The Little Magician Van Buren
February 20, 2012 by staff
The Little Magician Van Buren, Martin Van Buren (Dutch: Maarten Van Buren; December 5, 1782 – July 24, 1862) was the eighth President of the United States (1837-1841). Before his presidency, he was the eighth Vice President (1833-1837) and the tenth Secretary of State, under Andrew Jackson (1829-1831).
Van Buren was a key organizer of the Democratic Party, a dominant figure in the Second Party System, and the first president not of British or Irish descent-his family was Dutch. He was the first president to be born an American citizen, his predecessors having been born British subjects before the American Revolution. He is also the only president not to have spoken English as his first language, having grown up speaking Dutch, and the first president from New York.
As Andrew Jackson’s Secretary of State and then Vice President, Van Buren was a key figure in building the organizational structure for Jacksonian democracy, particularly in New York State. As president, he did not want the United States to annex Texas, an act which John Tyler would achieve eight years after Van Buren’s initial rejection. Between the bloodless Aroostook War and the Caroline Affair, relations with Britain and its colonies in Canada also proved to be strained.
His administration was largely characterized by the economic hardship of his time, the Panic of 1837. He was scapegoated for the depression and called “Martin Van Ruin” by his political opponents. Van Buren was voted out of office after four years, losing to Whig candidate William Henry Harrison.
In 1848 Van Buren ran unsuccessfully for president on a third-party ticket, the Free Soil Party.
Martin Van Buren was born in the village of Kinderhook, New York, on December 5, 1782, about 25 miles (40km) south of Albany, New York. His father Abraham Van Buren (1737-1817) was a farmer, the owner of six 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 was Maria Van Alen (née Hoes) Van Buren (1747-1818).
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-grandfather Cornelis Maessen van Buren had come to the New World in 1631 from the small city of Buren, Gelderland, Dutch Republic, present day Netherlands. Van Buren grew up in a Dutch-speaking community; his native language was Dutch, and he was the only President who spoke English as a second language.
Van Buren received a basic education at a poorly lit schoolhouse in his native village and later studied Latin briefly at the Kinderhook Academy and at Washington Seminary in Claverack. 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. The couple had five sons and one daughter: Abraham (1807-1873) a graduate of West Point and career military officer; John (1810-1866), graduate of Yale and Attorney General of New York; Martin, Jr. (1812-1855), secretary to his father and editor of his father’s papers until a premature death from tuberculosis; Winfield Scott (born and died in 1814); and Smith Thompson (1817-1876), an editor and special assistant to his father while president. Their daughter was stillborn. 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.
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