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    Martin Van Buren Political Autograph Letter Signed: "The Little Magician" exhibits his political adroitness in this letter to a fellow Bucktail, opposing support of a powerful Clintonian who, he adds, "will cheat you."

    Signed: "M V Buren", one page, 8" x 8". No place, no date. To Mr. Davidson. In full: "My dear Sir, I looked for you all over Town the evening I was to have seen you. I fear a portion of our friends will wish to take Taylor on our ticket in the hopes of securing support by it. It would expose us to derision abroad & confirm all that has been said about NYork politics. I hope it will be resisted. I have as much interest as any man in the success of the party, but we ought to preserve our honour. Besides, Taylor will cheat you. Write me. Yours truly."

    Although this letter is not dated, it most probably was written in 1820 about Congressman John W. Taylor. After Martin Van Buren won reelection to the State Senate in 1816 at the age of 32, he was named New York's Attorney General. Fellow Democratic-Republican De Witt Clinton had served as U.S. Senator, Mayor of New York City, State Senator, and Lieutenant Governor of New York, and was the Federalist candidate for President in 1812. From his position as Attorney General, Van Buren and his supporters struggled unsuccessfully to replace DeWitt Clinton as party leader. Van Buren's followers, known as Bucktails because they wore buck tails on their hats when they attended political meetings, held numerous state offices. When Clinton became Governor of New York in 1817, succeeding Bucktail Daniel Tompkins, he began to dismiss all Bucktail appointees in the state government. Van Buren retained his post of Attorney General until 1819, then lost it to the Clinton forces.

    Daniel D. Tompkins (1774-1825), had preceded Clinton as Governor of New York, serving from 1807-1817 when he was sworn in as Monroe's Vice President. In 1820, even though he was the Vice President, the Bucktails nominated Tompkins to run for Governor against Clinton, hoping their wing of the Democratic-Republican Party would regain control of state politics and patronage. Tompkins lost the race for Governor but was reelected Vice President.

    John W. Taylor (1784-1854) had served in the House of Representatives since 1813 and was the senior member of the New York delegation, an influential member of Congress, and a Clintonian.

    Van Buren had formed a formidable political organization while in Albany as State Senator and Attorney General. Through what has been said to be devious schemes, he was able to force the removal of key Clinton political appointees. His political skills and his height (5' 6") earned him the sobriquet "The Little Magician." By 1820, his enemies referred to his circle of politicians, New York's first political machine, as the "Albany Regency." Through alliances, its power spread throughout the state. Van Buren alludes to this when he says that if Taylor is put on the Bucktail ticket, it would "confirm all that has been said about NYork politics."

    Henry Clay had resigned as Speaker of the House on October 28, 1820; he was unable to maintain his post because of financial problems. Taylor had support for Speaker but needed the votes of Bucktails in the New York congressional delegation to win, so he pledged to them his neutrality in New York politics. These may have been the "friends...who wish to take Taylor on our ticket" mentioned by Van Buren in this letter. On November 15, 1820, Taylor was elected Speaker by one vote after convincing five Bucktails who had voted for another candidate on the first day of balloting, to vote for him. Van Buren knew that Taylor was firmly in the Clinton camp and while he was interested in the success of his party, Van Buren felt that the Bucktails should resist the temptation and "preserve our honour." On February 6, 1821, Martin Van Buren was elected U.S. Senator over Nathan Sanford, the Clintonian candidate. Even though he was now a U.S. Senator, he still controlled the Albany Regency. His immediate goal was to have Taylor replaced as Speaker.

    Van Buren's feelings towards the Speaker is evident in this letter ("Taylor will cheat you"). Even before Van Buren took his seat in the Senate, he began to help orchestrate Taylor's ouster. Van Buren believed the post of Speaker of the House would be important in the presidential election of 1824 since candidates for President were nominated by congressional caucuses. While it had its factions, there was, in effect, one political party in America, the Democratic-Republicans. In the election of 1820, President James Monroe won all 24 states and Van Buren was looking forward to 1824. The Little Magician worked his magic. When the new Congress convened, Virginia Congressman Philip P. Barbour was elected Speaker of the House on the 12th ballot, defeating Taylor 88-67, increasing Van Buren's influence in Washington. In 1824, Van Buren managed the congressional caucus that nominated Secretary of the Treasury William H. Crawford of Georgia for President. After John Quincy Adams was elected President, Van Buren became a Jacksonian. Governor De Witt Clinton died in 1828 and Van Buren was elected Governor of New York and took office on January 1, 1829. Two months later, President Jackson appointed him Secretary of State, then U.S. Minister to England. In 1832, Van Buren was elected Jackson's Vice President and, in 1836, President of the United States.

    This excellent political letter, with a small nick at the left edge, is in very fine condition. Displaying Van Buren's acumen and acuteness in getting his point across, it was penned at a critical time in Van Buren's political life. It would make a fine addition to any political or presidential collection. From the Gary Grossman Collection.


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    April, 2007
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