EIGHT

Martin Van Buren
1837-41

While the electoral votes for the eighth President of the United States were being counted in the presence of the two Houses of Congress, Senator Henry Clay remarked politely to Vice-President Martin Van Buren: "It is a cloudy day, sir!" 1 Replied Van Buren: "The sun will shine on the 4th of March, sir!"1 He was right. On inaugural morning, March 4, 1837, the sun shone brightly; there wasn't a cloud in the sky. But Van Buren, handpicked by Andrew Jackson to succeed him in the White House, was completely overshadowed by his predecessor at the inauguration. People listened respectfully to Van Buren's inaugural address, but when they caught sight of Jackson afterward, they gave him a tremendous ovation. "For once," remarked Senator Thomas Hart Benton, "the rising sun was eclipsed by the setting sun." 2

Van Buren ( 1782-1862) was never a popular leader like Jackson. In New York, where he rose to political prominence, and in Washington afterward, he was primarily a party organizer, a political strategist, a manipulator of men, and a skilled wheeler-dealer, not a charismatic public figure like Old Hickory. Genial, suave, tactful, good-humored, and something of a dandy, he carefully avoided Jackson's forthrightness in public; and the moral obdurateness of John Quincy Adams was utterly foreign to his spirit. He came, in fact, to be known as a waffler; and the adjective "van-burenish" was coined to describe the kind of political evasiveness which he seemed

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