Book Review: The Autobiography of Martin Van Buren

You’ve seen my review of Remini’s analysis of this guy’s political importance, but today you hear it from the horse’s mouth. Martin Van Buren, 8th President of the United States, was heavily involved with Jacksonian democracy. As part of my usual Andrew Jackson’s birthday month, I’m writing a review of his ally’s biography.

The Book


The Autobiography of Martin Van Buren
Author: Mostly Martin Van Buren, edited by John Clement Fitzpatrick
1920 (though written between 1854 and Van Buren’s death in 1862)
Google Books Link

As a sheer, crazy warning: no copy of this book exists for you that isn’t a photocopy, digital scan, or the absolute worst of scan-to-text automatic translations. The random markings on the original print versions that exist make automatic text translations hard. The best copy I found was the Google Books version linked above. It is my goal to one day type this up for Gutenberg or something; if you know how to get something to Gutenberg, let me know and I’ll probably start this adventure.

Non-Spoiler Review

This book took me an insane amount of time to read. From a very basic perspective that no currently available copy is truly legible, to the fact that it’s written in some of the most esoteric, 19th-century brouhaha language out there (complete with enormous paragraph-sentences that make even the one you’re reading cry in embarrassing smallness), this book was hard. That in and of itself makes this a less-than-enjoyable read.

Beyond that, it’s woefully incomplete. Besides ignoring some important aspects (I personally thought it glanced far too quickly over Van Buren’s role in the Tariff of Abominations), it ended before even Van Buren’s presidential nomination. The book mentions the nomination and administration many times, but even in its own largesse, the volume(s) end suddenly because Van Buren died before completing it. It would have been very interesting to read what he intended (explaining his post-presidential actions of never giving up and trying to pull a Grover Cleveland). As it was, you get one of the most one-sided, biased, incredible self-masturbatory pieces of all time.

Van Buren was a politician’s politician. If you’ve seen West Wing, think of him as the OG Josh Lyman AND Toby Ziegler wrapped together in one supergenius slimeball. The book is intended to entirely vindicate Van Buren and his actions, and it’s meant to paint himself in the greatest light possible. I think one of my favorite parts was early in the book, when he was New York attorney General (1815-1819). He sent people he didn’t like on fool’s errands to keep them out of the way. He schemed his way onto the canal board, screwed over DeWitt Clinton in lovely ways, and “just happened to find himself” nominated and elected to ever higher position. What a coincidence.

He also seems like one of those people who save every scrap of paper ever written on or sent to him in order to screw people over later. He would stuff copies of letters from enemies in envelopes, then send them to third parties who could screw over lives if they wanted. In the autobiography, he would claim he was doing the right thing or that he was forwarding information in the simplest way. It was blatantly obvious it was just him stirring things up.

It was absolutely incredible how the man found papers and letters to twist everything around to vindicate himself and villainize others (especially Daniel Webster, who he seems to have had it out for). He claimed credit where he was due none or little. He was just this absolute Little Magician.

4/5 Discoball Snowcones (I’m biased)

4 Discoball Snowcones


What’s the point? Not even Van Buren finished this, so why should you? Honestly I recommend this to no one.

Next week:

I read the H.W. Brands biography of Andrew Jackson, creatively titled Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times.

4 thoughts on “Book Review: The Autobiography of Martin Van Buren

    • H.R.R. Gorman says:

      I would like to say my historical forte is the Age of Jackson. I don’t think I could claim that without reading this entry! (there’s one other book that I MUST read before I can feel accomplished, but I also realize it’s an ever-moving goalpost).

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