PATRICK HENRY [Matthew Livingston Davis] to MVB, 4 September 1834
Sept. 4th, 1834.
you are styled “the Magician.” You are flattered and pleased with the appellation. It is a misnomer. It has tended, however, to increase your influence with the unprincipled office seeker. It has drawn around you a band of mercenaries, who have ministered to your vanity, and pampered an “unchastened ambition.”
There is no man in our country whose character is so imperfectly understood, as that of Martin Van Buren. Before your swaddling cloths were cast off, you was known to the writer of this letter. Your political enemies have assailed you in harsh terms, and with great virulence. In some instances, perhaps, wrongfully. You are charged by them with being selfish, faithless, insincere, and ambitious. It is my wish that you should be judged by your actions. While, therefore, I deny that you possess any peculiar incantatory power, I admit that you are a political intriguer. But to the elevated title of statesman, you have no just pretensions.
Retired, as I am, in a great measure, from even the social circle, it is a laborious task for me to trace your meanderings, and point out your tergiversations. But the wisest of men has said-“there is a time for all things.” This, then, is believed to be the proper time for developing the qualities of your mind, and pourtraying your real character. You have too long stalked over the political field arrayed in the lion’s skin.-You shall be disrobed
We are approaching an important election. Your adherents have vauntingly pronounced you, “New York’s favorite Son.” The question, therefore, is not, who shall be our next Governor? But shall the baleful influence of Mr. Van Buren prevail?-an influence as deleterious to the body politic, as is the poisonous tree of Java, to the animal and vegetable world, by which it is surrounded.
Your friends consider the coming contest as a great struggle for power, for supremacy, for political existence. They take a sensible and correct view of the question. They feel and know, that if you are now defeated, the reign of intolerance, of proscription, and of corruption, is at an end. It is true, your opponents do not attach the same importance to the contest. In this they err. The mass of them are the busy merchant, the tranquil agriculturalist, and the industrious mechanic. They do not fatten on the public treasury, nor revel “on the spoils of victory.” They, therefore, do not seem to recollect that the coffers of the office holder will be emptied to feed the starveling expectant, and to cheer him on the battle field. It is the hope of dispelling this lethargy, that produces these letters. If they do not place you before the nation in a new and repulsive point of view, it will not arise out of a deficiency of materials, but out of the want of appropriate talents in the writer.
Your career from 1812 to the present time, shall be critically examined. Before that period, you was but little known as a politician, beyond the boundary of Columbia county. It is deemed necessary, however, to glance at your previous movements. No charges will be made against you upon vague assertion. The inferences that will be drawn, shall be from facts, established by reference to documentary evidence. And notwithstanding the sly and subtle policy which has governed your actions through life, it will be shown, that so far as you had any opinion in 1812, it was in opposition to the late war. That you was not its advocate or defender, until you had seen and felt the triumph of its friends, and believed in its successful prosecution. It will be proven, before these letters are closed, that you have never possessed any fixed or settled principles, in reference to state or national policy. That you have been governed by selfish considerations, and the prospect of personal aggrandizement. That you have been for or against every distinguished statesman in the country, as you supposed he might promote or impede your elevation to power.
Your panegyrists are challenged to name a single measure of policy, originating with you, for the public good. It is denied that you have ever made a great, magnanimous, or disinterested effort in the cause of the people, or in the promotion of their happiness or prosperity. The folly of the claims which have been set up for you, will be exhibited in a plain and intelligible manner.
With your private character, as a citizen, there is no inclination to interfere. Your partizans have assailed, in a reckless manner, all whom it was imagined might interrupt your elevation. This, however, would be no apology for returning the poisoned chalice to your own lips. But it cannot be deemed improper to remark, that Mr. Van Buren is not without his weaknesses and his foibles: that he “has done those things which he ought not to have done, and left undone those things which he ought to have done.” Sir, your juvenile propensities, and your matured habits, are not enveloped in mystery. But they are not intended, on this occasion, as topics for discussion.