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Martin Van Buren, Our 8th President

By: Ruth Browning

Our eighth President, Martin Van Buren was born in Kinderhook, New York, on 5 December, 1782. He was of Dutch ancestry, the son of a tavern keeper and truck farmer. He attended the village school and, at age 14, studied law under a local attorney. He was admitted to the bar at age 21, becoming a successful lawyer in Kinderhook.


He was short, only five feet six inches tall but always dressed elegantly. As he got older, his blonde hair thinned on top. He had a remarkable talent for management as well as an unflappable, smiling friendliness. His political creed was simple: a plain, economical government operating in a severely restricted sphere of activity.


In 1807 he married his distant cousin and former classmate Hannah Hoes. They had four children before she died in 1819. Van Buren was elected to the state Senate in 1812 and to the U.S. Senate in 1821. He had by this time acquired several nicknames that were to stay with him the rest of his life: "the Little Magician" and the "Red Fox of Kinderhook."


Van Buren supported Jackson in the election of 1828 and is given credit for the development of the unified Democratic Party. In 1829 Jackson gave Van Buren the cabinet position as Secretary of State, and Van Buren became Vice President under Jackson in 1833. Jackson called Van Buren "a true man with no guile." When Van Buren ran for the Presidency in 1836, he received 170 electoral votes to 70 for his nearest competitor William Henry Harrison. Unfortunately, within weeks of Van Buren's inauguration, the Panic of 1837 struck, partly brought on by the economic policies of Andrew Jackson. Held responsible for not doing more to give aid to the business community, Van Buren was denounced for "heartless indifference to the distress of the people." He lost the election of 1840 to William Henry Harrison. The popular vote was close but the electoral vote was not.  He was an unsuccessful candidate for President on the Free Soil ticket in 1848.  After spending several years in Europe, he retired in 1855 to Lindenwald, his home in Kinderhook, where he died on 24 July, 1862.