5. Van Buren, squired into office by the close popular vote but by the comfortable margin of 170 to 124 votes (for all the Whigs combined) in the Electoral College N. Big Woes for the “Little Magician” 1. Martin Van Buren, eighth president, was the first to be born under the American flag 2. An accomplished strategist and spoils man—the “wizard of Albany”—he was also a statesman of wide experience in both legislative and administrative life 3. From the outset the new president labored under sever handicaps a. As a machine-made candidate, he incurred the resentment of many Democrats—those who objected to having a “bastard politician” smuggled into office behind Jackson b. Mild-mannered Martin Van Buren seemed to rattle in the military boots of his testy predecessor; the people felt let down and Van Buren inherited the Jackson’s enemies c. Van Buren’s four years overflowed with toil and trouble; a rebellion in Canada in 1837 stirred up ugly incidents along the northern frontier and threatened to trigger war with Britain; the president attempted to play a neutral game d. The antislavery agitators in the North were in full cry; among other grievances, they were condemning the prospective annexation of Texas; worst of all, Jackson bequeathed to Van Buren the makings of a searing depression—hard times ordinarily blight the reputation o the president and Van Buren was no exception O. Depression Doldrums and the Independent Treasury 1. The panic of 1837 was a financial sickness of the times; its basic cause was rampant speculation prompted by a mania of get-rich0quickism—gamblers in western land s were doing a “land-office business” on borrowed capital, much of it the shaky currency of “wildcat banks”—the speculative craze spread to canal, roads, railroads, and slaves 2. But speculation alone did not cause the crash; Jacksonian finance, including the Bank War and the Specie Circular, gave an additional jolt to an already teetering structure a. Failures of wheat crops, ravaged by the Hessian fly, deepened the distress b. Grain prices were forced so high that mobs in New York City Stormed warehouses and broke open flour barrels, three weeks before Van Buren took the oath c. Financial stringency abroad likewise endangered America’s economic house of cards; late in 1836 the failure of two prominent British banks created tremors, and these in turn caused British investors to call in foreign loans—resulting pinch in the United
States, combined with other setbacks, heralded the beginning of the panic d. Europe’s economic distresses have often become America’s distresses, for every major American financial panic has been affected by conditions overseas 3. Hardship was acute and widespread; American banks collapsed by the hundreds, including some “pet banks,” which carried down with them several millions in gvt funds; commodity prices drooped, sales of public lands fell off, and customs revenues dried 4. Factories closed their doors and unemployed workers milled in the streets 5. The Whigs came forward with proposals for active government remedies for the economy’s ills; they called for the expansion of bank credit, higher tariffs, and subsidies for internal improvements but Van Buren spurned all such ideas (shackled by Jackson) 6. The beleaguered Van Buren tried to apply vintage Jacksonian medicine to the ailing economy through his controversial “Divorce Bill”; convinced that some of the financial fever was fed by the injection of federal funds into private banks, he championed the principle of “Divorcing” the government from banking altogether 7. By establishing a so-called independent treasury, the government could lock its surplus money in vaults in several of the larger cities; government funds would thus be safe, but they would also be denied to the banking system as reserves (lest credit resources) 8. Van Buren’s “divorce” scheme was never highly popular; his fellow Democrats only supported it lukewarmly and the Whigs condemned it...
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