Before Martin “Little Magician” Van Buren was elected, the United States was experiencing great prosperity. Van Buren was the vice president under Andrew Jackson in this prosperous time for the country from 1833 to 1837. In 1836, Jackson destroyed the Second Bank of the United States, thus removing restrictions placed on some state banks regarding inflation. This caused speculation about easy bank credit. For this speculation to end, Jackson issued a Specie Circular which made it so all land must be purchased with hard money like gold. This made Richard Lawrence make an attempt on Jackson’s life, the first attempt on any President’s life. The consequences of defunding the Bank of the United States were not really noticed until three months after Van Buren took office in 1837. Coming into office, relations with Mexico were not the best they have been especially after Texas declared their independence in 1836. Texas’ annexation request was pending as Van Buren was inaugurated. Coming into office, Van Buren was faced with difficult situations left to him by the prior administration. Van Buren resolved the growing tensions with Mexico, but could not fix the major depression that struck the United States in 1837 making him extremely unpopular among the people. This ruined his reelection bid, even though the depression was not entirely his fault.
Martin Van Buren had some part in the destruction of the Second Bank of the United States, but the consequences that followed were not entirely his fault. The way he handled the situation did, however, fuel the depression and made it worse. This destroyed his chances of reelection in 1840. “The new president, Van Buren, of course received most of the blame, although the previous administration was responsible for the depression because of its ill-advised directives.” (New Netherland Institute) Even though the panic of 1837 was not entirely Van Buren’s fault, he could have ended the depression using different policies than the ones he used. “Van Buren’s remedy–continuing Jackson’s deflationary policies–only deepened and prolonged the depression.” (White House) Martin Van Buren did not cause the panic of 1837, but he was a part of the presidency that did. Andrew Jackson’s ideas corrupted Van Buren. This laid out the reason why Van Buren dealt with the panic of 1837 by continuing Jackson’s policies. These policies included refusing to create a new Bank of the United States, fighting for an independent treasury system, and cutting all funds to internal improvements. “Van Buren emerged as the President’s most trusted adviser. Jackson referred to him as, “a true man with no guile.” (White House) Van Buren had a wealth of political experience before his Presidency which included being a Senator, Secretary of State, and Vice President. This experience guided the reason he did what he did to try to fix the depression. The roles of Secretary of State and Vice President were appointed to Van Buren by President Andrew Jackson because Jackson was rewarding Van Buren for his continued loyalty to Jackson’s Presidency. “Van Buren was never able to escape the blame for an economic recession that lingered into the 1840 election season.”(Constitution Center) Jackson was not the only one who respected Van Buren but the people of the United States respected him as well. This respect was lost during Van Buren’s presidency because at the time the people of the United States thought that the panic of 1837 was Van Buren’s fault, ruining his public image and chances for a second administration.
Martin Van Buren was very effective in avoiding war and keeping tolerable relations with other countries during his Presidency. He was able to defuse situations with Mexico and Great Britain that would have eventually developed into wars. “Inclined more and more to oppose the expansion of slavery, Van Buren blocked the annexation of Texas because it assuredly would add to slave territory–and it might bring war with Mexico.” (White House) Texas had declared independence in 1836 and requested annexation into the United States. Texas’ request was pending at the time of Van Buren’s inauguration, but it was declined by Van Buren because Van Buren was inclined to end the expansion of slavery and if Texas was annexed, it would become a slave state with no new Northern state to balance the anti-slavery states and slavery states. Van Buren declined the annexation for another reason, war with Mexico. Mexico did not want to lose the Texas territory, and were willing to fight the United States over the land. “Van Buren’s patient diplomacy, which defused tensions between the United States and Great Britain, kept America out of war.” (Joel Silbey) There were rising tensions between Great Britain and the United States on the New York-Canada and Maine-Canada border because a small group in Canada wanted independence from Britain in 1837. This uprising failed but the separatists retreated to the United States and started recruiting Americans. These Americans shipped guns and supplies to the separatists, but Britain ordered the destruction of one of these ships. This killed one American. Americans retaliated by burning a British ship causing tension between the United States and Britain. Van Buren was able to defuse this dispute peacefully by sending General Winfield Scott to the region. Scott made it clear to American citizens that the United States would not help them if they decided to attack the British. Then, Van Buren proclaimed neutrality to the situation. Another crisis rose when Americans settled on lands between the border of Maine and Canada, which was claimed by Britain and the United States. Britain forcefully removed some Americans and put others in prison. The governor of Maine at the time called for Van Buren to send American troops to the region. Van Buren settled this crisis by asking the British minister to the United States if they could resolve the crisis diplomatically. General Scott was sent to the area to calm the governor and those fueling the tensions down. “The criticism Van Buren took in both cases was quite considerable, and added to the substantial indictment his opponents filed against his presidency.” (Joel Silbey) Many Americans in Maine and New York did not approve of the way that Van Buren decided to settle these disputes because they thought he should have taken a more aggressive stance after the loss of American lives and land, but these disputes were settled in a more effective way in which more American lives were not lost.