I really wanted to like Martin Van Buren. In a lot of ways, one of the most interesting things about reading history is the interesting way my brain grapples with it. On one level, I'm reading the text and being as impartial as I can, but on another I'm flipping through trying to figure out who the good guys are and who the bad guys are (And then looking for evidence that surely, my ancestors couldn't have been the bad guys). I guess I should maybe try to make myself stop doing that...but in general I think there are many things in life that should be approached in the same way as an anxiety attack. It's counter productive to worry about getting an anxiety attack, you're supposed to recognise it for what it is and think "hey, look! it's an anxiety attack." I read through history thinking "hey, look! it's my primitive need for life to be black and white." And then I move on.
I really wanted Martin Van Buren to be one of the good guys, though. He's one of the only presidents in history with a non-British Isles name (Eisenhower and Obama are the others). That should make him cool, right? Also, in Gore Vidal's book Burr, you're supposed to like him, and I know that's historical fiction...but Gore Vidal is on my team so I want to believe him. So far though (so far being p. 539 of What Hath God Wrought), there seems to be little evidence that Van Buren was anything better than a political opportunist, and if he lacked the personal affinity for evil that Andrew Jackson had, that's damn faint praise. And so, I guess we have learned some important things about the prejudices of my mind. Differentness is not always good, and teams are not consistent. The Democrats were like, bad, in the antebellum period. At some point, I'm probably going to have to grapple with the fact that that doesn't make the Whigs good (John Quincy Adams is a little bit of a badass though). William Henry Harrison isn't president yet though, so we'll see. I'm sure he'll come riding into town on his dark horse and have some really solid ideas about environmental protection and civil rights. Right?