to the MAKING OF A NATION – American history in VOA Special English.
week in our series, we talked about the election of Martin Van Buren in eighteen
thirty-six as the eighth president of the United States.
Buren had been very close to the outgoing president, Andrew Jackson. Van Buren
had been successful in forming a strong political alliance that helped put
Jackson in the White House in the election of eighteen twenty-eight. Jackson
was grateful for Van Buren's help, and asked him to come to Washington to serve
as secretary of state.
Buren had just been elected governor of the state of New York, but decided to
accept Jackson's offer.
week, Steve Ember and Gwen Outen talk about Martin Van Buren and the start of his
Buren quickly became the most powerful man in Jackson's cabinet. He was able to
help Jackson in negotiations with Britain and France. But his greatest help was
in building a strong political party for Jackson. It was this party that gave
Jackson wide support for his policies.
Buren built up the national Democratic Party with the same methods he used to
build his political organization in New York state. He removed from government
jobs people who had not supported Jackson. These jobs were then given to those
who had supported the president.
Buren served as secretary of state for two years. He resigned because he saw
his resignation as the only way of solving a serious problem Jackson faced.
problem was Vice President John C. Calhoun. Calhoun had presidential hopes. He
did not think Jackson would serve more than one term. And he planned to be a
candidate in the next election.
of the five men in Jackson's cabinet supported Calhoun. Jackson could not trust
wanted to get them out of the cabinet ... but without a political fight.
later, he named Van Buren minister to Britain. But Calhoun's supporters in the
Senate defeated Van Buren's nomination.
time, Jackson had decided that Van Buren would be the best man to follow him as
president. He offered to resign after the eighteen thirty-two elections and
give Van Buren the job of president.
Buren rejected the offer. He said he wanted to be elected by the people. But he
did agree to be Jackson's vice president in eighteen thirty-two.
years later, at Jackson's request, the Democrats chose Van Buren to be their
presidential candidate. He was opposed by several candidates of the newly formed
Whig Party. The opposition was divided. And Van Buren won the election with
Jackson stood beside Martin Van Buren as the new president was sworn-in.
Physically, the two men were very different.
was tall, with long white hair that flowed back over his head. Jackson's health
had been poor during the last few months he spent in the White House. He seemed
tired. There was almost no color in his face.
Buren was much shorter and had much less hair. His eyes were brighter than
those of the old man next to him.
inaugural speech, Van Buren noted that he was the first American born after the
revolution to become president. He said he felt he belonged to a later age. He
called for more unity among Democrats of the North and South. He said better
times were ahead for the country.
Buren had a strange way with words. He could talk with excitement about
something, but say very little about his own feelings on the subject.
he spoke in New York about the tax on imports. Two men who heard the speech
discussed it later. "It was a very able speech," said one man, a wool
buyer. "Yes, very able," answered his friend. There was silence for a
moment. Then the first man spoke again. "Was Mister Van Buren for or
against the import tax?"
president was a warm and friendly man. He tried to keep his political life and
his social life separate. It was not unusual to see him exchange handshakes,
smiles and jokes with men who were his political enemies.
Buren had a poor education as a boy. He went to school only for a few years.
His father was a farmer and hotel keeper at a little town in New York state.
Van Buren had a quick mind and was a good judge of men. But he always felt he
could have done more had he received a college education.
Buren had been president for just a few days when an economic crisis and a
political storm struck the country. The storm had been building for many months.
It really began with the death of the Bank of the United States more than a
Jackson had opposed the powerful bank in which the government's money was kept.
He vetoed a bill that would have continued it.
bank was so strong that it was able to control the economy throughout most of
the country. It did so through its loans to businessmen. By making many loans,
the bank could increase economic activity. By reducing the number of loans, the
economy could be tightened.
Bank of the United States also helped to control the smaller state banks. It
refused to accept the notes, or paper money, of these banks, unless the state
banks were ready to exchange the paper for gold or silver money.
the end of the Bank of the United States, there was little control of any kind
over the state banks. Many new state banks opened. All of them produced large
amounts of paper money -- many times the amount they could exchange for gold or
silver. Much of this paper money was used by business speculators to buy land
from the government.
men bought the land, held it for a while, then sold it for more than they paid.
The government soon found itself with millions of dollars of paper money.
this, President Jackson ordered gold or silver payments only for government
land. This made it necessary for speculators to exchange their paper notes for
gold. Many banks could not do this. They did not have enough gold.
was another problem. Congress passed a law on what was to be done with federal
money not needed by the national government. This extra money, or surplus, was
to be given to the states.
the closing of the Bank of the United States, the government had kept its money
in a number of state banks. Now these banks had to surrender the government
surplus to the state governments. This left even less gold and silver to
exchange for the huge amounts of paper money the banks had issued.
was still another demand for what gold the banks had.
thirty-five and eighteen thirty-seven were bad years for American agriculture.
Many crops failed. Instead of the United States exporting farm products to
Europe, the opposite happened. American traders had to import these things from
Europe. And they had to pay for them in gold or silver.
and more paper money was put into use, the value of the money fell. Prices rose
higher and higher. Poor people found it almost impossible to buy food and other
thirty-five, a barrel of flour cost six dollars. Two years later, the price had
jumped to more than twelve dollars. The same was true with meat and other
foods. Even coal, the fuel people used to heat their homes, cost twice as much.
people protested. But businessmen were satisfied. They wished to continue the
flood of paper money. Violence finally broke out at a protest meeting in New
of angry people heard speakers criticize the use of paper money. Some in the
crowd began demanding action against the rich traders. A crowd of about
one-thousand marched to a nearby store, broke into it, and destroyed large
amounts of flour and grain.
spring of eighteen thirty-seven, the demand on banks for gold and silver grew
too heavy. The banks stopped honoring their promises to exchange their paper
money for gold. They said this was just temporary. That it was necessary to
stop -- for a while -- all payments in gold or silver. The crisis got worse.
will be our story in the next program of THE MAKING OF A NATION.
Our program was written by Frank Beardsley. The narrators were Steve
Ember and Gwen Outen. Transcripts, MP3s
and podcasts of our programs are online, along with historical images, at
voaspecialenglish.com. Join us again next week for THE MAKING OF A NATION - an
American history series in VOA Special English.
This is program #65 of THE
MAKING OF A NATION