19th Century American Presidents
Answer the questions 1-10 by referring to the article below. Choose from the list of 19th Century American Presidents (A-D) for each question.
For some of the questions, more than one letter is required, in which case the two letters should be written, in alphabetical order, with a hyphen between them, i.e. A-E.
Which of these 19th Century U.S Presidents (A-D):
Martin Van Buren 1837-41
Only about 5 feet, 6 inches tall, but trim and erect, Martin Van Buren dressed fastidiously. His impeccable appearance belied his amiability--and his humble background. Of Dutch descent, he was born in 1782, the son of a tavernkeeper and farmer, in Kinderhook, New York.
As a young lawyer he became involved in New York politics. As leader of the "Albany Regency," an effective New York political organization, he shrewdly dispensed public offices and bounty in a fashion calculated to bring votes. Yet he faithfully fulfilled official duties, and in 1821 was elected to the United States Senate.
By 1827 he had emerged as the principal northern leader for Andrew Jackson. President Jackson rewarded Van Buren by appointing him Secretary of State. As the Cabinet Members appointed at John C. Calhoun's recommendation began to demonstrate only secondary loyalty to Jackson, Van Buren emerged as the President's most trusted adviser. Jackson referred to him as, "a true man with no guile."
The rift in the Cabinet became serious because of Jackson's differences with Calhoun, a Presidential aspirant. Van Buren suggested a way out of an eventual impasse: he and Secretary of War Eaton resigned, so that Calhoun men would also resign. Jackson appointed a new Cabinet, and sought again to reward Van Buren by appointing him Minister to Great Britain. Vice President Calhoun, as President of the Senate, cast the deciding vote against the appointment--and made a martyr of Van Buren.
The "Little Magician" was elected Vice President on the Jacksonian ticket in 1832, and won the Presidency in 1836.
Van Buren devoted his Inaugural Address to a discourse upon the American experiment as an example to the rest of the world. The country was prosperous, but less than three months later the panic of 1837 punctured the prosperity.
Basically the trouble was the 19th-century cyclical economy of "boom and bust," which was following its regular pattern, but Jackson's financial measures contributed to the crash. His destruction of the Second Bank of the United States had removed restrictions upon the inflationary practices of some state banks; wild speculation in lands, based on easy bank credit, had swept the West. To end this speculation, Jackson in 1836 had issued a Specie Circular requiring that lands be purchased with hard money--gold or silver.
In 1837 the panic began. Hundreds of banks and businesses failed. Thousands lost their lands. For about five years the United States was wracked by the worst depression thus far in its history.
Programs applied decades later to alleviate economic crisis eluded both Van Buren and his opponents. Van Buren's remedy--continuing Jackson's deflationary policies--only deepened and prolonged the depression.
Declaring that the panic was due to recklessness in business and overexpansion of credit, Van Buren devoted himself to maintaining the solvency of the national Government. He opposed not only the creation of a new Bank of the United States but also the placing of Government funds in state banks. He fought for the establishment of an independent treasury system to handle Government transactions. As for Federal aid to internal improvements, he cut off expenditures so completely that the Government even sold the tools it had used on public works.
Inclined more and more to oppose the expansion of slavery, Van Buren blocked the annexation of Texas because it assuredly would add to slave territory--and it might bring war with Mexico.
Defeated by the Whigs in 1840 for reelection, he was an unsuccessful candidate for President on the Free Soil ticket in 1848. He died in 1862.
William Henry Harrison 1841
"Give him a barrel of hard cider and settle a pension of two thousand a year on him, and my word for it," a Democratic newspaper foolishly gibed, "he will sit ... by the side of a 'sea coal' fire, and study moral philosophy. " The Whigs, seizing on this political misstep, in 1840 presented their candidate William Henry Harrison as a simple frontier Indian fighter, living in a log cabin and drinking cider, in sharp contrast to an aristocratic champagne-sipping Van Buren.
Harrison was in fact a scion of the Virginia planter aristocracy. He was born at Berkeley in 1773. He studied classics and history at Hampden-Sydney College, then began the study of medicine in Richmond.
Suddenly, that same year, 1791, Harrison switched interests. He obtained a commission as ensign in the First Infantry of the Regular Army, and headed to the Northwest, where he spent much of his life.
In the campaign against the Indians, Harrison served as aide-de-camp to General "Mad Anthony" Wayne at the Battle of Fallen Timbers, which opened most of the Ohio area to settlement. After resigning from the Army in 1798, he became Secretary of the Northwest Territory, was its first delegate to Congress, and helped obtain legislation dividing the Territory into the Northwest and Indiana Territories. In 1801 he became Governor of the Indiana Territory, serving 12 years.
His prime task as governor was to obtain title to Indian lands so settlers could press forward into the wilderness. When the Indians retaliated, Harrison was responsible for defending the settlements.
The threat against settlers became serious in 1809. An eloquent and energetic chieftain, Tecumseh, with his religious brother, the Prophet, began to strengthen an Indian confederation to prevent further encroachment. In 1811 Harrison received permission to attack the confederacy.
While Tecumseh was away seeking more allies, Harrison led about a thousand men toward the Prophet's town. Suddenly, before dawn on November 7, the Indians attacked his camp on Tippecanoe River. After heavy fighting, Harrison repulsed them, but suffered 190 dead and wounded.
The Battle of Tippecanoe, upon which Harrison's fame was to rest, disrupted Tecumseh's confederacy but failed to diminish Indian raids. By the spring of 1812, they were again terrorizing the frontier.
In the War of 1812 Harrison won more military laurels when he was given the command of the Army in the Northwest with the rank of brigadier general. At the Battle of the Thames, north of Lake Erie, on October 5, 1813, he defeated the combined British and Indian forces, and killed Tecumseh. The Indians scattered, never again to offer serious resistance in what was then called the Northwest.
Thereafter Harrison returned to civilian life; the Whigs, in need of a national hero, nominated him for President in 1840. He won by a majority of less than 150,000, but swept the Electoral College, 234 to 60.
When he arrived in Washington in February 1841, Harrison let Daniel Webster edit his Inaugural Address, ornate with classical allusions. Webster obtained some deletions, boasting in a jolly fashion that he had killed "seventeen Roman proconsuls as dead as smelts, every one of them."
Webster had reason to be pleased, for while Harrison was nationalistic in his outlook, he emphasized in his Inaugural that he would be obedient to the will of the people as expressed through Congress.
But before he had been in office a month, he caught a cold that developed into pneumonia. On April 4, 1841, he died--the first President to die in office--and with him died the Whig program.
James K. Polk 1845-49
Often referred to as the first "dark horse" President, James K. Polk was the last of the Jacksonians to sit in the White House, and the last strong President until the Civil War.
He was born in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, in 1795. Studious and industrious, Polk was graduated with honors in 1818 from the University of North Carolina. As a young lawyer he entered politics, served in the Tennessee legislature, and became a friend of Andrew Jackson.
In the House of Representatives, Polk was a chief lieutenant of Jackson in his Bank war. He served as Speaker between 1835 and 1839, leaving to become Governor of Tennessee.
Until circumstances raised Polk's ambitions, he was a leading contender for the Democratic nomination for Vice President in 1844. Both Martin Van Buren, who had been expected to win the Democratic nomination for President, and Henry Clay, who was to be the Whig nominee, tried to take the expansionist issue out of the campaign by declaring themselves opposed to the annexation of Texas. Polk, however, publicly asserted that Texas should be "re-annexed" and all of Oregon "re-occupied."
The aged Jackson, correctly sensing that the people favored expansion, urged the choice of a candidate committed to the Nation's "Manifest Destiny." This view prevailed at the Democratic Convention, where Polk was nominated on the ninth ballot.
"Who is James K. Polk?" Whigs jeered. Democrats replied Polk was the candidate who stood for expansion. He linked the Texas issue, popular in the South, with the Oregon question, attractive to the North. Polk also favored acquiring California.
Even before he could take office, Congress passed a joint resolution offering annexation to Texas. In so doing they bequeathed Polk the possibility of war with Mexico, which soon severed diplomatic relations.
In his stand on Oregon, the President seemed to be risking war with Great Britain also. The 1844 Democratic platform claimed the entire Oregon area, from the California boundary northward to a latitude of 54'40', the southern boundary of Russian Alaska. Extremists proclaimed "Fifty-four forty or fight," but Polk, aware of diplomatic realities, knew that no course short of war was likely to get all of Oregon. Happily, neither he nor the British wanted a war.
He offered to settle by extending the Canadian boundary, along the 49th parallel, from the Rockies to the Pacific. When the British minister declined, Polk reasserted the American claim to the entire area. Finally, the British settled for the 49th parallel, except for the southern tip of Vancouver Island. The treaty was signed in 1846.
Acquisition of California proved far more difficult. Polk sent an envoy to offer Mexico up to $20,000,000, plus settlement of damage claims owed to Americans, in return for California and the New Mexico country. Since no Mexican leader could cede half his country and still stay in power, Polk's envoy was not received. To bring pressure, Polk sent Gen. Zachary Taylor to the disputed area on the Rio Grande.
To Mexican troops this was aggression, and they attacked Taylor's forces.
Congress declared war and, despite much Northern opposition, supported the military operations. American forces won repeated victories and occupied Mexico City. Finally, in 1848, Mexico ceded New Mexico and California in return for $15,000,000 and American assumption of the damage claims.
President Polk added a vast area to the United States, but its acquisition precipitated a bitter quarrel between the North and the South over expansion of slavery.
Polk, leaving office with his health undermined from hard work, died in June 1849.
Millard Fillmore 1850-53
In his rise from a log cabin to wealth and the White House, Millard Fillmore demonstrated that through methodical industry and some competence an uninspiring man could make the American dream come true.
Born in the Finger Lakes country of New York in 1800, Fillmore as a youth endured the privations of frontier life. He worked on his father's farm, and at 15 was apprenticed to a cloth dresser. He attended one-room schools, and fell in love with the redheaded teacher, Abigail Powers, who later became his wife.
In 1823 he was admitted to the bar; seven years later he moved his law practice to Buffalo. As an associate of the Whig politician Thurlow Weed, Fillmore held state office and for eight years was a member of the House of Representatives. In 1848, while Comptroller of New York, he was elected Vice President.
Fillmore presided over the Senate during the months of nerve-wracking debates over the Compromise of 1850. He made no public comment on the merits of the compromise proposals, but a few days before President Taylor's death, he intimated to him that if there should be a tie vote on Henry Clay's bill, he would vote in favor of it.
Thus the sudden accession of Fillmore to the Presidency in July 1850 brought an abrupt political shift in the administration. Taylor's Cabinet resigned and President Fillmore at once appointed Daniel Webster to be Secretary of State, thus proclaiming his alliance with the moderate Whigs who favored the Compromise.
A bill to admit California still aroused all the violent arguments for and against the extension of slavery, without any progress toward settling the major issues.
Clay, exhausted, left Washington to recuperate, throwing leadership upon Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois. At this critical juncture, President Fillmore announced in favor of the Compromise. On August 6, 1850, he sent a message to Congress recommending that Texas be paid to abandon her claims to part of New Mexico.
This helped influence a critical number of northern Whigs in Congress away from their insistence upon the Wilmot Proviso--the stipulation that all land gained by the Mexican War must be closed to slavery.
Douglas's effective strategy in Congress combined with Fillmore's pressure from the White House to give impetus to the Compromise movement. Breaking up Clay's single legislative package, Douglas presented five separate bills to the Senate:
- Admit California as a free state.
- Settle the Texas boundary and compensate her.
- Grant territorial status to New Mexico.
- Place Federal officers at the disposal of slaveholders seeking fugitives.
- Abolish the slave trade in the District of Columbia.
Each measure obtained a majority, and by September 20, President Fillmore had signed them into law. Webster wrote, "I can now sleep of nights."
Some of the more militant northern Whigs remained irreconcilable, refusing to forgive Fillmore for having signed the Fugitive Slave Act. They helped deprive him of the Presidential nomination in 1852.
Within a few years it was apparent that although the Compromise had been intended to settle the slavery controversy, it served rather as an uneasy sectional truce.
As the Whig Party disintegrated in the 1850's, Fillmore refused to join the Republican Party; but, instead, in 1856 accepted the nomination for President of the Know Nothing, or American, Party. Throughout the Civil War he opposed President Lincoln and during Reconstruction supported President Johnson. He died in 1874.
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