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THE ORIGIN AND COURSE
BY THE LATE EX-PRESIDENT
MARTIN VAN BUREN.
Nam quis nescit primam esse historiæ legem ne quid falsi dicere audeat ?
EDITED BY HIS SONS.
PUBLISHED BY HURD AND HOUGHTON.
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1867, by
SMITH T. VAN BUREN,
in the Clerk's Office of the District Court for the Southern District of
RIVERSIDE, CAMBRIDGE :
STEREOTYPED AND PRINTED BY
H. 0. HOUGHTON AND COMPANY. .
The following pages originally formed part of a much larger work, from the general course and design of which they constituted a digression. It seems therefore proper to preface them by a few words of explanation, relating chiefly to the work from which they are now separated.
Mr. Van Buren, eighth President of the United States, on the expiration of his term of office, in the year 1841, retired to a country residence near Kinderhook, (the place of his birth,) in the State of New York, which he had then recently purchased, and to which he gave the name of Lindenwald. Here, with infrequent and brief interruptions, he continued to reside for some twenty years, or until his death, which occurred in July, 1862. Although numbering nearly sixty years of age,--two-thirds of which had been years of almost incessant activity and excitement, professional, political, and social, – --- at the period of his withdrawal to the tranquil scenes and occupations of rural life, he embraced the latter with an ardor and a relish that surprised not a little the friends who had known him only as prominent in, and apparently engrossed by, the public service, but which were happy results of early predilections, an even and cheerful temper, fitting him for and constantly inclining him to the enjoyment of domestic intercourse, a hearty love of Nature, and a sound constitution of mind and body. After twelve years of the period of his retirement had passed, happily and contentedly, he began to apply a portion of his “ large leisure to a written review of his previous life, and to recording his recollections of his contemporaries and of his times. To this work, as he intimates in its opening paragraphs, he was mainly induced by the solicitations of life-long friends, who, it may be here added,) knowing the importance and interest of the scenes and incidents of his extended public career, and the extraordinary influence he had exerted upon public men and questions of his time, and perceiving the tenaciousness of his memory and the charm of his conversation unimpaired by the lapse of seventy years, confidently anticipated a work of much interest in such a record as they urged upon him to make.
But although Mr. Van Buren so far complied with these suggestions as to set about writing his memoirs, he was not inclined to pursue the employment as a task, or to devote more of his time to it than could be easily spared from other occupations in which he was interested, and in order to keep himself from every temptation to exceed this limitation, he resolved, at the start, that no part of what he might write should be published in his lifetime. The work which he had commenced, was thus exposed to frequent interruption, even by unimportant accidents, and at length was altogether arrested by the serious illness of a member of his family, and by the failure of his own health, which rapidly supervened. It
resulted that the recorded memoirs of his life and times
closed abruptly when he had brought them down to the date of 1833–34, and that he never revised for publication what he had written. There is evidence that he contemplated such a revision when he should reach a convenient stage of his progress, but from the circumstances under which he wrote (which have been alluded to) as well as from his comparatively small interest in the mere graces of composition, the labor limce was continually postponed, and the “
flighty purpose never o'ertaken. When, after his death, the subject of the disposition of these memoirs was presented to his sons, to whom his papers had been intrusted, they were embarrassed by questions as to the manner and form in which it was their duty to give them the publicity intended by their author. Should they, notwithstanding unaffected distrust of their qualifications, and a deep sense of special unfitness arising from natural partiality, undertake to continue the history of their father's life from the point at which his own account had ceased, to supply, as far as they could, the gaps in the previous narrative which had been left by him for further examination or after-construction, and to give to the work the extensive revision which, in the state in which it came to their hands, it seemed to require? Or should they publish the unfinished and unrevised memoirs, as they were left, as a fragment and a contribution, so far as they might go, to the history of the country? Would one or the other of these be such a history of the life of a statesman who had filled a large space in the observation of his countrymen, and who had