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New York had, in the spring of 1812, nominated De Witt Clinton for president of the United States, and in November, 1812, the succeeding legislature met for the purpose of choosing presidential electors. On this occasion Mr. Van Buren took his seat in the senate, and voted for the electoral ticket which was elected, and which gave Mr. Clinton the vote of the state. In supporting the nomination of Mr. Clinton, Mr. Van Buren consulted what he believed to be the wishes of the majority of the democratic party of the state. At the same time, he was an open and decided advocate of all the strong measures proposed against Great Britain during the session of Congress in 1811-'12, the war included. And, though in the choice of electors Mr. Clinton received the votes of some of the federal members of the legislature of New York, and was also supported by that party in other states, Mr. Van Buren's relations to it were entirely unaltered. At the same session he was placed upon the committee of the senate to answer the governor's speech, which answer he prepared and reported. It vindicated the justice of the war, and urged a vigorous prosecution of it. At the ensuing session of the legislature, which commenced in 1813, the political relations previously existing between Mr. Clinton and Mr. Van Buren were dissolved, and never again resumed. From the commencement of his legislative career, Mr. Van Buren gave to all war measures the most decided and vigorous support ; among which was a plan for raising troops by classification. He supported the re-election of Governor Tompkins, and, as chairman of the committee which made the nomination, he prepared the address to the republican electors of the state.
In 1815, Mr. Van Buren received the appointment of attorney-general of the state of New York. The same year he was appointed by the legislature a regent of the university. In the spring of 1816 he was re-elected to the senate for the further period of four years.
When the project of internal improvement in the state of New York, by canals from Lakes Erie and Champlain to the Hudson river, was brought before the legislature, in 1816, it was sustained with zeal and ability by Mr. Van Buren, who on this occasion received the personal thanks of Mr. Clinton, the great advocate of the measure, for his exertions in favor of the same.
In 1817 De Witt Clinton was nominated for governor of the state of New York, in place of Daniel D. Tompkins, who had been elected vicepresident of the United States. Mr. Van Buren acquiesced in this nomination, though it was contrary to his individual wishes and opinions, and he had used his exertions to prevent it. The distinguished talents of Mr. Clinton, and his zealous efforts in promoting the great interests of the state, had so far won the respect and confidence of the people, that there was comparatively little opposition to his election, after his nomination. But, though he received nearly the unanimous vole of both the great political parties throughout the state, the result proved that it was a deceitful calm which followed the election, and that, as a large portion of the democratic party were deadly hostile to the newly-elected governor, the elements for bitter party strife were only temporarily concealed.
We must now revert to the presidential election of 1816, for the purpose of showing Mr. Van Buren's course in that affair, and the bearing that election had on the politics of New York.
During the war, Governor Tompkins and Mr. Van Buren were considered the leaders of the democratic party in the state of New York. The public services and great personal popularity of Governor Tompkins, induced President Madison to offer him a seat in his cabinet, as secretary of state, which office, however, he declined. As the secretary of state was then, according to established usage, heir apparent to the presidential chair, and the admitted favorite of the president for the time being, Governor Tompkins considered the offer of Mr. Madison as a commitment on the part of the administration to support him for the next president. It was therefore expected, in the state of New York, that Tompkins would succeed Madison as president; and at a celebration of the return of peace, at Albany, in February, 1815, a splendid transparency was displaced, with the names of Tompkins and Crawford inscribed thereon. This indicated that the latter was expected to be nominated for vice-president.
The democratic members of the New York legislature, in February, 1816, instructed the members of Congress from the state to sustain the claims of Tompkins, and Mr. Van Buren visited Washington to aid his friend in the nomination. But his claims were not pressed in the congressional caucus which met in March, 1816; the contest in that body was between Monroe and Crawford, and the former was nominated by a small majority over the latter. Governor Tompkins was nominated for vice-president, a result at which he was much disappointed. Finding Tompkins out of the question for president, a majority of the New York delegation was rather ardent in support of Crawford. Mr. Van Buren took no decided part in the matter. Mr. Hammond, who was one of the New York delegation, remarks, that “if at Albany Mr. Van Buren was ardent in the support of Tompkins, at Washington, to say the least, he was philosophically calm and cool."*
From this time forward Mr. Van Buren co-operated with the leading democratic politicians of Virginia ; and when it was determined by them that Mr. Crawford should be the successor of Mr. Monroe as president, Mr. Van Buren gave him his most zealous, though unsuccessful support, in the political campaign of 1824.
Having determined to oppose the administration of Governor Clinton, Mr. Van Buren, being then a member of the senate of the state, commenced, in 1818, the organization of that portion of the democratic party
• Hammond's Political History of New York.
who were dissatisfied with the election of the governor. Hence arose the formation, under his auspices, of a small but formidable and secret association of politicians at the seat of the state government, which received from their political opponents the cognomen of "the Albany regency." It was composed of persons holding offices under the state and the general governments, and a few other influential citizens of the democratic party; and by skill, position, and party discipline, with the aid of a party press, this regency is supposed to have swayed the power and destinies of the state for more than a quarter of a century. It is proper to mention, however, that the existence of this Albany regency has been generally denied by the friends of Mr. Van Buren.
The difficulties in the democratic party between the respective friends of Mr. Van Buren and Governor Clinton, soon widened into an open rupture. A large majority of the democrats of the state followed Mr. Van Buren, while most of the friends of the canal policy, and the great body of the federal party, with few exceptions, sustained Governor Clinton. The council of appointment being devoted to the views of Governor Clinton, in July, 1819, removed Mr. Van Buren from the office of attorney-general, the duties of which he had discharged for more than four years, during which period he had also been a member of the senate.
The opposition to Governor Clinton constantly increased in violence, and in the senate of the state there was a majority against him during the whole period of his administration. The most strenuous exertions were made by his democratic opponents to prevent his re-election. Mr. Van Buren took the lead in their efforts, and the vice-president, Daniel D. Tompkins, was prevailed upon to become the opposing candidate for gov
The contest was close and animated, Mr. Clinton being successful by a majority of 1,457 out of 93,437 votes. The whole number of votes against him on his former election was but twenty-two more than his present majority. Both houses of the legislature, and the council of appointment, however, were decidedly anti-Clintonian. A restoration to the office of attorney-general was now tendered to Mr. Van Buren, but was declined by him.
The legislature having failed to elect a senator of the United States, in 1819, in place of Mr. Rufus King, whose term of service expired that year, a pamphlet was prepared by Mr. Van Buren, shortly before the meeting of the succeeding legislature, in 1820, in favor of the election by the democratic party of Mr. King to the senate for another term of six years. Mr. King, it will be remembered, was a federalist, and had been one of the most prominent leaders of that party in the United States, while they acted as an organized political body. Mr. Van Buren and his friends had refused to vote for Mr. King in the legislature of 1819, but his election was now urged on democrats, in consequence of his having supported the last war; his revolutionary services, and his present opposition to Mr.
Clinton, were assigned as further reasons for supporting him. The real object of the pamphlet was to draw in a portion of the federalists throughout the state, to the support of Mr. Tompkins in the then approaching election. The friends of Mr. Van Buren were in the minority in the legislature, and were, therefore, compelled to choose between Mr. King, or some other federalist, and a friend of Governor Clinton. The result was, the election of Mr. King, by the legislature, by a vote nearly unanimous, the Clintonians also supporting him.
At the same session of the legislature, a resolution was adopted, instructing their senators, and requesting the representatives of the state in Congress, to oppose the admission of Missouri, or any other territory into the Union, without making the prohibition of slavery therein an indispensable condition of admission. The senate concurred in this resolution from the assembly without division or debate, and among the senators Mr. Van Buren, though it was not brought before the legislature by his agency. Still, he must be regarded as having concurred, at that time, in the sentiment of the resolution thus adopted by the legislature. *
Mr. Van Buren was, in February, 1821, elected by the legislature of New York, a member of the senate of the United States, in place of Nathan Sanford, whose term of service expired in March, 1821. Mr. Sanford was a democrat and a candidate for re-election, but at the legislative caucus, which was attended by eighty-two democratic members, Mr. Van Buren received fifty-eight votes, and Mr. Sanford twenty-four. The Clintonians and federalists in the legislature voted for Mr. Sanford, who received sixty votes, and Mr. Van Buren eighty-six votes. Thus it will be observed, that Mr. Sanford was the preference of a large majority of the legislature, and without the agency of a caucus nomination Mr. Van Buren could not have been chosen.
A convention to revise the constitution of the state of New York, was chosen by the people in 1821, and assembled in August of that year. Mr. Van Buren, then United States senator elect, was elected a member of the convention, by the democrats of Otsego county, although he then resided in the city of Albany.
In this convention, which comprised many of the most able and inflaential men in the state, Mr. Van Buren took an active and leading part. There were three classes of politicians in that body : first, those opposed to any important changes in the old constitution of 1777, except the abolition of the council of appointment and the council of revision ; second, those in favor of moderate changes in the constitution, of the abolition of the freehold qualification for voters, and the reasonable extension of the elective franchise; third, the radicals, or those in favor of universal suffrage, and an entire and radical change in the form of government. Mr. Van Buren belonged to the second of these classes, and his course in the
convention was generally conservative. He advocated an extension of the right of suffrage to citizens paying taxes, being householders, and working on the highways, or doing military duty; he expressed his fears that the extension of the elective franchise contemplated by some of the amendments proposed, would not be sanctioned by the public approbation, and would occasion the rejection of the whole by the people. He said, " he was disposed to go as far as any man in the extension of rational liberty ; but he could not consent to undervalue this precious privilege so far as to confer it, with an indiscriminating hand, upon every one, black or white, who would be kind enough to condescend to accept it.” By the first constitution of New York, no distinction was made with regard to color, in the qualifications of electors. In the convention, a proposition to restrict the right of voting to white citizens, was rejected by a majority of four votes. Mr. Van Buren voted with the majority, or in favor of continuing the right of voting to colored citizens; but subsequently supported a proposition, which was adopted, requiring colored voters to possess a freehold estate of the value of two hundred and fifty dollars. Mr. Van Buren opposed the election of justices of the peace by the people, and the convention adopted a plan proposed by him, by which the executive of the state, through the judges of the county courts, controlled those appointments. This plan only continued in operation about four years, when the constitution was amended, giving the choice of justices to the people. The proposition which was adopted by the convention to reorganize the judiciary of the state, and sanctioned by the party with which he acted, was opposed by Mr. Van Buren, the only effect of it being to displace the judges then in office. On the whole, it may be remarked, that his course in the convention to revise the constitution, was considered honorable to him as a stateman, and, with few exceptions, was approved by candid men of all parties.
In December, 1821, Mr. Van Buren took his seat in the senate of the United States, his colleague from New York at this time being the Honorable Rufus King. On his first appearance in the senate, he was placed on the committee of finance, and on the committee on the judiciary. He took an active part in debate on most of the important subjects which were agitated in that branch of Congress during his senatorial career. He supported Colonel Johnson's efforts to abolish imprisonment for debt on actions in the United States courts. He proposed amendments to the judiciary system of the United States, and advocated a bankrupt law, to include corporations as well as persons. With regard to the public lands, he was in favor of a proposition to rest the lands in the states in which they were situated on some just and equitable terms."
When the question of a successor to Mr. Monroe for the presidency was agitated, Mr. Van Buren took an early and decided part in favor of Mr. Crawford, whose election he labored to bring about by the aid of