Thursday, April 17, 2008

Martin Van Buren: He had a lot more nicknames than terms of office

Have you ever seen a more impressive pair of sideburns?


Martin Van Buren served as President of the United States 1837-1841. He was a Dutch American. The first president to be born as a citizen (the country didn't exist yet when those other old fogies were born), he grew up in Kinderhook,* NY with his Dutch-American parents. They spoke Dutch at home. Roommate A was an exchange student in the Netherlands in high school, and she says once you start understanding Dutch, you start to feel really stupid for not getting it before, since it's so closely related to English. But we can all still hope that Martin Van Buren had a bit of an accent. Because that would amuse me. He was known as a deliberate man, "careful" in his political dealings, always polite to his enemies and never quick to anger. This is probably due to the fact that, as we all know, Dutch people spend all their time smoking pot and fucking whores. Keeps everybody on an even keel, is what I'm saying. Not that Martin Van Buren did that stuff. That we know of.


So, of course, like all good politicians, Martin Van Buren started out as a lawyer. But he was too ambitious not to go into politics. Van Buren gained his reputation as a magician (or a wizard-- Expelliarmus!) by working with various figures and factions to help construct a political machine in New York state, and later help bring Andrew Jackson to power. He was totally all about building up a spoils system (James Garfield says thanks, by the way) and led a Democratic movement called the Bucktails. Why don't we name more political factions after animals these days? Is is because we'll be labeled as hippie environmentalist tree hugging spotted owl fuckers? Because I would totally agitate on behalf of, like, a sloth party. Maybe that sends the wrong message, I've heard rumors that people think Congress "moves slowly." Those people have never had to work at a gas station and wait for old people with shaky hands to write you checks for their gas with a huge line of annoyed customers waiting behind them.** No, maybe a velociraptor movement would be more effective. Oh yeah, Martin Van Buren. So Martin Van Buren was some sort of ridiculous political genius. And he was 5'6". Hence, "Little Magician," etc.


So, after holding some more local positions, Martin Van Buren was elected to the Senate in the 1820s. Some crazy shit went down, like the Corrupt Bargain of 1824, various tariff and slavery shenanigans, etc. So even though the snappily-dressed "Petticoat Pet" Van Buren was totally BFF with Andrew Jackson, he remained on good terms with John Quincy Adams and Henry Clay, managing not to alienate any opponents. But he campaigned hard for Jackson in the election of 1828, touring various states and using what are now known by political nerds as "grassroots organizing" methods. Van Buren had a brief term as New York's governor, but resigned when Jackson appointed him Secretary of State. Now, Jackson's cabinet was full of craziness. They called it the Kitchen Cabinet for reasons I am too lazy to look up, but there was one of my favorite political scandals, the Peggy Eaton Affair, which helped fuck over slave state-loving and bad hair enthusiast John C. Calhoun's political prospects, but due to his polite and politic treatment of Mrs. Eaton and ability to remain untouched by the various rivalries and political dust ups, Martin Van Buren emerged as Jackson's heir apparent.

Secrets of Andrew Jackson's popularity revealed. First presidential candidate to give me (or Martin Van Buren) a piggyback ride gets my vote. I guess McMaverick's out. ('Cause he's old, see.)


Some people called him the Red Fox. Because he had red hair. And he was a sly and savvy politician. He had helped build what became to be known as the Democratic Party. They held their first real convention in 1832. Van Buren was chosen as Jackson's vice presidential running mate, and they won in a landslide. He is credited with the spread of "Jacksonian Democracy," but as far as I know, vice presidents never really do much, so that's all I have to say about that.


Andrew Jackson's tailcoats were awesomely long and pulled Van Buren (there were even "O.K. clubs" full of his supporters) right into the White House, defeating William Henry Harrison (Ol' Tippecanoe) in the 1836 election. Unfortunately for Van Buren, 1837 brought with it one of our young nation's first economic crises. They called these "panics" back then, and it was known as the Panic of 1837. Apparently everything fell apart, though it wasn't really Van Buren's fault. He totally got Jimmy Cartered. Or rather, Jimmy Carter totally got Van Burened. There were various treasury issues, border conflicts with the British in Canada, he refused to annex Texas (saved that for Polk-y!) and he got a new nickname from those suffering from the economic depression, "Martin Van Ruin." No Van Burenvilles, that I know of, however.****


Maybe they called him this because he "flew" out of office in 1841 after being defeated by his old rival Tippecanoe (who died in office, haha). He tried to run again in 1844 and was nominated by some crazies in 1848, but nothing panned out. Also, he was once a slaveowner and was kind of ambivalent about that whole "free vs. slave states" situation, but supposedly he supported Lincoln later on. Probably because Lincoln was like 17 inches taller than him and could have broken his little Dutch ass in half. But that's not how Abe rolled. Anyway, Martin Van Buren died eventually of some sort of illness back in Kinderhook or something. Blahblahblah. Here's more nicknames:

-The American Tallyrand
-Little Van
-The Little Dutchman
-Machiavellian Belshazzar

Some of the nicknames herein were affectionately borrowed from a newly-discovered presidential blogging compatriot at The Life Tussle.

*Which I believe means "murder your children" in Dutch. Or German. Whatever.


***Some people on the internet claim this is the origin of the word "O.K." I refuse to believe it or to research it any further. Also, I prefer the spelling "okay," because it's a word, not a fucking corrall.

****Hoovervilles. They're funny. So is the word "shantytown." It sounds like a place where you just sing ridiculous tunes about the ocean all day. Like sea shanties. Wow, this Diet Coke I'm drinking must have, like, super tangent-inducing powers or something, because I am on one today.


  1. Machiavellian Belshazzar??? How did you not talk about that one?

    Also, I agree with spelling out "okay". It just looks better.

  2. Because I don't know what it means, but if you google it, this post comes up on the first page!

  3. Thanks for the Peggy Eaton shout out! I'm going to assume that was for me, even if it wasn't.

    Also, The "Kitchen Cabinet," thusly named for the phrase "when the kitchen (aka the political cronies on the side) predominates over the Parlor (aka the actual appointed members of the Cabinet)"

    Clark Clifford was famously a member of JFK and LBJ's kitchen cabinets! Cliffy boy then replaced Robert McNamara as Sec of Def in 1968 at the peak of the Vietnam War. Sucks to have that job!

  4. Kinderhook translates roughly as childrenscorner from dutch. Unfortunately nothing as spectacular as childmurderer.