William C. Preston, a Whig Senator from South Carolina, was one of Van Buren’s bitterest critics, despite the fact that he was a cousin of Van Buren’s daughter-in-law. Preston led the charge in the 1840 election that the president had purchased gold spoons from the French. This was all part of the Whigs’ campaign to depict Van Buren as an out-of-touch aristocrat with regal tastes. The charge had no foundation. Van Buren points out in his autobiography that the French donated furniture and cutlery to the White House during the Monroe administration and that they were all still there when he became president. “I was charged with having purchased them,” Van Buren wrote. “Several prominent Whig politicians who were perfectly conversant with the facts, so far forgot themselves as to introduce the subject in their electioneering speeches … and Mr. Preston was, unhappily, one of the number.”
“The Prestons are a peculiar race,” he concluded.