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Image of the misquote that is the focus of the article

“The people under our system, like the king in a monarchy, never dies.”

"The people under our system, like the king in a monarchy, never dies."

Martin Van Buren was not known for his pithiness. His public letters and speeches are often long, repetitive, and circuitous–perhaps a sign of his legal training, perhaps an attempt to obscure his true feelings. Whatever the reason for Van Buren’s lack of brevity, it makes it difficult to identify succinct quotes that encapsulate him or his beliefs.

But that hasn’t kept quotes allegedly belonging to Van Buren from showing up over the decades, especially on the Internet. The above quote is one such example. Its essence is about the American people and their persistence in a democratic system. These words are especially important, coming as they do from the co-founder of the Democratic party and the architect of the two-party system. Unfortunately, the quote is inaccurate.

Van Buren’s actual words can be found in his posthumously published treatise Inquiry into the Origin and Course of Political Parties in the United States (1867). In his extensive (and dry) discussion of the Judiciary Act of 1801, he wrote, “The President under our system, like the king in a monarchy, never dies” (pg. 290). Van Buren’s point was that the presidency continues regardless of who holds the office.

This version doesn’t have quite the same punch, does it?

—Mark R. Cheathem

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Yes