Martin Van Buren Biography

Eight President of the United States

Years Served as President: 1837-1841

Vice President: Richard M. Johnson

Party: Democrat

Age at Inauguration: 54

martin van buren portrait

Home State: New York

Date of Birth: December 5, 1782

Died: July 24, 1862

Married: Hannah Hoes

Children: Abraham, John, Martin, Smith

Nickname: The Little Magician

What is Martin Van Buren known for?

Martin Van Buren was known for being a clever and cunning politician. He was sometimes called “The Little Magician” or “Red Fox.”

His presidency was defined by the Panic of 1837, a financial panic during which the stock market crashed. Because of this financial disaster, Martin was not elected to a second term.

He favored states’ rights over a strong federal government.

stock market crash and panic

Early Life

Martin Van Buren was born in Kinderhook, New York. He was born six years after the colonists declared their independence from the British.

Martin’s father was a farmer and tavern keeper. Martin sometimes worked at his father’s tavern, which was often visited by lawyers and politicians like Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton.

Eventually, Martin became an apprentice for a local lawyer. He went on to open his own law practice in 1803.

He was interested in politics from a young age and attended his first political convention when he was just 17.

practicing lawyer

Family Life

Four years after opening his practice, Martin married Hannah Hoes. Hannah was his “childhood sweetheart.”

The couple had four sons named Abraham, John, Martin, and Smith.

Hannah died of tuberculosis in 1819, and Martin never remarried. He was one of only a few presidents to be unmarried during his time in the White House.

Political Career

From 1812-1820, Martin served two terms in the New York State Senate. He also held the position of state attorney general.

He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1821. He became known for political schemes, including starting a “political machine” called the Albany Regency.

federal-government-powers

Martin and other members of his party would use political favors to influence people. For example, they might promise to give supporters of a candidate a good government job if their candidate won.

After John Quincy Adams was elected to the presidency in 1824, Martin led the opposition to his presidency in the Senate.

He helped form the group that supported Andrew Jackson in the following election. This group eventually became a new political party, the Democrats.

Andrew Jackson
Andrew Jackson

Martin Van Buren then successfully ran for governor of New York. However, he left the position after only a few months to become Andrew Jackson’s Secretary of State.

In 1832, he became Andrew Jackson’s vice president. After Andrew Jackson served two terms, he supported Martin in the next presidential election.

Martin won the 1836 election over William Henry Harrison.

Presidency

In 1837, soon after Martin Van Buren took office, a financial panic hit the United States. It was caused partially by funds being transferred from the national bank (which no longer existed) to state banks.

money

Hundreds of banks and businesses failed, and the stock market crashed. Many people lost their land and their life savings. The financial depression lasted for about five years.

Martin Van Buren established an independent treasury system to handle government transactions, and he cut off federal government expenditures (spending). But these policies were controversial and not very successful.

He ran for re-election, but this time he was defeated by the Whig candidate William Henry Harrison.

presidential elections

After the Presidency

Martin Van Buren tried to become president two more times. In 1844, he campaigned for the Democratic nomination but lost it to James K. Polk.

He was against slavery, and a group of antislavery Democrats rallied behind him and formed a new party, the Free Soil Party.

Martin ran for president in 1848 as the Free Soil presidential candidate but received less than 10% of the vote. His vice-presidential candidate was Charles Francis Adams, the son of John Quincy Adams.

John Quincy Adams biography
John Quincy Adams

After this second failed attempt, Martin retired to Lindenwald, his estate in Kinderhook. There, he wrote his autobiography.

He died of a heart attack at the age of 79, about a year before the Civil War.

Fun Facts About Martin Van Buren

Martin Van Buren was the first U.S. president from the state of New York.

He was also the first president to be born as a citizen of the United States. The previous presidents had been born as British subjects.

His first language was Dutch, so he was the only president to speak English as a second language.

Since his wife Hannah died before Martin was elected president, his daughter-in-law Angelica performed hostess duties in the White House. She was a cousin of Dolley Madison, the wife of the fourth president James Madison.

After the stock market crashed, Martin’s opponents started calling him “Martin Van Ruin.”

US Presidents