Book Review: Martin Van Buren and the Making of the Democratic Party

So far this month, I’ve read two Andrew Jackson related books in order to, once again, celebrate Andrew Jackson’s birthday. For those of you who clicked the title because you’re interested or very, very not interested in Democrats, please realize that the Democrats of the 1820’s and 30’s have very little in common with today’s incarnation.

The Book

41sqii0vf6l._sx331_bo1204203200_Martin Van Buren and the Making of the Democratic Party
Author: Robert Remini
1959
Amazon Link

I’ve been interested in Andrew Jackson ever since I first read about him in American History in high school.  I understand that he wasn’t perfect, and I definitely get that he’s controversial (in fact, that’s part of why I love studying him and his era). I also know I like Robert Remini’s style (at least his style in the 70’s and 80’s – it will be interesting to see if his style when he was younger will be the same or what he’s changed). I have no good book cover image because this is an obscure book for an obscure president.

Martin Van Buren may not have been one of the more memorable presidents, but he was vital in Jackson’s cabinet and Kitchen Cabinet. He was instrumental in shaping American politics into what we see today, and I needed to know more about him to get a better picture of the era.

Non-Spoiler Review

Counting this book, I’ve read 6 of Remini’s works. After I finished this one, I finally gave in and admitted it:

Remini’s one of my favorite authors.

One of the primary criticisms of Remini as a historian is that he too easily takes the viewpoints and sides of his protagonists. He definitely does that with Martin Van Buren, because it’s easy to see his pro-Van Buren tone and, simultaneously, Van Buren’s absolute sliminess. It was a fascinating look at a totally underrated American figure.

This was also the earliest of Remini’s works that I’ve read. Published in 1959, it’s almost twenty years older than the next-oldest Remini work I’ve read. The way the book reads has enormous similarities to the later works, and I can see a lot of how Remini formed his own thoughts on the historical context. I enjoyed that, too.

5/5 Discoball Snowcones

5 Discoball Snowcones

SPOILERS REVIEW

Van Buren’s role in making the Democratic Party is readily apparent even in high school history, but the depth pursued in this work is incredible. The scummy flip-flopping Van Buren had to do in order to maintain his Albany Regency political machine was especially interesting. He went from someone who thought Jackson was “incredibly dangerous” to a guy who came lapping at his feet, hoping to ride the coattails of the General.

Van Buren would also shoot himself in the foot if it meant keeping overall control of his machine. Remini was a master of storytelling, even if he was a historian, and he excellently built towards the climax of the Tariff of Abominations. Van Buren’s two-faced, evil machinations with that tariff gave the book something of a “Breaking Bad” sort of feel.

I don’t expect pretty much anyone reading this to be interested in 1820’s New York politics as much as me, but here’s been the review anyway.

Next week:

This is a 5-week month! What sort of Jacksonian machination is going to appear next? Stay tuned!

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