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The Speech That Toppled A President
How a Pennsylvania congressman dug Martin Van Buren’s political grave with a golden spoon
August 1964 | Volume 15, Issue 5
… in my opinion, it is time the people of the United States should know that their money goes to buy for their plain hard-handed democratic President, knives, forks, and spoons of gold, that he may dine in the style of the monarchs of Europe. … What, sir, will the honest locofoco say to Mr. Van Buren for spending the People’s cash [for] GREEN FINGER CUPS , in which to wash his pretty tapering, soft, white, lily fingers, after dining on fricandeau de veau and omelette soufflé? …
And now … we may, for a moment, imagine the elite of the court … all seated before this sumptuous array of gold and silver ware … compotiers on feet, and tambours elevated with three stages … [the] plateau with its splendid mirrors, fine gilding, carving, wreaths, garlands, fruits, and vines, and with its sixteen figures presenting crowns. … I ask you, how would a plain, frank, intelligent, republican farmer feel … if he were caught at a table like that? … I have been informed that even Members of Congress have, on some occasions, been … greatly perplexed to ascertain what dishes might be called for, there being no food whatever on the table , and no “bill of fare” … to designate the … nomenclature of the various viands upon which the palace guests were to banquet. The latter embarrassment, however, was soon removed by the butler announcing—
For the first course .—Potage au tortue, Potage à la Julienne, et Potage aux pois.
Second course .—Saumon, sauce d’anchois, Bass piqué à la Chambore.
Third course .—Suprême de volaille en bordure à la gelée, Filet de boeuf piqué au vin de Champagne, Pâté chaud à la Toulouse.
Fourth course .—Salade d’homard monté, Filets mignons de mouton en chevreuil, Cerveau de veau, au suprême, Pigeons à la royal aux champignons.
Fifth course .—Bécassines, Canard sauvages, Poulet de Guinée piquée.
Pâtisserie .—Charlotte russe au citron, Biscuit à la vanille decoré, Coupe garnie de gelée d’orange en quartiers, Gelée au marasquin, Gelée au Champagne rose, Blanc mange, Sultane, Nougat, Petits gateaux varies.
Dessert .— Fruits, et glace en pyramide, et en petits moules, Toste d’anchois, Café et liqueur. Followed by Sauterne, Hock, Champagne, Claret, Port, Burgundy, Sherry, and Madeira, “choisest brands.”…
I will now direct the attention of the committee to another department of the President’s revenues. … I refer, sir, to the linens, towels, tablecloths, &c., bought with the People’s cash for the use of the palace. … I cannot see the propriety or the justice of the President of the United States in saddling the Public with all the little disbursements of his household. He receives an annual salary of TWENTY-FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS, IN GOLD AND SILVER , which gives him $68.50 per day , or $2.81 for each and every hour that passes during the four years of his presidential term. If he enjoys himself five hours at a state dinner, he rises from his feast !14.05 richer than when he sat down. If he sleep eight hours, he is sure to get up from his state bed $22.48 better off than before he closed his eyes. … I ask you, therefore, whether it is just and equal for the President to charge the farmer, the mechanic, and the poor laborer with the cost of making his sheets, pillow-cases, and servants’ aprons—with the pitiful price paid for HEMMING, YES, HEMMING his … DISH CLOTHS … OR STRAINER RAGS? … The poor laborer with his fifty cents a day … is taxed for the cost of grinding the knives which the servants in the President’s kitchen use in eating their victuals.…
I have supposed … that the state dinners and palace servants of Mr. Van Buren may together possibly demand an expenditure of $4,500. To that amount may be added about $2,500 for provisions of every kind … and we then have the gross sum of $7,000, which embraces every cent that Mr. Van Buren annually disburses from his private purse, excepting … if he is vain enough to … lay out hundreds of dollars in supplying his toilet with “Double Extract of Queen Victoria” … imparting to the handkerchief an agreeable, refreshing, and lasting odor … if, I say, Mr. Van Buren sees fit to spend his cash in buying … cosmetics, … it can constitute no valid reason for charging the farmers, laborers, and mechanics of the country, with bills for HEMMING HIS DISH RAGS, FOR HIS LARDING NEEDLES, LIQUOR STANDS , and FOREIGN CUT WINE COOLERS .…