10 Little Known Facts About Martin Van Buren

Full color portrait of Martin Van Buren standing in front of a red chair.

IIP Photo Archive via White House Historical Association/Flickr/CC BY 1.0

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. There are ten key facts that are important to consider when studying the life and presidency of Martin Van Buren, one of American history's interesting and colorful characters.

01
of 10

Worked in a Tavern as a Youth

Engraving of Martin Van Buren as a young man standing on a balcony.

Inman, Henry, 1801-1846, artist. Sartain, John, 1808-1897, engraver./Wikimedia Commons/U.S. Public Domain

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. It was frequented by lawyers and politicians like Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr.

02
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Creator of a Political Machine

Close up picture of Martin Van Buren wax figure in profile.

Kevin Burkett/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

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, using political favors to influence people.

03
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Part of the Kitchen Cabinet

Black and white portrait of Andrew Jackson seated.
Andrew Jackson was the 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 he resigned after three months to accept an appointment as Secretary of State from the newly-elected president. He was an influential member of Jackson's "kitchen cabinet," the president's personal group of advisors.

04
of 10

Opposed by Three Whig Candidates

Full color oil portrait of Martin Van Buren standing in a black suit.

Daderot/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 1.0

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 support three candidates from different regions in the election. This was done in the hope of stealing enough votes from Van Buren that he would not get a majority. However, this plan failed miserably. Van Buren received 58 percent of the electoral vote.

05
of 10

Daughter-In-Law Served First Lady Duties

Black and white drawing of Hannah Hoes Van Buren.
Hannah Hoes Van Buren died in 1819, before her husband became president.

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 (who was First Lady to America's fourth president) named Angelica Singleton. After their honeymoon, Angelica performed the First Lady duties for her father-in-law.

06
of 10

Calm and Cool During the Panic of 1837

Pen drawing of the Panic of 1837 showing men, women, and children in an American city.

Edward Williams Clay/Wikimedia Commons/U.S. Public Domain

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. The changes severely restricted credit and caused banks to force debt repayments. 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.

07
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Blocked the Admission of Texas to the Union

Map of the U.S. with Texas pictured in bold red.

uploader/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 3.0

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 balance of the country. With his support, the northern opponents in Congress were able to block its admission. Texas would later be added to the U.S. in 1845.

08
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Diverted the Aroostook River Battle

The Aroostook River during a sunny day.

NOAA/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

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 officials from Maine met with resistance as they attempted to send Canadians out of the area, both sides sent militia. Van Buren intervened and sent in General Winfield Scott to make peace.

09
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Became a Presidential Elector

Black and white portrait of Martin Van Buren later in life.

Mathew Brady, Levin Corbin Handy/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Van Buren was not reelected in 1840. He campaigned 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.

10
of 10

Enjoyed His Retirement

Detailed, close up oil portrait of Martin Van Buren later in life.

Daderot after George Peter Alexander Healy/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 1.0

Van Buren 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. Irving also wrote most of "Knickerbocker's History of New York" while at the house. Van Buren and Irving would later become friends.