Dead Presidents Series

Everything you need to know about Presidents John Quincy Adams and Martin Van Buren.  Their presidencies are fortetable enough, the imports of their careers taking place elsewhere, and thus I have nothing to say about them. 

John Quincy Adams is thought of as the Greatest Secretary of State in American history, being the author of the Monroe Doctrine. 

The Monroe Administration is known as the “Era of Good Feeling”, James Monroe’s re-election having been a near unanimous, one dissenting vote to preserve George Washington’s fame, affair.  Martin Van Buren believed his lowest common denominator of a Republican — Federalist fusionism fell too far toward the by now virtually dead Federalist party, and thus deigned to create out of various political machinery extent in the nation a more disciplined national political party than had existed before.  Historians, in their rankings of the presidents, place Van Buren right in the middle of the pack, and note that he coined the word “ok” — wryly noting that that’s an apt phrase for his presidency before describing him as a political hack.  To call him a political hack is to simply define him and not do justice to him, for Martin Van Buren is THE political hack, having hacked out the Democratic Party.

The details of his creation of the Democratic Party are a bit mysterious, but it was a bunch of behind the scenes manuevering and noted at the time more or less as “something fishy is going on here”.  The most notable and telling part of his dealings comes with a correspondance between him (the most powerful politician in New York state) and a powerful Virginia Senator that amounts to “you scratch my back; I’ll scratch yours”, an agreement to pull together their political clout and electoral weight in determining the national agenda and the next president.  The veiled agreement that was made in this new coalition, and which would unravel the Democratic Party soon and a century hence, as well as the nation, was that the issue of slavery would be ignored.  (The precursor for the next century being the issue of segregation, slavery’s bastard off-spring.)

In his post-presidency, with all due respect to Jimmy Carter fans probably the greatest post-presidency in American history, Congressman John Quincy Adams acted as a bomb thrower by holding forth against slavery, reading citizens’ petitions on the house floor.  This prompted a gag rule to shut him up, revealing the contradictions in the Democratic Party and exasperating the nation’s continuing crisis on the slavery line onto regional lines.  Adams continued on his path and evaded the gag rule through the use of parliamentary tricks, continuing to incense the southern contingent of politicos.

I mistakeningly thought that this was the part of John Quincy Adams’s career marked in John F Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage, but apparently Kennedy profiled something from Adams’s pre-presidential Senatorial career, a moment that served as a break for Adams from the Federalist Party to the Republican Party (or, if you will, the amalgrated one-party government of James Monroe.)  Adams would later go on to win his House seat under the temporal Anti-Mason Party label (a party which ceased to exist after it successfully made Mason membership a political liability), and then the Whig Party which came into existence to oppose the newly formed Democratic Party.

For his part, Martin Van Buren abandoned the Democratic Party and ran for president under the Free Soil banner.  He received 10 percent of the vote and played spoiler for the same Democratic Party he had hacked together.  The Free Soilers generally served as part of the base of the Republican Party that would emerge triumphant as the Democratic Party splintered apart as the Southern “Slave Power” demanded furthering the institution of slavery and the northern Democrats and Whigs remained forever wishy-washy on the subject.

Their presidencies were better than the presidencies of everyone leading up to Lincoln, Polk excepted, but nobody remembers a thing about it.

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