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Van Buren Quotes and Misquotes

Identifying important Van Buren quotes and debunking misattributed quotes will be two benefits of the PMVB project. This page will be updated as we make progress on the documents.

MVB Quotes

"The temptation to anticipate professional fame is a strong one, and my success, humble as it has been, is well calculated to mislead young men of genius and ambition. Whatever the degree of that success may have been they may be assured that it would have been much greater and more substantial if like many others, who may not have succeeded as well, I had first acquired a sound education and stored my mind with useful knowledge." MVB, Autobiography, pp. 12-13.

"Those are generally the most anxious to retain power, who have the most abused it. To fortify themselves in its possession, a thousand wily expedients are resorted to, that require great circumspection to detect, and great industry to counteract." "Address to the Republican Electors of the State of New York," 22 February 1820

"What is to come out of this time alone can determine. I do not despair of the Republic, and whatever others may do, I mean to hold on to the true faith." MVB to Charles Edward Dudley, 25 December 1825

"Next to being right, it is important to Governments, as well as individuals, to be consistent." MVB Senate speech on the Panama mission, 14 March 1826 

"There is a power in public opinion in this country—and I thank God for it: for it is the most honest and best of all powers—which will not tolerate an incompetent or unworthy man to hold in his weak or wicked hands the lives and fortunes of his fellow-citizens." MVB Senate speech on the judiciary, 7 April 1826

"If the expenses of our elections continue to increase with the same rapidity that they have done for some years past, the time will soon arrive when a man in middling circumstances, however virtuous, will not be able to compete upon any thing like equal terms, with a wealthy opponent." MVB to the New York legislature, 6 January 1829

"All communities are apt to look to Government for too much. Even in our own country, where its powers and duties are so strictly limited, we are prone to do so, especially at periods of sudden embarrassment and distress. But this ought not to be. The framers of our excellent constitution, and the people who approved it with calm and sagacious deliberation, acted at the time on a sounder principle. They wisely judged that the less Government interferes with private pursuits, the better for the general prosperity. It is not its legitimate object to make men rich, or to repair, by direct grants of money or legislation in favor of particular pursuits, losses not incurred in the public service. This would be substantially to use the property of some for the benefit of others. But its real duty—that duty the performance of which makes a good Government the most precious of human blessings—is to enact and enforce a system of general laws commensurate with, but not exceeding, the objects of its establishment, and to leave every citizen and every interest to reap, under its benign protection, the rewards of virtue, industry, and prudence." MVB to Congress, 5 September 1837

MVB Misquotes

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

"As to the presidency, the two happiest days of my life were those of my entrance upon the office and my surrender of it." Misattributed to Van Buren as a comment he made about his own presidency, this quote has a more complicated background.

MVB Hoax Letters

Martin Van Buren never wrote Andrew Jackson a letter criticizing railroads, promoting canals, and advocating for the creation of an Interstate Commerce Commission