Van Buren - Friend or Foe? with Jeff Hummel

Our lengthy debate about who Van Buren really was as a person and as a President continues with new thoughts from Jeff Hummel. 

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Jeff Hummel joins our lengthy debate about who Van Buren really was as a person and as a President. Hummel argues that Van Buren took a small “r” republican position for most of his career, both in the law and in politics. Hummel also argues that Van Buren was more consistent as President than those who came before him.

Why would Jeff Hummel categorize Van Buren as the “least bad” President? Why is Van Buren considered the first “ethnic President”? Was Van Buren consistently classically liberal? How does Van Buren compare to Calhoun? What did Van Buren think was the purpose of political parties?

Further Reading:

Jeff Hummel’s articles on Van Buren: In The Independent and from Reassessing the Presidency

Curtis, James C. The Fox at Bay: Martin Van Buren and the Presidency, 1837-1841. Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky. 1970.

Silbey, Joel. Martin Van Buren and the Emergence of American Popular Politics. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. 2002.

Van Buren, Martin. Inquiry into the Origin and Course of Political Parties in the United States. New York: Hurd and Houghton. 1867.

The Autobiography of Martin Van Buren, Edited by John C. Fitzpatrick. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office. 1920.

Widmer, Edward. Martin Van Buren. New York: Times Books. 2005.

Related Content:

Free Soil After Van Buren, Liberty Chronicles Episode

Van Buren’s Dirty Game, Liberty Chronicles Episode

What’s a Loco-Foco?, Liberty Chronicles Episode

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00:07 Anthony Comegna: Over these past many months now, we’ve had a great deal of criticism for America’s eighth president, and one of your average libertarian’s favorites. Martin Van Buren fearlessly advanced one of the strongest laissez-faire agendas in our history, yet he did it at the expense of minorities and moral principles. He wanted a streamlined and small government, but he also wanted it run by party bosses like himself. So what to do with this man, this supposed Free Soiler, this American Talleyrand? For a little help in making a full assessment, I’ve invited Jeffrey Rogers Hummel on the show. Jeff has a PhD in history from UT Austin, and his book, Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men, remains the most important and best libertarian treatment of the period to date.

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01:10 Anthony Comegna: Welcome to Liberty Chronicles, a project of libertarianism.org, I’m Anthony Comegna.

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01:20 Anthony Comegna: Okay, so Jeff Hummel, thank you so much for being on the show. And I wanna… Since you are “the guy”, you are the guy out there among libertarians who made us start thinking about Martin Van Buren as one of our choices for a great president or a good president at least, the best president in some people’s view. So today, I wanted to invite you on so that we could have a wide assessment of Van Buren, the man, the politician, the President, the partisan, the ideologue perhaps, if that’s your view. I wanted to get you on to have a real full and complete assessment of what exactly we do with this guy, Martin Van Buren, as libertarians. So now, through the course of the interview, I think I’m probably going to, let’s say, play the whiggery to your strong dose of democracy, ‘cause I know…

02:17 Jeff Hummel: Alright. [chuckle]

02:18 Anthony Comegna: I know you’re a fan of Van Buren, but I wanna be the devil’s advocate and advocate for the Whigs here. [chuckle] So first…

02:26 Jeff Hummel: Okay, let me just clarify, I would rather characterize him as the least bad president in history.

[laughter]

02:34 Anthony Comegna: Okay. That…

02:36 Jeff Hummel: That’s actually in libertarian terms.

02:38 Anthony Comegna: Let’s start there, because I was talking with one of my professors in grad school about this. He’s a Marxist and sort of a hardcore one at that, and he doesn’t like any American presidents either. And so I was asking, “Well, who is your favourite?” And he just kinda looked at me quizzically like, “Why bother choosing one? They’re all so bad, why pick one?” So let me ask you, why Van Buren?

03:02 Jeff Hummel: Well, let me answer the first question, why do you pick one? And the answer is that you can have these set of principles, whether they’re Marxist principles or libertarian principles, and by those extreme standards, nearly all political figures are going to fail. But that sort of ignores the significant differences between someone like Adolf Hitler and [chuckle] someone like Martin Van Buren. So everything goes by degrees. And I think as historians, we should be sensitive to these distinctions because they are the stuff of history. And of course, in current politics, there may be cases where there’s no significant difference between the options you face, but very often there are important differences. And I end up supporting what I consider to be the least bad alternative.

04:14 Anthony Comegna: So now, before we launch into talking details about his political career, let’s start with just what sort of person was Van Buren? Because historians today, for example, make a lot of the fact that Van Buren was, in some ways at least, considered America’s first ethnic president, because he was from an old Dutch family in New York and from an area of the country that was very culturally Dutch, which marked him as somebody ethnically distinct from the Anglo-Saxons that predominated elsewhere. What about Van Buren’s personal life, the…

04:53 Jeff Hummel: Well, I think that’s… You’re right. He was born in upstate New York in 1782, he was Dutch. By the way, he was born, coincidentally, close to where I was born. And he was actually born from a humble family. He wasn’t… His family was not part of the political elites at the time. He trained as a lawyer and he started his career primarily defending the tenants in upstate New York and actually all along the Hudson River valley, because as you know, that was an area where you still had a vestige of a landed feudal elite. He was affable, [laughter] he was well dressed, and he was politically wily, which are characteristics that nearly everyone points out about him on the personal level.

06:01 Anthony Comegna: Did he stand out in any of those ways from the majority of his countrymen?

06:05 Jeff Hummel: Well, I wouldn’t say… There was great variation, so I wouldn’t say that he had a reputation for being more politically sophisticated, more politically effective and more politically manipulated. I believe that’s a bit overplayed and to the extent that it’s true, it’s true in his early career but it’s not true in his later career. In other words, he takes a lot of principled stands, both as president and after president, that if he was only interested in the political aggrandizement, they were obvious mistakes. For instance, his position on Texas, in the election in which Polk is eventually chosen as president. So I don’t think he is significantly outside of the mainstream on any of the characteristics that are normally identified by historians. What I think is the one characteristic in which he is outside, significantly outside, the diversity of politicians is in how principled he was and how consistent he was, which is not to say that he was perfectly consistent, but I think that he was more consistently classical liberal than any other Antebellum, any other successful Antebellum politician that I can think of.

07:55 Anthony Comegna: Now, in your essay on Van Buren, your famous essay from Reassessing the Presidency, you compared Calhoun and Van Buren in a way that I think is really great, ‘cause both of these men were sort of aristocratic in terms of Jacksonian America, at least. They liked, like you said, to dress nice and to have nice things, Calhoun especially being a great planter had that going in the extreme, but you call Calhoun, the swaggering opportunist from South Carolina, and you compare him to Van Buren with Van Buren coming out favorably. And now, I think there’s a lot to that because I can’t stand Calhoun but I, at least, I understand Van Buren, and I feel like I understand where he’s coming from, and it actually is a pretty good place. So without digging too much into Calhoun, can you first tell me what are your problems with Calhoun?

08:57 Jeff Hummel: Well, the first problem is the obvious one, that everyone has a problem with, and that is the extent to which he is pro-slavery. But I think he switches positions more often than any other major politician in the era. Remember, he starts out as a nationalist, a war hawk, supporting the War of 1812. He becomes Secretary of War during the Monroe years. And at that stage, he’s still incredibly nationalistic, wants to build up the military and then eventually he shifts and becomes more states’ rights oriented. He switches parties back and forth, supporting the Jacksonian Coalition, and breaking with it and supporting it again. I think a lot of his political moves are connected with his political arc, the source of which, the source of them is his political ambition.

10:09 Anthony Comegna: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm. I think he makes a great foil for Van Buren because the debate among historians about Van Buren seems to really come down to, was he an ideologue, like a Jeffersonian Republican ideologue or was he really this red fox from Kinderhook, this little magician who creates this new second party system so he can be the great puppet master? And he created something new. He wasn’t trying to protect this Jeffersonian Republican vision. I think you tend toward the Jeffersonian Republican side of Van Buren but clearly that is not what Calhoun is all about. Calhoun is clearly a self-serving person desperate for the presidency.

10:56 Jeff Hummel: Yes, [10:56] ____.

10:56 Anthony Comegna: Can you tell us, how is Van Buren… Tell us how he really can be seen as an ideologue.

11:04 Jeff Hummel: Well, basically he takes a republican, with a small “r”, position throughout most of his career, starting with his legal practice. And then when he gets involved in politics in New York and organizes the Bucktails, that’s the more radical faction, the more liberal faction of the very factionalized Republican Party of New York State. When he’s elected to the Senate in 1821, he’s alarmed at all of the sellouts of Republican principles that have resulted from the War of 1812, and he makes a pilgrimage to Jefferson at Monticello and to other politicians in order to try to put together a new nationwide Republican Alliance and he… His efforts eventually of course bring about the creation of the Democratic Party united behind Andrew Jackson who was elected president in 1828. And he sees the Democratic Party, I think, as a party of republicanism and also as a party reflecting the majority interests of the population. After all they refer to themselves as “The democracy”. And what I think is interesting about Jefferson… Pardon me, about Van Buren compared with Jefferson, is Van Buren is one of those rare cases of someone who’s actually more consistent when he’s president…

[laughter]

12:52 Anthony Comegna: Right.

12:53 Jeff Hummel: Than he was before. Whereas it’s clearly the opposite with someone like Jefferson.

13:01 Anthony Comegna: Can you tell us, what was the purpose of the political party system that he set up? ‘Cause I think one historian biographer of Van Buren put it perfectly when he said, “Calm and stability were not normal elements in his world and he knew that.” So what was the purpose of a political party?

13:23 Jeff Hummel: Well, I think he… Part of the… Well, one author has suggested, I think it’s Silbey, has suggested that, in fact, he wanted political parties to try to discipline the excessive factionalism that you had, for instance during the so called Era of Good Feelings. So he actually thought of political parties as a calming device. But if you look at some of his later writings, there’s almost a proto-public choice analysis in his discussion of political parties. In other words, he sees that the two political parties are ideologically distinct. The Federalists and the Whigs as political parties, representing what today we would call rent-seeking groups, seeking special privileges from government, and therefore beholden to elites, whereas he sees the early Republican Party and then the Democratic Party as sort of reflecting a majority coalition against [chuckle] these attempts to use governments for special privileges. So I think that was the role he assigned to the Democratic Party.

14:56 Anthony Comegna: And then it seems that throughout his career, he has certain moments to put that into effect and productively use the parties to steer the country in a good direction, toward a more prosperous economy and a more liberal state here at home. And there are other times when clearly his party system has been taken over and there’s something he has to do about it. So I wanna keep that in mind as we go through the rest of his career here.

15:36 Jeff Hummel: Okay.

15:37 Anthony Comegna: Can you give us a libertarian run down of his presidency?

15:42 Jeff Hummel: Yeah. I would divide his accomplishments as president into two categories, domestic policy and foreign policy. Foreign policy is the area where I think the president has the most leeway in determining the trajectory of policy. And as I mentioned in my article, the tendency of most historians is to be a… Rate as great presidents, presidents who show dynamic, forceful leadership, which means wartime presidents [chuckle] dominate the list of the mainstream lists of greatest American presidents. Whereas Van Buren has the distinction of avoiding two potential war during his presidency. He wanted to definitely avoid war with Mexico over the issue of Texas, which is why he is opposed to annexing Texas during his presidency, tries to negotiate with or actually does start to set up negotiations with Mexico, which never recognized Texas independence. And of course, this part of his stance continues after his presidency.

17:20 Jeff Hummel: And then, of course, as you well know, [chuckle] there were border disputes with Britain over Canada. First, over the revolts in upper and lower Canada, which could have resulted in war because Americans were crossing the border, trying to get… [chuckle] To support those revolts and then of course the dispute over the border between Maine and New Brunswick. And in both of those cases, Van Buren actually goes against what would have been politically more opportune in order to try and resolve those conflicts and prevent them from resulting in war and I think that’s a significant accomplishment with respect to his foreign policy.

18:18 Anthony Comegna: And then just for a second to expand on that a bit. It’s especially interesting to me because, as you started hinting there, we’ve covered the Canadian situation a lot on the show before. And there were Van Buren men, his most radical supporters were the ones forming up in companies of militia men to invade Canada, and they were crossing the Great Lakes and stuff and invading Canada and fighting it out with the British, here and there. And Van Buren is just sitting in Washington wondering, “Oh my God, what am I gonna do with these people?

[chuckle]

18:54 Jeff Hummel: Right.

18:54 Anthony Comegna: “These bunch of yahoos I got out there.”

18:55 Jeff Hummel: Yeah, and this… One of the factors that cost him his re-election because he lost those northern votes in those northern tiers of normally democratic counties.

19:13 Anthony Comegna: Mm-hmm. Now, so we can count his non-interventionism, certainly as a plus for libertarians, when assessing his record. But what do you say about the idea that, well, he may have had some principled reasons to avoid the war, but really he was concerned, first and foremost about keeping peace between the sections, between slave-holding and non-slave-holding interests. And he didn’t want to annex Northern Territory because it would be free and that would upset the slaveholders and imbalance the Senate, and he didn’t wanna annex Texas because it would upset the northerners and unbalance the Senate and then we couldn’t have any politics as usual. So wouldn’t that make…

19:53 Jeff Hummel: I don’t see a lot of evidence for your former claim. The claim about Texas is definitely true, but the Southerners were on board during the War of 1812 with trying to annex Canada, right? Jefferson and Madison were Southerners. [chuckle]

20:14 Anthony Comegna: Yeah, when there was no abolition movement.

20:17 Jeff Hummel: And so I don’t see any significant evidence. And in fact, actually, congress does authorize a militia mobilization during this period with the prospect of going to war. And I don’t know of any significant southern objection to that. Maybe Calhoun, I’d have to look into what Calhoun was saying at the time. But… So I don’t think that… Unless there’s evidence that you know of that I haven’t seen, I don’t see any evidence supporting that interpretation of his actions.

21:00 Anthony Comegna: Well, I haven’t necessarily seen it from Van Buren’s pen, let’s say, but I’ve read that from a couple historians trying to interpret opposition to expansion. I know from my master’s, I read a lot of Southern newspaper editorials and letters to the editor of People talking about the Canada rebellions and saying, “Well, we shouldn’t have anything to do with that because we don’t want that Northern Territory anyways.” And they instead say, “Well, Texas is really what we want. Canada’s pretty useless, it’s a wasteland. Texas however, is great, important country and we certainly don’t want Britain to get a new place on the map, so Texas is where it’s at.” But Van Buren is trying to tread this line between both of them and say, “No, no expansion. Not during my years, not interested in that. It’s gonna agitate things too much.” Or at least that’s the hopes that, let’s say, newspaper writers seem to project on to his administration.

22:03 Jeff Hummel: Right. Right. But do you think if war broke out… Some of his advisors, actually said, “You need to provoke a war to get re-elected.” [chuckle]

22:12 Anthony Comegna: [chuckle] Oh my gosh, oh my gosh.

22:13 Jeff Hummel: And you think if war actually broke out, that would have hurt him politically or help him politically?

22:19 Anthony Comegna: Yeah, see, it’s very hard to disentangle I think. So it does incline me to say he probably had pretty principled reasons to just stay out of it.

22:29 Jeff Hummel: Right.

22:31 Anthony Comegna: But nonetheless, I don’t wanna ever be accused of giving a president too much credit.

[laughter]

22:37 Jeff Hummel: Right, okay. Well, there are cases where principle and expediency coincide.

22:45 Anthony Comegna: Right, especially if you’re a particularly clever politician, right?

22:50 Jeff Hummel: Right.

22:50 Anthony Comegna: You can make those two things coincide much more often than other people can.

22:55 Jeff Hummel: So, lets get to domestic policy of Van Buren.

22:57 S3: Yes, please.

23:00 Jeff Hummel: So, I think domestically, his most important actions were his response to the panic of 1837, and then the subsequent deflation from 1839 to 1843, which essentially was a non-interventionist program. And not only was it a non-interventionist program in which he attempted to cut expenditures while refusing to do anything to increase taxes and by the end of his administration, he was successful at doing that, opposed any government relief efforts, but actually moved to the radical hard money wing of his party by supporting the Independent Treasury, the divorce of bank and government, which at least initially, was… Didn’t work politically to his advantage because initially it splits the Democratic coalition between the hard-money advocates and the group that became known as the conservatives.

24:22 Jeff Hummel: So I think that is not politically motivated, it’s more ideologically motivated and it has enormous benefits. One of the things that I would have emphasized more if I were rewriting my defense, my article, defending Van Buren today, is his blocking of Henry Clay’s attempts to use the distribution of surplus to bail out states as a result of the second financial economic crisis. The deflation from 1839 to 1843, you had four states repudiating their debts, four others defaulting on their debts, and even New York and Ohio are coming close to doing so. And Clay wants to use, what today we call revenue sharing, but was then referred to as the distribution of the surplus to bail out the states. And of course Van Buren puts the Democratic Party solidly behind doing anything about that.

25:41 Jeff Hummel: And one of the things that I don’t emphasize enough in the article is… I do mention it, but it’s the benefits that had at the state level. Because as a result of this fiscal crisis at the state level, you had two-thirds of the states rewriting their constitutions over the next ten years, restricting state investment in private corporations, limiting or banning incorporation by special legislative act, in other words moving to general incorporation, altering the way the state and local governments issue debt. And what’s interesting is that in 2011, Tom Sargent, the Nobel prize-winning economist in his Nobel lecture actually brought up these reforms and asked the question, “How likely would these reforms have been if the states had been bailed out?” So this is critical in the transition of the US economy at the state level from mercantilism to laissez-faire. And I think Van Buren deserves a lot of credit for facilitating that transition by his opposition to the bailouts.

27:05 Anthony Comegna: I totally agree with that. I think this is… The economic issues are the clearest examples of Van Buren being a good libertarian figure. But this pattern of being very good on economics, but very bad on some other things continues in libertarian history, right?

27:27 Jeff Hummel: Right.

27:28 Anthony Comegna: We were very often willing to trade tax cuts and ignore something else, because at least we’re getting the good economic stuff. So for Van Buren, this is not… His faults are not things that you ignore, you talk about the Trail of Tears, the Seminole War in Florida, Van Buren’s pretty terrible handling of the Amistad case.

27:56 Jeff Hummel: Right.

27:57 Anthony Comegna: DC in… Slavery in DC, the gag rule in Congress, there are all these things that are related to slavery again, related to the conflict or potential conflict between the sections. And I go back to my point about, well, it seems to me that, more often than not, what he’s really trying to do is prevent conflict so that he can more easily manage business as usual and we can get things like… He can give his constituency the economic stuff, but he has to buy it at the sacrifice of the slaves’ interest basically. He has to sell himself to the South in order to give his Northern constituents much of what they want.

28:42 Jeff Hummel: Well, I can see that somewhat, but I think you’ve gotta put it in perspective. If you were to take, for instance, the compromises with slavery, and you look at Northern Democratic presidents, right? [chuckle] Who’s the one who compromises the least prior to the war with slavery? It’s Van Buren, obviously not as bad as Buchanan or Harrison.

29:19 Anthony Comegna: John Quincy Adams even was a colonizationist, right?

[laughter]

29:23 Jeff Hummel: Well, John Quincy Adams is of course the opposite party and you could say that his opposition to slavery really comes after his presidency. And even with Indian removal, that policy, it’s set in stone during the Monroe administration when Calhoun is Secretary of War. And during Adams presidency, he doesn’t oppose relocating the Indian tribes. He just wants to do it in a kinder and gentler way.

30:05 Anthony Comegna: Right, right.

30:07 Jeff Hummel: So in other words, how much of the sacrifice was Van Buren making? How far could he have gone… How far could he have pushed those policies in a more libertarian direction and been successful? Maybe a little bit, but I think he was a… In order to be in office at all, he had to make some compromises and I think that’s why I say he’s the least bad president but that’s going to be inevitable and I think he… Remember on the issue of slavery [chuckle] and race relations, don’t forget his vice president. [chuckle]

31:06 Anthony Comegna: Yes, yes. My favorite.

31:08 Jeff Hummel: Richard Johnson, right? Whom becomes anathema to southerners because he openly has a black mistress and black children who he recognizes and this causes problems for his being renominated as vice president when Van Buren runs a second time, and yet Van Buren continues to, or let’s be very precise, refuses to dump him from the ticket.

31:44 Anthony Comegna: Hmm, hmm. Yeah, Richard Mentor Johnson, he’s an interesting character. I only say this because you mentioned it, but that was his wife, right?

31:57 Jeff Hummel: Yes.

31:57 Anthony Comegna: Legally. People called her his mistress and stuff, euphemisms like that, but that was his wife. They were married as much as they were allowed to be and in love and everything, he defended her. I think it’s very interesting story that, again, we don’t hear too much about and it’s a shame because we should be looking more into this period in libertarian history, not just American history. Van Buren is the early libertarian president. So let’s figure out what is his years were like.

32:28 Jeff Hummel: And the Johnson issue brings up another aspect of what’s going on during this period. The attitude of Southerners hardens against Johnson, from Van Buren’s election to his running for reelection, and this is reflecting the fact that racial attitudes, especially on the frontier, are hardening over this time. There’s a tendency among historians to treat the Democratic Party as the pro-slavery party from its origin. And I think that’s very unfair, ‘cause I think at the time that the Democratic parties and the Whig parties first emerged, they’re both compromising on slavery, they’re both trying to do things to hold their Northern and Southern wings together. And there are many slaveholders in the Whig Party. It’s only as you move towards the Civil War with Polk’s nomination as the presidential candidate that, in other words, there is this drift of the Democratic Party becoming more and more pro-slavery over time rather than being the pro-slavery party throughout that entire period. And I think the Johnson case is a… The evolution of attitudes is a manifestation of that shift. And of course, Van Buren for that reason… Tries to stop it. Of course he has got other issues involved when he becomes the Free Soil candidate for president. But there again, I think Van Buren deserves more credit than he receives.

34:31 Anthony Comegna: Yeah. Let’s finish up there because it strikes me that early on in the Locofoco Movement that we’ve covered so much on the show, most of them did not like Van Buren. They loved Johnson and they wanted him at the top of the ticket. And many of them didn’t vote for Van Buren at all. And he had to really work to win that radical support from the fringe of his own party. And then by 1848, most of the Free Soilers who vote in that election do it because they are Van Buren men from long ago, from a decade ago. And then in ‘52 and ‘56, Van Buren goes back to the Democratic Party but by 1860, he’s a Lincoln supporter and he supports the war even.

35:17 Jeff Hummel: Right, right.

35:20 Anthony Comegna: So what’s going on here? How do we make sense of Van Buren’s Free Soil candidacy? On the one hand, we could say he’s just trying to muscle over the Democrats, and to make them knuckle under and start taking directions from him again, and repudiate the factions that came to power under Polk. Then on the other hand, how could you deny that this is an amazing expression of this early libertarian ideology?

35:47 Jeff Hummel: Well, it’s both, isn’t it? If you talk about most politicians, I would say they’re complex combinations of lofty idealism and crass opportunism. And the particular mix is different with respect to politicians, different politicians and different… Different with respect to politicians at certain points in time. So clearly, there is a mild anti-slavery strain in Van Buren’s thought, which he has to keep in check in order to keep the Democratic Party unified. And what happens when Polk is elected, of course, is not only does the Democratic Party swing in a more pro-slavery direction, but after Polk’s election of course, in terms of how he handles the patronage in New York, he cuts out all of the Van Burenites, which from Van Buren’s perspective, you can say represents a threat against his own position within the party, but it’s also a threat to the party overall. In other words, violating Van Buren’s goal of keeping the Democratic Party united. So those two things combine to make him accept the Free Soil presidential candidacy. And of course by the next election, those problems, those patronage problems, those factional problems have been resolved, and I think Van Buren recognizes that the Free Soil Party is not going to accomplish much and so he goes back to the Democratic Party. So there’s a mixture of ideology and expediency.

37:54 Anthony Comegna: And he ends up being a supporter of Lincoln’s efforts in the war. It seems mainly because, to some degree, this is all that’s left to… You just have to fight this out and reunify the country so that we can get back onto productive footing. For Van Buren, politics was always a way to channel violence and anger and distrust, and everything else, to channel that into peaceful, productive reform, and that just simply broke down beyond repair.

38:29 Jeff Hummel: Right. Well, remember that Van Buren thinks that Stephen Douglas’ [chuckle] Kansas/Nebraska act is a disaster which orients in a Republican direction to begin with, and I think he’s in the same class as the Blaires, who also joined the Republican party. These are old Jacksonians but they have… They do have this nationalistic desire to maintain the country. And while Van Buren is perfectly willing to… Is more accepting of states’ rights than Jackson is during Jackson’s presidency, Van Buren is not going to go along with disunion. And the Republican Party at that time is actually a coalition of Democrats and, former Democrats and former Whigs, and that’s really the only place for him to go. One of the disappointing things about some of the abolitionists, and even eventually William Lloyd Garrison, is the extent to which they fall in as supporters of the war, of the Civil War, and of Lincoln. But I think you have to grant them a little bit of sympathy because if you’ve got this anti-slavery cause that you’ve been fighting for your entire life, [chuckle] and then all of a sudden, this war that is a horrible thing and you may disapprove of, actually opens up the prospect of ending this horrible system, it’s easy to be tempted.

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40:39 Anthony Comegna: Jeff Hummel is easily one of the most important libertarian historians out there today and whatever you might come away from this thinking about Van Buren, Jeff Hummel is the person who is responsible for the Van Buren revival in libertarian thought. And I have to say, I still don’t like what Van Buren was up to throughout his life, I’m still not a super huge fan, but I do understand him better. He doesn’t fit my radical left libertarian anarchism very well but all things considered, Van Buren really was one of the most important figures in the whole first half of American libertarianism. He was the Locofoco president for better and for worse, and like him or loathe him, we should all try to understand him. How else are we going to spot our own era’s foxy magicians?

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41:35 Anthony Comegna: Liberty Chronicles is a project of libertarianism.org. It is produced by Tess Terrible. If you’ve enjoyed this episode of Liberty Chronicles, please rate, review and subscribe to us on iTunes. For more information on Liberty Chronicles, visit libertarianism.org.

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