Martin Van Buren
8th President of the United States
In office March 4, 1837 – March 4, 1841
Vice President Richard Mentor Johnson
Preceded by Andrew Jackson
Succeeded by William Henry Harrison
Biographies from “Portrait and Biographical Album, Whiteside
County, Illinois, 1885 Pg 47
Transcribed by Marji Turner
MARTIN VAN BUREN, the eighth President of the United States was born at Kinderhook, N. Y., Dec. 5, 1782. He died
at the same place, July 24, 1862. His body rests in the cemetery at Kinderhook. Above it is a plain granite shaft
fifteen feet high, bearing a simple inscription about half way up on one face. The lot is unfenced, unbordered
or unbounded by shrub or flower.
There is but little in the life of Martin Van Buren of romantic interest. He fought no battles, engaged in no wild
adventures . Though his life was stormy in political and intellectual conflicts, and he gained many signal victories,
his days passed uneventful in those incidents which give zest to biography. His ancestors, as his name indicates,
were of Dutch origin, and were among the earliest emigrants from Holland to the banks of the Hudson. His father
was a farmer, residing in the old town of Kinderhook. His mother, also of Dutch lineage, was a woman of superior
intelligence and exemplary piety.
He was decidedly a precocious boy, developing unusual activity, vigor and strength of mind. At the age of fourteen,
he had finished his academic studies in his native village, and commenced the study of law. As he had not a collegiate
education, seven years of study in a law-office were required of him before he could be admitted to the bar. Inspired
with a lofty ambition, and conscious of his powers, he pursued his studies with indefatigable industry. After spending
six years in an office in his native village, he went to the city of New York, and prosecuted his studies for the
In 1803, Mr. Van Buren, then twenty-one years of age, commenced the practice of law in his native village. The
great conflict between the Federal and Republican party was then at its height. Mr. Van Buren was from the beginning
a politician. He had, perhaps, imbibed that spirit while listening to the many discussions which had been carried
on in his father’s hotel. He was in cordial sympathy with Jefferson, and earnestly and eloquently espoused the
cause of State Rights; thought a that time the Federal party held the supremacy both in his town and State.
His success and increasing ruputation led him, after six years of practice, to remove to Hudson, the county seat
of his county. Here he spent seven years, constantly gaining strength by contending in the courts with some of
the ablest men who have adorned the bar of his State.
Just before leaving Kinderhook for Hudson, Mr. Van Buren married a lady alike distinguished for beauty and accomplishments.
After twelve short years she sank into the grave, the victim of consumption, leaving her husband and four sons
to weep over he loss. For twenty-five years, Mr. Van Buren was an earnest, successful, assiduous lawyer. The record
of those years is barren in items of public interest. In 1812, when thirty years of age, he was chosen to the State
Senate, and gave his strenuous support to Mr. Madison’s administration. In 1815, he was appointed, Attorney-General,
and the next year moved to Albany, the capital of the State.
While he was acknowledged as one of the most prominent leaders of the Democratic party, he had
The moral courage to avow that true democracy did not require that “universal suffrage” which admits the vile,
the degraded, the ignorant, to the right of governing the State. In true consistency with his democratic principles,
he contended that while the path leading to the privilege of voting should be open to every man without distinction,
no one should be invested with that sacred prerogative, unless he were in some degree qualified for it by intelligence,
virtue and some property interests in the welfare of the State.
In 1821 he was elected a member of the United States Senate; and in the same year, he took a seat in the convention
to revise the constitution of his native State. His course in this convention secured the approval of men of all
parties. No one could doubt the singleness of his endeavors to promote the interests of all classes in the community.
In the Senate of the United States, he rose at once to a conspicuous position as an active and useful legislator.
In 1827, John Quincy Adams being then in the Presidential chair, Mr. Van Buren was re-elected to the Senate. He
had been from the beginning a determined opposer of the Administration, adopting the “State Rights” view in opposition
to what was deemed the Federal proclivities of Mr. Adams.
Soon after this, in 1828, he was chosen Governor of New York, and accordingly resigned his seat in the Senate.
Probably no one in the United States contributed so much towards ejecting John Q. Adams from the Presidential chair,
and placing in it Andrew Jackson, as did Martin Van Buren. Whether entitled to the reputation or not, he certainly
was regarded throughout the United States as one of the most skillful, sagacious and cunning of politicians. It
was supposed that no one knew so well as he how to touch the secret springs of action; how to pull all the wires
to put his machinery in motion; and how to organize a political army which would, secretly and stealthily accomplish
the most gigantic results. By these powers it is said that he outwitted Mr. Adams, Mr. Clay, Mr. Webster, and secured
results which few thought then could be accomplished.
When Andrew Jackson was elected President he appointed Mr. Van Buren Secretary of State. This position he resigned
in 1831, and was immediately appointed Minister to England, where he went the same autumn. The Senate, however,
when it met, refused to ratify the nomination, and he returned home, apparently untroubled; was nominated Vice
President in the place of Calhoun, at the re-election of President Jackson; and with smiles for all and frowns
for none, he took his place at the head of that Senate which had refused to confirm his nomination as ambassador.
His rejection by the Senate roused all the zeal of President Jackson in behalf of his repudiated favorite; and
this, probably more than any other cause, secured his elevation to the chair of the Chief Executive. On the 20th
of May, 1836, Mr. Van Buren received the Democratic nomination to succeed Gen. Jackson as President of the United
States. He was elected by a handsome majority, to the delight of the retiring President. “Leaving New York out
of the canvass,” says Mr. Parton, “the election of Mr. Van Buren to the Presidency was as much the act of Gen.
Jackson as though the Constitution had conferred upon him to appoint a successor.”
His administration was filled with exciting events. The insurrection in Canada, which threatened to involve this
country in war with England, the agitation of the slavery question, and finally the great commercial panic which
spread over the country, all were trials to his wisdom. The financial distress was attributed to the management
of the Democratic party, and brought the President into such disfavor that he failed of re-election.
With the exception of being nominated for the Presidency by the “Free Soil” Democrats, in 1848, Mr. Van Buren lived
quietly upon his estate until his death.
He had ever been a prudent man, of frugal habits, and living within his income, had now fortunately a competence
for his declining years. His unblemished character, his commanding abilities, his unquestioned patriotism, and
the distinguished positions which he had occupied in the government of our country, secured to him not only the
homage of his party, but the respect of the whole community. It was on the 4th of March, 1841, that 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. From this time until his death, on the 24th of July, 1862, at the age of eighty years,
he resided at Lindenwald, a gentleman of leisure, of culture and of wealth; enjoying in a healthy old age, probably
far more happiness then he had before experienced amid the storm scenes of his active life.