The first president born after America's independence ushers in a new era of no-holds-barred democracy
The first "professional politician" to become president, the slick and dandyish Martin Van Buren was to all appearances the opposite of his predecessor, the rugged general and Democratic champion Andrew Jackson. Van Buren, a native Dutch speaker, was America's first ethnic president as well as the first New Yorker to hold the office, at a time when Manhattan was bursting with new arrivals. A sharp and adroit political operator, he established himself as a powerhouse in New York, becoming a U.S. senator, secretary of state, and vice president under Jackson, whose election he managed. His ascendancy to the Oval Office was virtually a foregone conclusion.
Once he had the reins of power, however, Van Buren found the road quite a bit rougher. His attempts to find a middle ground on the most pressing issues of his day-such as the growing regional conflict over slavery-eroded his effectiveness. But it was his inability to prevent the great banking panic of 1837, and the ensuing depression, that all but ensured his fall from grace and made him the third president to be denied a second term. His many years of outfoxing his opponents finally caught up with him.
Ted Widmer, a veteran of the Clinton White House, vividly brings to life the chaos and contention that plagued Van Buren's presidency-and ultimately offered an early lesson in the power of democracy.
" … Widmer (Young America) paints a brief but elegant portrait of our eighth president, who, Widmer says, created the modern political party system, for which he deserves our 'grudging respect.' " - Publishers Weekly
|Publisher:||Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.|
|Series:||American Presidents Series|
|File size:||373 KB|
About the Author
Ted Widmer is the director of the C. V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience at Washington College. He is the author of Young America and the co-author, with Alan Brinkley, of Campaigns. Widmer served as senior adviser to President Clinton and director of speechwriting at the National Security Council. He lives in Maryland.
Ted Widmer directs the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University. He was a foreign policy speechwriter and senior adviser to President Clinton, and is Senior Research Fellow of the New America Foundation. He is a frequent contributor to The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The New York Observer.
Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., (1917-2007) was the preeminent political historian of our time. For more than half a century, he was a cornerstone figure in the intellectual life of the nation and a fixture on the political scene. He won two Pulitzer prizes for The Age of Jackson (1946) and A Thousand Days (1966), and in 1988 received the National Humanities Medal. He published the first volume of his autobiography, A Life in the Twentieth Century, in 2000.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
There are so many ways to dislike this book; however, I will try to stick to the most significant. The book is a mere 170+ pages long and the first 50 pages are completely disjointed and difficult to follow. Mid-way through, it begin to make more sense and be readable, but the entire section on Van Buren's youth and "rise to power" are a mess. This is too bad because I think one of the most interesting parts of a presidential biography is what formed these men into what they came to be. Perhaps there just wasn't much to speak of for Mr. Van Buren? The book also seems to apologize - or at least minimize - Van Buren's tacit support (prior to retirement) of slavery and the Jacksonian mistreatment of the indians. While giving brief comments on these serious topics, the author expends far too much effort trying to convince us how smart and clever Van Buren was, but with few examples to back it up. His rise to power is explained almost entirely by his ability to "get along" with people. Really!? Lastly, and by far the most irritating of the entire book, are the frequent contemporary references that YANK the reader out of the 1800's and back into the present day annoyances. Does a presidential biography really need to make passing references to Yahoo, the Simpsons, Doonesberry, and modern day political bickering? In some ways, this book read more like a campaign brochure than a biography. I hated this book, but thankfully it was only 170+ pages.
Arthur Schlesinger's "American Presidents Series" has an admirable goal - giving a concise account of each American president. Each book is written by a different author. They are not at the depth I would like (at just over 162 pages, this seems to be one of the longer ones!) so I have to assume that this is Schlesinger's preference - sort of an "American Presidents Lite". Sadly, for many of our presidents, there's not too much out there, and this seemed to be the case with Van Buren. What there was appeared to be well researched and presented in an understandable and thought provoking manner. It's a worthy entry in the series given the regrettable emphasis on brevity. If there is something better out there, I didn't find it.