COMPANION TO CANTO XXXVII
Annotations in the List of Works Cited:
Contributor name. The Online Companion to The Cantos of Ezra Pound, IV: n.gloss number. The Cantos Project. Web. Date of access.
Example: Preda, Roxana. The Online Companion to The Cantos of Ezra Pound, IV: n.13. The Cantos Project. Web. 5 September 2016.
(Contributor name, OCCEP IV: n.no).
Example: (Bressan, OCCEP IV: n.3). If no name is indicated, the gloss was written by Roxana Preda. In this case, the citation will have this format: (OCCEP IV: n.13).
References to The Cantos
As The Cantos Project is numbering the lines of The Cantos, references to cantos already glossed will be by canto number and line(s), as standard with classical works. Example: III: ll.7–17.
For cantos that are not yet glossed within the project, the references will be by canto number slash page number, as standard in the research on the poem. Example: III/12. The page number refers to the American edition of The Cantos by Ezra Pound. New York: New Directions, 1998.
©Roxana Preda. Companion to Canto XXXVII, 31 May 2019.
LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS
van Buren, Martin. The Autobiography of Martin Van Buren. Annual Report of the American Historical Association. Vol. 2: The Autobiography. Ed. John C. Fitzpatrick. Washington, Government Printing Office, 1920.
Bank of the United States.
Terrell, Carroll F. “Canto XXXVII.” A Companion to The Cantos of Ezra Pound. Berkeley: California UP, 1993. 144-53.
Adams, John Quincy. 1928. The Diary of John Quincy Adams 1794-1845, American Political, Social and Intellectual Life from Washington to Polk. Ed. Allan Nevins. New York: Scribner’s 1951.
The Online Companion to the Cantos of Ezra Pound. The Cantos Project.
Adams, John. The Works of John Adams. Ed. Charles Francis Adams. 10 vols. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1850-6. Hathi Trust.
Jefferson, Thomas. The Writings of Thomas Jefferson. Eds. Andrew Lipscomb and Albert Ellery Bergh. Memorial Edition. Washington D.C.: The Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association, 1903-4. 20 vols. Hathi Trust.
- Martin van Buren – Martin van Buren (1782-1862), American statesman, co-founder of the Democratic Party, Senator of New York and 8th president of the U.S. (1837-1841).
See Timeline for a general view of van Buren’s career.
A canto on Martin van Buren’s political profile was a very topical subject at the time of its composition in early 1933. Van Buren had been immersed in the struggle of his presidential predecessor, Andrew Jackson, to stop the re-charter of the Second Bank of the United States (1830-36). As president, he sought to replace the national bank with an Independent Treasury, which he conceived as strictly a bank of deposit for government revenue. Though the independent treasury bill was successfully blocked by the Whig Party, which supported a national bank, it was passed into law by Van Buren’s successor, James K. Polk, in 1846. The Independent Treasury system functioned as an instrument of managing government revenue until the Federal Reserve was fully established, 1914-22.
At the time the canto was written, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was considering ways of reforming the financial system, which had been unable to prevent or manage the Great Depression. At the start of his presidency in March 1933, FDR was at the crossroads and faced a similar problem that Jackson and van Buren had had to face. Should the Federal Reserve be closed or nationalised? Should the balance between the dollar and its gold backing be altered? Should the dollar have a gold backing at all? What was to be done to protect small depositors who were directly threatened by bank failures? How could the dollar be solidly established so that it maintains its value and does not depreciate? Between 5-13 March 1933, after a month-long run on the banks, FDR decreed a Bank Holiday and closed the whole banking system for re-evaluation by the Treasury. In his first fireside chat to the nation on 12 March, he assured depositors that after the banks are re-opened, they will be again safe. Depositors believed him and re-deposited their cash in the re-opened banks (Silber 19).
Against this background, seeing that “Frankie [was] getting into a jam,” Pound was particularly anxious to get the Van Buren canto published as soon as possible. His editor, Harriet Monroe, did not agree; she delayed publication, remarking to T. S. Eliot in the spring of 1934 that if Pound wanted to be topical, he should have sent his poem to The New York Times. See Calendar.
- jail ’em for debt – In 1812, Van Buren was elected to the New York State Senate. His biographer, George Bancroft, considered the period he served in the New York Legislature (1812-21), as his “preparatory career,” remarking that van Buren’s political profile was already visible in his defence of small debtors and his votes against bank interests, a sign of his future hostility to the idea of a national bank.
“As early as April 1813, he introduced into the New York Senate, on leave, ‘A Bill for the Relief of Small Debtors.’ The journals of the same body show that during the sessions of 1817, 1818, and 1820 he was actively engaged upon the subject of imprisonment for debt, and that in 1818 he reported the ‘Bill to Abolish Imprisonment for Debt, and to Punish Frauds,’ and carried it through the Senate by the strong vote of twenty-one to five” (Bancroft 54).
- immigrant – during his brief tenure as Governor of New York (January-March 1829), Van Buren sponsored a Safety Fund to protect depositors from bank failures. (A 221-222; C n.3).
George Bancroft described the volatility of paper money at that time:
“Who, that has not seen, can describe the anguish of the emigrant of those days when, arriving at the land-office, he found the banknotes in which he had hoarded the fruits of  a life of toil, or the modest proceeds of his patrimony, had suddenly lost their value before the end of his journey ? Who can recount the misery and widely spread woe at the farmer’s fireside as he finds the fruit of all his toil, exchanged for bank-notes, melting away from him through the mischiefs of a depreciating currency?” (Bancroft 160-1).
- patroon – Under old Dutch law, a patroon was an owner of vast tracts of land in a colony, a man of property who also held social and political privileges. The largest estate belonged to the van Rensselaer family and covered most of the New York State. The patroon system disintegrated around the 1840s, when the land was gradually sold off. See also n.11.
Van Buren’s early activity as young attorney (1803-1811) was to protect the small freeholders against the encroachment of the patroons on their land:
“The soil of New York in the time of its colonial dependency, and under its royal governors, had been lavishly conveyed by royal patents, which squandered away hundreds of thousands of acres. These grants, which were usually made without a previous survey, and with no more definite boundaries than a reference to some uncertain brooks or hills, defined only by their Indian names, included large parts of Vermont and of Berkshire County in Massachusetts, as well as tracts on the water-shed of the Hudson, and from their imperfect description opened the way to incessant litigation. When Van Buren entered on his profession he found that some of the  heirs of these indefinite patents, stimulated by the rapid increase of the population in that part of New York, applied the largest interpretation to their grants, and were then encroaching on a humble class of freeholders. The three distinguished lawyers of the vicinity, Abraham Van Vechten, Elisha Williams, and William Van Ness, were generally retained by the claimants under ancient warrants; the small freeholders looked to Van Buren, beseeching him to investigate their titles and defend their rights of possession. The tenantry, too, came to him to learn the nature and extent of the reciprocal obligations imposed by their leases. In defending their rights against encroachments, Van Buren stood alone, resisting analogies drawn from the English courts, and having the ablest of his seniors at the bar arrayed against him” (Bancroft 8-9).
- esprit de corps – Fr. “group spirit,” a feeling of loyalty to the particular social group one belongs to.
From van Buren’s speech in the Senate against the Supreme Court, April 1826:
“I believe the judges of the Supreme Court (great and good men as I cheerfully concede them to be) are subject to the same infirmities, influenced by the same passions, and operated upon by the same causes that good and great men are in other situations. I believe they have as much of the esprit de corps as other men” (Bancroft 133).
- The Calhouns – John Caldwell Calhoun (1782-1850) senator from South Carolina. He served as vice-president to John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson in his first term of office (1825-31). His political position (state rights, opposition to high tariffs, nullification, defence of slavery) was advancing the interest of the slave states in the South against the economic interests of the North and creating division, as distinct from the pro-state but strongly unionist views of Andrew Jackson and Martin van Buren.
Starting with 1829, John Calhoun’s wife, Floride, was highly successful in socially ostracizing Peggy O’Neale, the wife of Andrew Jackson’s Secretary of War, John Eaton, on grounds of immorality, a process that has gone down in history as “The Petticoat Affair.” Calhoun was the head of the “moral party” and led the conflict (D 398).
As political affairs were often conducted at the wives’ soirées, by this manoeuvre, Calhoun was able to disrupt the conduct of government for over two years. This promoted his agenda in blocking the application of the so-called “Tariff of Abominations” (1828), which he considered very detrimental to the South. In order to defuse the crisis, van Buren tried to convince the wives to ease off and accept Peggy. Seeing that his efforts were useless, van Buren resigned from his post as Secretary of State, forcing a cabinet mass resignation, which gave Jackson the possibility of appointing a new cabinet without the Calhounites and thus resume the business of government in 1831. See also following notes.
“Some historians, including the Andrew Jackson biographers Richard B. Latner and Robert V. Remini, believe that the hostility towards the Eatons was rooted less in questions of proper behavior than in politics. Eaton had been in favor of the Tariff of Abominations. He was also politically close to Van Buren. Calhoun may have wanted to expel Eaton from the cabinet as a way of boosting his anti-tariff agenda and increasing his standing in the Democratic Party” (“John Eaton.” Wikipedia).
- Mr Adams – Pound integrated J. Q. Adams’s diary entry [13 December 1829] about the Peggy Eaton scandal in canto XXXIV and reminds the reader of it here:
“Mrs. Rush spoke about the paragraph in the President's message against the bank, and about Mrs. Eaton, wife of the Secretary of War, now the centre of much political intrigue and controversy. Mrs. Eaton is the daughter of a man named O’Neal, who some years since kept a tavern and failed, so that his house was sold to pay his debts. Mrs. Eaton was wife of a purser in the navy, named Timberlake, who being on service in the Mediterranean squadron, his wife lived at her father’s where Mr. Eaton and General Jackson, when a Senator, were lodgers. When O’Neal’s house was sold, it was purchased by Mr. Eaton. About a year and a half since, Timberlake died, and very shortly after Eaton married his widow. Her reputation was not in good odor; and last spring, when Eaton was appointed Secretary of War, a grave question arose among the dignitaries, high and low, of the Administration, whether Mrs. Eaton was to associate with their wives. This question has occasioned a schism in the party, some of whom have more, and some less, of moral scruple; the Vice-President’s wife, Mrs. Calhoun, being of the virtuous, and having then declared that rather than endure the contamination of Mrs. Eaton’s company she would not come to Washington to winter; and accordingly she remains in the untainted atmosphere of South Carolina. I told Mrs. Rush that this struggle was likely to terminate in a party division of Caps and Hats” (D 398-9). (See also XXXIV ll.148-54 and OCCEP XXXIV n.60.)
- Peggy Eaton – Peggy Eaton (1799-1879), the wife of John Eaton, Andrew Jackson’s Secretary of War during his first term, (1828-31). Her memoirs, articulating her version of events shortly before her death, were published by Scribner’s as The Autobiography of Peggy Eaton in 1932, at the time Pound was composing the canto. An unsigned review named “Peggy Eaton’s own story” appeared in the Boston Herald on 30 March 1932 (C n. 8). See review.
- Ambrose (Mr) Spencer – Ambrose Spencer (1765-1848), political figure in Governor DeWitt Clinton’s Republican party in New York. He was Chief Justice of the New York Supreme Court 1819-1822 and Van Buren’s adversary in New York politics. See also n.14.
- Mr Van Renselaer – Stephen van Rensselaer III (1764-1839), the patroon of New York, member of the Republican party and the tenth richest man in the United States at the time. He took the view that the term of residence of tax payers in the state should be increased before vote was allowed (Bancroft 78).
- extension of franchise – the extension of franchise was discussed in the Constituent Convention of New York on 19 September 1821. At the time, more than half of the [male] inhabitants of the state were excluded from the vote on financial grounds. It was proposed to abolish the property qualification and after six months’ residence to confer voting rights on every man who could pay a tax, or served in the militia, or worked on the highway (Bancroft 77).
“By the constitutional charter, formed in 1777, all but freeholders and  actual tenants were disfranchised, and the freeholders themselves were divided into two classes. Those of twenty pounds, New York currency—that is, of fifty dollars—could vote for representatives to the Assembly; but to vote for governor or senators required the possession of an unencumbered freehold of the value of one hundred pounds; that is, of two hundred and fifty dollars. Van Buren, with his friends, proposed nothing less than to transfer the sovereignty of New York from the freeholders to the inhabitants of the State” (Bancroft 62-63).
- State convention – In the autumn of 1820, the legislature of New York passed a bill for the revision of the state constitution. The main need was to democratise political structures within the state: the questions of the veto power of the judiciary and the executive, the extension of franchise, and the length of governor tenure were to be discussed in a Constitutional Convention, which took place between 18 August and 10 November 1821 in Albany. The two political factions, which could loosely be called Republican and Democratic, sent delegates to this convention: on the Republican side, which also represented the views of Governor DeWitt Clinton, were Chief Justice Ambrose Spencer, Chancellor of the State Kent, and the General Stephen Van Rensselaer III. On the Democratic side, Martin van Buren was leading the “Bucktails” (1818-1826) a faction opposed to Clinton. Van Buren had already made his sentiments known on the 4th of July, when he spoke in favour of extending the franchise (Bancroft 66-7). His other proposals were directed at de-centralising and democratising the political and judiciary operations in the state by distributing the power of appointing offices as widely as possible.
- Dixit Spencer – L. “Spencer said.”
“Ambrose Spencer spoke vehemently in opposition to the report; he would not extend the franchise to ‘those who work in factories and are employed by wealthy individuals in the capacity of laborers’” (Bancroft 78):
“‘Are we jealous,’ continued he, ‘of property, that we should leave it unprotected? To the beneficence andliberality of those who have property we owe all the embellishments and the comforts and blessings of life. Who build our churches? Who erect our hospitals ? Who raise our school-houses? Those who haveproperty. And are they not entitled to the regard and fostering protection of our laws and Constitution ? . . . Let us take care, whilst we nominally give the right of voting to a particular description of our citizens,that we do not in reality give it to their employers. The man who feeds, clothes, and lodges another has a real and absolute control over his will. Say what we may, the man who is dependent upon another for hissubsistence is not an independent man, and he will vote in subservience to his dictation’” (Bancroft 79-80).
- Kent said – James Kent (1763-1847), American jurist; Chief Justice (1804-1814) and Chancellor of New York (1814-1823). He too opposed the extension of suffrage.
“By the report before us, we propose to annihilate at one stroke all those property distinctions, and to bow before the idol of universal suffrage. That extreme democratic principle, when applied to the legislative and executive departments of government, has been regarded with terror by the wise men of every age. [...] If we are like other races of men, with similar follies and vices, then I greatly fear that our posterity will have reason to deplore in sackcloth and ashes the delusion of the day. [...] I wish to preserve our Senate as the representative of the landed interest […] The tendency of universal suffrage is to jeopard the rights of property and the principles of liberty.” (Bancroft 81).
- Tompkins – Daniel D. Tompkins (1774-1825), Governor of New York (1807-1817) and President of the Convention. Bancroft does not mention his first name, hence Pound’s “Somebody Tompkins.”
“Property, when compared with our other essential rights, is insignificant and trifling. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, not of property, are set forth in the Declaration of Independence as cardinal objects. [...] How was the  late war sustained? Who filled the ranks of your armies? Not the priesthood, not the men of wealth, not the speculators. The former were preaching sedition, and the latter decrying the credit of the Government to fatten on its spoil. And yet the very men who were led on to battle had no vote to give for their commander-in-chief. […] We give to property too much influence” (Bancroft 83-4).
- two words – the two words that made the American revolution happen were “taxation” and “representation,” the democratic principle that everyone who is taxed by the government should be represented in it. See also Bancroft 88. Lines 28-32 quote from the speech Van Buren made in support of the extension of franchise, delivered at the New York Convention on 25 September 1821. The speech, much lauded in his age, carried the vote in favour of universal franchise for men 100 to 19 (Bancroft 97).
- when a turnpike depends upon congress – As a U.S. senator (1821-1829), Van Buren opposed the participation of the federal government in nationwide projects like canals and roads, arguing in favour of state responsibility. He thereby showed his political dissent from J. Q. Adams, who believed in nationwide civil works and the role of the federal government in undertaking them.
“the nearer a subject is kept to the people, the more easily can it be controlled; but when the turnpike before the farmer’s door depends on Congress or the Cabinet at Washington, the opportunity of local supervision is lost” (Bancroft 115).
Lines 33-49 of the canto are a survey of van Buren’s political opinions, summing up his profile in questions of principle that do not concern the particular struggle against the second BUS.
- Surrender our conduct – quote from a speech by van Buren as a U.S. senator. Referring to the abolition of the Atlantic slave trade, Van Buren referred to the American anti-slavery legislation of 1819 and 1820 comparing it to the similar efforts in Great Britain. He objected to letting England have right of search on American vessels:
“But as to any stipulation with England, ‘yielding, under certain modifications, the right of search, and authorizing a foreign power to enforce our own laws upon our own citizens,’ he gave a warning against it as ‘ill-advised,’ and having necessarily for ‘its results contention at home and dissatisfaction abroad’” (Bancroft 144).
- Working classes… stock – excerpt taken from one of van Buren’s presidential campaign speeches concerning the balance between gold and paper money:
“Gold and silver should constitute a much greater proportion of the circulating medium of the country than they now do. To protect the working-classes (who, generally  speaking, have no control over a paper currency, and derive no profit from bank stock) against losses arising from depreciation, by securing a metallic currency sufficient at least for all minor dealings—including the payment of labor, the most important as well as the most pressing use there is for money—to furnish a more substantial specie basis for that part of the currency which consists of paper, and thereby save the whole community from loss in consequence of any sudden withdrawal of confidence—should be our ‘first object,’ as it is our imperative duty” (Bancroft 189-90).
- Merchants – The canto is now following the financial crisis of 1837, which many historians consider to be the direct result of Andrew Jackson’s fiscal measures during his presidential term: the refusal to re-charter the BUS; the Specie Circular (which requested the purchase of land only in gold and silver); and the Distribution Act (whereby the tax revenue of the government was distributed to 23 “pet” state banks). See also Bank War timeline.
“The merchants of New York, unwilling to confess over-trading; the speculators, refusing to condemn themselves for yielding to the bad counsels of eager cupidity; the laborers, on whose innocent heads the storm had burst, all sent their committees to the General Government for relief” (Bancroft 200).
- Revenue for wants of the government – Van Buren’s principal care was to protect public money and not subject it to speculation and risk by depositing it in state banks (which would have invested tax revenue like any other source of capital). This is why he proposed an Independent Treasury which should function as a bank of deposit for government income only and be thus completely separate from the commercial transactions of the national economy:
“[The Independent Treasury] tended to make the flow of credit steady; not adding, in seasons of ardent speculation, new fuel to the flame by throwing the national revenue into banks of deposit to be loaned out for the gain of the banks; but, by withholding the fatal stimulant, to restrain excesses and consequent exhaustion, and to make the flow of credit steady and equable; like a good mill-stream, which never rages with fury, and never fails even in the heat of summer” (Bancroft 220).
- Diminish government patronage – by instituting the Independent Treasury, van Buren aimed to correct the implicit privilege that government bestows on a state bank in whose vaults it deposits its revenues. There should be no “pet banks”:
“By forbidding loans of public money [made by state banks which had deposits from tax revenues], it diminished the patronage of the General Government, which no longer could select from among eight hundred banks its few favored ones” (Bancroft 221).
- Sailor … court – By a presidential order of March 1839, van Buren stipulated that sailors could not be lashed save by court order (Bancroft 226-7).
- Land… Clay – van Buren was in favour of the so-called “pre-emption,” a measure giving squatters in the West the right to buy the land they occupied at a dumping price. This contravened Henry Clay’s policy to gradually sell the lands in the West to people with money to buy them and use the proceeds in civil works across the nation (“The American System,” also favoured by John Quincy Adams). However, by the end of the 1830s, illegal occupation of territories in the West had become so widespread that pre-emption became a fait accompli and was passed into law in 1841 (Van Atta 339).
Pound’s source, historian George Bancroft, defended van Buren’s position:
“To save the public lands from speculators and secure them to actual emigrants, Van Buren was the first among our Presidents to recommend a pre-emption law, thus adopting it as the system of the Government.
“From Henry Clay, of Kentucky, the proposed measure, in 1838, met with earnest and uncompromising opposition in Congress. The men for whose benefit it was designed he characterized as a lawless rabble of intruders, as a class entitled to no consideration” (Bancroft 227).
- Mr Clay – Henry Clay (1777-1852), American politician from Kentucky, head of the Whig party, advocate of the “American System” and van Buren’s most formidable political adversary in Congress. Clay had been a champion of the Second Bank of the United States in the Senate – after Jackson’s veto preventing its re-charter in 1836, Clay advocated the creation of a new national bank and successfully prevented the implementation of the Independent Treasury Act during van Buren’s presidency. See also J.Q. Adams’s Presidency for details on “The American System.”
- Mr. Eaton – while Peggy was still married to a navy purser, Timberlake, her father had become bankrupt and had to sell his house. Mr. Eaton, who was a lodger, bought it at auction and gave it back to Peggy’s father (Peggy Eaton Autobiography 59 C n.27). See also nn.6-8.
- loose morals… – After reading some 50 pages into Jefferson’s Autobiography, John Quincy Adams commented in the Diary entry of 11 January 1831:
“The account of his childhood and youth is short, and not boastful; but there are no confessions. He tells nothing but what redounds to his own credit. He is like the French lady who told her sister she did not know how it happened, ‘mais il n’y a que moi au monde qui a toujours raison’ [but it is only I in the whole world who is always right]. Jefferson by his own narrative, is always in the right. This is not uncommon to writers of their own lives. Dr. Franklin was more candid. Mr. Jefferson names the teachers from whom he learnt Greek, Latin, and French, and speaks gratefully of William Small, a Scotchman, professor of mathematics at William and Mary College, who became attached to him, and probably fixed the destinies of his life. It is rather intimated than expressly told that Small initiated him in the mysteries of free-thinking and irreligion, which did fix the destinies of his life. Loose morals necessarily followed. If not an absolute atheist, he had no belief in a future existence. All his ideas of obligation or retribution were bounded by the present life. His duties to his neighbour were under no stronger guarantee than the laws of the land and the opinions of the world. The tendency of this condition upon a mind of great compass and powerful resources is to produce insincerity and duplicity, which were his besetting sins through life” (D 408). See also John Quincy’s scorching criticism of Jefferson in the next page of the Diary (D 409).
- servility of Martin van Buren – from John Quincy Adams’s evaluation of van Buren in a diary entry of 9 September 1837, after a visit to the newly-elected president. Pound made use of this entry in canto XXXIV ll.180-1.
“There are many features in the character of Mr. Van Buren strongly resembling that of Mr. Madison 一his calmness, his gentleness of manner, his discretion, his easy and conciliatory temper. But Mr. Madison had none of his obsequiousness, his sycophancy, his profound dissimulation and duplicity. In the last of these he much more resembles Jefferson, though with little of his genius. The most disgusting part of his character, his fawning servility, belonged neither to Jefferson nor to Madison” (D 483; C n.28).
- pants of the people – from Andrew Jackson’s second annual message to Congress, 1830:
“the resources of the nation beyond those required for the immediate and necessary purposes of government can nowhere be so well deposited as in the pockets of the people” (quoted in Shepard 204-5; C n.29).
- President Jackson – Andrew Jackson (1767-1845), American lawyer and general from Tennessee, the 7th President of the United States (1829-1837). Jackson was loved across the nation for his victory against the British in the Battle of New Orleans (1815) and was considered to represent like no other president before him the interest of the common people. One of the main events of Jackson’s presidency was his stopping the re-charter of the Second Bank of the United States, an institution which had been odious to him ever since the financial crisis of 1819. Van Buren was Jackson’s Secretary of State during the first presidential term and Vice-President during the second.
- give the union five years – In his Diary, John Quincy Adams refers to two conversations he had with Henry Clay and James C. Calhoun in February 1820. Clay prognosticated that in five years there would be three confederacies in the former U.S. Calhoun remarked that in the case of a dissolution of the Union, the South would have to make an alliance with Great Britain (D 227, 228).
The era of Jackson’s presidency was marked by the efforts of the Southern states, particularly represented by Senator Calhoun of South Carolina, to fight federal measures detrimental to the South, such as the high tariff on manufactured goods adopted in 1828, also called “The Tariff of Abominations.” Calhoun proposed “nullification” which, if adopted, would have given states the right to disregard any federal law that was not in their economic interest. He hoped that President Jackson, as a man of the South, would side with the Southern position on tariff. Jackson however, did not endorse Calhoun’s efforts, declaring that the union had to be preserved, even at military cost. A tariff compromise was found by Henry Clay in 1832.
- uniform currency – In his first annual message as president, Andrew Jackson warned Congress that the Second Bank of the United States did not produce “uniform and sound currency” (Shepard 203). This was a factually accurate statement, proven both by the panic of 1819 and the proliferation of hundreds of state banks in the West, which emitted credit with no backing in gold.
- would import grain – At the start of 1837, when the financial panic started, Martin van Buren observed that the U.S., which should have focused on agriculture as main source of economic prosperity, had imported 2 million dollars’ worth of grain in the first six months of 1837 (Shepard 328; C n.32).
- Bank of England – under pressure to re-establish the national bank in the panic of 1837, van Buren resisted, pointing out that not even the Bank of England had been able to prevent abuses of credit (Shepard 329).
- Mr Webster – Daniel Webster (1782-1852), Senator of Massachusetts and member of the Whig Party. Webster was a strong opponent of Jackson’s and van Buren’s policies regarding the Second Bank of the United States.
The speech Pound quotes from was actually delivered by Henry Clay on 25 September 1837 (Shepard 337).
- Maccoboy snuff – Anecdote often retold about a day in the Senate in 1833. Daniel Webster and Henry Clay, using their best rhetoric, were trying to persuade the Senate of the economic distress of the nation after the removal of the government deposits from the BUS in September that year.
“Addressing Van Buren in the Vice-President’s chair, he [Henry Clay] begged him in a burst of pathos to repair to the executive mansion and place before the chief magistrate the naked and undisguised truth. ‘Go to him,’ he cried, ‘and tell him without exaggeration, but in the language of truth and sincerity, the actual condition of this bleeding country, ... of the tears of helpless widows no longer able to earn their bread, and of unclad and unfed orphans.’ Van Buren, in the story often quoted from Benton, while thus apostrophized, looked respectfully and innocently at Clay, as if treasuring up every word to be faithfully borne to the President; and when Clay had finished, he called a senator to the chair, went up to the eloquent and languishing Kentuckian, asked him for a pinch of his fine maccoboy snuff, and walked away” (Shepard 253).
- By diminution of debt – van Buren’s remark shows the resonance of his economics with that of Jefferson, who openly disagreed with the Hamiltonian idea that a national debt is a “public blessing.” See Canto XXXI ll.77-81; OCCEP XXXI n. 40.
“‘A public debt is a public blessing.’ That our debt was juggled from forty-three up to eighty millions, and funded at that amount, according to this opinion was a great public blessing, because the evidences of it could be vested in commerce, and thus converted into active capital, and then the more the debt was made to be, the more active capital was created. That is to say, the creditors could now employ in commerce the money due them from the public, and make from it an annual profit of five per cent., or four millions of dollars. But observe, that the public were at the same time paying on it an interest of exactly the same amount of four millions of dollars. Where then is the gain to either party, which makes it a public blessing?” TJ to J. Eppes 6 November 1813 WTJ XIII: 421.
- Justice Marshall – Justice John Marshall (1755-1835), Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (1801-35). Pound is doing a reprise of a motif he first presented in canto XXXII: Jefferson remarked that it was one of Marshall’s habits to digress and make generalizations that had nothing to do with the current case. See XXXII ll.22-4 and 61; see also OCCEP XXXII: nn.19, 36.
“This practice of Judge Marshall, of travelling out of his case to prescribe what the law would be in a moot case not before the court, is very irregular and very censurable” TJ to Judge William Johnson, 12 June 1823, WTJ XV: 447.
- Tip an’ Tyler – “Tip” was General Benjamin Harrison (1773-1841), who had made his fame at the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811; as a Whig candidate, Harrison ran for president against Van Buren in 1840, with John Tyler (1790-1862) as vice-president. They won the election, but Harrison died a month into his presidency in April 1841. In his Diary, JQA commemorated the inauguration parade, writing that Harrison was riding a “mean-looking horse” and that the administration would “waddle along” (XXXIV ll. 197-99 see also OCCEP XXXIV: n.76).
Pound found the electoral slogan in Shepard 389: “Farewell, dear Van/ You’re not our man;/ To guard the ship,/ We’ll try old Tip./ With Tip and Tyler/ We’ll burst Van’s biler.” See also C n.39.
- sed aureis furculis – L. “luxury but with golden forks.” Pound mentioned “the golden forks” in canto XXVI as witness to Venetian wealth and ostentation in its period of rising power in the 11th century. See XXVI: ll.47-50 and OCCEP XXVI: n. 28.
- bought back… Bordeaux – Though van Buren was accused of ostentatious tastes and elegant habits, he pointed out in his Autobiography that the expensive furniture in the White House had been bought during James Monroe’s presidency (1817-25). (A 769 C n.40).
- dough-face – a “doughface” is an American politician of the North who sympathizes with slavery and the economic interests and policies of the South.
- (the bank’s) president – Nicholas Biddle (1785-1844), American financier and President of the Second Bank of the United States.
- Veto power – The utmost fear among champions of the BUS was that President Jackson would exercise his veto power to stop its re-charter. They did their utmost to prevent it, but as the bill for re-charter had passed both Houses of Congress, Jackson saw no other way out and vetoed on 10 July 1832 shortly before his second-term election. His successful re-election in November 1832 against the Bank’s candidate, Henry Clay, made it appear that Jackson had got the people’s mandate to end the bank.
“The session of 1831-2 (four years before the expiration of its charter) was selected for the presentation of the bank memorial asking from Congress a new or extended charter. That session was deemed the most promising as it was the last before the ensuing Presidential election and afforded the most eligible opportunity for an attempt to drive the President into an approval of a bill for its recharter by the dread of its power to prevent his re-election if he should succeed in defeating such a bill by the use of the veto power. The exercise of that power was the obstacle most feared by the bank, and to place the question in a position which would render such a proceeding by the President most difficult and hazardous to his popularity was of course the principal point at which it aimed” (A 620). See also Timeline.
- Lennox – Robert Lennox (1759-1839), President of the New York Chamber of Commerce. The letter to Lennox is quoted in A 619 n.2. See also C n.46.
- Hamilton – James A. Hamilton (1788-1878), District Attorney for the Southern District of New York. Although he was the son of Alexander Hamilton, the creator of the first BUS, James A. held views similar to Jackson’s and was no friend to the re-chartering of the second BUS. Biddle’s letter to Hamilton is quoted in A 619 n.2.
- line of discounts – line of credit, or loans. Biddle and the BUS suddenly increased their loans to the West from ca.40 to 70 million dollars in a year and a half (October 1830-May 1832), reasoning that the distress caused by the bank ceasing its activities (therefore forcing the sudden repayment of the loans) would put irresistible pressure on the government (C n. 48). See also Timeline.
“Forty millions had been for years the average amount of the loans of the bank. In October 1830 they stood at $40,527,523. Between January 1831 and May 1832 they were increased to $70,428,007: the highest figure ever reached. The amount of its outstanding discounts between the periods mentioned was thus increased about thirty millions, saying nothing of the increase which took place between May the date to which the report of the bank extended, and July when the veto was interposed. This extraordinary and reckless step was taken without even a pretence of a change in the business of the Country to justify, much less to require so great a change in the extent of its credits. The design, as charged at the time and fully demonstrated by subsequent disclosures, was to place the Country so deeply and unless relief could in some other way be obtained so irretrievably in debt as to compel the whole community to demand of the President that he should give his assent to a bill which it was certain would be passed by the two Houses, to extend the charter of the bank as the only means by which it could be saved from wide spread distress and cureless ruin; an appeal which the bank managers believed he would not dare to disregard and which, if disregarded, would inevitably defeat his re-election” (A 621).
- May 1837 – date in the text is a typographical error. It should read May 1832. See preceding note.
- Sorrento – When he sat down to write his memoirs in 1854, van Buren was in Sorrento and fully acknowledged the deep effect the Italian environment had both on his health and his spirits: “With these scanty preparations, but under the stimulus imparted by high health, the exhilaration of this beautiful situation and salubrious climate in the mountains of Sorrento, and the thought-stirring vicinage of Vesuvius, the promontory of Misenum, the classic Bay of Baiae, the island of Capri, and the exhumed cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum, I have once more determined to overcome that disinclination to mental efforts which has thro’ life been my besetting infirmity, and to enter with spirit upon the accomplishment of a task, the performance of which I have hitherto had too much reason to regard with feelings of despair” (A 9).
- I hesertate – The next day after the veto, on 11 July 1832, the most eloquent senator of the time, Daniel Webster of Massachusetts, made a speech to discredit it to the nation.
Van Buren quoted from it indignantly:
“‘I hesitate not to say,’ he continued, ‘that as this Veto travels to the West it will depreciate the value of every man's property from the Atlantic to the Capital of Missouri. Its effects will be found in the price of land, the great and leading article of Western property, in the price of crops, in the produce of labor, in the repression of enterprise and in embarrassments of every kind of business and occupation’” (A 623). See also Timeline.
- de mortuis – L. “of the dead”
“The aphorism de mortuis nil nisi bonum [speak nothing but good of the dead] is doubtless founded in the most humane principles, and when correctly interpreted, its observance is honorable; it does not however apply to a case of this character” (A 629).
Van Buren’s poor opinion of Webster was in agreement with that of John Quincy Adams. See OCCEP XXXIV: n.81.
- 4 to 5 million balance – Van Buren comments on the great disparity between the income of the government and the power of the President of the U.S. to make use of it, and the funds at the disposal of the BUS:
“The balance in the National Treasury, at the commencement of the ‘panic session’ was between four and five millions, the receipts from all sources for the year between 31 and 32 millions and the estimate of the accruing revenue for the year, from which it did not vary much, amounted to between 32 and 33 millions, whilst the annual operations of the bank in discounts and foreign and domestic exchanges and according to its own published statements, at the same period amounted to three hundred and forty one millions of dollars, and it had on deposit a yearly average in its vaults of six millions of dollars belonging to the Federal Government, besides the deposits of individuals. The revenue of the United States was in due time appropriated by law to specific purposes, but whether this was or was not done the President could not use a cent of it, until after the passage of a law authorising him to do so, without exposing himself to the penalties of impeachment; and of the national legislature, by which alone such an act could be passed, it is not too much to say that a majority in one of its branches—the Senate—were the devoted partisans of the bank. The public money subject to the individual control of the President was that portion constituting the secret service fund, which was limited to fifteen or twenty thousand dollars” (A 633).
- employing means – in his Autobiography, van Buren delineated the struggle between the Bank and the nation as well as the political impact of the economic power disparity between the BUS and the government:
“Hence the origin of the plan which was carried out with such unrelenting vigor,—that of employing the vast means at the disposal of the bank  in deranging the credits of the Country and of embarrassing business concerns to an extent sufficient to create wide spread distress and to infuse intense alarm for the safety of its every interest into all the ramifications of a great community—to excite public indignation against the Executive branch of the Government by imputing these disastrous occurrences to the interposition of the President’s Veto and to the necessity he had wantonly imposed on the bank of preparing to wind up its affairs, the evils of which they (the bank leaders) had foretold, and to obtain, by means of the extensive panic thus produced, a control over the action of the public mind which would enable the projectors of these criminal schemes not only to mark out for the newly elected House of Representatives the course it should pursue but to gain in the sequel, possession of the General Government” (A 639-40).
- real committee – Though the strength of the BUS resided in the fact that it was an institution chartered by the American government, where the national tax revenues were deposited, its activities were actually led by a pet committee of directors selected by Biddle, from which the representatives of the government were excluded:
“First: of the steps that were taken to supersede the action of the regular and only board of directors authorized by the charter in regard to all the important movements of the bank which it desired to conceal from the knowledge of the Government; of these the most important were the substitution of what was called the ‘Exchange Committee,’ composed of only five directors, of whom the President of the bank was one and the other four were selected by him, and the bestowment of all but unlimited power on this Committee, whose doings were confidential and from whose councils the Government directors were invariably excluded” (A 641).
- Mr Hamilton – Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804) was the founder of the First Bank of the United States, whose charter expired in 1811.
- bank curtailed – Nearing the term of its ceasing of its activities as a bank of the government in 1836, between August and December 1833, the Bank of the United States began a politics of “curtailment” recalling loans and reducing the circulating credit, thereby creating considerable national distress by deflation. The argument was that the bank needed to consolidate its assets to protect itself against failure. In reality, curtailment went far beyond the need for consolidation and was used by the bank as a measure to turn on the pressure even more. Van Buren is citing from an article by C.C. Cambreleng in the Globe, 1834. See n. 58.
- Mr Taney – Roger B. Taney (1777-1864), American jurist, and Justice of the Supreme Court. In September 1833, he was appointed Director of the Treasury by Andrew Jackson to supervise the removal of the government deposits from the second BUS. He submitted his first report in December 1833 and a second one in June 1834. See also Timeline.
- Cambreling Globe Extra 1834 – Churchill Caldom Cambreleng (1786-1862), American businessman and Democratic congressman for New York.
In his Autobiography, Martin van Buren warmly praised his character, quoting from a speech to young Republicans published in the Globe Extra 1834, p.181. In his speech, Cambreleng delineated the nefarious effects of the Bank’s policy of loan contraction between 30 September 1833 and 1 April 1834. The Bank was recalling loans and increasing its own liquidity at the expense of other banks:
“Armed with these millions in Western drafts, with balances steadily accumulating, the branch at New York would have drawn from our city banks their last dollar and would have broken every bank in the Union had not the Secretary of the Treasury [Roger Taney], between the 30th September and the 1st April, prevented that branch from collecting $8,760,000–had he not armed our city institutions with near nine millions to defend the whole country in this war upon its trade and currency” A 656. See also Bank War Timeline.
- Peggy Eaton’s own story – The memoirs of Peggy Eaton, narrating the “Petticoat Affair” from her own perspective, were published by Scribner’s in 1932. Pound read a review of the book in Boston Herald. See nn.6-8. See review.
- placuit oculis – L. “pleased the eyes.”
- Sorrento, June 21, Villa Falangola – The date and time when van Buren started writing his autobiography, noted down as a first diary entry of his memoirs. The year is 1854. See also n.49. A 7.
- Judge Yeats – Joseph Christopher Yates (1768-1837) American jurist and Governor of New York (A 113).
- Alex Hamilton had been blackmailed – Alexander Hamilton was responsible with the creation of the first national bank in 1791, a fact that Van Buren abhorred. Nevertheless, he was fair to acknowledge Hamilton’s courage and integrity (A 120-21). See also n.55.
- Marshall – Pound gives van Buren’s assessments of his contemporaries as he had given J. Q. Adams’s in canto XXXIV. See n. 38 on Judge John Marshall.
- wool-buyers – the reaction to one of van Buren’s more famous speeches called “the Woollen Speech” delivered at the Capitol of Albany on 10 July 1827.
“Mr. Knower came to me in the evening and told me that, on his way home from the Capitol, Mr. Wood, one of his wool buyers and a sensible man, said to him—“Mr. Knower! that was a very able speech!” “Yes, very able!” he answered. “Mr. Knower!” again said Mr. Wood, after a considerable pause,—“on which side of the Tariff question was it?” “That is the very point I was thinking about when you first spoke to me, Mr. Wood!” replied Knower.
I have frequently been told and have always believed that I rendered much service to the cause of truth by that speech, but this conversation between two intelligent and interested men would seem to indicate that directness on all points had not been its most prominent feature” (A 171).
- Mr Knower – Republican entrepreneur, a friend of Van Buren’s.
“He was then extensively engaged in the purchase of wool, but being a Republican of the old school and withal a singularly upright man and sincere friend, those fine qualities had not yet been affected by the ardent pursuit of money. At a later period he separated from many of his early friends, myself among the rest, in consequence of their anti-tariff opinions, but a short time before his death he addressed me a letter replete with the sentiments and the spirit of his best days” (A 170).
- Clinton – DeWitt Clinton (1769-1828), American politician and Governor of New York. Clinton, a defender of landed interest and limited franchise, was van Buren’s early adversary in state politics. The scene referred to happened in 1824 (A 149).
- Braintree House – an unfair quip that circulated about John Adams (1735-1827, second President of the U.S., 1796-1801) was that he nurtured a hidden admiration for the idea of monarchy, an idea that Adams strenuously denied.
In his letter to Benjamin Rush, 18 April 1790, Adams forcefully stated:
“My friend Dr. Rush will excuse me, if I caution him against a fraudulent use of the words monarchy and republic. I am a mortal and irreconcilable enemy to monarchy. I am no friend of limited hereditary monarchy in America […] Do not therefore my friend, misunderstand me and misrepresent me to posterity. I am for a balance between the legislative and executive powers, and I am for enabling the executive to be at all times capable of maintaining the balance between the Senate and the house, or in other words, between the aristocratical and democratical interests.” (WJA IX: 566).
Pound was aware of this letter and referred to it at the end of canto LXX: “fraudulent use of words monarchy and republic/ I am for balance” (LXX/412-3. See also C LXX n.70).
Adams gave all his three sons a political education that came to full fruition only in the career of his firstborn, John Quincy (1767-1848, 6th President 1824-29).
Braintree Massachusetts was the colony where the ancestors of John Adams settled around 1632. A part of it, Quincy, was the town where he was born and died (A 189-90).
- seeking light from the stars – John Quincy Adams was a strong supporter of federal projects and institutions. Besides canals and roads, Adams was in favour of founding a national university and made every effort, even in old age, to establish the first astronomical observatory in the U.S. (Ventre 2014).
In his analysis of Adams’s inauguration speech, van Buren criticised him for being unrealistic and elitist:
“In his first annual message [Pres. Adams] dwelt with much earnestness and at great length on the same subject [internal Improvement by means of roads and canals] — pressed the transcendent importance of the policy recommended to the persevering consideration of Congress ‘the general principle in a more enlarged extent;’ embraced among several other specified objects a University and Astronomical Observatories, describing the latter as ‘light houses of the skies!’ 一a name sufficiently felicitous in regard to the subject, but indiscreetly used as conceded by his friends in reference to the circumstances under which he spoke,—and closed with an admonition as to the consequences of attempting to excuse our failure in duty by proclaiming to the world that we had allowed ourselves ‘to be paralyzed by the will of our Constituents’” (A 195).
- damned yellow rascal – Van Buren is relaying a vignette of political gossip in which Henry Clay called Daniel Webster a “damned yellow rascal,” implying he was financially corrupt (A 662).
- Taney’s decision – Van Buren refers to the few months between Roger Taney’s first report on the withdrawal of the government deposits from the BUS in December 1833 and Clay’s proposal to “restore” them in May 1834 (A 716-7). See also Bank War Timeline.
- hic jacet fisci liberator – L. “here lies the liberator of the treasury.” Van Buren’s presidency is now mostly remembered for his resistance to the political pressure of founding a new national bank and for establishing an independent treasury, which was finally passed into law by his successor, James K. Polk in 1846.