Saturday, July 20, 2024

Happy Birthday President Van Buren: Martin Van Buren, 8th President of the United States

President Martin Van Buren“As to the presidency, the two happiest days of my life were those of my entrance upon the office and my surrender of it.”  He was the first American-born president and the first president born after the writing of the Declaration of Independence.  Dutch was the first language he learned, making him the only president who did not speak English as his first language.  He is Martin Van Buren, 8th President of the United States of America, serving from March 4, 1833, until March 4, 1837.  Martin was born on December 5, 1782, in Kinderhook, New York, to parents of Dutch descent. 

While growing up, Dutch was the primary language spoken in the house.  Martin attended local schools until the age of 14.  He was then unable to afford college and became a lawyer’s apprentice. In 1803, he was admitted to the bar without ever having attended law school!   Martin went on to become a well-respected lawyer.  

On February 21, 1807, Martin married Hannah Hoes, his childhood sweetheart and first cousin once removed.  They had four sons together.  Hannah had a heavy Dutch accent when she spoke and died in 1819.  Martin never remarried, although he did propose to a woman when he was 68 years of age.  She rejected his proposal.  During his life, Martin acquired the nickname “Old Kinderhook.”  It was sometimes shortened to OK, which may have been how we acquired our phrase “okay.”

In 1812, Martin began his political career with an election to the New York State Senate, proving himself as an adept politician. He established the foundations of the modern-day political machine by using political appointments and financial contributions to secure votes.  Martin also campaigned for free black men to have the right to vote, but Martin did not oppose property requirements for voting.

In 1821, Martin was elected to the United States Senate. He resigned from the Senate in 1828 to become governor of New York.  Martin did not remain governor long, as President Andrew Jackson made him Secretary of State in 1829.  During Jackson’s last term in 1832, Martin became his vice-president.  While presiding over the Senate as Vice-President, Martin wore a pair of pistols as a precaution against outbursts of violence, which were common at the time.

Martin was nominated and easily won the presidency in 1836.  He was the last sitting vice-president to be elected president until George H.W. Bush.  Martin ran on a platform that continued Jackson’s policies.  Upon assuming the office of President, Martin immediately faced several pressing problems.  The first problem was a financial panic, which began during Jackson’s final term and peaked in 1837.  The panic was followed by a five-year depression, resulting in unemployment skyrocketing and many banks failing.  This difficult time led to Martin being given the nickname Martin Van Ruin.  Martin advocated for an “Independent Treasury” system, which would give the Treasury control of all federal funds, an extremely unpopular position.

President Martin Van Buren opposed Texas becoming a state, fearing (correctly) that it would lead to war with Mexico.  This was another unpopular decision.  Martin oversaw the removal of several Indian tribes from the South, a process that began under President Jackson.  Martin also believed that slavery was morally wrong but constitutionally legal.

Internationally, Martin sought to solve disputes through diplomatic negotiations instead of by force.  Martin also fought to free a group of kidnapped slaves who had managed to take over the ship on which they were being transported before being picked up by the United States Military.  The slaves were eventually permitted to return to their homes in Africa.  Martin was unsuccessful in securing peace in Florida and continued the Second Seminole War, which was not concluded until after he left office.

President Martin Van Buren was not nominated for a second term in office, much to his surprise.  After leaving office, Martin returned to Kinderhook and attempted to secure a presidential nomination for the following election.  He was ultimately unsuccessful with the Democratic Party, although he was nominated by two minor parties.  He received enough votes in New York to give the state, and possibly the election, to Zachary Taylor.

Martin remained in his home in Kinderhook, where he died on July 24, 1862, at the age of 79.  He died from bronchial asthma and heart failure.  He was buried alongside his wife.

Happy Birthday Mr. President!

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