Who: Martin Van Buren
What: 8th President of the United States, Vice President and Secretary of State, Governor of New York
Where: Born and died in Kinderhook, New York
Why: Served as Andrew Jackson’s Secretary of State and Vice President, but largely underperformed in his one term as President
When: Born December 5, 1782; died July 24, 1862 (aged 79)
“The less government interferes with private pursuits, the better for general prosperity”
Martin Van Buren was born in Kinderhook, just south of Albany, in New York in 1782. He was the first President to have been born after the Declaration of Independence. After studying to be a lawyer, he represented New York in the US Senate from 1821-28, before becoming Governor of New York in 1829. After just three months he was appointed Secretary of State for Andrew Jackson, before becoming Jackson’s Vice President for his second term. Unanimously nominated President by the Democrats, he was not opposed by a candidate. The new Whig Party, knowing they couldn’t win, attempted to throw the election to the House with three candidates, but Van Buren won 170 of 294 electoral votes to win the election.
Floundering in Jackson’s Shadow
His administration, intended to ‘follow in the footsteps of his illustrious predecessor’ and keeping all but one of Jackson’s cabinet, began with the Panic of 1837, followed itself by a five-year depression. Unemployment reached record highs and 900 banks closed. Van Buren attempted to combat this with an Independent Treasury. The undefined boundary between Canada and Maine caused friction, with Van Buren able to make peace before the situation escalated into a more serious conflict. Van Buren continued Jackson’s anti-Native legacy, fighting the Seminoles and culminating in the Second Seminole War, and sided with the North on the era-defining sectional slavery issues, delaying the admission of Texas as another slave state after its independence from Mexico. Defeated for re-election by William Henry Harrison, and losing two more attempts to regain the presidency, Van Buren died at his home in New York in 1862.
Facts about Martin Van Buren
Van Buren was the only president whose first language was not English, being a native Dutch speaker.
He was also the first president to meet a Pope, albeit after he left office.
He wrote an autobiography after leaving the White House, and didn’t mention his wife of twelve years once. If she had been alive, he would have been in real trouble.
He was the first president to have been born after the Declaration of Independence. Depending on your definition, he could be the first president born in the United States. Zachary Taylor (1784) was the first born after the Treaty of Paris was ratified, and John Tyler (1790) was the first to be born after the Constitution had gone into effect.
Either way, he was the first president to be born a citizen of the United States, and not a British subject.
He was another president to have been widowed by the time he reached the White House. Hannah Hoes Van Buren had died in 1819, so his daughter-in-law Angelica Singleton (cousin of Dolley Madison) served as First Lady.
The term O.K possibly derives from him: he was known as ‘Old Kinderhook’ as per his birthplace.
A serving vice president wasn’t elected president again until George H.W. Bush in 1989.