It’s time, my friends. I have been reading American History since fall 2008 and was *still* not any farther than Andrew Jackson almost 6 years later. There will always be more Founding Father and American Revolution books to read. I just had to bite the bullet and move on. So I jumped into all 600+ pages of Martin Van Buren: The Romantic Age of American Politics by John Niven.
Know before you read
As promised in the title, this book is really more about the politics, intrigue, balancing, voting, and power plays that Van Buren was involved in than strictly a biography of Van Buren. His youth and pre-politics life is all crammed into the first thirty pages or so. I’ll need to find another biography to read to get a better sense of the man himself and his personality.
Martin Van Buren
This is not *really* a proper biography of President Van Buren – I don’t feel as though I know the man at all. He more or less built the Democratic party (around Andrew Jackson) and had a hand in most political careers around this time. This book certainly showed why he is called ‘the little magician’. That said, one of my favorite parts of the book was the little tidbits here and there that spoke to the kind of person Van Buren was. I spotted another reviewer call Van Buren the ‘political junky’s President’ and I find that completely accurate.
I, on the otherhand, don’t really do conspiracy and intrigue well. I would be a terrible politician (or criminal). I much rather would learn about the man and his story than the political plots surrounding him. A couple of my favorite passages:
“As always, when Van Buren called up his logical and persuasive powers to their utmost, he was not only able to sway the President but also to gratify his egotism in such a way that Jackson concluded that he had always held this position, that Van Buren had merely clarified it for him” (371).
“[While in the Netherlands] he found three individuals still bearing his name out of the 700 inhabitants. Conversing with them in fluent Dutch, which he had never forgotten, he discovered no trace of any ancestors” (601).
I heard trivia some where that Van Buren was the only U.S. President who spoke English as a second language – and yet this one sentence at the end of the book is the only reference to his language skills. Instead we get pages and pages about President-elect Polk’s Cabinet appointment hemming and hawing.
Martin Van Buren: The Romantic Age of American Politics by John Niven is definitely ‘inside baseball’. It is really only for the more advanced student of American History who wants the deeply in depth back and forth of letters, intrigue, patronage and other backroom deals of the 1820s-40s.