Van is a used up man." The Little Van they're singing about is Martin Van Buren, the 8th President of the United States. It happens to be his birthday today. Little Van, also known as "the Little Magician", was born on December 5, 1782 (231 years ago today) in the village of Kinderhook, New York. His father Abraham Van Buren was a farmer and a tavern keeper who was also the owner of six slaves. Although he would serve as Vice President to one of the defenders of the institution of slavery (Andrew Jackson), Little Van would break with his party on that issue and later become an abolitionist.
They probably called him "Little Van" because he was one of the shortest Presidents at 5 feet, 6 inches. Van Buren was known as for his impeccable appearance notwithstanding his humble background, something that was used against him by the Whig Party spin doctors in the election of 1840. As a young lawyer he became involved in New York politics rising to a lofty position in his New York political organization from which he dispensed public offices to optimum effect for his party. In 1821 was elected to the United States Senate.
By 1827 he had emerged as the principal northern leader for President Andrew Jackson. Jackson rewarded Van Buren by appointing him Secretary of State, which in those days gave one a leg up in the race to become president. Van Buren emerged as Jackson's most trusted adviser. Jackson described van Buren as "a true man with no guile."
A rift developed in Jackson's Cabinet became serious because of Jackson's differences with Vice President John C. Calhoun over nullification of federal laws and also because of something called "the Pettycoat Affair" in which the wives of Jackson's cabinet became very catty to Peggy Eaton, the wife of Jackson's Secretary of War. When Jackson asked for the resignations of his cabinet, Van Buren and Secretary Eaton resigned and Jackson appointed a new Cabinet. He rewarded Van Buren by appointing him Minister (Ambassador) to Great Britain. Vice President Calhoun, as President of the Senate, cast the deciding vote against the appointment. In response, Jackson dumped Calhoun from the Democratic Party ticket in the next election and replaced him with Van Buren, who was elected Vice President in 1832. Jackson groomed Van Buren to be his successor and Van Buren was elected President in 1836.
When Van Buren took office the country was prosperous, but less than three months later the panic of 1837 struck and that prosperity was gone quickly. Andrew Jackson's financial measures contributed to the crash. His destruction of the Second Bank of the United States had removed restrictions upon the inflationary practices of some state banks. Wild speculation in lands, based on easy bank credit, had swept the West. To end this speculation, in 1836 Jackson required that land be purchased with gold or silver. As a result hundreds of banks and businesses failed. Thousands lost their lands. For about five years the nation suffered the worst depression thus far in its history.
Van Buren's remedy was to continue Jackson's deflationary policies. It just made things worse. Van Buren opposed the creation of a new Bank of the United States and also opposed placing government funds in state banks. He fought for the establishment of an independent treasury system to handle Government transactions.
As President Van Buren was opposed to the expansion of slavery. He blocked the annexation of Texas because it would add to slave territory, an issue on which he broke with his mentor, Old Hickory. Van Buren was defeated by the Whigs in 1840 for reelection in the "Whiskey and Hard Cider" campaign which utilized the "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too" slogan and song.
Van Buren ran for President on the Free Soil Party ticket in 1848 (an anti-slavery party), but he lost again. Van Buren retired to his home in Kinderhook. After being bedridden with a case of pneumonia during the fall of 1861, Martin Van Buren died of bronchial asthma and heart failure at his Lindenwald estate in Kinderhook at 2:00 a.m. on July 24, 1862. He was 79 years old.