Andrew Jackson’s Third Term

Martin Van Buren.

Martin Van Buren, President Andrew Jackson’s hand-picked heir, would carry out many of Jackson’s policies, such as the removal of the Native Americans westward, as he was elected in the election of 1836. President Jackson also fundamentally changed the nature of the presidency.

After two terms, President Jackson had “extended the circle of presidential advisors, expanded the patronage to be dispensed, and broadened use of the veto power.” Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 483. However, with all of the power that President Jackson had created for himself, so much of the power was not institutional but rather exclusively for President Jackson. Id. While Van Buren would come to the White House as an heir apparent to President Jackson, he would not have the same charisma and personality that made Jackson successful. See id.

As president, Van Buren sought to dedicate himself to the vision of the Founding Fathers. See id. at 483-84. His presidency would “put the final nail in the coffin of Monroe’s Era of Good Feelings, which John Quincy Adams had tried to perpetuate, and buried the Founders’ aspiration to nonpartisanship.” Id. at 484. Instead, Van Buren would embrace partisanship, viewing it “as a legitimate feature of government instead of considering them (as all conventional political philosophers then did) a dangerous perversion.” Id. In fact, in his autobiography, he wrote: “It has always therefore struck me as more honorable and manly, and more in harmony with the character of our People and of our Institutions, to deal with the subject of Political Parties in a sincerer and wiser spirit—to recognize their necessity, [and] to give them the credit they deserve.” Id. quoting Martin Van Buren, Autobiography, ed. John Fitzpatrick (Washington, 1920), 199.

President Van Buren hoped to put the economic conflicts behind him, to avoid the controversies of President Jackson’s two terms. Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 488. This would not happen, perhaps just another manifestation of how it was Jackson’s third term.

John Quincy Adams had the following to say about a third term for the Jacksonian Democrats:

“The American Union as a moral Person in the family of Nations, is to live from hand to mouth, to cast away, instead of using for the improvement of its own condition, the bounties of Providence, and to raise to the summit of Power a succession of Presidents the consummation of whose glory will be to growl and snarl with impotent fury against a money broker’s shop, to rivet into perpetuity the clanking chain of the Slave, and to waste in boundless bribery to the west the invaluable inheritance of the Public lands.” Id. quoting John Quincy Adams to Charles Upham, Feb. 2, 1837, “Ten Unpublished Letters of John Quincy Adams,” Huntington Library Quarterly 4 (1941): 383.

At the dawn of Van Buren’s presidency in 1836, Americans expected a continuation of Jackson’s policies. They must have expected the strong, assertive style of Jackson only to be somewhat surprised by Van Buren. Jackson had dominated politics since the early 1820s, when the Democratic Party was founded. While Van Buren was one of the most loyal disciples to Jackson’s ideology, he would not bring the effectiveness that a real third term of Jackson’s presidency would bring. While Adams was right to be concerned about Jackson’s ideology, perhaps it would not be quite as disastrous as he predicted.

Leave a Reply