Martin Van Buren: The Powerful Politician
Historians tend to underplay the significance of Van Buren’s presidency when evaluating the legacies of American presidents. While Van Buren’s tenure faced economic trouble, the president’s contribution to America’s political system is still evident today. Martin Van Buren was a lawyer and a president who represented the emergence of a new generation of American politicians. Originating from a simple Dutch ancestry, Van Buren took office on March 4, 1837. The leader was short, stout and bald resulting in him not having the capacity to command respect from other politicians at the time of his inauguration. However, Van Buren was constantly charming and had the innate ability to draw out political opinions from other people. The characteristic allowed him to develop and implement policies that were more inclusive and progressive. Martin Van Buren was the most effective president in using diplomacy to control intra-party conflict at a time when America was politically and economically at its weakest.
Van Buren merits recognition for keeping the United States out of two international conflicts. According to Hummel, Van Buren’s diplomatic skill averted the annexation of Texas without weakening U.S-Mexico relations (258). Jacksonian policies encouraged American settlers in the state of Texas to declare independence from the federal government. A successful revolt in the south only required support from the Mexican government to formalize the autonomy. However, the Mexican government refused to acknowledge Texas as an independent country in fear of territorial expansions by the new republic (Hummel 259). On the other hand, the Texan constitution allowed slavery, which increased the probability of conflict with the North. Any occupation by the federal government risked foreign conflict with Mexico and domestic war between the north and south. Van Buren rejected all political calls for annexation from the ruling Democratic party. Moreover, the president negotiated a settlement plan with the Mexican government over the latest expansions. Van Buren’s foreign policy showed his dedication to peace and impartiality.
Van Buren averted initiating a cold war with the British over Canadian territories. Van Buren’s Webster Ashburton Treaty of 1842 was a successful military negotiation that favored both the British and the United States concerning the annexation of Canada (325). The United States, on several occasions, made military attempts to conquer Canada, which had territories under British rule. Civil rebellions in Canada during Van Buren’s tenure increased the political debates for invasion. The killing of an American on board of the Caroline supply ship by Canadian militia only heightened the political pressures for invasion (Cole 322). Following the attack, Van Buren immediately issued proclamations of neutrality. The president would then move to invite the fighting militia to a mediatory mission overseen by General Winfield Scott (Hummel 259). The North was most likely to engage in bloodshed were it not for the negotiations. The negotiations resulted in both sides withdrawing their troops and the United States avoiding a re-initiation of anti-British sentiments in the North.
The greatness of each American president needs to be held to particular standards. Martin Van Buren was not the most influential president in determining the trajectory of America’s history. However, the president was the first to illustrate the power of simple diplomacy in avoiding domestic and foreign conflict. The leader’s commitment to neutrality ensured the country did not experience any civil unrest at a time the nation was rebuilding its economic structures. Van Buren’s tenure teaches on the importance of diplomacy in the establishment of an effective political organization. The principle of neutrality informs on the need to limit the authority of the central government. Van Buren’s diplomatic strategy in the treaty of 1842 teaches on the need to protect public institutions and entities that seek to advance the liberties of the average American without initiating violent responses. The economic recession might make Van Buren’s presidency feel ordinary, but he is the most libertarian president in America’s history.
Cole, Donald. Martin Van Buren and the American Political System. Princeton University Press, 2014.
Hummel, Jeffrey. Martin Van Buren: The Greatest American President. The Independent Review: A Journal of Political Economy, vol. 4, no. 2, 1999, pp. 255-281.