“For myself, therefore, I desire to declare that the principle that will govern me in the high duty to which my country calls me is a strict adherence to the letter and spirit of the Constitution as it was designed by those who framed it.” He was the first American-born president and the first president born after the writing of the Declaration of Independence. He is the only president who did not speak English as his first language. He is Martin Van Buren, 8th President of the United States. Martin was born on December 5, 1782, in Kinderhook, New York, to parents who were of Dutch descent. Dutch was the primary language spoken in the house while Martin was growing up. Martin attended local schools until the age of 14. As he was unable to afford college, he became a lawyers apprentice and was admitted to the bar in 1803, without ever having attended law school! Martin became a well-respected lawyer before entering politics.
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 out phrase “okay.”
In 1812, Martin began his political career with an election to the New York State Senate, during which time he proved himself to be an adept politician, establishing 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, however, Martin did not oppose property requirements for voting.
In 1821, Martin was elected to the United States Senate, from which he resigned in 1828, to become governor of New York. Martin did not remain governor long, as President Andrew Jackson appointed him as Secretary of State in 1829. During Jackson’s second 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. He ran on a platform that would continue Jackson’s policies. Upon assuming the office of President, Martin immediately faced several pressing problems. The most significant problem was a financial panic, which had begun during Jackson’s final term and peaked in 1837. The panic was followed by a five-year depression, during which time unemployment skyrocketed and many banks failed. 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.
As president, Martin opposed Texas becoming 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 began under 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, which contributed to his decision against Texas. 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.
Martin 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 in 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 of his wife.
Happy Birthday Mr. President!