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Seriously, Read a Book!

Thoughts on books, often interpreted through the high-brow prism of cartoon (read: Archer) references. Wait! I had something for this...

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The Life of Martin Van Buren as told by Davy Crockett

The Life of Martin Van Buren: Heir-Apparent to the "Government" and the Appointed Successor of General Andrew Jackson: Containing Every Authentic Particular by Which His Extraordinary Character Has Been Formed: With a Concise History of the Even - David Crockett

Usually I just use the name of the book as the title for my review, however in this case the full title, “The Life of Martin Van Buren: Heir-Apparent to the “Government” and the Appointed Successor of General Andrew Jackson: Containing Every Authentic Particular by Which His Extraordinary Character Has Been Formed: With a Concise History of the Events That Have Occasioned His Unparalleled Elevation: Together With a Review of His Policy as a Statesman,” made that a bit impractical. The author has a tendency to be incredibly long-winded, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

 

Reading Rationale

Aside from the fact that there isn't a particularly wide selection of Martin Van Buren biographies out there (and the fact that this one was free), it was the author's name that really piqued my interest in this one. Due to an apparent lack of folkloric literacy, I was shocked to find that Davy Crockett was actually a real person. I thought the coonskin cap-wearing, cabin-dwelling guy belonged among the ranks of Paul Bunyan or (well, I was gonna say Johnny Appleseed, but it turns out he was real too).

1955 Davy Crockett Disney Poster

In my defense, Disney's appropriation of Crockett as a character threw a wrench in my reasoning. Is Jack Sparrow real? Do I need to start watching out for Mr. Toad next time I'm on the expressway?

 

Crockett's Case

To put it lightly, Davy Crockett was not a fan of MVB. Though he certainly knew how to draw a crowd when canvassing the country to tell his tales in person, Crockett's thoughts on Van Buren were (evidently) too important not to be put to the page. 

Davy Crockett 1786-1836 Granger

Crockett's complaints were reminiscent of the anti-Kerry ads in the 2004 presidential race; MVB, it would seem, was a flip-flopper, and that (though he was basically hand picked by Jackson as his successor) he is no Old Hickory. Of course, Crockett puts things in different words:

“Every thinking man...must see that Van Buren is as opposite to General Jackson as dung is to a diamond.”

Yeah, Crockett keeps it folksy, which is fun—well, fun to a point. The thing about Crockett (to this modern reader) is that he undermines his clever turns of phrase by going on, and on, and on. For example: 

“Statesmen are gamesters, and the people are the cards they play with.”

Ok. Good analogy Davy, but then he goes on to list how this applies to shuffling, card tricks, games of whist, games of poker, and just about anything having to do with cards ever.

 

Martin Van Buren: the Original Pol

What Crockett says is true. MVB was happy enough to switch allegiances in order to get himself in position to be on the winning side of things. And was he (Van Buren) a “selfish and insidious deceiver”? Probably. After all, they did end up calling him the “Little Magician” for landing on the winning side of every debate.

The Little Magician Invoked, J Baillie, 1844

Crockett can be given points for running an effective smear campaign (true or not, the facts offered are definitely of the “attack ad” flavor). But MVB landed in office nonetheless. 

 

Because this was a pre-election book (duh), I actually bothered to read another (mercifully brief) Van Buren piece, Martin Van Buren: lawyer, statesman and man. As to whether or not I will summon the strength to review that one, only time will tell.