Life After the White House, Part 2

The White House

After attending the inauguration of his handpicked successor, Martin Van Buren, Andrew Jackson retired to his plantation home, The Hermitage, near Nashville, Tennessee. Ill with tuberculosis and dropsy, he still rode horseback every morning and supervised his cotton fields. Economic hard times and his adopted son’s gambling debts reduced his finances and kept him busy. He still maintained his interest in politics, and campaigned in Tennessee for Van Buren’s unsuccessful 1840 re-election bid. He then worked to further the career of James K. Polk, and got Polk the Democratic nomination for President in 1844. He died in June of the following year.

After Martin Van Buren was defeated in his race for re-election by William Henry Harrison in 1840, he retired to his estate, Lindenwald, in New York. He remained active in politics for the next twenty years. He was the front-runner for the Democratic nomination in 1844, controlling a majority of the delegates. He had again stated his opposition to the annexation of Texas, a stand that cost him many southern votes. The result was that he was unable to muster the two-thirds of the delegates needed to win the nomination. Although he led on the first four ballots, he eventually lost the nomination to James K. Polk who went on to win the election.

Van Buren declined President Polk’s offer to be minister to Great Britain, preferring to remain in New York as patronage chief for the state. Polk looked to others in the state for patronage advice, and the two soon fell out. Van Buren abandoned his compromise position on slavery and took a strong stand for abolition and favored the Wilmot Proviso, which would have banned slavery in the territories, in 1846. In 1848, the Free Soil Party, made up of abolitionist Democrats and “Conscience” Whigs, nominated Van Buren for President. Van Buren carried no states, but took enough votes away from the regular Democratic candidate, Lewis Cass, in New York to give the state and the election to the Whig candidate, Zachary Taylor.

After his loss in 1848, Van Buren retired from elective politics, although he continued to be active in Democratic circles. Unlike other Free Soilers who supported the Republican Party, Van Buren continued to support the Democratic Party. He supported Presidents Pierce and Buchanan, and although he opposed Lincoln at first, supported him after the election and during the war. He died in 1862, before the war was resolved.

William Henry Harrison died after only a month in office, and was succeeded by his Vice President, John Tyler. At the end of his term, Tyler retired to his estate, Sherwood Forest, where he lived quietly until just before the Civil War. He served as the Chancellor of the College of William and Mary. In February 1861, he led a southern delegation to a hastily convened peace conference of 21 states. The conference rejected the southern peace proposals. At the Virginia secession convention in April, Tyler voted for leaving the Union, and became a member of the Provisional Confederate Congress. In November 1861, he was elected to the Confederate House of Representatives, but died in Richmond before taking his seat. The only President to side with the South in the Civil War, Tyler was given a state funeral in Richmond, but in the North no official notice was taken of his passing.

James K. Polk declined to run for re-election in 1848, and retired to his home, Polk Place. He was very sick, and his wife hoped he would regain his health. This was not to be, and he died three months after leaving office.

Zachary Taylor died in office, and was followed by his Vice President, Millard Fillmore. Fillmore failed to capture the nomination of the Whig Party for a full term of his own, and retired to his home in Buffalo, New York. His wife died shortly after he left the White House, and his daughter died less than 16 months later. He later took a 13-month tour of Europe, where he appeared with former President Van Buren in the House of Commons in England. In 1856, he was nominated for President by the nativist American, or Know-Nothing, Party. He was also nominated later that year by the remnants of the Whig Party, most of whose members had left to join the new Republican Party, making the Whig nomination meaningless. Fillmore won over 21% of the vote, but carried only one state. After that he remained active in civic affairs in Buffalo, and hosted President-elect Lincoln when he stopped there on his way to Washington for his inauguration. Fillmore supported Lincoln and the war effort, but came under attack for his earlier support of the Fugitive Slave Law. After Lincoln’s assassination, the outside of Fillmore’s home was vandalized. He also supported the unpopular Reconstruction plans of President Andrew Johnson, but otherwise was inactive in national politics.

Franklin Pierce became the first, and to date the only, elected President to be denied re-nomination by his party. He retired to his home in New Hampshire, and then spent two years abroad in a futile attempt to improve his wife’s health. Pierce spoke out in favor of the South in the days before the Civil War, warning the federal government not to curb slavery. He denounced Lincoln’s war policies, but was careful to support the Union and oppose secession. In a 4th of July speech in 1863, the day after the Battle of Gettysburg ended, he lamented what he called the “fearful, fruitless, fatal civil war . . . prosecuted . . . upon the theory of emancipation, devastation, subjugation. How futile are all our efforts to maintain the Union by force of arms.” Such anti-war sentiments made Pierce very unpopular, and former friends and neighbors abandoned him.

James Buchanan did not seek re-election, and retired on the eve of the Civil War. He loyally supported the Union and Lincoln’s policies during the Civil War, and supported the Reconstruction policies of President Andrew Johnson. Buchanan wrote a book, “Mr. Buchanan’s Administration on the Eve of the Rebellion” in which he defended his policies as President. He also served on the Board of Trustees of Franklin and Marshall College.

In the next article, we will continue with the post-Civil War Presidents.