Martin Van Buren
1837 - 1841
Martin Van Buren was born in Kinderhook, New York on December 5, 1782. He was the first president to be born an American. All the other presidents had been British at birth.
He had red hair when he was young. Martin was 5' 6" tall. He was the shortest president since James Madison and perhaps the second shortest president ever.
Kinderhook was the home of two famous Americans, Martin Van Buren and author Washington Irving.
Van Buren's family had six slaves. Slavery was legal in New York at that time. Later, Van Buren took a stand against slavery. While the State of New York was writing a new state constitution in 1821,Van Buren fought to extend the vote to black freeman. However, the provision included that they had to own $250 of land or money. This eliminated most black freemen from voting.
He was a lawyer. He passed the bar in 1803. In 1807 to Hudson, New York. There he made $10,000 a year as was viewed as one of the "gifted" lawyers in the Hudson River area.
Martin Van Buren married Hannah Hoes on February 21, 1807. She was 23 and he was 24. Hannah was his first cousin once removed.
Martin had four sons. His oldest sun went to West Point.
Martin worked in his father's tavern when he was young.
In 1812 ran for the New York State Senate. He won the election by less than 200 votes out of 40,000 votes cast. He was the second youngest person to be elected to the New York Senate.
Van Buren was the first president to be born after the United States gained independence from England.
Van Buren was the first president born in New York State.
He was also the first president born after the writing of the Declaration of Independence.
Van Buren was the first president of Dutch descent. (Some historians think he was the first ethnic president.) He spoke Dutch at home.
Martin Van Buren was credited with starting the Bucktails political party in New York. He is also credited as being the "father" of the Democratic Party that he worked on forming when he was a U.S. Senator.
In 1824, Martin visited Thomas Jefferson, his hero, and John Adams. He made the visits to gain their favor in creating a the Democratic Party.
In 1828, Van Buren left the US Senate and returned to New York to run for governor. He won the election, but didn't remain governor for long. In the spring of 1829, President Jackson appointed Martin as Secretary of State.
He supported Andrew Jackson who appointed Van Buren as Secretary of State and was his vice president during Jackson's second term. He spent a lot of time at the White House with Jackson and was said to have played blindman's bluff with Jackson's children.
As secretary of state he negotiated several treaties including on with France. The treaty with France recover 25 million Francs that was owed to the United States. He also negotiated the first treaty with the Ottoman Empire, now know as Turkey.
When he was vice president (1833), he presided over the Senate wearing a pair of pistols, as a precaution against the frequent outbursts of violence.
Martin Van Buren had large mutton-chop sideburns. He was called the "Red Fox" because he had red hair and was a crafty politician.
Davy Crockett who was serving in congress criticized how Van Buren dressed. He said his clothes were "Feminine."
He opposed annexing Texas, which cost him being reelected.
When he was 68 he proposed marriage to Margaret Sylvester. She turn him down. She was 49 years old.
Van Buren was known as "Old Kinderhook." Some people called him O.K. This nickname is given credit for the origin of the word "okay or OK.."
Martin Van Buren was nicknamed "The Little Magician" for his ability to make backroom deals.
Van Buren was one of the founders of the Democratic Party. The men who ran his campaign were called "Bucktails." He is given credit for developing the invention of party caucuses, nominating conventions, and t he patronage system.
Martin was the youngest person to be elected to the office at that time.
Johnson, Van Buren's Vice President was the only Vice President to be selected by the U.S. Senate. Since no one had received a majority of the electoral votes the Senate had to elect the Vice President.
Van Buren's Vice President was Richard M. Johnson (1837-1841).
Martin Van Buren.
Library of Congress
Cherokee and Pottowatamie chiefs were in the parade. The wore their native costume including feathers beads and paint attended his inauguration.
The U.S. had several problems during his term. Soon after he became President, hundreds of banks failed causing financial panic. People lost their jobs and houses. It was an economic disaster that started before Van Buren was elected. Also, the arguments about slavery became more intense.
This was the most severe recession the United States had up to this point.
The public criticize for his fancy dress, his expensive carriages, and renovation of the White House including golden spoons. He was very unpopular.
Van Buren was one of two presidents that didn't go to college and had not served in the military. (Cleveland was the other.)
He was President he was given two tiger cubs by the Sultan of Oman.
On March 31, 1840 Van Buren issued and executive order that all federal workers would only work a ten hour day. Previously, they had worked from sunrise to sunset.
The capture of the slave ship Amisad. The slaves had taken over the ship near Cuba and took it North. This became a major legal battle with John Quincy Adams defending the slave. (See https://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/amistad/ for more information.)
Martin Van Buren took $100,000, the sum of his salary as president for 4 years, in a lump sum at the end of his term.
Martin Van Buren was defeated in by William Henry Harrison in 1840. His opponents in in 1840 used the slogan "Little Van is a Used Up Man."
Van Buren was the first president to ever campaign for a second term. It would happen again for 50 years.
Harrison's party presented Harrison as growing up in a log cabin and that he was poor when he was younger. Neither items were true.
Harrison won in a landslide victory. He had 234 electoral votes to 60 for Van Buren.
In 1844, Van Buren made another run for the presidency.
One of the major reasons that Van Buren was defeated was he took a stand against annexing Texas to the union. He thought it would lead to a war with Mexico which it did.
Jackson was upset by Van Buren's letter against the annexation of Texas. Jackson then put his support behind Polk.
Van Buren most likely would have won the nomination, but the Democrats passed a convention rule that the winner had to have two-thirds vote from the delegates. Van Buren had over 50% on the first round of voting. Nine votes later James K. Polk was nominated.
President Van Buren's autobiography does not mention his wife once.
In 1848, he ran for President on the Free Soil party ticket. Taylor won the election. Van Buren did not win one electoral vote.
He lived to see eight Presidents from eight different sates succeed him.
When he retired he spent part of his time growing potatoes and other vegetables on his estate in Kinderhook. He had a large estate called Lindinwald. ( It is currently a National Park. Information about the park can be found at http://www.nps.gov/mava/index.htm.
In 1853, he travel to Europe to see Ireland, Great Briton, France and Italy. He visited the Pope while he was in Italy. He was the first former President to visit the Pope.
Martin Van Buren died in Kinderhook, New York (the same place he was born) on July 24, 1862. He was 79. Lincoln ordered all government offices closed the next day and flags were flown at half mast. At dawn 13 guns were fired and then a single shot every half hour until sunset.
He died a day and half after president Lincoln read the first draft of the Emancipation Proclamation to his cabinet. Van Buren was born during the revolution and died during the Civil War.
Quotes from Martin Van Buren:
"I have never yet seen unpretending, but honest zeal and practical efforts t be useful, go without their ultimate reward."
"As to the presidency, the two happiest days of my live were those of my entry upon the office and the day of my surrender of it."
"Indebted cannot be lessened by borrowing more money, of by changing the form of the debt."