Martin Van Buren was born in Kinderhook, New York, the son of a Dutch tavern owner. Van Buren was exposed to politicians and political argument by the steady steam of visitors who frequented his father’s establishment. He was educated in a local academy, later studied law and was admitted to the New York bar in 1803.
Van Buren became involved in local politics and served in the state senate from 1813 to 1820. During these years the Democratic-Republican Party in New York was split; one faction supported Governor De Witt Clinton and the other opposed him. The latter group, the Bucktails (so-called because they wore buck tails pinned to their hats at political gatherings), was led by Van Buren. During this period he developed a reputation as an accomplished (some said unscrupulous) politician, winning him the nicknames “Little Magician" and “Red Fox of Kinderhook."
In 1825, Van Buren entered the national arena as the junior senator from New York State. Before going to Washington, he established the “Albany Regency," a political machine designed to manage New York politics in his absence; Van Buren was one of the first political bosses in American history. During the Election of 1824 Van Buren supported William H. Crawford, but switched his allegiance to Andrew Jackson. Van Buren was one of the individuals responsible for transforming the Democratic-Republicans into the Democratic Party; the latter became a platform for Jeffersonian principles.
In 1828 Van Buren ran for governor of New York, largely for the purpose of controlling the state for Jackson’s presidential bid later that year. Van Buren won the governorship, but resigned to become secretary of state and a close advisor to Jackson.
Van Buren’s standing was enhanced by his deft handling of the Eaton affair. He resigned in 1831, allowing Jackson to clear his cabinet of John C. Calhoun and other divisive forces. The president appointed Van Buren to the Court of St. James, but he failed to gain confirmation because of Calhoun’s decisive vote. The president was deeply angered by his friend's rejection, and Calhoun’s chances of remaining as vice president were over. Jackson selected Van Buren to be his running mate in the Election of 1832.
Jackson’s support was crucial to Van Buren’s own nomination for the Election of 1836. Winning easily over a divided Whig Party, Van Buren was greeted by the Panic of 1837 and the depression that followed. His response included creation of the independent treasury system, but it did little for the common man.
Van Buren worked to strengthen relations with Britain, seeking to resolve the Caroline Affair and the Aroostook War.
Van Buren was denied a second term in the Election of 1840 by William Henry Harrison. In the Election of 1844, James K. Polk secured the nomination over a deeply disappointed Van Buren, who had lost favor with Jackson over the issue of the annexation of Texas. In a final presidential bid, Van Buren ran as the Free-Soil candidate in the Election of 1848, drawing off enough votes to cost Lewis Cass and the Democrats a victory.
Van Buren’s political career benefited enormously from Jackson’s support and popularity, but unfortunate events and Van Buren’s own personality precluded him from holding the public's affection.
---- Selected Quotes ----
Quotes by Martin Van Buren.
All the lessons of history and experience must be lost upon us if we are content to trust alone to the peculiar advantages we happen to possess.
Quotes regarding Martin Van Buren.
By Free Soil Party
We inscribe on our banner Free Soil, Free Speech, Free Labor, and Free Men.
Motto of the Free-Soil Party, which nominated Van Buren in 1848.
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Party Over Section: The Rough and Ready Presidential Campaign of 1848 by Joel H. Silbey.
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Martin Van Buren by Ted Widmer.
The slick and dandyish professional politician Martin Van Buren was to all appearances the opposite of his predecessor, the rugged general and Democra...