HistoryMartin Van Buren

Childhood and Career of Martin Van Buren

Portrait of Martin Van Buren
The eighth president of the United States, Martin Van Buren, was born on December 5, 1782, in Kinderhook, New York. He was the first president who was a born citizen of the United States and not a British subject because he was born six years after the declaration of independence.

For a little trivia, his nickname was “Old Kinderhook” when he was a president, that is why the expression “OK” was coined using the acronym of his nickname.

Take an in-depth look at how his early life influenced him as a charming statesman and remembered as the man who established an American political system.

Early Life

Martin Van Buren came from a Dutch ancestry when his parents migrated from the Netherlands and relocated to Kinderhook, where they establish a Dutch community. He grew up in a modest family because his parents raised six children, and he was the fourth eldest.

His mother, Maria, was widowed with three children before marrying his father, Abraham. They are not rich indeed; however, the Van Buren family owned six slaves, which is uncommon in Kinderhook. His father owned a tavern and inn frequently visited by travelers and government employees who traveled from Albany to New York City. For the Van Buren family to earn more, his father worked as the town clerk and opened the tavern’s doors to host political meetings and elections. After school, he would often help his father in the bar, which was visited by prominent personalities such as Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, who opened young Martin’s mind in politics.

As a child, he was called “Little Mat.” Martin attended the village school until he was fourteen years old. He did not participate in college as well; however, his father referred him to work in a lawyer’s office. Martin swept the floor and ran errands by day and study law at night. He clerked for seven years and moved to New York City. Francis Silvester apprenticed him in 1796. When he was only 15 years old, he participated in his first case and won. He passed the bar examination in 1803 at the age of 21.

In 1807, he married his childhood love interest and relative, Hannah Hoes. They had four children, Abraham, John, Martin Jr., and Smith. His wife died in 1819 due to tuberculosis.

Professional Career

After earning his title, he returned to Kinderhook and opened a small firm with his half-brother, James Van Allen. He made a stellar reputation and became financially stable. Most of his clients were tenants and renters who complain about their landlord’s claims to property in Hudson Valley in New York. He fought for ordinary people against the elite. He became active in redefining social and economic relationships in the American republic.

His political career started in 1812 and ran for New York Senate. One of his political outlooks was his opposition against the Bank of the United States. Also, he supports the impending war against Great Britain because of maritime claims and rights. He served for two terms and appointed as a state attorney general position from 1815 until 1819.

He was indeed a skillful politician. He was able to create an informal political organization in New York called the Albany Regency. It was a useful and practical springboard that ensured his election to the United States Senate in 1821.

Martin Van Buren believed in Thomas Jefferson’s political philosophies and methodologies. He mostly believes in the doctrine of states’ rights and disapproved federal government.

During the presidency of John Quincy Adams, the members of the Jeffersonian faction created a coalition, including William H. Crawford, John C. Calhoun, and even Andrew Jackson. This coalition was the birth of the Democratic Party.

Van Buren got in the Senate seat in 1828; however, he resigned and ran for governor in New York instead. He only served as a governor for 12 weeks since President Andrew Jackson appointed him as the Secretary of State.

Serving as the Secretary of State, many criticized him for expanding the political system patronage called the “Spoils System.” This system was hiring the patrons of the political party to shore up political support and even votes.

He resigned as the Secretary of State in 1831. As Jackson’s cabinet reorganized, he briefly served as the ambassador to Great Britain.

Martin Van Buren was nominated as Andrew Jackson’s running mate in 1832 to replace John C. Calhoun in the first national convention of the Democratic Party. There is undeniable chemistry between Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren because of their shared political outlook against the Bank of the United States. They won against the National Republican candidates, Henry Clay and John Sergeant.

Martin Van Buren Administration

Andrew Jackson endorsed Martin Van Buren as his successor in the White House. He became the eighth president of the United States in 1835. Martin Van Buren only served for one term. He began his presidency at the dawn of an economic depression, which led to bank failure, food riots, and unemployment, known as the Panic of 1837.

He endured an economic crisis and even denied the statehood of Texas, which led to his defeat against William Henry Harrison, who was a Whig candidate. His last policy before leaving the office was a labor law that limits a person to work not more than 10 hours a day.

In his later years, he attempted to run for a position but received a minimal number of votes. Due to bronchial asthma, pneumonia, and heart failure, he retired to his estate in Lindenwald, Kinderhook, and died on July 24, 1862.

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