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The Van Buren Boys


I’ve been reading Daniel Walker Howe’s superb What Hath God Wrought. Among its many strong points, it’s much-more clear-eyed about Andrew Jackson than Sean Wilentz’s similar history, and I’ve been meaning to post some of the good stuff about Jackson. For those who think that comparing modern Republicans to Hoover is a little unfair…to Hoover, however, note that in addition to emulating Jackson’s racist imperialism modern Republicans still seemed enamoured with the crazy fiscal policies of his hand-picked successor:

Hard times blighted Van Buren’s entire term. Yet the president offered his suffering country nothing by way of relief. “Those who look to the action of this Government for specific aid to the citizen to relieve embarrassments arising from losses by revulsions in commerce and credit lose sight of the ends for which it was created and the powers with which it is clothed,” he told Congress. All the public could expect from the government was “strict economy and frugality,” and a warning not “to substitute for republican simplicity and economical habits a sickly appetite for effeminate indulgence.” The president rehearsed these stern platitudes not so much because they held out any economic hope as because they identified him as loyal to Andrew Jackson’s legacy. (505)

To answer Glenn Reynolds’s longstanding confusion about whether he’s a Whig or a Jacksonian, he’s pretty clearly the latter. Why some contemporary liberals continue to venerate Old Hickory — largely, if I understand correctly, because of an expansion of the franchise to unpropertied white males that Jackson had essentially nothing to do with — I can’t tell you.

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