The "Little Magician" after the show: Martin Van Buren, country gentleman and progressive farmer, 1841-1862
When Martin van Buren left the White House in 1841, he moved to his home town of Kinderhook, New York, and began running a farm. Although he had been born to a humble family and had spent much of his career creating a new, partisan style of politics that destroyed the gentry's political control, in retirement Van Buren sought to consolidate his credentials as a gentleman. The Little Magician embraced the genteel ideal of rural retirement, modeling his farm and his life on those of the English gentry and of fellow gentleman farmers in the United States. He enthusiastically adopted "progressive" farming techniques, an essential component of genteel rural ideals. But in adopting a gentry lifestyle, he subtly transformed it. Enthusiastic about prices, income, and profitability, he displayed an obsession about money that gentlemen saw as the antithesis of rural retirement. As he had throughout his life, Van Buren embraced gentility but made it his own, infusing it with his trademark enthusiasm, profit-mindedness, and bourgeois calculation. Reeve Huston teaches history at Duke University. Author of many noted history books, Dr. Huston is presently working on a project entitled Battles for Democracy: How Politicians, Plebeians, Evangelicals, African Americans, and Indians Remade American Politics in the Early Nineteenth Century. © 2004 by The New York State Historical Association.
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