Martin Van Buren Lesson for Kids: Biography & Facts

Instructor: Jenny Homer

Jenny has masters' degrees in public health and public administration.

In this lesson, we'll learn about Martin Van Buren, who was president of the United States from 1837-1841. Find out his interesting nicknames and learn about his time in the White House during a complicated period in American history.

Who was Martin Van Buren?

The phrases ''Little Magician,'' ''Red Fox of Kinderhook,'' and ''Sly Fox'' are not what you would expect to use to talk about the President of the United States. ('Sly' means sneaky, and 'foxes' are known for being tricky.) But they were nicknames for Martin Van Buren, president from 1837 to 1841.

Van Buren was a good deal-maker and understood the importance of political organizations, which is how he got those nicknames. He was also smart about getting support from powerful people.

President Martin Van Buren

Early Life

Martin Van Buren was born in 1782 in New York state. His parents had a tavern where politicians in New York stayed. He was five and a half feet tall, which was relatively short, and did not come from a very wealthy background, but he liked to dress well. Van Buren became a lawyer, got married, and had four children.

In 1812, he became a senator in the New York state government and then became the New York Attorney General. Van Buren's wife died in 1819. In 1821, his connections helped him become a United States senator.

Van Buren and others admired President Thomas Jefferson, who believed that states (and not the federal government) should make decisions about policies that affect them. Van Buren worked with others to set up a new political party, the Democratic Party, and campaigned for Andrew Jackson for president in 1928.

Van Buren became New York's governor, but not for long. President Andrew Jackson made Van Buren Secretary of State, the person who works with the president to deal with other countries. He left this position when Jackson's advisers started fighting, but Van Buren was smart about which side he took. He ran as Jackson's vice president in 1832.

The Presidency

Van Buren ran for president and won in 1836. When he took office, the country seemed to be doing well. But soon, people started losing jobs, businesses closed, banks didn't have enough money, and many felt worried. In 1840, Van Buren pushed Congress to make changes to the banking system, but many in Congress didn't agree with him. He also made it a law that the workday for people doing projects for the federal government should not be longer than 10 hours.

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