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Martin Van Buren


In office
March 4, 1837 – March 4, 1841
Vice President Richard Mentor Johnson
Preceded by Andrew Jackson
Succeeded by William Henry Harrison

In office
March 4, 1833 – March 4, 1837
President Andrew Jackson
Preceded by John C. Calhoun
Succeeded by Richard Mentor Johnson

In office
March 28, 1829 – May 23, 1831
President Andrew Jackson
Preceded by Henry Clay
Succeeded by Edward Livingston

In office
January 1, 1829 – March 5, 1829
Lieutenant Enos T. Throop
Preceded by Nathaniel Pitcher
Succeeded by Enos T. Throop

In office
March 4, 1821 – December 20, 1828
Preceded by Nathan Sanford
Succeeded by Charles E. Dudley

In office
1823–1828
Preceded by William Smith
Succeeded by John Macpherson Berrien

In office
February 17, 1815 – July 8, 1819
Governor Daniel D. Tompkins
John Tayler
DeWitt Clinton
Preceded by Abraham Van Vechten
Succeeded by Thomas Jackson Oakley

Born December 5, 1782(1782-12-05)
Kinderhook, New York
Died July 24, 1862 (aged 79)
Kinderhook, New York
Political party Democratic-Republican, Democratic, and Free Soil
Spouse(s) Hannah Van Buren (1807–1819)
Children Abraham Van Buren
John Van Buren
Martin Van Buren (1812–55)
Smith Thompson Van Buren
Alma mater Kinderhook Academy
Occupation Lawyer
Religion Dutch Reformed[1]
Signature

Martin Van Buren (pronounced /væn ˈbjʊərɨn/ or /væn ˈbjɜrɨn/; December 5, 1782 – July 24, 1862) was the eighth President of the United States from 1837 to 1841. Before his presidency, he served as the eighth Vice President (1833–1837) and the 10th Secretary of State under Andrew Jackson. He was a key organizer of the Democratic Party, a dominant figure in the Second Party System, and the first president who was not of British (i.e. English, Welsh, Scottish, or Irish) descent—his ancestry was Dutch. He was the first president to be born an American citizen[2] (his predecessors were born British subjects before the American Revolution), and is also the only president not to have spoken English as a first language, having grown up speaking Dutch.[3] Moreover, he was the first president from New York.

Van Buren was the third president to serve only one term, after John Adams and his son, John Quincy Adams. He also was one of the central figures in developing modern political organizations. As Andrew Jackson's Secretary of State and then Vice President, he was a key figure in building the organizational structure for Jacksonian democracy, particularly in New York State. However, as a president, his administration was largely characterized by the economic hardship of his time, the Panic of 1837. Between the bloodless Aroostook War and the Caroline Affair, relations with Britain and its colonies in Canada also proved to be strained. Whether or not these were directly his fault, Van Buren was voted out of office after four years, with a close popular vote but a rout in the electoral vote. In 1848, he ran for president on a third-party ticket, the Free Soil Party.

Martin Van Buren is one of only two people, the other being Thomas Jefferson, to serve as Secretary of State, Vice President and President.[4][5][6]

Contents

Early life

Historical marker located at the birthplace of Martin Van Buren.

Martin Van Buren was born in the village of Kinderhook, New York, on December 5, 1782, approximately 25 miles south of Albany. His father, Abraham Van Buren (1737–1817) was a farmer, the owner of a handful of slaves, and a tavern-keeper in Kinderhook. Abraham Van Buren supported the American Revolution and later the Jeffersonian Republicans. He died while Martin Van Buren was a New York state senator. Martin Van Buren's mother, Maria Hoes Van Alen Van Buren (1747–1818), was of Dutch ancestry. Her first husband, Johannes Van Alen, died and left her with three children. In 1776, she married Abraham Van Buren. She never got over the loss of her second husband in 1817 and died less than a year after burying him.

By his mother's first marriage, Van Buren had one half-sister and two half-brothers, including James Van Alen, who practiced law with Van Buren for a time and served as a Federalist member of Congress (1807–1809). Van Buren had four full siblings from his parents' marriage: Dirckie "Derike" Van Buren (1777–1865), Jannetje "Hannah" Van Buren (born 1780), Lawrence Van Buren (1786–1868), who served as an officer in the New York militia during the War of 1812 and later was active in the Barnburners New York Democrats opposed to slavery, and Abraham Van Buren (1788–1836).

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-great-grandfather Cornelis had come to the New World in 1631 from the Netherlands.

Van Buren received a basic education at a dreary, poorly lit schoolhouse in his native village and later studied Latin briefly at the Kinderhook Academy. He excelled in composition and speaking. His formal education ended before he reached 14, when he began studying law at the office of Francis Sylvester, a prominent Federalist attorney in Kinderhook. After six years under Sylvester, 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 distant relative on February 21, 1807, in Catskill, New York. Like Van Buren, she was raised in a Dutch home and never lost her distinct Dutch accent. 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 Troy, New York where he worked to secure the Congressional nomination for John Van Ness. However, once established in his practice, he became wealthy enough to increase his focus on politics. He was an early supporter of Aaron Burr. He allied himself with the Clintonian faction of the Democratic-Republican Party, and was surrogate of Columbia County from 1808 until 1813, when he was removed.

Van Buren joined the opposition party in 1813 and tried to find a way to oppose Clinton's plan for the Erie Canal in 1817. Van Buren supported a bill that raised money for the canal through state bonds, and the bill quickly passed through the legislature with the help of his Tammany Hall compatriots.

In 1817 Van Buren's connection with so-called "machine politics" started. He created the first political machine encompassing all of New York, the Bucktails, whose leaders later became known as the Albany Regency. The Bucktails became a loyal faction with a great deal of party loyalty, and through their actions they were able to capture and control many patronage posts throughout New York. Van Buren did not originate the system, but gained the nickname of "Little Magician" for the skill with which he exploited it. He also served as a member of the state constitutional convention, where he opposed the grant of universal suffrage and tried to maintain property requirements for voting.

He was the leading figure in the Albany Regency, a group of politicians who for more than a generation dominated much of the politics of New York and powerfully influenced the politics of the nation. The group, together with the political clubs such as Tammany Hall that were developing at the same time, played a major role in the development of the "spoils system," a recognized procedure in national, state and local affairs. He was the prime architect of the first nationwide political party: the Jacksonian Democrats. In Van Buren's own words, "Without strong national political organizations, there would be nothing to moderate the prejudices between free and slaveholding states." ("Martin Van Buren" 103–114)

Although he himself was a slave owner, Van Buren's attitude towards slavery at the time was shown by his vote, in January 1820, for a resolution opposing the admission of Missouri as a slave state. In the same year, he was chosen a presidential elector.

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. Martin 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 tariff of 1824 then gradually abandoned the protectionist position, coming out for "tariffs for revenue only."

In the presidential election of 1824, Martin Van Buren supported William H. Crawford and received the electoral vote of Georgia for vice-president, but he shrewdly kept out of the acrimonious controversy which followed the choice of John Quincy Adams as President. Martin Van Buren had originally hoped to block Adams' victory by denying him the state of New York (the state was divided between Martin Van Buren supporters who would vote for William H. Crawford and Adams men). However, Representative Stephen Van Rensselaer swung New York to Adams and thereby the 1824 Presidency. He recognized early the potential of Andrew Jackson as a presidential candidate.

After the election, Martin Van Buren sought to bring the Crawford and Jackson followers together and strengthened his control as a leader in the Senate. Always notably courteous in his treatment of opponents, he showed no bitterness toward either John Quincy 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 improvements and declined to support the proposal for a Panama Congress. As chair of the Judiciary Committee, he brought forward a number of measures for the improvement of judicial procedure and, in May 1826, joined with Senator Thomas Hart Benton in reporting on executive patronage. In the debate on the "tariff of abominations" in 1828, he took no part but voted for the measure in obedience to instructions from the New York legislature, an action which was cited against him as late as during the presidential campaign of 1844.

Martin 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 February 1827, he was reelected to the Senate by a large majority. He became one of the recognized managers of the Jackson campaign, and his tour of Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia in the spring of 1827 won support for Jackson from Crawford. Martin Van Buren sought to reorganize and unify "the old Republican party" behind Jackson.[7] Van Buren helped create a popular style of politicking that is often seen today. At the state level, Jackson's committee chairs would split up the responsibilities around the state and organize volunteers at the local level. "Hurra Boys" would plant hickory trees (in honor of Jackson's nickname, "Old Hickory") or hand out hickory sticks at rallies. Martin Van Buren even had a New York journalist write a campaign piece portraying Jackson as a humble, pious man. "Organization is the secret of victory," an editor in the Adams camp wrote. He once said to a group of lobbyists the famous quote and "By the want of it we have been overthrown." In 1828, Van Buren was elected Governor of New York for the term beginning on January 1, 1829, and resigned his seat in the Senate.

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 Act (an early form of deposit insurance).

The Jackson Cabinet

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 he resigned the governorship. 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 won the lasting regard of Jackson by his courtesies to Mrs. John H. Eaton (Peggy Eaton), wife of the Secretary of War, with whom the wives of the cabinet officers had refused to associate. He did not oppose Jackson in the matter of removals from office but was not himself an active "spoilsman." He skillfully avoided entanglement in the Jackson-Calhoun imbroglio.

1832 Whig cartoon shows Jackson carrying Van Buren into office

No diplomatic questions of the first magnitude arose during Van Buren's service as secretary, but the settlement of long-standing claims against France was prepared and trade with the British West Indies colonies was opened. In the controversy with the Bank of the United States, he sided with Jackson. After the breach between Jackson and Calhoun, Van Buren was clearly the most prominent candidate for the vice-presidency.

Vice-Presidency

In December 1829, Jackson had already made known his own wish that Van Buren should receive the nomination. In April 1831, Van Buren resigned from his secretary of state position as a result of the Petticoat affair—though he did not leave office until June. Van Buren still played a part in the Kitchen Cabinet.[8] In August 1831, he was appointed minister to the Court of St. James's (United Kingdom), 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, ostensibly attributed in large part to Van Buren's instructions to Louis McLane, the American minister to the United Kingdom, regarding the opening of the West Indies trade, in which reference had been made to the results of the election of 1828, was the work of Calhoun, the vice-president. When the vote was taken, enough of the majority refrained from voting to produce a tie and give Calhoun his longed-for "vengeance." No greater impetus than this could have been given to Van Buren's candidacy for the vice-presidency.

After a brief tour on through Europe, Van Buren reached New York on July 5, 1832. The 1832 Democratic National Convention, the party's first and held in May, had nominated him for vice-president on the Jackson ticket, despite the strong opposition to him which existed in many states. Van Buren's platform included supporting the expansion of the naval system. His declarations during the campaign were vague regarding the tariff and unfavorable to the United States Bank and to nullification, but he had already somewhat placated the South by denying the right of Congress to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia without the consent of the slave states.

Election of 1836

It took Van Buren and his partisan friends a decade and a half to form the Democratic Party; many elements, such as the national convention, were borrowed from other parties.[9]

In the election of 1832, the Jackson-Van Buren ticket won by a landslide. When the election of 1836 came up, Jackson was determined to make Van Buren, his personal choice, president to continue his legacy. Martin Van Buren's only 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. William Henry Harrison hoped to receive the support of the Western voters, Daniel Webster had strength in New England, and Hugh Lawson White had support in the South. Van Buren was unanimously nominated by the 1835 Democratic National Convention at Baltimore. He expressed himself plainly on the questions of slavery and the bank at the same time voting, perhaps with a touch of bravado, for a bill offered in 1836 to subject abolition literature in the mails to the laws of the several states. Van Buren's presidential victory represented a broader victory for Jackson and the party. Van Buren entered the White House as a fifty-five year old widower with four sons. A famous quote of his is "As to my presidency the best two days of my life were those of my entrance upon the office and my surrender of it". Martin Van Buren was the first real American politician and was also the first to use grassroots campaigning in his presidential campaign. He wanted to make a political party that united the plain republicans of the north and the planters of the south.

Presidency 1837–1841

Policies

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. 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 War]], 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 Amistad, Van Buren sided with the Spanish Government to return the kidnapped slaves. Also, he oversaw the "Trail of Tears," which involved the expulsion of the Cherokee tribe in 1838 from Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, and South Carolina to the Oklahoma territory. Van Buren was determined to avoid war.

"Van Buren entered the presidency not only as the heir to Jackson's policies, Jefferson's ideology of limited government, and Smith's principles of political economy, but also an accomplished politician with a statesmanlike vision of the dangers facing the nation. This complex heritage would shape the new president's response to the multiple challenges of 1837."("Martin Van Buren" 103-114)[citation needed]

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."[10][11] 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."[12][citation needed]

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.

Administration and Cabinet

Portrait of Martin Van Buren
The Van Buren Cabinet
Office Name Term
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 F. Butler 1837–1838
Felix Grundy 1838–1840
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


Judicial appointments

Supreme Court

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.

Later life

Martin Van Buren

Election date
November 7, 1848
Running mate Charles Francis Adams, Sr.
Opponent(s) Zachary Taylor (Whig)
Lewis Cass (D)
Gerrit Smith (National Liberty)
Incumbent James Knox Polk

Political party Free Soil Party
Free Soil campaign banner

On the expiration of his term, Van Buren retired 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 doubtless 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 Cemetery along with his wife Hannah, his parents, and his son Martin Van Buren, Jr..[13] A cenotaph to him is located near the parking lot of the Kinderhook Reformed Dutch Church.

Van Buren in popular culture

  • Van Buren's unsuccessful reelection campaign in 1840 is regarded by etymologists as instrumental in the popularization of the word "OK." In the context of the campaign, the initialism was used as a nickname for Van Buren and stood for "Old Kinderhook," which was a reference to Van Buren's birthplace.
  • In an episode of The Monkees entitled "Dance, Monkee, Dance," Martin Van Buren is the answer to a trivia question entitling callers to a free dance lesson. Later in the episode, Van Buren himself shows up for the lesson.
  • In Gore Vidal's novel Burr, Van Buren is secretly the illegitimate son of Aaron Burr.
  • In a popular episode of Seinfeld entitled "The Van Buren Boys," Kramer and George are threatened by a street gang called the Van Buren Boys with the secret sign of the number 8 because Van Buren was the eighth president. They apparently picked that name because Van Buren was the man they most admired. The gang is apparently "every bit as mean as he was."
  • A cancelled Fallout game, code-named as "Van Buren," makes a direct reference to the president.
  • In the 2000 PBS documentary series The American President, Van Buren's voice was provided by Mario Cuomo.[14]
  • In the 1997 film Amistad, he was played, more conventionally, by Nigel Hawthorne.
  • Van Buren was the first president to grant an exclusive interview to a reporter, James Gordon Bennett, Sr., of the New York Herald in 1839.[15]
  • In The Simpsons episode "Mr. Spritz Goes to Washington," Krusty is assigned petty janitorial jobs as his first term in the House of Representatives. One of them is to clean off "Capitol Hill graffiti," reading "Martin Van Buren is a weiner" (followed by "Grover Cleveland sucks what?!").
  • In an episode of Pete and Pete, Little Pete gets a piece of cereal that resembles Martin Van Buren, stuck in his nostril.
  • In the 2004 version movie of "The Alamo," Martin Van Buren appeared uncredited with another character portraying Andrew Jackson during the scene at Washington D.C. Martin Van Buren was talking to Sam Houston (portrayed by Dennis Quaid) while Andrew Jackson stood beside him.
  • On the website Homestar Runner, a bust of Van Buren is thrown at the camera at the end of The Cheat's character tape.
  • In an episode of The Weekenders, Martin Van Buren is seen riding a small train in the protagonist's (Tino) home. This scene occurs in Tino's imagination.

See also

References

Secondary sources

  • Cole, Donald B. Martin Van Buren And The American Political System (2004) ISBN 1-59091-029-X
  • Curtis, James C. The Fox at Bay: Martin Van Buren and the Presidency, 1837-1841 (1970) ISBN 0-8131-1214-1
  • Gammon, Samuel Rhea Gammon. Archive.org, The Presidential Campaign of 1832 (PDF) (1922) ISBN 0-8371-4827-8
  • Henretta, James A.. "Martin Van Buren."The American Presidency . 1st. 2004. ISBN 0-618-38273-9
  • Holt, Michael. The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party: Jacksonian Politics and the Onset of the Civil War (2003) Questia.com, online edition
  • Niven, John. Martin Van Buren: The Romantic Age of American Politics (2000) ISBN 0945707258
  • Remini, Robert V. Questia.com, Martin Van Buren and the Making of the Democratic Party (1959) ISBN 0231022883
  • Schouler, James. Books.Google.com, ''History of the United States of America: Under the Constitution vol. 4. 1831-1847. Democrats and Whigs. (1917)
  • Silbey, Joel. Martin Van Buren and the Emergence of American Popular Politics (2002) ISBN 0-7425-2244-X
  • Wilson, Major L. The Presidency of Martin Van Buren (1984) ISBN 0-7006-0238-0
  • U-S-History.com, "Election of 1836". U.S History. 2005. Online Highways. 4 Apr. 2006.

Primary sources

  • Van Buren, Martin. Autobiography (1918) ISBN 0678005311. The text of the autobiography is contained within the Archive.org Annual Report Of The American Historical Association For The Year 1918, Volume II, John C. Fitzpatrick, ed.
  • Van Buren, Martin. Van Buren, Abraham, Van Buren, John, ed. Books.Google.com Inquiry Into the Origin and Course of Political Parties in the United States (1867) ISBN 1418129240

Footnotes

  1. ^ Adherents.com, The religion of Martin Van Buren, 8th U.S. President
  2. ^ NARA.gov, Martin Van Buren
  3. ^ Sturgis, Amy H. (2007). The Trail of Tears and Indian Removal. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 93. ISBN 031333658X. 
  4. ^ State.gov, US State Department List of Secretaries of State
  5. ^ Senate.gov, US Senate List of Vice Presidents
  6. ^ WhiteHouse.gov, White House List of US Presidents
  7. ^ Martin Van Buren to Thomas Ritchie, January 13, 1827.
  8. ^ AOL.com, Kitchen Cabinet, Columbia Encyclopedia
  9. ^ Holt (2003) 998
  10. ^ "Extermination Order". LDS FAQ. http://ldsfaq.byu.edu/emmain.asp?number=74. Retrieved August 22, 2005. 
  11. ^ Boggs, Extermination Order
  12. ^ Smith, Joseph Fielding (1946-1949). Church History and Modern Revelation. 4. Deseret. pp. 167–173. 
  13. ^ Lamb, Brian & the C-SPAN staff (2000). Who's Buried in Grant's Tomb?: A Tour of Presidential Gravesites. Washington, DC: NationaL Cable Satellite Corporation. ISBN 1-881846-07-5. 
  14. ^ IMDb.com, The American President
  15. ^ Paletta, Lu Ann and Worth, Fred L. (1988). "The World Almanac of Presidential Facts."

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Andrew Jackson
President of the United States
March 4, 1837 – March 4, 1841
Succeeded by
William Henry Harrison
Vacant
Title last held by
John C. Calhoun
Vice President of the United States
March 4, 1833 – March 4, 1837
Succeeded by
Richard Mentor Johnson
Preceded by
Henry Clay
United States Secretary of State
Served under: Andrew Jackson

March 28, 1829 – May 23, 1831
Succeeded by
Edward Livingston
Preceded by
Nathaniel Pitcher
Governor of New York
January – March 1829
Succeeded by
Enos T. Throop
Legal offices
Preceded by
Abraham Van Vechten
New York State Attorney General
1815 – 1819
Succeeded by
Thomas J. Oakley
United States Senate
Preceded by
Nathan Sanford
United States Senator (Class 1) from New York
1821 – 1828
Served alongside: Rufus King, Nathan Sanford
Succeeded by
Charles E. Dudley
Preceded by
William Smith
Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee
1823 – 1828
Succeeded by
John Macpherson Berrien
Party political offices
New political party Free Soil Party presidential candidate
1848
Succeeded by
John P. Hale
Preceded by
Andrew Jackson
Democratic Party presidential candidate
1836, 1840
Succeeded by
James Polk
Preceded by
John C. Calhoun,
William Smith¹
Democratic Party vice presidential candidate
1832
Succeeded by
Richard Mentor Johnson,
William Smith¹
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Louis McLane
United States Minister to Great Britain
1831 – 1832
Succeeded by
Aaron Vail
as Chargé d'Affaires
Honorary titles
Preceded by
John Quincy Adams
Oldest U.S. President still living
February 23, 1848 – July 24, 1862
Succeeded by
James Buchanan
Notes and references
1. The Democratic Party vice-presidential nominee was split these years between two candidates.

Quotes

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

It is easier to do a job right than to explain why you didn't.

Martin Van Buren (December 5, 1782July 24, 1862), nicknamed Old Kinderhook, was the eighth President of the United States. He was the first President born after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the first of non-Anglo descent, and the only President whose first language was not English (it was Dutch).

Contents

Sourced

Inaugural Address (March 4, 1837)

  • I tread in the footsteps of illustrious men... in receiving from the people the sacred trust confided to my illustrious predecessor.
  • All the lessons of history and experience must be lost upon us if we are content to trust alone to the peculiar advantages we happen to possess.

Unsourced

  • As to the presidency, the two happiest days of my life were those of my entrance upon the office and my surrender of it.
  • For myself, therefore, I desire to declare that the principle that will govern me in the high duty to which my country calls me is a strict adherence to the letter and spirit of the Constitution as it was designed by those who framed it.
  • All communities are apt to look to government for too much. Even in our own country, where its powers and duties are so strictly limited, we are prone to do so, especially at periods of sudden embarrassment and distress.
  • It is easier to do a job right than to explain why you didn't.
  • No evil can result from its inhibition more pernicious than its toleration.
    • Regarding slavery
  • On receiving from the people the sacred trust twice confided on my illustrious predecessor, and which he has discharged so faithfully and so well, I know that I can not expect to perform the arduous task with equal ability and success.
  • The less government interferes with private pursuits, the better for general prosperity.
  • The people under our system, like the king in a monarchy, never dies.
  • There is a power in public opinion in this country—and I thank God for it: for it is the most honest and best of all powers—which will not tolerate an incompetent or unworthy man to hold in his weak or wicked hands the lives and fortunes of his fellow-citizens.
  • To avoid the necessity of a permanent debt and its inevitable consequences, I have advocated and endeavored to carry into effect the policy of confining the appropriations for the public service to such objects only as are clearly with the constitutional authority of the Federal Government.
  • Unlike all who have preceded me, the Revolution that gave us existence as one people was achieved at the period of my birth; and whilst I contemplate with grateful reverence that memorable event, I feel that I belong to a later age and that I may not expect my countrymen to weigh my actions with the same kind and partial hand.
  • Mutual forbearance and reciprocal concessions: thro’ their agency the Union was established – the patriotic spirit from which they emanated will forever sustain it.
    • On Nullification
  • Those who have wrought great changes in the world never succeeded by gaining over chiefs; but always by exciting the multitude. The first is the resource of intrigue and produces only secondary results, the second is the resort of genius and transforms the universe.
  • The government should not be guided by Temporary Excitement, but by Sober Second Thought

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1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

MARTIN VAN BUREN (1782-1862), eighth president of the United States, was born at Kinderhook, New York, on the 5th of December 1782, of Dutch descent. His father was a farmer and tavern-keeper. His education was limited to that which could be obtained in the common schools and at Kinderhook Academy, and there is testimony to the effect that as late as 1829, when he became secretary of state, he wrote crudely and incorrectly. In 1796 he began the study of law, completing his preparation in 1802 at New York, where he studied under William Peter Van Ness (1778-1826), an eminent lawyer and later Aaron Burr's second in the duel with Alexander Hamilton. Van Buren made the acquaintance of Burr, but did not fall under his influence. In 1803 he was admitted to the bar and continued in active and successful practice for twenty-five years. His practice made him financially independent, and paved the way for his entrance into politics. New York politics after 1800, the year of the election of Jefferson and the down fall of the Federalists, were peculiarly bitter and personal. The Republicans were divided into three factions, followers respectively of George Clinton (and later of his nephew, De Witt Clinton), Robert R. Livingston and Aaron Burr; and such Federalist control as there was from time to time after 1799 depended upon coalition with one or other of these groups. Van Buren, who early allied himself with the Clintonians, was surrogate of Columbia county from 1808 until 1813, when he was removed. In 1812 he entered the state Senate, and he also became a member of the court for the correction of errors, the highest court in New York until 1847.

His career in the Senate covered two terms (1812-1820). In 1815 he became attorney-general, an office which he held, still as a member of the Senate, until 1819, when he was displaced to make room for a Federalist. He had already, in 1808, removed from Kinderhook to Hudson, and in 1816 he took up his residence in Albany, where he continued to reside until he entered Jackson's cabinet in 1829. As a member of the state Senate he supported the War of 1812 and drew up a classification act for the enrolment of volunteers. He was chosen to draft the resolution of thanks voted by the legislature to General Andrew Jackson after the battle of New Orleans. He broke with De Witt Clinton in 1813, but nevertheless favoured, in 1817, Clinton's plan for the Erie Canal. His attitude towards slavery at the moment was shown by his vote, in January 1820, for a resolution opposing the admission of Missouri as a slave state. In the same year he was chosen a presidential elector. It is at this point that Van Buren's connexion began with so-called "machine politics," a connexion which has made his name odious to some historians of the period. He was a leading member of the "Albany regency," a group of politicians who for more than a generation controlled the politics of New York and powerfully influenced those of the nation, and which did more than any other agency to make the "spoils system" a recognized procedure in national, state and local affairs. Van Buren did not originate the system, for it was already well developed when he entered public life; but the nickname of "Little Magician" which presently attached to him testifies to the skill with which he exploited it, and to the popular impression which his political methods produced.

In February 1821 he was elected to the United States Senate. Before taking his seat he served also as a member of the state constitutional convention, where he opposed the grant of universal suffrage. His course in the Senate was not altogether consistent, though in this respect he is not to be judged more harshly than some of his associates. He at first favoured internal improvements, and in 1824 proposed a constitutional amendment to authorize such undertakings, but the next year took ground against them. He voted for the tariff of 1824, then gradually abandoned the protectionist position. In the presidential election of 1824 he appeared as a strong supporter of William H. Crawford, and received the electoral vote of Georgia for vice-president; but he shrewdly kept out of the acrimonious controversy which followed the choice of John Quincy Adams. He early recognized the availability of Andrew Jackson, however, as a presidential candidate, and after the election sought to bring the Crawford and Jackson followers together, at the same time strengthening his control as a party leader in the Senate. Always notably courteous in his treatment of opponents, he showed no bitterness either towards J. Q. Adams or Henry Clay, and voted for Clay's confirmation as secretary of state notwithstanding the "corrupt bargain" charge; at the same time he opposed internal improvements and declined to support the proposal for a Panama Congress. As chairman of the judiciary committee, he brought forward a number of measures for the improvement of judicial procedure, and in May 1826 joined with Benton in presenting a report on executive patronage. In the debate on the "tariff of abominations" in 1828 he took no part, but voted for the measure in obedience to instructions from the New York legislature - an action which was cited against him as late as the presidential campaign of 1844. Van Buren was not an orator, but his more important speeches show careful preparation and his opinions carried weight; and 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 February 1827 he was re-elected to the Senate by a large majority. He was now one of the recognized managers of the Jackson campaign, and a tour of Virginia, the Carolinas and Georgia in the spring of 1827 won support, for Jackson from Crawford.

In 1828 Van Buren was elected governor of New York for the term beginning on the 1st of January 1829, and resigned his seat in the Senate. But on the 5th of March he was appointed by President Jackson secretary of state, an office which probably had been assured to him before the election, and he resigned the governorship. As secretary of state he took care to keep on good terms with the "kitchen cabinet," the group of politicians who acted as Jackson's advisers, and won the lasting regard of Jackson by his courtesies to Mrs John H. Eaton, wife of the secretary of war, with whom the wives of the cabinet officers had refused to associate. He did not oppose Jackson in the matter of removals from office, but was not himself an active "spoilsman," and protested strongly against the appointment of Samuel Swartwout (1783-1856), who was later a defaulter to a large amount as collector of the port of New York. He skilfully avoided entanglement in the Jackson-Calhoun imbroglio. No diplomatic questions of the first magnitude arose during his service as secretary of state, but the settlement of long-standing claims against France was prepared for, and trade with the British West India colonies was opened. In the controversy with the Bank of the United States he sided with Jackson. After the breach between Jackson and Calhoun, Van Buren was clearly the most prominent candidate for the vice-presidency. Jackson in December 1829 had already made known his own wish that Van Buren should receive the nomination. In April 1831 Van Buren resigned, though he did not leave office until June. In August he was appointed minister to England, and arrived in London in September. He was cordially received, but in February learned that his nomination had been rejected by the Senate on the 25th of January. The rejection, ostensibly attributed in large part to Van Buren's instructions to Louis McLane, the American minister to England, regarding the opening of the West India trade, in which reference had been made to the results of the election of 1828, was in fact the work of Calhoun, the vice-president; and when the vote was taken enough of the majority refrained from voting to produce a tie and give Calhoun his longed-for "vengeance." No greater impetus than this could have been given to Van Buren's candidacy for the vice-presidency. After a brief tour on the Continent he reached New York on the 5th of July. In May the Democratic convention, the first held by that party, had nominated him for vice-president on the Jackson ticket, notwithstanding the strong opposition to him which existed in many states. No platform was adopted, the widespread popularity of Jackson being relied upon to win success at the polls. His declarations during the campaign were vague regarding the tariff and unfavourable to the United States Bank and to nullification, but he had already somewhat placated the South by denying the right of Congress to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia without the consent of the slave states. In the election he received 189 electoral votes, while Jackson received 219 for President. Jackson now determined to make Van Buren president in 1836, and bent all his energies to that end. In May 1835 Van Buren was unanimously nominated by the Democratic convention at Baltimore. He expressed himself plainly during the canvass on the questions of slavery and the bank, at the same time voting, perhaps with a touch of bravado, for a bill offered in 1836 to subject abolition literature in the mails to the laws of the several states. Calhoun, bitterly hostile to the last, objected to the usual vote of thanks to the retiring vice-president, but withdrew his objection. In the election Van Buren received 170 electoral votes against 73 for William Henry Harrison, his principal opponent; but the popular vote showed a plurality of less than 25,000 in a total vote of about 1,500,000. The election was in fact a victory for Jackson rather than for Van Buren.

The details of Van Buren's administration belong to the history of the United States. (see United States). He announced his intention "to follow in the footsteps of his illustrious predecessor," took over all but one of Jackson's cabinet, and met with statesmanlike firmness the commercial crisis of 1837, already prepared for before he took office. No exhibition of ability or courage, however, nor yet the most skilful manipulation of the political machinery of the party,could prevent continued hostility to him and to the methods for which he was widely believed to stand. The state elections of 1837 and 1838 were disastrous for the Democrats, and the partial recovery in 1839 was offset by a second commercial crisis in that year. Nevertheless, Van Buren was unanimously renominated by the Democrats in 1840. Charged with being "a Northern man with Southern principles," he was frequently interrogated during the campaign, and his nomination obviously failed to arouse enthusiasm or even inspire confidence. The revolt against Democratic rule was undoubtedly serious, but a study of the popular vote shows that the election of Harrison, the Whig candidate, was less of a revolution than many affected to think. On the expiration of his term Van Buren retired to his estate at Kinderhook, but he did not withdraw from politics or cease to be a figure of national importance. It was even proposed to make him a member of the Federal Supreme Court in order to get him out of political life. He confidently expected to be nominated for president in 1844, and his famous letter of the 27th of April, in which he frankly opposed the immediate annexation of Texas, though doubtless 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 twothirds which the rule of the convention required, and after eight ballots his name was withdrawn. In 1848 he was again nominated, first by the "Barnburner" faction of the Democrats, then by the Free Soilers, with whom the "Barnburners" coalesced, but no electoral vote was won by the party. 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 later supported Lincoln. He died in Kinderhook on the 24th of July 1862. His memoirs, to 1834, remain unpublished, but an Inquiry into the Origin and Course of Political Parties in the United States was compiled from it by his sons and published in 1867. Van Buren married in 1807 Hannah Hoes (1782-1819), by whom he had four sons.

Van Buren's son Abraham (1807-1873) graduated at West Point in 1827, served under General Winfield Scott against the Seminole Indians in 1836, and was made captain of the First Dragoons. In 1837 he resigned from the army to become his father's private secretary, but in 1846, at the outbreak of the war with Mexico, he was reappointed with the rank of major and paymaster. In August 1847 he was breveted lieutenantcolonel for gallant and meritorious conduct at Contreras and Churubusco. In 1854 he retired to private life. Another son, John (1810-1866), graduated at Yale in 1828, was admitted to the bar at Albany in 1830 and was attorney-general of New York in 1845-1846. He was popularly known as "Prince John" because of his manners and appearance.

The best biography of Van Buren is by Edward M. Shepard, in the "American Statesmen Series" (revised ed., Boston, 1899). The Life by George Bancroft (New York, 1889) is highly eulogistic. Von Hoist's United States, MacDonald's Jacksonian Democracy, Garrison's Westward Extension and T. C. Smith's Parties and Slavery (the last three in the "American Nation Series") give much attention to Van Buren's public career. The Van Buren manuscripts are in the Library of Congress. (W. MAcD. *)


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