The Speech That Toppled A President

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Is there a locofoco within this Hall of the people’s Representatives who will justify this extravagance? … The plain, republican citizens of the United States will not excuse Martin Van Buren for paying for a bunch of artificial flowers to adorn his table a larger sum than … the annual pension granted by the nation to the brave and heroic soldier who endured the seven years’ toll of our Revolutionary struggle. … After the installation … of General Washington as President under the new constitution … he considered he was in duty bound to relinquish to the people of the United States two hundred thousand dollars, the amount of his salary for eight years’ services as President, in consideration of the rents and other expenditures incurred by the nation in maintaining his establishment while in their service. How does the conduct of George Washington contrast on this subject with that of Martin Van Buren? Washington and Van Buren! Bless my soul, what a falling off! (Loud Laughter)…

What has Martin Van Buren ever done? … Placed by the side of Harrison, what is he?…

I am unwilling to grant the appropriation … because the money may be expended in the erection of a throne within the “Blue Elliptical Saloon,” and for the purchase of a crown, diadem, sceptre , and royal jewels … and because, after these regalia shall have been prepared, it will not be inconvenient for President Van Buren to exchange his splendid Spanish cloak for a royal stole.…

The day after the speech was delivered, Levi Lincoln, a Whig colleague of Ogle, apologized to the House of Representatives for the low blow and cited official documents to show that less money had been spent for the upkeep of the Executive Mansion during Van Buren’s term than during that of any previous occupant. Ogle’s real purpose was in fact evident in his suggestion, made with mock anxiety, that the appropriation under discussion might be used to buy Van Buren a throne and crown.

Although the Washington Globe could refer at the time to “the … unscrupulous falsehoods of that dirtiest of all Federal tools, Ogle,” the lesson was not lost upon succeeding administrations. The question did not come up in the Presidency of Van Buren’s successor, William Henry Harrison, since the latter died within a month after taking office, but in Tyler’s time caution still prevailed: the newspapers called the White House “the public shabby house.”