John C. Calhoun resigned the Vice Presidency after a deeply personal split with President Andrew Jackson. Jackson chose to replace Calhoun with Martin Van Buren. Calhoun’s replacement adroitly positioned himself within the White House to gain Jackson’s favor. As Vice President, Van Buren presided over a deeply fractured Senate, positioned himself for the presidency, and remained loyal to President Jackson.
Vice President Calhoun and President Jackson feuded over states’ rights and the right of secession. At one point, Jackson threatened to invade Calhoun’s native South Carolina. On top of this, Calhoun’s wife led the ostracism of Secretary of War John Eaton’s wife. Jackson furiously ordered the cabinet wives to socialize with Mrs. Peggy Eaton, but they refused. Martin Van Buren used the controversies to ingratiate himself with the president. Jackson grew found of Van Buren and placed him on the ticket. Jackson-Van Buren won an overwhelming electoral victory over Henry Clay in 1832.
Henry Clay and other anti-Jacksonians stung from their election defeat remained angry over the Bank War. Jackson killed the Second Bank of the United States, removed its deposits, and placed them into pro-Jackson state banks. Clay attacked Jackson’s actions and implicated Vice President Van Buren. The senate censured Jackson after three months of debate. During the fireworks, Van Buren remained calm while outsourcing his defense to New York’s Silas Wright. Senate rules prohibit Vice Presidents from entering debate.
The Bank War was not the only controversial issue facing America. Abolitionist agitation began infiltrating the political discourse. Van Buren accused the abolitionists of distracting the country from the real issues of the time. Southerners believed Van Buren an abolitionist, but the Vice President outmaneuvered them. Essentially, he played both sides of the issue. He attacked abolitionists and even voted for a bill to allow the postal service to censor abolitionist mailings. However, Van Buren knew the bill would eventually die.
Van Buren remained a loyal Jacksonian throughout his four-year term. At the same time, he managed to position himself for a presidential run. For example, many believed Van Burn sympathetic to abolition while others thought the opposite. In the end, Jackson loved his Vice President and endorsed him for the presidency in 1836. Jackson’s endorsement alleviated concerns over Van Buren and led to his election with 51% of the vote making him the first Vice President since John Adams to win the presidency.
Martin Van Buren was an extremely successful politician. He served and flattered the right patron in Andrew Jackson. Jackson rewarded Van Buren’s loyalty with an endorsement for the 1836 Presidential Election. At the same time, Van Buren tended to take both sides of controversial issues confounding his opponents and confusing voters. His enemies eventually undermined Van Buren after his election as president. However, as Vice President, Van Buren proved able and cunning.