History and Historiography

On Presidents Day, Let Us Honor the ‘Little Magician’

The best US Presidents were arguably the ones nobody has ever heard of like Martin van Buren.

By Michael Lind, Tablet

Martin Van Buren created the machinery of mass political parties in America, opening the way for ordinary people to be heard—until so-called ‘reformers’ weakened the parties, inadvertently creating today’s plutocratic politics.

This Presidents Day, I propose a toast to Martin Van Buren—a president who looms large in the history of American democracy, although historians far too often overlook his stature.

His metaphorical stature, that is. In height, “the Little Magician,” at 5 feet, 6 inches, is tied for our second-shortest president with Benjamin Harrison, standing above only James “Little Jemmy” Madison. But although the Little Magician was altitude-challenged compared to other Oval Officers, including the three tallest—Abraham Lincoln, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Donald J. Trump—he helped to democratize American politics by developing the national political party as a mass organization that could promote the interests of ordinary citizens.


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