Martin Van Buren
6th President of the United States (March 4, 1837 – March 4, 1841)
Age at inauguration: 54 years old
Vice President: Richard Mentor Johnson
- The American Talleyrand
- The Careful Dutchman Van Buren's first language was Dutch.
- The Enchanter
- The Great Manager
- The Master Spirit
- Martin Van Ruin
- Matty Van from "Tippecanoe Songs of 1840"
- The Mistletoe Politician, so called by Joseph Peyton of Tennessee, a Whig opponent, who charged that "Martin Van Buren was a mere political parasite, a branch of mistletoe, that owed its elevation, its growth--nay, its very existence, to the tall trunk of an aged hickory" (i.e. Andrew Jackson).
- Old Kinderhook (OK), a reference to his home town
- Red Fox of Kinderhook, a reference to his red hair and home town
- The Little Magician given to him during his time in the state of New York, because of his smooth politics and short stature
Born: Maarten Van Buren December 5, 1782 Kinderhook, New York, U.S.Died: June 8, 1845 (aged 78) Nashville, Tennessee, U.S.
Died: July 24, 1862 (aged 79) Kinderhook, New York, U.S
Cause of death: Asthma
Resting Place: Kinderhook Reformed Church Cemetery
Father: Abraham Van Buren
Mother: Maria Hoes "Goes" Van Alen
Married: Hannah Hoes (m. 1807; died 1819)
Children: Abraham, John, Martin, Smith
Religion: Christian Dutch Reformed
Other Government Positions:
- 8th Vice President of the United States March 4, 1833 – March 4, 1837
Presidential Salary: $25,000/year
Early life and education
Van Buren was born on December 5, 1782, in the village of Kinderhook, New York, about 20 miles (32 km) south of Albany on the Hudson River. By American law, he was the first U.S. President not born a British subject, nor of British ancestry. However, because he was born during the American Revolution and before the Peace of Paris, he was for the purposes of British law a British subject at birth. His birth name was Maarten Van Buren . His father, Abraham Van Buren, was a descendant of Cornelis Maessen of the village of Buurmalsen, Netherlands, who had come to North America in 1631 and purchased a plot of land on Manhattan Island. Abraham Van Buren had been a Patriot during the American Revolution, and he later joined the Democratic-Republican Party. He owned an inn and tavern in Kinderhook and served as Kinderhook's town clerk for several years. In 1776, he married Maria Hoes "Goes" Van Alen, also of Dutch extraction and the widow of Johannes Van Alen. She had three children from her first marriage, including future U.S. Representative James I. Van Alen. Her second marriage produced five children, including Martin. Van Buren spoke English as a second language, unlike any other president; his primary language in his youth was Dutch.
Van Buren received a basic education at the village schoolhouse and briefly studied Latin at the Kinderhook Academy and at Washington Seminary in Claverack. His formal education ended in 1796 when he began reading law at the office of Peter Silvester and his son Francis, prominent Federalist Party attorneys in Kinderhook. At his father's inn, Van Buren learned early to interact with people from varied ethnic, income, and societal groups, which he used to his advantage as a political organizer.
Van Buren was small in stature at 5 feet 6 inches tall, and some referred to him as "Little Van". When he first began his legal studies, he often presented an unkempt appearance in rough, homespun clothing, and the Silvesters admonished him about how crucial a lawyer's clothing and personal appearance were to the success of his practice. He accepted their advice and patterned his clothing, appearance, bearing, and conduct after theirs.
Van Buren adopted the Democratic-Republican political leanings of his father, despite his association with the Silvesters and Kinderhook's strong affiliation with the Federalist Party. The Silvesters and Democratic-Republican political figure John Peter Van Ness suggested that Van Buren's political leanings constrained him to complete his education with a Democratic-Republican attorney, so he spent a final year of apprenticeship in the New York City office of John Van Ness's brother William P. Van Ness, a political lieutenant of Aaron Burr. Van Ness introduced Van Buren to the intricacies of New York state politics, and Van Buren observed Burr's battles for control of the state Democratic-Republican party against George Clinton and Robert R. Livingston. He returned to Kinderhook in 1803, after being admitted to the New York bar.
Van Buren married Hannah Hoes in Catskill, New York on February 21, 1807, his childhood sweetheart and a daughter of his first cousin. 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 children, four of whom lived to adulthood: Abraham (1807–1873), John (1810–1866), Martin Jr. (1812–1855), Winfield Scott (born and died in 1814), and Smith Thompson (1817–1876). Hannah contracted tuberculosis and died on February 5, 1819 at age 35, and Van Buren never remarried.
Early political career
Upon returning to Kinderhook in 1803, Van Buren formed a law partnership with his half-brother, James Van Alen, and became financially secure enough to increase his focus on politics. Van Buren had been active in politics from age 18 if not before; In 1801, he attended a Democratic-Republican Party convention in Troy, New York where he worked successfully to secure for John Peter Van Ness the party nomination in a special election for the 6th Congressional District seat. Upon returning to Kinderhook, Van Buren broke with the Burr faction, becoming an ally of both DeWitt Clinton and Daniel D. Tompkins. After the faction led by Clinton and Tompkins dominated the 1807 elections, Van Buren was appointed Surrogate of Columbia County, New York. Seeking to find a better base for his political and legal career, Van Buren and his family moved to the town of Hudson, the seat of Columbia County, in 1808. Van Buren's legal practice continued to flourish, and he traveled all over the state to represent various clients.
In 1812, Van Buren won his party's nomination for a seat in the New York State Senate. Though several Democratic-Republicans, including John Peter Van Ness, joined with the Federalists to oppose his candidacy, Van Buren won election to the state senate in mid-1812. Later in the year, the United States entered the War of 1812 against Great Britain, while Clinton launched an unsuccessful bid to defeat President James Madison in the 1812 presidential election. After the election, Van Buren became suspicious that Clinton was working with the Federalist Party, and he broke from his former political ally.
During the War of 1812, Van Buren worked with Clinton, Governor Tompkins, and Ambrose Spencer to support the Madison administration's prosecution of the war. In addition, he was a special judge advocate appointed to serve as a prosecutor of William Hull during Hull's court-martial following the surrender of Detroit. In the winter of 1814–15 he collaborated with Winfield Scott on ways to reorganize the New York Militia in anticipation of another military campaign, but their work was halted by the end of the war in early 1815. Van Buren was so favorably impressed by Scott that he named his fourth son after him. Van Buren's strong support for the war boosted his standing, and in 1815 he was elected to the position of New York Attorney General. Van Buren moved from Hudson to the state capital of Albany, where he established a legal partnership with Benjamin Butler, and shared a house with political ally Roger Skinner. In 1816, Van Buren won re-election to the state senate, and he would continue to simultaneously serve as both state senator and as the state's attorney general.
Martin Van Buren