From: "Biographical Review of Cass, Schuyler and
Brown Counties, Illinois 1892", by Biographical Review Publishing
Company, Chicago, Illinois; pages 52-55, a reprinted by Stevens
Publishing Co., Astoria, Ill., 1971, is sold by the Schuyler County
Historical Society, Rushville, Illinois.
MARTIN VAN BUREN, the eighth President of the United States, 1837-‘41,
was born at Kinderhook, New York, December 5, 1782. His ancestors were
of Dutch origin, and were among the earliest emigrants from Holland to
the banks of the Hudson. His father was a tavern-keeper, as well as a
farmer, and a very decided Democrat.
Martin commenced the study of law at the age of fourteen, and
took an active part in politics before he had reached the age of
twenty. In 1803 he commenced the practice of law in his native village.
In 1809 he removed to Hudson, the shire town of his county, where he
spent seven years, gaining strength by contending in the courts with
some of the ablest men who have adorned the bar of his State. The
heroic example of John Quincy Adams in retaining in office every
faithful man, without regard to his political preferences, had been
thoroughly repudiated by General Jackson. The unfortunate principle was
now fully established, that "to the victor belong the spoils."
Still, this principle, to which Mr. Van Buren gave his adherence, was
not devoid of inconveniences. When, subsequently, he attained power
which placed vast patronage in his hands, he was heard to say: "I
prefer an office that has no patronage. When I give a man an office I
offend his disappointed competitors and their friends. Nor am I certain
of gaining a friend in the man I appoint, for, in all probability, he
expected something better."
In 1812 Mr. Van Buren was elected to the State Senate. In 1815
he was appointed Attorney-General, and in 1816 to the Senate a second
time. In 1818 there was a great split in the Democratic party in New
York, and Mr. Van Buren took the lead in organizing that portion of the
party called the Albany Regency, which is said to have swayed the
destinies of the State for a quarter of a century.
In 1821 he was chosen a member of the convention for revising
the State Constitution, in which he advocated an extension of the
franchise, but opposed universal suffrage, and also favored the
proposal that colored persons, in order to vote, should have freehold
property to the amount of $250. In this year he was also elected to the
United States Senate, and at the conclusion of his term, in 1827, was
re-elected, but resigned the following year, having been chosen
Governor of the State. In March, 1829, he was appointed Secretary of
State by President Jackson, but resigned in April, 1831, and during the
recess of Congress was appointed minister to England, whither he
proceeded in September, but the Senate, when convened in December,
refused to ratify the appointment.
In May, 1832, Mr. Van Buren was nominated as the Democratic
candidate for Vice-President, and elected in the following November.
May 26, 1836, he received the nomination to succeed General Jackson as
President, and received 170 electoral votes, out of 283.
Scarcely had he taken his seat in the Presidential chair when a
financial panic swept over the land. Many attributed this to the war
which General Jackson had waged on the banks, and to his endeavor to
secure an almost exclusive specie currency. Nearly every bank in the
country was compelled to suspend specie payment, and ruin pervaded all
our great cities. Not less than 254 houses failed in New York in one
week. All public works were brought to a stand, and there was a general
state of, dismay. President Van Buren urged the adoption of the
independent treasury system, which was twice passed in the Senate and
defeated in the House, but finally became a law near the close of his
Another important measure was the passage of a pre-emption law,
giving actual settlers the preference in the purchase of public lands.
The question of slavery, also, now began to assume great prominence in
national politics, and after an elaborate anti-slavery speech by Mr.
Slade, of Vermont, in the House of Representatives, the Southern
members withdrew for a separate consultation, at which Mr. Rhett, of
South Carolina, proposed to declare it expedient that the Union should
be dissolved; but the matter was tided over by the passage of a
resolution that no petitions or papers relating to slavery should be in
any way considered or acted upon.
In the Presidential election of 1840 Mr. Van Buren was
nominated, without opposition, as the Democratic candidate, William H.
Harrison being the candidate of the Whig party. The Democrats carried
only seven States, and out of 294 electoral votes only sixty were for
Mr. Van Buren, the remaining 234 being for his opponent. The Whig
popular majority, however, was not large, the elections in many of the
States being very close.
March 4, 1841, Mr. Van Buren retired from the Presidency. From
his fine estate at Lindenwald he still exerted a powerful influence
upon the politics of the country. In 1844 he was again proposed as the
Democratic candidate for the Presidency, and a majority of the
delegates of the nominating convention were in his favor; but, owing to
his opposition to the proposed annexation of Texas, he could not secure
the requisite two-thirds vote. His name was at length withdrawn by his
friends, and Mr. Polk received the nomination, and was elected.
In 1848 Mr. Cass was the regular Democratic candidate. A schism,
however, sprang up in the party, upon the question of the permission of
slavery in the newly-acquired territory, and a portion of the party,
taking the name of "Free-Soilers," nominated Mr. Van Buren. They drew
away sufficient votes to secure the election of General Taylor, the
Whig candidate. After this Mr. Van Buren retired to his estate at
Kinderhook, where the remainder of his life was passed, with the
exception of a European tour in 1853. He died at Kinderhook, July 24,
1862, at the age of eighty years.
Martin Van Buren was a great and good man, and no one will
question his right to a high position among those who have been the
successors of Washington in the faithful occupancy of the Presidential