Son of an Old Ranger to the Editors of The Old Soldier, 20 February 1840Macoupin County, Feb. 20, 1840. Editors of the Old Soldier: Gentlemen:
I have had the pleasure of reading two numbers of the Old Soldier, and can assure you, that so far it has more than met my expectations. One thing with which I am much delighted, is, that you have so strictly adhered to the promise made in your prospectus; that is, “to spread before the people a knowledge of facts.” Facts are stubborn things; and facts, known to be such by every body, are very stubborn things.
It is a well authenticated fact, that Gen. Harrison is a democrat, “dyed in the wool,” of the old Jeffersonian school, and that he has served his country in the field and in its councils for more than forty years, without reproach, and “that he has done more for the entire west than any man living.”
It is fact, that our venerated Washington, Presidents J. Adams, Jefferson. Madison and J. Q. Adams, all reposed the most unlimited confidence in him, as a man of capacity and sterling integrity:—and manifested such confidence by appointing and elevating him in the military department from Ensign to Major General, in the United States army, and in the civil from a territorial Secretary to Governor and Foreign Minister.
It is a fact, that the Legislatures of Indiana and Kentucky, and the Congress of the United States, did severally pass resolutions, approbating in the strongest terms, General Harrison’s conduct, as a prudent, wise and able General in the last war. And whatever political demagogues may say to the contrary notwithstanding, it is nevertheless a fact, that in addition to the resolutions referred to, we have the impa[rt]ial opinions of many of our first military men,—who shared with him the toils of war, and who were eye-witnesses to his deeds of valor, who declare, that in their judgment he possesses military talents of the highest order—such men, too, as Col. Croghan, Richard M. Johnson, Gov. Shelby, Commodore Perry, and a host of others too numerous to mention.
It is a fact, that the people have had such confidence in the good sense, honesty and patriotism of Old Tip, that they have again and again called upon him to serve them in the State Legislature and also in Congress, both as representative and senator.
And it is an undoubted fact, that the Old Soldiers, their sons (and their daughters, too, if they were allowed to vote,) the poor men and log cabin boys, have determined, next November to send the Old Hero up to the White House at Washington, in honor of the many and valuable services he has rendered his country. These are all facts, known to be such by every man acquainted with the times and history of the country. There are a great many Old Soldiers scattered all over these lands, who have fought under General Harrison, and you might as well talk to the seven stars and orion1, as tell them he is not, one of the bravest men that ever lived, and one of the best qualified men for the Presidency of the United States. The more that is said against him, the warmer they wax in his favor. They know him, and they know more;—they know they never saw Martin Van Buren encount[er] all the dangers of the battle-field, nor have they to this day ever heard, that a deed so honorable had marked any period of his life. But they have heard that while Old Tippecanoe with the hardy sons of the west, the real log cabin class, was camped in the field or ranging our frontiers, fighting our battles, defending our women and children from the murderous tomahawk and scalping knife, and adding new lusture to the American name with his splendid victories; they have heard, I say, that about, or just before this time Mr. Van Buren was voting for the federal anti-war candidate, and against old James Madison, the democratic war candidate for President. And that he was in the New York Legislature, voting for Rufus King, the federal anti-war candidate for Senator. Now, the query with some is, if he was opposed to the war candidate for President and Senator, was he not opposed to the war? and if opposed to the war, was he, or was he not a federalist? How then came he to be a democrat? We know it is not absolutely necessary to brave the dangers of war, in order to be a democrat—but then we know that every man, who opposed the last war, was considered a federalist. Neither do we feel disposed to charge Mr. Van Buren with cowardice—as he was opposed to the war. we presume he felt no disposition to expose himself to danger. But the question occurs again, how came he to be a democrat.2
Now, we have heard it said, (upon what authority we know not) that shortly after the war was declared, and Madison elected President the second time, finding democracy rather popular, all of a sudden he became a democrat. And it is added, that such was the tremendous revolution in his principles, that he took a most decided stand against all distinctions on account of color, and actually voted in the New York Convention for free negroes to have the right of suffrage.3 But then it is contended, that he is now a northern man with southern principles. All those things we have heard; but as yet we have no evidence as to the time and circumstances under which Mr. Van Buren left the Federal party, and became a democrat. And as his Sub-Treasury doctrines are substantially federal; many of us doubt whether his heart has ever been changed—we verily believe, he is, as he always was, a Federalist, deeply “dyed in the wool.”
Messrs.[Messieurs] Editors, if you please, do him entire justice; but do tell us two things—
1st, Where he was, and what he was doing while our beloved Harrison was achieving the celebrated victories of Tippecanoe and the Thames?
2d, When he left the Federal party, and became a democrat, &c.[etc]—we want proof and not rumor.
These questions are propounded, because some men, born long since Solomon, have asserted, that Old Tippecanoe has no claims to the Presidency, founded upon services rendered his country.—While we can see nothing in his history from the age of 19 to 60, but noble deeds, and such deeds as entitle him not only to our confidence, but to our votes as President. And on the other hand, there is not, in our opinion a single thing in the whole history of Martin Van Buren, that should entitle him to the vote of one Western man. If he has ever done any thing for us, we want to know it.SON OF AN OLD RANGER.
2Van Buren was a Democratic-Republican in 1812--as he had been since the beginning of his political career. But he, like other Northern Republicans, broke with Madison in the 1812 election and voted for dissident Democratic-Republican DeWitt Clinton, who opposed the war and had the support of the Federalist Party. Van Buren immediately abandoned Clinton after his loss, causing the two to become bitter rivals for control of the Democratic-Republican party in New York. The final break between the two came over the election of a U.S. Senator in 1813: Van Buren, seeking to ingratiate himself with regular Republicans, voted for the Republican candidate, but King won the election, despite the Republican-controlled legislature. Van Buren accused Clinton and his followers of abandoning the party to repay the Federalists for their support in the presidential election. By 1819, Van Buren and King were friendly and united by their mutual distrust of Clinton, and Van Buren and his faction cooperated with the Federalists to get King re-elected.
Van Buren’s opponents after the War of 1812 regularly condemned him for his reluctance to join the fighting--he turned down the offer of a military commission--and for not doing enough in the New York Senate to support the war effort. In point of fact, Van Buren was a War Hawk who crafted and shepherded through many pieces of war legislation, included the raising of troops. In September 1814, he authored a radical measure allowing the governor to conscript 12,000 men between the ages of eighteen and forty-five to defend the state. The New York Legislature passed the bill, but the war ended before it could become operational.
Donald B. Cole, Martin Van Buren and the American Political System (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984), 36, 40-41, 56-57 ; Ted Widmer, Martin Van Buren (New York: Henry Holt, 2005), 41-42, 49; John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Autobiography of Martin Van Buren, Annual Report of the American Historical Association for the Year 1918 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1920), 2:45-49; Donald B. Cole, “Van Buren, Martin,” American National Biography, ed. by John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 22:159-60; “An Act to Authorise the Raising of Troops for the Defense of this State,” New York Senate Journal. 1814, 38th Session, 47-51.
3During the campaign of 1840, Whigs sought to counter the Democratic claim that Harrison was an abolitionist by repeating an accusation, originally made in the 1836 election, that Van Buren endorsed enfranchisement for free blacks during the 1821 convention. Van Buren voted in favor of giving blacks the right to vote, but later in the convention voted that they be excluded unless they possessed property valued at $250.
Nathaniel H. Carter, William L. Stone, and Marcus T. C. Gould, Reports of the Proceedings and Debates of the Convention of 1821, Assembled for the Purpose of Amending the Constitution of the State of New York (Albany, NY: E. and E. Hosford, 1821), 178-92, 557; Donald B. Cole, Martin Van Buren and the American Political System, 70-71.
Copy of Printed Transcription, 1 page(s), The Old Soldier (Springfield, IL), 1 April 1840, 3:1-2.