Martin Van Buren
|Martin Van Buren|
|8th President of the United States|
March 4, 1837 – March 4, 1841
|Vice President||Richard Mentor Johnson|
|Preceded by||Andrew Jackson|
|Succeeded by||William Henry Harrison|
|8th Vice President of the United States|
March 4, 1833 – March 4, 1837
|Preceded by||John C. Calhoun|
|Succeeded by||Richard Mentor Johnson|
|United States Minister to the United Kingdom|
August 8, 1831 – April 4, 1832
|Nominated by||Andrew Jackson|
|Preceded by||Louis McLane|
|Succeeded by||Aaron Vail (Acting)|
|10th United States Secretary of State|
March 28, 1829 – May 23, 1831
|Preceded by||Henry Clay|
|Succeeded by||Edward Livingston|
|9th Governor of New York|
January 1, 1829 – March 12, 1829
|Lieutenant||Enos T. Throop|
|Preceded by||Nathaniel Pitcher|
|Succeeded by||Enos T. Throop|
United States Senator
from New York
March 4, 1821 – December 20, 1828
|Preceded by||Nathan Sanford|
|Succeeded by||Charles E. Dudley|
|14th Attorney General of New York|
February 17, 1815 – July 8, 1819
Daniel D. Tompkins
|Preceded by||Abraham Van Vechten|
|Succeeded by||Thomas Jackson Oakley|
December 5, 1782|
Kinderhook, New York, U.S.
July 24, 1862
Kinderhook, New York, U.S.
Kinderhook, New York, U.S.
|Political party||Free Soil (1848–1854)|
Democratic-Republican (Before 1825)
(m. 1807–1819; her death)
Martin Van Buren (December 5, 1782 – July 24, 1862) was the eighth President of the United States (1837–1841). Before his presidency, he was the eighth Vice President (1833–1837) and the tenth secretary of state (1829–1831), both under Andrew Jackson.
Only about 5 feet, 6 inches tall, but trim and erect, Martin Van Buren dressed fastidiously. Van Buren was a key organizer of the Democratic Party, a dominant figure in the Second Party System, and the first president not of British or Irish descent—his family was Dutch. He was the first president to have been born a United States citizen, since all of his predecessors were born British subjects before the American Revolution. He is the first president not to have spoken English as a first language, having spoken only Dutch growing up.
As Jacksonian democracy, particularly in New York. As president, he did not want the United States to annex Texas, an act which John Tyler would achieve eight years after Van Buren's initial rejection. Between the bloodless Aroostook War and the Caroline Affair, relations with Britain and its colonies in Canada also proved to be strained.
His administration was largely characterized by the economic hardship of his time, the Panic of 1837. He was scapegoated for the depression and called "Martin Van Ruin" by political opponents. Van Buren was voted out of office after four years, losing to Whig candidate William Henry Harrison. In the 1848 election Van Buren ran unsuccessfully for president on a third-party ticket, the Free Soil Party. Van Buren died fourteen years later at the age of seventy-nine.
Van Buren was the last Vice President to be elected directly to the presidency until 1988.
- 1 Early life and education
- 2 Early political career
- 3 Jackson Cabinet
- 4 Election of 1836
- 5 Presidency 1837–1841
- 6 Later life
- 7 Memorials
- 8 In popular culture
- 9 Bibliography
- 10 See also
- 11 Notes
- 12 References
- 13 External links
Early life and education
Martin Van Buren was born in the village of Kinderhook, New York, on December 5, 1782, about 25 miles (40 km) south of Albany, New York. His father, Abraham Van Buren (1737–1817), was a farmer who owned six slaves, and also owned and operated a tavern and inn in Kinderhook. Abraham Van Buren supported the American Revolution and later the Jeffersonian Republicans. Martin Van Buren's mother was Maria Hoes Van Alen Van Buren (1747–1818).
Van Buren was the first president born a citizen of the United States, as all previous presidents were born before the American Revolution. His great-great-great-grandfather Cornelis Maessen van Buren had come to the Americas in 1631 from Buurmalsen, today a village in the municipality of Geldermalsen. Buurmalsen is localized nearby the small city of Buren, Dutch Republic, in present day Netherlands. Van Buren grew up in a Dutch-speaking community. His native language was Dutch, and to date, he is the only U.S. President who has spoken English as a second language.
Van Buren received a basic education at a poorly lit schoolhouse in his native village and later studied Latin briefly at the Kinderhook Academy and at Washington Seminary in Claverack. He excelled in composition and speaking. His formal education ended before he reached 14, when he began studying law at the office of Peter Silvester and his son Francis, prominent Federalist attorneys in Kinderhook. After six years under the Silvesters, he spent a final year of apprenticeship in the New York City office of William P. Van Ness, a political lieutenant of Aaron Burr. Van Buren was admitted to the bar in 1803.
Van Buren married Hannah Hoes, his childhood sweetheart and first cousin once removed, on February 21, 1807, in Catskill, New York. Like Van Buren, she was raised in a Dutch home; she spoke primarily Dutch, and spoke English with a distinct accent. The couple had five sons and one daughter: Abraham (1807–1873) a graduate of West Point and career military officer; John (1810–1866), graduate of Yale and Attorney General of New York; Martin, Jr. (1812–1855), secretary to his father and editor of his father's papers until a premature death from tuberculosis; Winfield Scott (born and died in 1814); and Smith Thompson (1817–1876), an editor and special assistant to his father while president. Their daughter was stillborn. After 12 years of marriage, Hannah Van Buren contracted tuberculosis and died on February 5, 1819, at the age of 35. Martin Van Buren never remarried.
Early political career
Van Buren had been active in politics from at least the age of 17 when he attended a party convention in Surrogate of Columbia County, New York, replacing Van Alen, who had supported Lewis. Van Buren served as Surrogate from 1808 until 1813, when the Federalist Party obtained a majority in the state legislature and replaced him.
Van Buren was a member of the New York State Senate from 1812 to 1820, and joined the opposition party in 1813. (The opposition party were Democratic-Republicans who fought DeWitt Clinton for control of the Democratic-Republican Party in New York.) Van Buren served as New York Attorney General from 1815 to 1819. He replaced William Floyd as a presidential elector in 1820, and voted for James Monroe and Daniel D. Tompkins.
At first he opposed DeWitt Clinton's plan for the Erie Canal, but he supported it when the Bucktails (the name given to the anti-DeWitt Clinton Democratic-Republicans) were able to gain a majority on the Erie Canal Commission, and he supported a bill that raised money for the canal through the sale of state bonds.
In 1817, Van Buren's connection with so-called "machine politics" started. He was a creator of the first political organization encompassing all of New York, the Bucktails. The Bucktails became a successful movement that emphasized party loyalty and used it to capture and control many patronage posts throughout New York. Van Buren gained the nickname of "Little Magician" for the skill with which he exploited what came to be called the "spoils system". Van Buren served as a member of the 1820 state constitutional convention, where he favored expanded voting rights, but opposed universal suffrage and tried to maintain property requirements for voting.
He was the leading figure in the 
U.S. Senate and national politics
In February 1821, Martin Van Buren was elected a U.S. Senator from New York, defeating the incumbent Nathan Sanford who ran as the Clintonian candidate. Van Buren at first favored internal improvements, such as road repairs and canal creation, therefore proposing a constitutional amendment in 1824 to authorize such undertakings. The next year, however, he took ground against them. He voted for the tariffs of 1824 and 1828, and then gradually abandoned the protectionist position, coming out for "tariffs for revenue only."
In the Vice President. None of the presidential candidates received a majority of the electoral college votes, so the choice fell to the United States House of Representatives. Van Buren had originally hoped to block John Quincy Adams by denying him the state of New York, which was divided between supporters of Crawford and Adams. However, Representative Stephen Van Rensselaer swung New York to Adams and thereby the election. After the House contest, Van Buren shrewdly kept out of the controversy which followed, and began looking forward to 1828. He switched his support early from Crawford, whose ill health after a stroke had made him a less than viable candidate, to Andrew Jackson.
Always notably courteous in his treatment of opponents, he showed no bitterness toward either Adams or Henry Clay, and he voted for Clay's confirmation as Secretary of State, notwithstanding Jackson's "corrupt bargain" charge. At the same time, he opposed the Adams-Clay plans for internal infrastructure improvements (roads, canals, bridges etc.) and declined to support U.S. participation in the Congress of Panama. As chair of the Judiciary Committee, he brought forward a number of measures for the improvement of judicial procedure, including one (not adopted), which would have required a super-majority vote by the United States Supreme Court to declare a law unconstitutional. in May 1826, Van Buren joined with Senator Thomas Hart Benton in reporting on patronage in the executive branch, going against his own use of the spoils system to propose unsuccessfully that Presidents not be able to remove officeholders at will, and that Presidents report to Congress on the reasons why dismissed holders of federal positions had been removed. The 1828 "Tariff of Abominations" was recognized as his work. Since Democrats, especially Southerners, were generally opposed to tariffs that increased the price of manufactured goods from the North but did not benefit the raw materials produced in the South, Van Buren could normally have been expected to oppose tariffs. Political observers of the time viewed Van Buren's efforts to pass the 1828 tariff as part of the campaign to elect Jackson as President. Anticipating that most Southerners would vote for Andrew Jackson no matter who else was running, Van Buren intended the tariff proposed by Jackson's Northern Democratic supporters in Congress to attract to Jackson's candidacy Northern voters, who generally favored high tariffs to protect the manufactured goods they produced. Van Buren voted in favor, later adopting the cover story that he had done so only in response to instructions from the New York State Legislature. Most Democrats, especially Southerners, continued to oppose tariffs after 1828. Van Buren's political opponents in the Democratic Party used his 1828 vote against him for years afterwards to prevent him from obtaining Southern support for his candidacies.
Van Buren was not an orator, but his more important speeches show careful preparation and his opinions carried weight; the oft-repeated charge that he refrained from declaring himself on crucial questions is hardly borne out by an examination of his senatorial career. In  Van Buren won his election, and resigned from the Senate to start the gubernatorial term, which began on January 1, 1829.
Martin Van Buren's tenure as New York governor is the second shortest on record. While his term was short, he did manage to pass the Bank Safety Fund Law (an early form of deposit insurance) through the Legislature.
On March 5, 1829, President Jackson appointed Van Buren Secretary of State, an office which probably had been assured to him before the election, and Van Buren resigned the governorship on March 12. He was succeeded in the governorship by his Lieutenant Governor, Enos T. Throop, a member of the Regency. As Secretary of State, Van Buren took care to keep on good terms with the Kitchen Cabinet, the group of politicians who acted as Jackson's advisers. He sometimes opposed Jackson in the matter of removing political appointees from office to replace them with Jackson loyalists, but also saw to the replacement of Postmasters in New York with Van Buren loyalists.
He won the lasting regard of Jackson by his courtesies to Peggy Eaton, wife of Secretary of War John H. Eaton, with whom the wives of the cabinet officers led by Vice President Calhoun's wife, Floride Calhoun had refused to associate in the Petticoat Affair.
No serious diplomatic questions arose during Van Buren's tenure, but he achieved several notable successes, including the settlement of long-standing claims against France, winning reparations for property that had been seized during the Napoleonic Wars. He reached an agreement with the British to open trade with the British West Indies colonies. In addition, Van Buren completed a treaty with the Ottoman Empire that gained American merchants access to the Black Sea. Items on which he did not achieve success included settling the Maine-New Brunswick boundary dispute with Great Britain, gaining settlement of the U.S. claim to the Oregon Country, concluding a commercial treaty with Russia, and persuading Mexico to sell Texas.
Van Buren also advised Jackson informally on matters of domestic policy. In the controversy over the Bank of the United States, he sided with Jackson. He also sided with Jackson on the Indian Removal Act. After the breach between Jackson and Calhoun, which culminated with the Nullification Crisis, Van Buren's position as one of Jackson's primary political supporters and policy advisors clearly marked him as the most prominent candidate for the vice presidency in 1832.
In December 1829, Jackson had already made known his wish that Van Buren receive the 1832 vice presidential nomination. In April 1831, Van Buren resigned as Secretary of State during the  Van Buren did not leave office until June, and continued to play a part in the Kitchen Cabinet. In August 1831 Van Buren was appointed Minister to Court of St. James (Britain) and he arrived in London in September. He was cordially received, but in February, he learned that his nomination had been rejected by the Senate on January 25, 1832. The rejection was attributed by the Senate to Van Buren's instructions while Secretary of State to Louis McLane, the American minister to Britain. Van Buren's instructions, which concerned the opening of the West Indies trade, supposedly repudiated the foreign policy of Jackson's predecessors, which the Senate claimed was a breach of decorum. In fact, the rejection of Van Buren was the work of Calhoun. Calhoun opposed Van Buren, believing that Van Buren has attempted to keep him from becoming vice president. Calhoun also opposed Van Buren for his role in the Petticoat Affair and his work on the 1828 tariff. When the vote on Van Buren's nomination was taken, enough Democrats refrained from voting to produce a tie, thus giving Calhoun in his role as presiding officer the ability to cast a vote. He voted no, and so achieved "vengeance" on Van Buren.
Calhoun was elated, convinced that he had ended Van Buren's career. "It will kill him dead, sir, kill him dead. He will never kick, sir, never kick," Calhoun exclaimed to a friend within earshot of Thomas Hart Benton. In fact, Calhoun's move backfired by making Van Buren seem the victim of petty politics, thus raising him in both Jackson's regard and the esteem of others in the Democratic Party. Far from ending Van Buren's career, Calhoun's action gave greater impetus to Van Buren's candidacy for vice president.
After a brief tour of Europe, Van Buren reached New York on July 5, 1832. The May 1832 Democratic National Convention, the party's first, had nominated him for vice president on the Jackson ticket. Van Buren's nomination was not as strongly supported as Jackson's, particularly among southerners who recalled his work on the tariff in 1828, but he somewhat placated southerners by denying the right of Congress to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia without the consent of the slave states.
The Jackson-Van Buren ticket won the 1832 election, and Van Buren took office as Vice President in March 1833. During his time in office Van Buren continued to be one of Jackson's primary advisors and confidants, and accompanied Jackson on his tour of the northeastern United States in 1833. Jackson's confidence in Van Buren was further demonstrated after Jackson named John Forsyth, another Van Buren ally, to serve as Secretary of State.
Van Buren's support of Jackson in the Nullification Crisis and the decision not to recharter the Second Bank of the United States made him a target of Jackson's most vocal opponents. Van Buren was threatened with violence, including explicit threats from Senator Tariff of 1833, which helped end the Nullification Crisis.
During one contentious debate on the bank issue, Van Buren presided over the Senate as Clay spoke passionately about the harm he believed Jackson's bank policy would cause. Directing his remarks to Van Buren, Clay asked rhetorically whether Van Buren would approach Jackson and persuade him to change his mind. After Clay concluded, observers wondered how Van Buren would respond. Rather than answering directly, Van Buren descended from the rostrum and asked Clay if he could borrow a pinch of Clay's snuff. Caught off guard, Clay reflexively handed over his snuff box. Van Buren took a pinch, bowed to Clay, and left the chamber, both reducing the effect of Clay's remarks and preventing tension from escalating, as would have happened if Van Buren had attempted to reply to Clay.
Election of 1836
In the election of 1832, the Jackson-Van Buren ticket won by a landslide. With Jackson not running in 1836, he was determined to make Van Buren his successor in order to continue the Jackson administration's policies.
Van Buren was unanimously nominated by the 1835 Democratic National Convention at Baltimore, Maryland. On the issue of slavery, Van Buren moved to obtain the support of southerners by assuring them that he opposed abolitionism and that he supported leaving slavery alone in the states where it already existed. On the issue of the national bank, Van Buren made clear that he opposed rechartering the Bank of the United States. To demonstrate his good faith on the slavery issue, Van Buren cast the tie-breaking vote in the Senate in favor of engrossing a bill to subject abolitionist literature in the mail to state laws, thus ensuring that its circulation would be prohibited in the south.
Martin Van Buren's competitors in the 1836 election were the Whigs, who ran several regional candidates in hopes of sending the election to the House of Representatives, where each state delegation would have one vote and the Whigs would stand a better chance of winning. William Henry Harrison hoped to receive the support of the Western voters, Daniel Webster had strength in New England, and Hugh Lawson White and Willie Person Mangum had support in the South. Van Buren won the election easily, with 170 electoral votes to 73 for Harrison, 26 for White, 14 for Webster and 11 for Mangum.
Twentieth Century etymologist Allen Walker Read published research asserting the wide usage of the phrase "O.K." (okay) -- "Old Kinderhook"—started during the presidential campaign and subsequent presidency of Martin Van Buren.
Martin Van Buren announced his intention "to follow in the footsteps of his illustrious predecessor", and retained all but one of Jackson's cabinet. Van Buren had few economic tools to deal with the Panic of 1837. The Panic was followed by a five-year depression. Banks failed and unemployment reached record highs. Some modern economists have argued that the Panic was caused by the bank policies of the Jackson administration, with the power to create money being distributed into decentralized banks, most of which would then continue to cause a massive inflationary bubble.
Van Buren advocated lower tariffs and free trade, and by doing so maintained support of the South for the Democratic Party. He succeeded in setting up a system of bonds for the national debt. His party was so split that his 1837 proposal for an "Independent Treasury" system did not pass until 1840. It gave the Treasury control of all federal funds and had a legal tender clause that required (by 1843) all payments to be made in specie, but it further inflamed public opinion on both sides.
In a bold step, Van Buren reversed Andrew Jackson's policies and sought peace at home, as well as abroad. Instead of settling a financial dispute between American citizens and the Mexican government by force, Van Buren wanted to seek a diplomatic solution. In August 1837, Van Buren denied Texas' formal request to join the United States, again prioritizing sectional harmony over territorial expansion.
In the case of the ship Tennessee, Alabama, and South Carolina to the Oklahoma territory, executing the orders passed under Jackson. To help secure Florida, Van Buren also continued the Second Seminole War, which had begun while Jackson was in office. Fighting was not resolved until 1842, after Van Buren had left office.
In 1839, Joseph Smith, Jr., the founder of the Latter Day Saint movement visited Van Buren to plead for the U.S. to help roughly 20,000 Mormon settlers of Independence, Missouri, who were forced from the state during the 1838 Mormon War there. The Governor of Missouri, Lilburn Boggs, had issued an executive order on October 27, 1838, known as the "Extermination Order". It authorized troops to use force against Mormons to "exterminate or drive [them] from the state". In 1839, after moving to Illinois, Smith and his party appealed to members of Congress and to President Van Buren to intercede for the Mormons. According to Smith's grandnephew, Van Buren said to Smith, "Your cause is just, but I can do nothing for you; if I take up for you I shall lose the vote of Missouri".
Van Buren took the blame for hard times, as Whigs ridiculed him as Martin Van Ruin. Van Buren's rather elegant personal style was also an easy target for Whig attacks, such as the Gold Spoon Oration. State elections of 1837 and 1838 were disastrous for the Democrats, and the partial economic recovery in 1838 was offset by a second commercial crisis in that year. Nevertheless, Van Buren controlled his party and was unanimously renominated by the Democrats in 1840. The revolt against Democratic rule led to the election of William Henry Harrison, the Whig candidate. He once mentioned his relief of leaving office saying, "As to the presidency, the two happiest days of my life were those of my entrance upon the office and my surrender of it".
Though he did vote against the admission of Missouri as a slave state, and though he would be the nominated presidential candidate of the Free Soil Party, an anti-slavery political party, in 1848, there was no ambiguity in his position on the abolition of slavery during his term of office. Van Buren considered slavery morally wrong but sanctioned by the Constitution. When it came to the issue of slavery in D.C. and slavery in the United States, he was against its abolition, and said so in his Inaugural Address in 1837: "I believed it a solemn duty fully to make known my sentiments in regard to it [slavery], and now, when every motive for misrepresentation has passed away, I trust that they will be candidly weighed and understood.
"I must go into the Presidential chair the inflexible and uncompromising opponent of every attempt on the part of Congress to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia against the wishes of the slaveholding States, and also with a determination equally decided to resist the slightest interference with it in the States where it exists." Slavery would be abolished in the District of Columbia on April 18, 1862.
Administration and Cabinet
|The Van Buren Cabinet|
|President||Martin Van Buren||1837–1841|
|Vice President||Richard Mentor Johnson||1837–1841|
|Secretary of State||John Forsyth||1837–1841|
|Secretary of Treasury||Levi Woodbury||1837–1841|
|Secretary of War||Joel R. Poinsett||1837–1841|
|Attorney General||Benjamin Butler||1837–1838|
|Henry D. Gilpin||1840–1841|
|Postmaster General||Amos Kendall||1837–1840|
|John M. Niles||1840–1841|
|Secretary of the Navy||Mahlon Dickerson||1837–1838|
|James K. Paulding||1838–1841|
Van Buren appointed two Justices to the Supreme Court of the United States:
Van Buren appointed eight other federal judges, all to United States district courts.
On the expiration of his term, Van Buren returned to his estate, Lindenwald in Kinderhook, where he planned out his return to the White House. He seemed to have the advantage for the nomination in 1844; his famous letter of April 27, 1844, in which he frankly opposed the immediate annexation of Texas, though doubtlessly contributing greatly to his defeat, was not made public until he felt practically sure of the nomination. In the Democratic convention, though he had a majority of the votes, he did not have the two-thirds which the convention required, and after eight ballots his name was withdrawn. James K. Polk received the nomination instead.
In 1848, he was nominated by two minor parties, first by the "Barnburner" faction of the Democrats, then by the Free Soilers, with whom the "Barnburners" coalesced. He won no electoral votes, but took enough votes in New York to give the state—and perhaps the election—to Zachary Taylor. In the election of 1860, he voted for the fusion ticket in New York which was opposed to Abraham Lincoln, but he could not approve of President Buchanan's course in dealing with secession and eventually supported Lincoln.
Martin Van Buren then retired to his home in Kinderhook. After being bedridden with a case of pneumonia during the fall of 1861, Martin Van Buren died of bronchial asthma and heart failure at his Lindenwald estate in Kinderhook at 2:00 a.m. on July 24, 1862. He was 79 years old. He is buried in the Kinderhook Reformed Dutch Church Cemetery, as are his wife Hannah, his parents, and his son Martin Van Buren, Jr.
Cities and towns
Cities and towns named for Van Buren include:
Van Buren, Indiana
Van Buren Township, Clay County, Indiana
Van Buren Township, Brown County, Indiana
Van Buren Township, Monroe County, Indiana
Van Buren Township, Grant County, Indiana
Van Buren Township, Pulaski County, Indiana
Van Buren Township, Fountain County, Indiana
Van Buren Township, LaGrange County, Indiana
Van Buren Township, Madison County, Indiana
Van Buren Township, Kosciusko County, Indiana
Van Buren Township, Daviess County, Indiana
Van Buren Township, Shelby County, Indiana.
Tennessee: Van Buren, Tennessee (unincorporated)
Wisconsin: Van Buren, Wisconsin (unincorporated)
In popular culture
During the Yale University graduate and member of the Skull and Bones secret society, was attempting to become the first sitting Vice President to win election to the Presidency since Van Buren. In the comic strip Doonesbury artist Garry Trudeau depicted members of Skull and Bones as attempting to rob Van Buren's grave, apparently intending to use the relics in a ritual that would aid Bush in the election.
On the television show Seinfeld, the episode The Van Buren Boys is about a fictional street gang that admires Van Buren and bases its rituals and symbols on him, including the hand sign of one hand with all the fingers up and spread out, and the other with all but the thumb and index finger pointing up. Eight fingers up signifies Van Buren, the eighth President.
In an early scene of the film Two Faces of January, the main characters - American expatriates in Athens - encounter an American tourist and discover that she is a Van Buren descendant. They then argue over whether Martin Van Buren was the seventh or eighth President.
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- Martin Van Buren to Thomas Ritchie, January 13, 1827.
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