Encyclopedia of American Parties, Campaigns, and Elections

By William C. Binning; Larry E. Esterly et al. | Go to book overview
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VAN BUREN, MARTIN ( 1782-1862) was born in the Dutch settlement of Kinderhook, Columbia County, New York on December 5, 1782. Becoming, in the 1820s, one of the principal organizers of the Jacksonian Democratic Party, it is alleged that the young Van Buren acquired an early interest in politics listening to the debate about candidates and issues among the farm and village patrons of his father's tavern. Largely self-educated, Van Buren, age fourteen, began the study of law with a local attorney, later continuing that study in New York City. Admitted to the bar in 1803, Van Buren practiced in Columbia County, appointed surrogate there in 1808. Four years later he was elected to the New York Senate where he served, with rapidly rising influence, until 1821. In this period Van Buren became increasingly active in the factional politics that constituted Jeffersonian Republicanism in New York State. Never forgiving Dewitt Clinton for his brief flirtation with the Federalists, accepting that party's presidential nomination in 1812, Van Buren battled the Clintonians to the very day of Governor Clinton's death in February of 1828. Despite some largely personal victories scored by Clinton in the 1820s, it was Van Buren who by that time controlled New York politics, having organized a statewide political machine under his personal leadership and that of a council of selected partisans known as the "Albany Regency"; the machine relying heavily on the use of a strict patronage distributed on the basis of party (i.e., factional) loyalty, a tightly controlled state legislative caucus, and a dedicated and talented governing elite. It was these superb organizational and manipulative skills, combined with his modest height, that were to earn Van Buren the nickname the "Little Magician." It was, however, this same ability and emphasis that led to a lifelong perception of Van Buren as a man more interested in politics as a pragmatic means to power than as a principled means to policy. Secure in the assessment that the


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Encyclopedia of American Parties, Campaigns, and Elections


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