, so he spent a final year of apprenticeship in the New York City office of John Van Ness's brother William P. Van Ness, a political lieutenant of Aaron Burr. [21] Van Ness introduced Van Buren to the intricacies of New York state politics, and Van Buren observed Burr's battles for control of the state Democratic-Republican party against George Clinton and Robert R. Livingston. [22] He returned to Kinderhook in 1803, after his admission to the New York bar. [23]

Van Buren married Hannah Hoes (or Goes) in Catskill, New York, on February 21, 1807. She was his childhood sweetheart, and a daughter of his maternal first cousin, Johannes Dircksen Hoes. [24] Like Van Buren, she grew up in a Dutch home in Valatie she spoke primarily Dutch, and spoke English with a marked accent. [25] The couple had five children, four of whom lived to adulthood: Abraham (1807–1873), John (1810–1866), Martin Jr. (1812–1855), Winfield Scott (born and died in 1814), and Smith Thompson (1817–1876). [26] Hannah contracted tuberculosis, and died in Kinderhook on February 5, 1819, at age 35. [27] Van Buren never remarried. [28]

Upon returning to Kinderhook in 1803, Van Buren formed a law partnership with his half-brother, James Van Alen, and became financially secure enough to increase his focus on politics. [29] Van Buren had been active in politics from age 18, if not before. In 1801, he attended a Democratic-Republican Party convention in Troy, New York where he worked successfully to secure for John Peter Van Ness the party nomination in a special election for the 6th Congressional District seat. [30] Upon returning to Kinderhook, Van Buren broke with the Burr faction, becoming an ally of both DeWitt Clinton and Daniel D. Tompkins. After the faction led by Clinton and Tompkins dominated the 1807 elections, Van Buren was appointed Surrogate of Columbia County, New York. [31] Seeking a better base for his political and legal career, Van Buren and his family moved to the town of Hudson, the seat of Columbia County, in 1808. [32] Van Buren's legal practice continued to flourish, and he traveled all over the state to represent various clients. [33]

In 1812, Van Buren won his party's nomination for a seat in the New York State Senate. Though several Democratic-Republicans, including John Peter Van Ness, joined with the Federalists to oppose his candidacy, Van Buren won election to the state senate in mid-1812. [34] Later in the year, the United States entered the War of 1812 against Great Britain, while Clinton launched an unsuccessful bid to defeat President James Madison in the 1812 presidential election. After the election, Van Buren became suspicious that Clinton was working with the Federalist Party, and he broke from his former political ally. [35]

During the War of 1812, Van Buren worked with Clinton, Governor Tompkins, and Ambrose Spencer to support the Madison administration's prosecution of the war. [36] In addition, he was a special judge advocate appointed to serve as a prosecutor of William Hull during Hull's court-martial following the surrender of Detroit. [37] [38] Anticipating another military campaign, he collaborated with Winfield Scott on ways to reorganize the New York Militia in the winter of 1814–1815, but the end of the war halted their work in early 1815. [39] Van Buren was so favorably impressed by Scott that he named his fourth son after him. [40] Van Buren's strong support for the war boosted his standing, and in 1815, he was elected to the position of New York Attorney General. Van Buren moved from Hudson to the state capital of Albany, where he established a legal partnership with Benjamin Butler, [41] and shared a house with political ally Roger Skinner. [42] In 1816, Van Buren won re-election to the state senate, and he would continue to simultaneously serve as both state senator and as the state's attorney general. [43] In 1819, he played an active part in prosecuting the accused murderers of Richard Jennings, the first murder-for-hire case in the state of New York. [44]

Albany regency Edit

After Tompkins was elected as vice president in the 1816 presidential election, Clinton defeated Van Buren's preferred candidate, Peter Buell Porter, in the 1817 New York gubernatorial election. [45] Clinton threw his influence behind the construction of the Erie Canal, an ambitious project designed to connect Lake Erie to the Atlantic Ocean. [46] Though many of Van Buren's allies urged him to block Clinton's Erie Canal bill, Van Buren believed that the canal would benefit the state. His support for the bill helped it win approval from the New York legislature. [47] Despite his support for the Erie Canal, Van Buren became the leader of an anti-Clintonian faction in New York known as the "Bucktails". [48]

The Bucktails succeeded in emphasizing party loyalty and used it to capture and control many patronage posts throughout New York. Through his use of patronage, loyal newspapers, and connections with local party officials and leaders, Van Buren established what became known as the "Albany Regency", a political machine that emerged as an important factor in New York politics. [49] The Regency relied on a coalition of small farmers, but also enjoyed support from the Tammany Hall machine in New York City. [50] Van Buren largely determined Tammany Hall's political policy for the Democratic-Republicans in this era.

A New York state referendum that expanded state voting rights to all white men in 1821, and which further increased the power of Tammany Hall, was guided by Van Buren. [51] Although Governor Clinton remained in office until late 1822, Van Buren emerged as the leader of the state's Democratic-Republicans after the 1820 elections. [52] Van Buren was a member of the 1820 state constitutional convention, where he favored expanded voting rights, but opposed universal suffrage and tried to maintain property requirements for voting. [53]

Entry into national politics Edit

In February 1821, the state legislature elected Van Buren to represent New York in the United States Senate. [54] Van Buren arrived in Washington during the "Era of Good Feelings", a period in which partisan distinctions at the national level had faded. [55] Van Buren quickly became a prominent figure in Washington, D.C., befriending Secretary of the Treasury William H. Crawford, among others. [56] Though not an exceptional orator, Van Buren frequently spoke on the Senate floor, usually after extensively researching the subject at hand. Despite his commitments as a father and state party leader, Van Buren remained closely engaged in his legislative duties, and during his time in the Senate he served as the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee. [57] As he gained renown, Van Buren earned monikers like "Little Magician" and "Sly Fox". [58]

Van Buren chose to back Crawford over John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, and Henry Clay in the presidential election of 1824. [59] Crawford shared Van Buren's affinity for Jeffersonian principles of states' rights and limited government, and Van Buren believed that Crawford was the ideal figure to lead a coalition of New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia's "Richmond Junto". [60] Van Buren's support for Crawford aroused strong opposition in New York in the form of the People's party, which drew support from Clintonians, Federalists, and others opposed to Van Buren. [61] Nonetheless, Van Buren helped Crawford win the Democratic-Republican party's presidential nomination at the February 1824 congressional nominating caucus. [62] The other Democratic-Republican candidates in the race refused to accept the poorly attended caucus's decision, and as the Federalist Party had all but ceased to function as a national party, the 1824 campaign became a competition among four candidates of the same party. Though Crawford suffered a severe stroke that left him in poor health, Van Buren continued to support his chosen candidate. [63] Van Buren met with Thomas Jefferson in May 1824 in an attempt to bolster Crawford's candidacy, and though he was unsuccessful in gaining a public endorsement for Crawford, he nonetheless cherished the chance to meet with his political hero. [64]

The 1824 elections dealt a severe blow to the Albany Regency, as Clinton returned to the governorship with the support of the People's party. By the time the state legislature convened to choose the state's presidential electors, results from other states had made it clear that no individual would win a majority of the electoral vote, necessitating a contingent election in the United States House of Representatives. [65] While Adams and Jackson finished in the top three and were eligible for selection in the contingent election, New York's electors would help determine whether Clay or Crawford would finish third. [66] Though most of the state's electoral votes went to Adams, Crawford won one more electoral vote than Clay in the state, and Clay's defeat in Louisiana left Crawford in third place. [67] With Crawford still in the running, Van Buren lobbied members of the House to support him. [68] He hoped to engineer a Crawford victory on the second ballot of the contingent election, but Adams won on the first ballot with the help of Clay and Stephen Van Rensselaer, a Congressman from New York. Despite his close ties with Van Buren, Van Rensselaer cast his vote for Adams, thus giving Adams a narrow majority of New York's delegation and a victory in the contingent election. [69]

After the House contest, Van Buren shrewdly kept out of the controversy which followed, and began looking forward to 1828. Jackson was angered to see the presidency go to Adams despite having won more popular votes than he had, and he eagerly looked forward to a rematch. [70] Jackson's supporters accused Adams and Clay of having made a "corrupt bargain" in which Clay helped Adams win the contingent election in return for Clay's appointment as Secretary of State. [71] Van Buren was always courteous in his treatment of opponents and showed no bitterness toward either Adams or Clay, and he voted to confirm Clay's nomination to the cabinet. [72] [73] At the same time, Van Buren opposed the Adams-Clay plans for internal improvements like roads and canals and declined to support U.S. participation in the Congress of Panama. [74] Van Buren considered Adams's proposals to represent a return to the Hamiltonian economic model favored by Federalists, which he strongly opposed. [75] Despite his opposition to Adams's public policies, Van Buren easily secured re-election in his divided home state in 1827. [76]

1828 elections Edit

Van Buren's overarching goal at the national level was to restore a two-party system with party cleavages based on philosophical differences, and he viewed the old divide between Federalists and Democratic-Republicans as beneficial to the nation. [77] Van Buren believed that these national parties helped ensure that elections were decided on national, rather than sectional or local, issues as he put it, "party attachment in former times furnished a complete antidote for sectional prejudices". After the 1824 election, Van Buren was initially somewhat skeptical of Jackson, who had not taken strong positions on most policy issues. Nonetheless, he settled on Jackson as the one candidate who could beat Adams in the 1828 presidential election, and he worked to bring Crawford's former backers into line behind Jackson.

He also forged alliances with other members of Congress opposed to Adams, including Vice President John C. Calhoun, Senator Thomas Hart Benton, and Senator John Randolph. [78] Seeking to solidify his standing in New York and bolster Jackson's campaign, Van Buren helped arrange the passage of the Tariff of 1828, which opponents labeled as the "Tariff of Abominations". The tariff satisfied many who sought protection from foreign competition, but angered Southern cotton interests and New Englanders. [79] Because Van Buren believed that the South would never support Adams, and New England would never support Jackson, he was willing to alienate both regions through passage of the tariff. [80]

Meanwhile, Clinton's death from a heart attack in 1828 dramatically shook up the politics of Van Buren's home state, while the Anti-Masonic Party emerged as an increasingly important factor. [81] After some initial reluctance, Van Buren chose to run for Governor of New York in the 1828 election. [82] Hoping that a Jackson victory would lead to his elevation to Secretary of State or Secretary of the Treasury, Van Buren chose Enos T. Throop as his running mate and preferred successor. [83] Van Buren's candidacy was aided by the split between supporters of Adams, who had adopted the label of National Republicans, and the Anti-Masonic Party. [84]

Reflecting his public association with Jackson, Van Buren accepted the gubernatorial nomination on a ticket that called itself "Jacksonian-Democrat". [85] He campaigned on local as well as national issues, emphasizing his opposition to the policies of the Adams administration. [86] Van Buren ran ahead of Jackson, winning the state by 30,000 votes compared to a margin of 5,000 for Jackson. [87] Nationally, Jackson defeated Adams by a wide margin, winning nearly every state outside of New England. [88] After the election, Van Buren resigned from the Senate to start his term as governor, which began on January 1, 1829. [89] While his term as governor was short, he did manage to pass the Bank Safety Fund Law, an early form of deposit insurance, through the legislature. [90] He also appointed several key supporters, including William L. Marcy and Silas Wright, to important state positions. [91]


The Petticoat Affair: Scandalous Peggy Eaton Causes the Dismissal of a Cabinet

The scandalous history of Peggy Eaton caused the cabinet of President Andrew Jackson to fall apart, thus furthering the Jackson-Calhoun split and delaying the Civil War.

Helen of Troy, Joan of Arc…Peggy Eaton? When thinking of women who changed history, Margaret “Peggy” O’Neale Timberlake Eaton is not one who comes to mind however, she may have altered history and the course of events in ways that she must not have realized.

Born on December 3, 1799, Peggy married Senator John Eaton in 1828, during President Andrew Jackson’s presidency. Senator Eaton later became President Jackson’s Secretary of War. Peggy Eaton’s past was colorful and she was rumored to been unfaithful to her first husband, John Timberlake. When she married Eaton, she received a cold reception from the other cabinet-member’s wives due to her assumed sordid past.

The Petticoat Affair and Continued Tension between Jackson and Calhoun

This conduct was especially offensive to President Jackson as it reminded him of the treatment received by his treasured and recently deceased wife Rachel, whom he had married amid rumors of an elicit affair. The shunning of Peggy was led chiefly by Vice President John C. Calhoun’s wife: Floride. Despite sharing the White House with Jackson, Calhoun led the assault against the re-election of Jackson and was in constant opposition to the President in many matters of state. The attitudes of his wife did not help personal matters between the two men.

Called the Petticoat Affair, the behavior of the ladies and their influence upon their husbands created such a disaster that the cabinet fell apart (Jackson dismissed them all), unable to conduct state business because such a scandalous woman was in their midst.

Martin Van Buren

The lone survivor was widowed Martin Van Buren who was able to openly praise and cater to Mrs. Eaton without wifely intervention. Van Buren suggested that the cabinet dissolve over the issue, which it did.

President Jackson rewarded Van Buren by choosing him for his running mate for the 1832 election. Van Buren was then elected president in the following election of 1836 with Jackson’s support.

Peggy’s Life after being a Washington Politician’s Wife

John Eaton resigned from office in 1831 and served as a minister in Madrid, Spain from 1836 to 1840. When he passed away in 1856, Peggy married an Italian dancer who eventually ran away with her money and granddaughter. Peggy died November 8, 1879 in Washington, D.C.

Peggy Eaton changed the course of history by further distancing the Jackson and Calhoun camps: the Democratic Republicans and the Whigs those against and for the Second Bank of the United States for and against the protective tariff. Jackson was able to win re-election and in 1831 stomped the South Carolina attempt to nullify the tariff and secede from the Union, which delayed the Civil War for thirty years. Who knows what would have happened if the scandalous Peggy Timberlake had not married Senator Eaton!


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Former president Andrew Jackson was still the most popular man in the country. Supporters of annexation persuaded the ailing Jackson to write several public letters calling for the ratification of the treaty.

Van Zandt and Henderson sounded almost apologetic instead of triumphant when they notified Secretary of State Anson Jones that a treaty had been signed.

In this letter, Henderson reported on the uproar in the Senate during the annexation debate.

From the beginning of the annexation debate on the Senate floor, no one &mdash not Tyler, not Calhoun, not Mississippi Senator Walker &mdash could control the highly charged political atmosphere.

The Democratic party was torn apart over the annexation question. Eventually, Governor James K. Polk of Tennessee, a strong supporter of annexation and western expansion, began to emerge as the man who could save the party's presidential chances.

The breakneck political developments in the presidential campaign threw the fate of annexation completely up in the air.

The morning after the treaty's defeat, Isaac Van Zandt reported that the growing excitement over Polk's nomination meant annexation hopes were still alive.

Unaware of the failure of the annexation treaty, British Foreign Secretary Lord Aberdeen tried to convince the Texans that Britain could still broker peace with Mexico.

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