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COMMENCEMENT OF THE ADMINISTRATION OF MARTIN VAN BUREN - William Leggett, Democratick Editorials: Essays in Jacksonian Political Economy 
Democratic Editorials: Essays in Jacksonian Political Economy, Foreword by Lawrence H. White (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1984).
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COMMENCEMENT OF THE ADMINISTRATION OF MARTIN VAN BUREN
March 11, 1837.
The inauguration of Martin Van Buren, as President of the United States took place at the Capitol, in Washington, on Saturday last, at noon. The day was serene and temperate, and the simple and august ceremonial was performed in the presence of assembled thousands. Mr. Van Buren delivered an Inaugural Address on the occasion, which, probably, most of our readers have already perused, but which, as a portion of the history of the times we insert in our paper. It is longer than the Inaugural Address of his immediate predecessor, but does not contain a tithe part of its pith. It professes to be an avowal of the principles by which the new President intends to be guided in his administration of the government; but with the single exception of the principle of opposition to the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia, which it expresses with most uncalled for and unbecoming haste and positiveness, he might, with as much propriety, have sung Yankee Doodle or Hail Columbia, and called it “an avowal of his principles.” With the exception of that indecorous announcement of a predetermination to exercise his veto against any measure of abolition which Congress may possibly think proper to adopt during the next four years, the address contains no expression of political principles whatever. . . .
. . .
But it is not so much for what it has omitted to say, as for what it says, that we feel dissatisfaction with this inaugural address. We dislike exceedingly both the tone and spirit of its remarks on the subject of slavery. On that one topic, there is, indeed, no want but a superabundance of “particularity and distinctness.” Mr. Van Buren is the first President of the United States who, in assuming that office, has held up his veto power, in terrorem, to the world, and announced a fixed predetermination to exercise it on a particular subject, no matter what changes might take place in public opinion, or what events may occur to modify the question on which his imperial will is thus dictatorially announced.
. . .
. . . Does Mr. Van Buren venture to affirm that such a law as he declares his intention of vetoing would be a violation of any article or clause in the federal compact? No! he believes that such a course will be “in accordance with the spirit which actuated the venerated fathers of the republic,” but does not pretend that such a spirit has made itself palpable and unequivocal in any of the written provisions of the instrument which he has sworn to maintain. . . .
When a President announces that the letter of the Constitution shall be his guide of public conduct; when he takes as his rule of action a strict construction of the express provisions of that instrument, we may form some tolerable notion of what will be his course. But when he undertakes to steer by the uncertain light of the spirit, we are tossed about on a sea of vague conjecture, and left to the mercy of winds and waves. Hamilton was guided by the spirit in proposing the first federal bank; but Jefferson adhered to the letter in his argument against that evil scheme. The high tariff system claims for its paternity the spirit of the Constitution; but the advocates of a plan of equal taxation, adjusted to the actual wants of the government, find their warrant in the letter. The internal improvement system, the compromise system, the distribution system, and every other unequal and aristocratic system which has been adopted in our country, all claim to spring from the spirit of the Constitution; but Andrew Jackson found in the letter of that instrument his rule of conduct, and it was fondly hoped that his successor meant to emulate his example. Appearances now authorize a fear of the contrary. The first step is certainly a deviation from the path.
Mr. Van Buren’s indecent haste to avow his predeterminations on the subject of slavery has not even the merit of boldness. It is made in a cringing spirit of propitiation to the south, and in the certainty that a majority at the north accord with his views. . . .
There is a single phrase in the anti-abolition portion of Mr. Van Buren’s address upon which we shall make one additional comment, and then dismiss the subject. Alluding to the proslavery mobs and riots which have taken place in various parts of the country, he says, “a reckless disregard of the consequences of their conduct has exposed individuals to popular indignation.” This is an admirable version of the matter. The issuing of a temperate and decorous newspaper, in which a question of great public moment was gravely discussed, showed, beyond all question, a most “reckless disregard of consequences,” deserving the harshest rebuke; and the conduct of the mob that broke up the press, demolished the house which contained it, and shockingly maltreated the person of the editor, was merely a natural and justifiable expression of “popular indignation.” They who thought the Constitution vouchsafed to them the freedom of speech and of the press, were criminal to act under that singular delusion; while they who dragged these atrocious men from the sanctuaries of God, from their firesides and from the pulpit, pelted them with stones, tore their garments from their limbs, steeped them in seething tar, and heaped all manner of injuries on their defenceless heads—these men were “true friends of the Constitution,” and animated by “the spirit which actuated the venerated fathers of the republic.” Mr. Van Buren does not say so in express terms; but he alludes to their atrocities in language so soft and sugary, as to sound almost like positive approval.
On the whole, we consider this Inaugural Address as constituting a page of Mr. Van Buren’s history which will reflect no credit upon him in after times.