Martin Van Buren, born December 5, 1782, was an accomplished lawyer and politician who served as the eighth President of the United States of America. He and some of his colleagues formed the Democratic Party, which transformed the way American politics had been conducted up to that point. Despite his humble origins, Van Buren was a man of impeccable character and astute political acumen. He was the first American president of Dutch ancestry and the first to be born as a U.S. citizen, free of British colonial rule. Van Buren did his best to manage the country’s fragile economic situation, but his presidency was marred by the Panic of 1837. Let us commemorate his special day right here.
Martin Van Buren
Little Magician, Little Van
December 5, 1782
July 24, 1862 (age 79)
Martin Van Buren was born on December 5, 1782, in Kinderhook, New York, United States. His father was a low-income farmer and tavern owner who backed the American Revolution. He gained a keen political awareness while listening to numerous political gatherings at his father’s pub. He attended his local village school for basic education before studying Latin at Kinderhook Academy and Washington Seminary in Claverack. In 1796, he began studying law at the office of Peter Silvester and his son Francis, completing his official education. His hard work paid off in 1803 when he was admitted to the New York bar.
Van Buren became involved in politics when he was 17 years old, but his breakthrough came in 1812 when he was elected to the New York State Senate. Three years later, he was appointed as New York’s attorney general. These positions allowed him to refine his political talents and establish himself as a credible political leader. Van Buren lost his wife while serving his second term as a New York Senator; despite this personal loss, he did not give up on his political goals and became a senator in 1821. Following the presidential elections of 1824, he founded an alternative party with the other members of the Democratic-Republican Party including Andrew Jackson, William Crawford, and John Calhoun. In 1828, he was elected governor of New York, prompting him to vacate his Senate seat. Jackson appointed Van Buren as Secretary of State after becoming President of the United States in 1829. His stint as Secretary of State lasted only until the conclusion of the first presidential term, as he was forced to retire in April 1831 as a result of the Petticoat scandal. By August 1831, Jackson honored his dedication and elegance by selecting him as minister to Great Britain. When Jackson ran for a second term as president in 1832, he selected Van Buren as his running partner, and the pair handily won the election.
By the end of Jackson’s second term, the Democratic Party had overwhelmingly nominated Van Buren for the presidency. In the 1836 presidential elections, he handily won the popular vote and trounced his three Whig Party opponents. In March 1837, Van Buren became the eighth President of the United States, and he was instantly confronted with a slew of obstacles, as the first great depression had immobilized the American economy. To alleviate the economic slowdown, Van Buren proposed that government monies be held in an independent treasury — a proposal that materialized several years later; in the meantime, his enemies made him an easy scapegoat for the crisis. His decision to side with the Spanish government in the controversy surrounding the mutinous slave ship, La Amistad, was misinterpreted as a pro-slavery gesture. This caused great damage to his political career, losing the presidential bid in November 1840 and 1848. He then retreated to his house in Kinderhook.
Martin Van Buren is admitted to the New York bar and returns to Kinderhook, where he forms a law partnership with his half-brother James Van Alen.
Van Buren prevails in the elections, and the New York state legislature chooses him to represent New York in the United States Senate.
Upon becoming President of the United States, Andrew Jackson assigns Van Buren as Secretary of State.
Van Buren serves as the vice president of President Jackson during his second term.
Van Buren wins the election and becomes the eighth President of the United States.
Why We Love Martin Van Buren
He was a hard worker
Martin Van Buren grew up in a low-income family and struggled during his early life, but that didn't stop him from pursuing a successful career. He suffered many losses but persevered, working as a tavern keeper, lawyer, governor, and, most notably, president of the United States.
He remained composed during difficult times
One of the characteristics of a good leader is the ability to maintain composure and mental toughness in difficult situations. During the 1837 panic, Van Buren had just taken office, and over 900 banks were forced to close, causing many people to lose their jobs and life savings. He kept his calm, sought to keep the people calm, and worked tirelessly to find solutions, particularly an independent treasury to preserve investments.
He knew how to enjoy his retirement
Van Buren retired after a long and distinguished career and purchased the Van Ness estate two miles from his hometown of Kinderhook, New York, in 1839. He lived there and worked as a farmer for the rest of his life. Van Buren also met the writer Washington Irving, with whom he eventually became friends.
5 Surprising Facts
He worked in taverns in his youth
While attending school, Martin Van Buren worked in his father's tavern, which was frequented by lawyers and politicians such as Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr.
He founded a political machine
Van Buren established the Albany Regency, which is one of the first American political machines.
His daughter-in-law served as First Lady
Van Buren's wife Hannah Hoes died in 1819, and because he never remarried, his son Abraham's wife Angelica Singleton filled in as First Lady.
He became a Presidential Elector
Van Buren ran for president twice, in 1844 and 1848, but lost both times; he then served as a presidential elector for Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan.
He obstructed the annexation of Texas
After gaining independence, Texas asked to be admitted to the union; Van Buren feared that the addition of the pro-slavery state would upset the balance of the country, and with his support, northern opponents in Congress were able to block Texas’ admission.
Martin Van Buren FAQs
What is Martin Van Buren’s most famous quote?
Van Buren’s most famous quote is “The people under our system, like the king in a monarchy, never die.”
Why was Van Buren dubbed "the Little Magician?"
In recognition of his reputed cunning and skill as a politician, Van Buren was dubbed ‘the Little Magician.’
Why did Van Buren like Andrew Jackson?
Jackson’s ability to win over the people impressed Van Buren, and they agreed on many core national principles.
Martin Van Buren’s birthday dates