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Martin Van Buren: Eighth President of the United States serving from 1837-1841

Martin Van Buren MET ap93.19.2

Henry Inman, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Predecessor and Successor

Andrew Jackson | William Henry Harrison


Democratic Party

Term Dates

March 4, 1837 - March 4, 1841

Martin Van Buren was the eighth president of America, serving from 1837 - 1841. An Andrew Jackson supporter, he gathered all of Jackson's supporters to create the modern Democratic party. In the 1832 election, Van Buren replaced John Calhoun as his running mate. This meant Van Buren became the eighth vice president. When the 1836 election came around, Jackson threw his support to Van Buren for president, getting him the nomination. When Van Buren won, everything seemed so promising, until the Panic of 1837 occurred. This and the economic downturn that occurred after was blamed on Van Buren. Because of this, while he got the Democratic nomination in the 1840 election, he had a tough time facing the Whig candidate, William Henry Harrison. He ultimately lost the election. However, he would still run for president a few more times in the following elections.

Birth & early life

Van Buren was born on December 5, 1782 in Kinderhook, New York. He was the first president to be born as a United States citizen, as he was born after the Declaration of Independence. He was also the first president to not have British ancestry. Kinderhook was a primarily Dutch speaking area, meaning Van Buren was also the first president to not speak English as a first language. (Wow, that's a lot of firsts.) Van Buren got basic education. He learned how to interact with people from several different cultures, which helped in his later career. He then started to study law in 1796. Van Buren was short and was often called "Little Van". He was criticized for wearing rough clothes by the people at the law office he studied at, causing him to be known for dressing very formally in his later years. Van Buren married Hannah Hoes in 1817, though she died two years later. (Oh yeah, and she was the daughter of Van Buren's cousin. Really Martin?) Van Buren never remarried and during his presidency, had his daughter-in-law, Angelica, act as First Lady.

Early career

Van Buren passed the bar exam in 1803 and returned to Kinderhook. He had gone out of Kinderhook the past few years to study New York's state politics. Van Buren was a Democratic-Republican, despite Kinderhook being a strong Federalist city. He had attended one of the party's conventions in 1801. In 1807, Van Buren got his first job as the surrogate of Colombia City, New York. He was happy with his job and moved out of Kinderhook. In 1812, Van Buren was elected to serve in the New York State Senate. He supported James Madison and the War of 1812 and even collaborated with General Winfield Scott about the New York Militia. This helped Van Buren's career, and he became the Attorney General for New York. However, he did not leave his job as state senator and instead simultaneously did both jobs. In 1819 Van Buren was involved in a case which turned out to be the first "murder-for-hire" case in New York. DeWitt Clinton, a former political ally and a candidate who destroyed one of Van Buren's other political allies in 1817 became someone that Van Buren very much disliked. He became leader of the "Bucktails" which was a group of New Yorkers who didn't like Clinton. Van Buren was able to create a political machine technique which would be used in New York politics, and he helped spread voting rights to all white men, instead of what it was before where only property-owning white men could vote. After the 1820 elections, Van Buren emerged as the Democratic-Republican leader of the state.

National political career

Van Buren was chosen to be a Senator for New York by the state legislature in February 1821. He was a renowned figure in the Senate, making many speeches and friending William Crawford, the Secretary of the Treasury. In the 1824 election, Van Buren chose to vote for Crawford and helped him in win the 1824 Democratic-Republican nominating caucus (even though it was disregarded by all the candidates). Van Buren even met with Thomas Jefferson, his political hero, trying to convince him to vote for Crawford. It failed, but Van Buren was still happy. During the controversy of the 1824 elections with the "corrupt bargain", Van Buren avoided it and instead simply looked ahead to the 1828 election. Van Buren did not show bitterness towards opponents but did criticize the Adams-Clay administration for their plan to improve domestic infrastructure. He purposely helped pass the Tariff of 1828, which would make Adams look bad and helped further divide the North and South. In the 1828 gubernatorial election in New York, Van Buren was able to win, labeling himself as a "Jacksonian-Democrat", and assembled all the Andrew Jackson supporters together, which would create the ground for the modern Democratic party. He was able to use Jackson's popularity to help him win, but expected to only be governor for a bit as he expected to be appointed to the Cabinet by Jackson if he won. Because of that, he chose a good lieutenant governor (which would likely be his successor) and made sure to run on many Jackson policies. Van Buren won and became governor on January 1, 1829. In the presidential race, Jackson ended up defeating John Quincy Adams. In February 1829, Jackson asked Van Buren to be his Secretary of State, which he accepted. It caused him to serve the shortest term of any governor in New York. Van Buren's term as Secretary of State was pretty average. He settled a few disputes and helped improve trde, but he didn't resolve disputes like the Maine and Oregon disputes. In 1831, Jackson appointed Van Buren to be the ambassador to Britain. John Calhoun, however, was able to make sure he wasn't certified by the Senate. Calhoun thought he had ended Van Buren's career, but it only made people feel bad for him and inadvertently caused him to be nominated as Jackson's running mate in the 1832 election>. Jackson and Van Buren ended up winning, and Van Buren became vice president on March 4, 1833.

Vice presidency

The vice presidency of Martin Van Buren was not very notable. A few things he did was suggesting how to handle the Nullification Crisis and severing Jackson's relationship with Daniel Webster to keep a divide. Van Buren was one of Jackson's #1 advisors; he gave advice and continued to support Jackson's policies. As Jackson's second term came to an end, he refused to seek a third term. However, he looked at Martin Van Buren to be his successor. His influence caused Van Buren to easily be nominated in the 1835 Democratic National Convention. Van Buren would face three Whig candidates in the 1836 election. However, through Jackson's influence and because of the failure of the Whig's strategy, Van Buren easily won.



Van Buren's cabinet was pretty much the same as Jackson's. However, it was criticized because not all regions were represented. James Buchanan, from Pennsylvania, said his state wasn't represented and criticized Van Buren a lot. He ignored it, though, but did make some changes with the Secretary of the Navy, Postmaster General, and appointed a new Attorney General.

Judicial appointments

  • Associate justice (Supreme Court): John McKinley to replace no one (seat created)
  • Associate justice (Supreme Court): Peter Vivian Daniel to replace Philip Barbour
  • Economy (Panic of 1837)

    Martin Van Buren officially became president on March 4, 1837. However, his inauguration was more about Jackson leaving than Martin Van Buren entering. It was the first time the outgoing and incoming presidents rode to an inauguration ceremony ever. The economy was the biggest thing during Van Buren's term. The Panic of 1837 went into full swing just a few months into his presidency, and while it was likely Jackson's fault, Van Buren was blamed for it. Van Buren blamed it on the greedy corporations, but opponents said it was due to the Democratic policies of the Jackson & Van Buren administrations. Van Buren insisted on keeping Jacksonian policies and his push for an Independent Treasury was tabled. It hurt more when, because of the economic problems, Whigs gained more seats in Congress. In early 1838, the economy had started to rebound, but a second downturn known as the Panic of 1839 (though it is considered part of the Panic of 1837) began because of less cotton trade. It caused a chain reaction that once again made banks fail. Van Buren's Independent Treasury system was finally passed in 1840, but it was tabled in 1841. It would be adopted again and would last from 1846 - 1913.

    Indian Removal & Slavery

    During Jackson's presidency, he began the removal of Native Americans located east of the Mississippi, and forcefully moved them westward. During Martin Van Buren's administration, the government signed nineteen treaties with tribes. One of them was with the Cherokee Nation. The tribe was more resistant, though, and many in the tribe thought the treaty was a fraud. Because of this, Van Buren in 1838 ordered General Winfield Scott to deal with the members who didn't move. In the summer, they were sent to internment camps and after delays, the tribe agreed to move westward, but reluctantly. During the removal, around 20,000 people were forcibly removed, and it became part of the Trail of Tears. The Seminole trade ended up in military battles with the United States and were defeated. However, the government realized it would be impossible to move all the Indians out of Florida. Because of this, Van Buren ordered peace negotiations, and it was the only time the US ever did that with a Native American tribe. Peace was reached, but fighting resumed in 1839. It would continue until 1842 and cost thirty million dollars to the US government.


    In the 1830s, more people began to think that slavery might actually be bad. These people were known as Abolitionists, and the growing beliefs against slavery became the Abolitionist Movement. Van Buren felt this was nothing more than a threat to the country. He made sure local movements to end slavery in Washington D.C. were abolished. He was criticized for this, being called a "northern man with southern views". Though he did these things, it is important to note he also opposed Texas' annexation and took note of slavery concerns in the North. The gag rule (which banned anti-slavery petitions from being heard in Congress) became a big issue during Van Buren's presidency. A big court case during his presidency, known as United States v. Amistad, was when an African slave ship going to Cuba was taken over by the African Americans on board, but was tricked into going to the United States. Since the importation of African slaves to the US was illegal, it became a court case and made its way to the Supreme Court. The court ruled, however, that the men should be sent free. Van Buren's administration, though, appealed the case. It failed, though, and the ruling was upheld. Abolitionists would help the Africans return home in November 1841.

    Foreign policy

    Texas annexation issue

    The Republic of Texas had recently gained freedom from Mexico, and most of the people wanted to join the United States. Just days before Andrew Jackson left the presidency, he recognized the Republic of Texas. Abolitionists thought an annexation of Texas would be another way to expand slavery, but southerners wanted it. Jackson suggested to get it by force, but Van Buren made arguably the boldest decision of his presidency and said it should be peacefully resolved instead of by force. He rejected an annexation proposal by the minister of Texas saying "the proposal cannot be entertained". Texas ended up withdrawing the offer in 1838.


    There was an ongoing Canadian conflict between the North and Southern areas, and the South planned to invade. They decided to use the steamboat Caroline to get supplies. To stop such an invasion, the North burned the ship and sank it. The conflict caused one American to be killed. In retaliation, angered Americans sunk a British ship. Van Buren wanted to seek peace, and asked Winfield Scott to go to the border to seek peace. With an endorsement from Congress, Van Buren claimed neutrality in the Canadian conflict. The Maine dispute began to get heated. On December 29, 1838, a shouting match ensued between citizens of both Canada and the United States. The press began to push for war. Van Buren didn't want a conflict but said he would defend Maine in an invasion. He met with the minister from Great Britain and they agreed to solve the dispute, and it was officially solved in 1842.

    1840 election

    Van Buren was easily renominated in the 1840 Democratic National Convention. His vice president, Richard Mentor Johnson, wasn't, because he was unpopular. They didn't even nominate anybody to replace him, though. The big problem was the 1840 election itself. Because of the economic crisis and other issues, like slavery and Texas annexation, the Democrats faced a difficult situation. Furthermore, the Whigs were able to nominate a strong candidate, William Henry Harrison. Van Buren would end upp losing, and the short Andrew Jackson dynasty ended, as the Whigs became a legit contender in politics, getting their first president in office.


    Van Buren left office on March 4, 1841. He stayed involved with politics, and while he didn't intend on another presidential bid, he did keep his popularity up. Van Buren ended up running for the Democratic nomination in the 1844 election. He lost though, and while mad that his own party didn't support him, he still unified the party by endorsing the winner, James Polk. In 1848, Van Buren decided to run again. He originally had run again for the Democrats in a party faction known as the Barnburners. Once he lost, they marched out and created a new political party called the Free Soil Party. Van Buren had become increasingly opposed to slavery, and published a work called the Barnburner Manifesto. He ultimately lost the election, but he was able to take quite a few votes away from the Democratic nominee, Lewis Cass, and likely gave the election to Zachary Taylor. After this election, Van Buren never ran for office again.

    An aged Martin Van Buren, circa 1849


    Martin Van Buren still remained close to politics. While he didn't like the Fugitive Slave Act, he still supported the Compromise of 1850. He attempted to reunite the divided Democratic party, but it didn't really make an impact. When Abraham Lincoln was elected and the South began to secede, former president Franklin Pierce wrote to Van Buren saying he should orchestrate a meeting between the ex-presidents to make a solution. Pierce argued Van Buren should do it since he was the senior ex-president. However, Van Buren replied saying that if Pierce wanted it, that he should do it, or James Buchanan should do it as the most recent ex-president. No one ended up stepping up, and it ended there. Van Buren would be a supporter of the Union during the Civil War.


    Van Buren died on July 24, 1862 in Kinderhook, New York, the same place he was born. He died of asthma and heart failure at approximately 2 AM. He survived to see the most presidential successors of any president (seeing eight presidents take office after him), with Jimmy Carter following Van Buren.

    Reputation & legacy


    Van Buren's presidency is considered to be average, if not worse. The Panic of 1837 was simply too much, and he failed to stop it. He was able to help some issues, which is why his presidency is considered to be average instead of bad for historians. However, many say he is one of the most forgettable presidents. One could even make the argument that he was the first president in the nation whose presidency is forgettable.

    Political career

    Van Buren is considered to be one of the most influental figures in the American political system. His key role in the creation of the Democratic party was very important, and his political machine in New York still effects it's politics today.


    To wrap up, Martin Van Buren was an influental politician who changed America. However, his forgettable days was during his presidency, where he was simply there at the wrong time.

    Additional attributions

    Attributions are listed in order where they appear on the page. The top image's attribution is not located in this section.

    Mathew Benjamin Brady, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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