The only person apart from Thomas Jefferson to occupy all three great offices of the US state – Secretary of State, Vice-President and President – Martin Van Buren probably had more impact in the first two than in the third.
The main events of his presidency were the financial panic of 1837 and the economic crisis that followed it; his lacklustre response – he was more concerned to protect government deposits from unstable banks than to explore fiscal remedies or provide public relief measures – probably put paid to his chances of re-election. His opponents mocked him as “Martin Van Ruin”.
Van Buren’s presidency was also associated with the resettlement of large numbers of Native Americans – including the notorious “Trail of Tears” in which 15,000 Cherokees were forcibly removed from Georgia and around one in four died en route to their new homes in what is now Oklahoma. Such horrors did him little harm politically. The same could not be said of his decision to reject Texas‘s application for membership of the Union, for fear of provoking war with Mexico.
Another challenge Van Buren faced during his presidency was rising tension between the U.S. and British governments over a border dispute. Skirmishes along the Maine-New Brunswick border were bringing the two nations to the brink of war, but Van Buren sought to resolve the issue diplomatically, sending an envoy to negotiate a treaty with Great Britain. Though the negotiations were ultimately successful, those who had desired that the United States take a stronger stance in the matter counted this among Van Buren’s failings.
He was soundly defeated by William Henry Harrison in 1840.