10 Things to Know About Martin Van Buren

Martin Van Buren was born on December 5, 1782, in Kinderhook, New York. He was elected the eighth president of the United States in 1836 and took office on March 4, 1837. Following are ten key facts that are important to understand when studying the life and presidency of Martin Van Buren.

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Worked in a Tavern as a Youth

Martin Van Buren, Eighth President of the United States
Martin Van Buren, Eighth President of the United States. Credit: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-BH82401-5239 DLC

Martin Van Buren was of Dutch descent but was the first president to be born in the United States of America. His father was not only a farmer but also a tavern keeper. While going to school as a youth, Van Buren worked in his father's tavern which was frequented by lawyers and politicians like Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr.

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Creator of a Political Machine

Martin Van Buren created one of the first political machines, the Albany Regency. He and his Democratic allies actively maintained party discipline in both the state of New York and on the national level while using patronage to influence people.

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Part of the Kitchen Cabinet

Andrew Jackson, Seventh President of the United States
Andrew Jackson, Seventh President of the United States. Hulton Archive / Stringer / Getty Images

Van Buren was a staunch supporter of Andrew Jackson. In 1828, Van Buren worked hard to get Jackson elected, even running for governor of the state of New York as a way to gain more votes for him. Van Buren won the election but resigned after three months in order to accept Jackson's appointment of him as secretary of state. He was an influential member of Jackson's "kitchen cabinet," his personal group of advisors.

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Opposed By Three Whig Candidates

In 1836, Van Buren ran for president as a Democrat fully supported by departing president Andrew Jackson. The Whig Party, which had been created in 1834 with the purpose of opposing Jackson, decided to put up three candidates from different regions in the hope of stealing enough votes from Van Buren that he would not get a majority. However, this plan failed miserably, and Van Buren received 58% of the electoral vote.

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Daughter-in-Law Served First Lady Duties

Hannah Hoes Van Buren
Hannah Hoes Van Buren. MPI / Stringer / Getty Images

Van Buren's wife Hannah Hoes Van Buren died in 1819. He never remarried. However, his son Abraham got married in 1838 to a cousin of Dolley Madison named Angelica Singleton. After their honeymoon, Angelica performed the first lady duties for her father-in-law.

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Panic of 1837

An economic depression called the Panic of 1837 began during Van Buren's time in office. It lasted until 1845. During Jackson's time in office, major restrictions had been placed on state banks severely restricting credit and causing them to force the repayments of debt. This came to a head when many depositors began a run on the banks, demanding to withdraw their money. Over 900 banks had to be closed and many people lost their jobs and their life savings. Van Buren did not believe that the government should step in to help. However, he did fight for an independent treasury to protect deposits.

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Blocked the Admission of Texas to the Union

In 1836, Texas asked to be admitted to the union after gaining independence. It was a slave state, and Van Buren feared that its addition would upset the sectional balance of the country. With his support, the Northern opponents in Congress were able to block its admission. It would later be added in 1845.

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Diverted the "Aroostook War"

General Winfield Scott
General Winfield Scott. Spencer Arnold / Stringer / Getty Images

There were very few foreign policy issues during Van Buren's time in office. However, in 1839, a dispute occurred between Maine and Canada concerning the border along the Aroostook River. The boundary had never been officially set. When an official from Maine met with resistance as they attempted to send Canadians out of the area, both sides sent militia. However, Van Buren intervened and sent in General Winfield Scott to make peace.

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Presidential Elector

Franklin Pierce, Fourteenth President of the United States
Franklin Pierce, Fourteenth President of the United States. Credit: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-BH8201-5118 DLC

Van Buren was not reelected in 1840. He tried again in 1844 and 1848 but lost both times. He retired to Kinderhook, New York but did stay active in politics, serving as a presidential elector for both Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan.

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Beloved Lindenwald in Kinderhook, NY

Washington Irving
Washington Irving. Stock Montage / Getty Images

Van Buren had bought the Van Ness estate two miles from his hometown of Kinderhook, New York in 1839. It was called Lindenwald. He lived there for 21 years, working as a farmer for the rest of his life. Interestingly, it was at Lindenwald before Van Buren's purchase that Washington Irving met the teacher, Jesse Merwin, who would be the inspiration for Ichabod Crane. He also wrote most of Knickerbocker's History of New York while at the house. Van Buren and Irving would later become friends.