Democrat Andrew Jackson was succeeded by his Vice President, Martin Van Buren. Van Buren, from new York, was a key organizer of the Jacksonian Democrats. Despite his accomplishments before ascending to the presidency, his single term in the White House was a failure.
As Jackson’s heir, Van Buren followed his policies toward Native Americans. The Indian Removal Act was passed by Congress at Jackson’s urging in 1830. Jackson then ordered the United States Army to forcibly relocate Native American tribes to make way for white settlement of their land. The forced movement was called the Trail of Tears. Along the way, many died of starvation, disease and exposure, forcibly removing the Cherokee and other tribes from the South to the Oklahoma Territory. The execution of Jackson’s original order actually happened during Van Buren’s term.
TVan Buren’s administration was saddled with severe economic problems in no small way caused by Jackson’s decisions. Jackson decided to kill the national bank (the Bank of the United States—created by George Washington’s Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton) in 1836. The elimination of the bank caused a credit crisis. Consequently, the United States economy had two major financial crises during Van Buren’s presidency.
The Panic of 1837 was a financial crisis that began a major economic recession. A recession is when the economy stops growing and businesses struggle. Key features of a recession are unemployment, huge decreases in profits, rises in prices, decreases in wages and a decline in consumer confidence. The economy appeared to be picking up in 1838, but then the Panic of 1839 hit and it was even worse. Due to over-inflated cotton prices, a natural, economic correction caused the price of cotton to plummet, creating long lasting economic problems. Again, unemployment and lowered wages dramatically cut consumer spending, causing a downward spiral. People blamed the current President and VanBuren was lampooned as “Martin Van Ruin.”
The severe economic problems ruined his chances of re-election. The new Whig party that grew out of opposition to Andrew Jackson, successful defeated him with their candidate, William Henry Harrison. The American public turned to the new political party on the scene (the Whigs). In addition to opposing the policies of Jacksonian Democrats, believed that Congress, not the President, should lead national policy. They also believed in economic protectionism, meaning that they believed in tariffs to protect American businesses from foreign competition. Most Whigs were from the northern states, while the majority of Democrats were from the South.
The two parties showed how the country was divided, an ideal called sectionalism by historians. The North was more populous and had an economy based on trade and manufacturing. The South had an economy based upon cotton, produced by large plantations using slave labor. The interests of the two regions were on a collision course.