Martin Van Buren
From: Portrait and Biographical record of Rockland and Orange Counties,
By: Chapman Publishing Company
MARTIN VAN BUREN,
the eighth Fresident of the United States, was born at Kinderbook, N. Y., December 5, 1782. He died at the same
place, July 24, 1862. His body rests in the cemetery at Kinderhook. Above it is a plain granite shaft, fifteen
feet high, bearing a simple inscription about half-way up on one face. The lot is unfenced, unbordered or unbounded
by shrub or flower.
There is but little in the life of Martin Van Buren of romantic interest. He fought no battles, engaged in no wild
adventures. Though his life was stormy in political and intellectual conflicts, and he gained many signal victories,
his days passed uneventful in those incidents which give zest to biography. His ancestors, as his name indicates,
were of Dutch origin, and were among the earliest emigrants from Holland to the banks of the Hudson. His father
was a farmer, residing in the old town of Kinderhook. His mother, also of Dutch lineage, was a woman of superior
intelligence and exemplary piety.
He was decidedly a precocious boy, developing unusual activity, vigor and strength of mind. At the age of fourteen,
he had finished his academic studies in his native village, and commenced the study of law. As he had not a collegiate
education, seven years of study in a law-office were required of him before he could be admitted to the Bar, Inspired
with a lofty ambition, and conscions of his powers, he pursued his studies with indefatigable industry. After spending
six years in an office in his native village, he went to the city of New York, and prosecuted his studies for the
In 1803, Mr. Van Buren, then twenty-one years of age, commenced the practice of law in his native village. The
great conflict between the Federal and Republican parties was then at its height. Mr. Van Buren was from the beginning
a politician. He had, perhaps, imbibed that spirit while listening to the many discussions which had been carried
on in his father's hotel. He was in cordial sympathy with Jefferson, and earnestly and eloquently espoused the
cause of State Rights, though at that time the Federal party held the supremacy both in his town and State.
His success and increasing reputation led him after six years of practice to remove to Hudson, the county seat
of his county. Here he spent seven years, constantly gaining strength by contending in the courts with some of
the ablest men who have adorned the Bar of his State.
Just before leaving Kinderhook for Hudson, Mr. Van Buren married a lady alike distinguished for beauty and accomplishments.
After twelve short years she sank into the grave, a victim of consumption, leaving her husband and four sons to
weep over her loss. For twenty-five years, Mr. Van Buren was an earnest, successful, assiduous lawyer. The record
of those years is barren in items of public interest. In 1812, when thirty years of age, be was chosen to the State
Senate, and gave his strenuous support to Mr. Madison's administration. In 1815, he was appointed Attorney-General,
and the next year moved to Albany, the capital of the State.
While he was acknowledged as one of the most prominent leaders of the Democratic party, he had the moral courage
to avow that true democracy did not require that "universal suffrage" which admits the vile, the degraded,
the ignorant, to the right of governing tile State. In true consistency with his democratic principles, he contended
that, while the path leading to the privilege of voting should be open to every man without distinction, no one
should be invested with that sacred prerogative unless he were in some degree qualified for it by intelligence,
virtue, and some property interests in the welfare of the State.
In 1821 he was elected a member of the United States Senate, and in the same year he took a seat in the convention
to revise the Constitution of his native State. His course in this convention secured the approval of men of all
parties. No one could doubt the singleness of his endeavors to promote the interests of all classes in the community.
In the Senate of the United States, he rose at once to a conspicuous position as an active and useful legislator.
In 1827, John Quincy Adams being then in the Presidential chair, Mr. Van Buren was re-elected to the Senate. He
had been from the beginning a determined opposer of the administration, adopting the "State Rights" view
in opposition to what was deenied the Federal proclivities of Mr. Adams.
Soon after this, in 1828, he was chosen Governor of the State of New York, and accordingly resigned his seat in
the Senate. Probably no one in the United States contributed so much towards ejecting John Q. Adams from the Presidential
chair, and placing in it Andrew Jackson, as did Martin Van Buren. Whether entitled to the reputation or not, he
certainly was regarded throughout the United States as one of the most skillful, sagacious and cunning of politicians.
It was supposed that no one knew so well as he how to touch the secret springs of action, how to pull all the wires
to put his machinery in motion, and how to organize a political army which would secretly and stealthily accomplish
the most gigantic results. By these powers it is said that he outwitted Mr. Adams, Mr. Clay, and Mr. Webster, and
secured results which few then thought could be accomplished.
When Andrew Jackson was elected President he appointed Mr. Van Buren Secretary of State. This position he resigned
in 1831, and was immediately appointed Minister to England, where he went the same autumn. The Senate, however,
when it met, refused to ratify the nomination, and he returned home, apparently untroubled. Later he was nominated
Vice-President in the place of Calhoun, at the re-election of President Jackson, and with smiles for all and frowns
for none, he took his place at the head of that Senate which had refused to confirm his nomination as ambassador.
His rejection by the Senate roused all the zeal of President Jackson in behalf of his repudiated favorite; and
this, probably, more than any other cause secured his elevation to the chair of the Chief Executive. On the 20th
of May, 1836, Mr. Van Buren received the Democratic nomination to succeed Gen. Jackson as President of the United
States. He was elected by a handsome majority, to the delight of the retiring President. "Leaving New York
out of the canvass," says Mr. Parton, "the election of Mr. Van Buren to the Presidency was as much the
act of Gen. Jackson as though the Constitution had conferred upon him the power to appoint a successor."
His administration was filled with exciting events. The insurrection in Canada, which threatened to involve this
country in war with England, the agitation of the slavery question, and finally the great commercial panic which
spread over the country, all were trials of his wisdom. The financial distress was attributed to the management
of the Democratic party, and brought the President into such disfavor that he failed of re-election, and on the
4th of March, 1841, he retired from the presidency.
With the exception of being nominated for the Presidency by the "Free Soil" Democrats in 1848, Mr. Van
Buren lived quietly upon his estate until his death. He had ever been a prudent man, of frugal habits, and, living
within his income, had now fortunately a competence for his declining years. From his fine estate at Lindenwald,
he still exerted a powerful influence upon the politics of the country. From this time until his death, on the
24th of July, 1862, at the age of eighty years, he resided at Lindenwald, a gentleman of leisure, of culture and
wealth, enjoying in a healthy old age probably far more happiness than he had before experienced amid the stormy
scenes of his active life.