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Martin Van Buren: One Term, Seven Lessons

February 21, 2022

blank vertical space, 16 pixels highMartin Van Buren, 8th president United States, 4-panel compare: his photograph, original line drawing for caricature, revised line drawing, and final color caricature

blank vertical space, 24 pixels highIt’s Presidents Day!– which means it’s time to talk about Martin Van Buren, the 8th president of the United States (1837-41).blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

I had fun drawing his caricature, but he made me work for it. Here’s a condensed bio:blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

Born 1782. His dad owned a tavern near Albany, NY, that was frequented by big-name politicians like Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. It gave Van Buren his first taste of politics. He became a lawyer and served two terms in the U.S. Senate.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

He became an ally of Andrew Jackson and was Jackson’s running mate in the 1828 presidential election. They campaigned against the national bank, believing it was controlled by elites (merchants) at the expense of farmers. They won. Jackson killed off the national bank after they were reelected in 1832.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Van Buren ran for president in 1836 as Jackson’s hand-picked successor. He won, but The Panic of 1837 sent the country into a severe depression. His political opponents dubbed him “Martin Van Ruin.” He ran for reelection in 1840 and lost.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

His anti-slavery views cost him the 1844 Democratic nomination (he opposed the annexation of Texas which would have added another slave state to the Union). He ran again in 1848 as a third party candidate opposed to slavery in new Western territories (he didn’t win any electoral votes). He lived to see the start of the Civil War and died in 1862.blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

Some thoughts:blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

1. Those whiskers. They look funny today, but they’re distinctive. You remember them, and you remember him. It points up the importance of visuals for brands.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

2. Van Buren would have heard different views in his dad’s tavern. Opposing views. We need opposing views to see the big picture and get a better idea of the truth.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

3. Having a patron (Jackson) is a huge advantage. You need allies. You need to build relationships.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

4. Actions have unintended consequences. Jackson shut down the national bank and deposited federal monies in state banks. blank vertical space, 16 pixels highThe state banks gave out easy-credit loans which encouraged land speculation. They even printed their own currency. All of which helped create The Panic of 1837. Van Buren got stuck with the fallout after Jackson left office.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

5. Van Buren once wrote of himself: “I am timid in innovation.” He wasn’t a good crisis manager. He stuck with Jackson’s tight money policy (to combat inflation) and let banks and businesses fail. It deepened and prolonged the depression.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

6. You can’t let others define your brand. During the 1840 campaign, Van Buren’s opponents portrayed him as an out-of-touch aristocrat, while portraying their candidate (William Henry Harrison) as a simple frontiersman. blank vertical space, 16 pixels highThe exact opposite was true: Harrison was born into privilege, Van Buren’s father was a tavern owner and farmer.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

7. Sometimes you need to take a stand even if it costs you. Van Buren’s anti-slavery views cost him the 1844 Democratic nomination, and doomed his 1848 run. blank vertical space, 16 pixels highToday, most U.S. companies stay silent re China’s violation of human rights: putting Uyghurs in “reeducation” camps and jailing free speech advocates in Hong Kong.blank vertical space, 16 pixels highThey stay silent because they want access to the Chinese market and Chinese customers. They could take a lesson from Martin Van Buren.blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

I’ll end with a bit of fun. Back in 2012, Google gave Martin Van Buren a nod in this inspired commercial for its search app.blank vertical space, 32 pixels high

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About Mark: I’m an illustrator specializing in humor, branding, social media, and content marketing. My images are different, like your brand needs to be.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

You can view my portfolio, and connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Questions? Send me an email.blank vertical space, 40 pixels highRecommendation testimonial for Mark Armstrong Illustration from Daniel Reed, Creative Director, Square 2 Marketing

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. February 23, 2022 6:10 AM

    You, sir, are very creative (of course!). Love how you worked all that good marketing advice into this post of interesting information. I remember the commercial and thought it was really cute. Hope all is well with you. Are you ready for spring? I’m ready to be warm again … and pick some flowers to brighten things up! Do you have a post with some lovely flowers you’ve drawn I can look at now? 🙂


    • February 27, 2022 5:32 PM

      My dear Maddie! Do forgive this late reply. The Russian invasion of the Ukraine has me livid and extremely anxious. I’ve been praying for the Ukraine non-stop. Their courage and valor is so inspiring. I hope it will be a wakeup call for all of us here in the complacent West, especially those who seem more and more willing to tolerate state tyranny if it gives them a political advantage. Well, enough of my ranting… 😕💦

      Flowers?? Well, if you’re looking for something politically incorrect and thoroughly absurd, I’d suggest this post about The Lone Ranger (!!). An alternative would be this post if you like hummingbirds. We hit 60 degrees here earlier this week, which offered a tantalizing glimpse of spring (I could almost smell yesteryear’s baseball bubblegum cards!!). We’ll be back in the freezer this week, and I blame that groundhog guy!! Stay the course and keep smilin’!!


      • March 2, 2022 5:19 AM

        Mark, you are a good man to pray so diligently for the people of the Ukraine. The entire situation is distressing indeed.

        I do appreciate the links to flowers. The lone ranger post was fun, and the hummingbirds were delightful. I learned some things while reading the hummingbird post. The most important? I need to change the cover of my Stanley Pearl book!! I think I’ve always known that – right from the beginning, but I don’t know what to do with it, and I keep putting it on the back burner.

        Thank you for your knowledge and insights, my dear friend. And yes, spring is on the way. I’ll be moving out on my own soon, and I’m looking forward to planting flowers and an herb garden outside my new digs.


        • March 5, 2022 2:16 PM

          The Lone Ranger!!– has he managed to escape cancellation?? If so, I don’t see how– he’s obviously a white supremacist, and he gets no credit for wearing a mask during the pandemic!! 😅 He was an important part of my childhood, but he’s just a make-believe hero. Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky is the real deal. He and his countrymen are showing us what courage is all about. They’re also reminding us that there’s a real world out there, not just a trendy, phony virtual one. Oops– I must stop and dismount from my high horse. Get ready to plant them herbs, my dear Maddie!! 😊

          Liked by 1 person


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