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President Martin Van Buren: Facts, Accomplishments & Quotes

Instructor: Daniel Vermilya
Martin Van Buren was the 8th President of the United States, serving from 1837 to 1841. He was a Democrat and was a leading figure in the Jacksonian Era of American politics. In this lesson, you'll learn more about President Van Buren's career and accomplishments.

Introduction

Though he is largely unknown today, President Martin Van Buren left a significant stamp on American politics in the mid nineteenth century. He was both a Vice President and Secretary of State under Andrew Jackson, and he was a major player in the development, growth, and success of the Democratic Party in the 1830s.

Van Buren was born in New York in 1782. He did not come from a family of extravagant means; his father was an innkeeper, a farmer, and a slave owner. Van Buren spent many of his adolescent years studying law, and he became a lawyer in 1803 when he was admitted to the New York State bar. He married Hannah Hoes in 1807; she died several years later in 1819. She was his first and only wife.

Political Rise

In 1812, Van Buren took his first elected office when he became a State Senator in New York. He was already connected with Democrats in New York and was fast becoming an important player in state politics. Within several years, Van Buren was a leader of the Bucktails, a political network within the New York Democratic Party. The interconnected network of the Bucktails was an early form of the spoils system, featuring government jobs as rewards for political loyalty.

Van Buren soon entered the national stage, becoming a United States Senator from New York in 1821. As a Senator, Van Buren altered his positions over time. He came to embrace political positions championed by Andrew Jackson, who failed to win the presidency in 1824. By the 1828 election, Van Buren was firmly in Jackson's camp. When Jackson won the presidency, it was a good sign for Van Buren's future. That same year, Van Buren was elected the governor of New York, a position he would not hold for long.

When Jackson became president, Van Buren quickly rose to a prime spot in the new chief executive's cabinet. Jackson made Van Buren his Secretary of State, a tremendously powerful and important post.

During the turbulent Jackson administration, Van Buren was able to navigate many pitfalls that could have hurt his relationship with the president. During the Petticoat Affair, when the wives and members of Jackson's cabinet turned against Peggy Eaton, the wife of Secretary of War John Eaton, Van Buren remained cordial to Mrs. Eaton, further endearing him to the president. During Jackson's other, more serious political fights, Van Buren supported the chief executive as well.

In 1832, when Jackson was up for re-election, Van Buren was chosen by the Democrats and Jackson to be the nominee for Vice President. Jackson won re-election that year, and Van Buren was elevated to the second-highest office in the land. This further cemented his link to Jackson and his agenda, as well as his standing as a leading figure in the Democratic Party.

This close relationship with Jackson paid off handsomely once again for Van Buren in 1836 when Jackson decided that Van Buren should succeed him to the presidency. Jackson's blessing, Van Buren's political connections in the party, and his status as Vice President made him an obvious choice for the Democrats.

President Martin Van Buren
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President of the United States

The 1836 election was one of the more strange and bizarre contests in American history. While Van Buren was the nominee of a national party, the only national opposition, the nascent Whig Party, did not put forward a single candidate, but several regional ones. The Whigs wanted to split the national vote, deny Van Buren the necessary majority in the Electoral College, and have the election decided in the U.S. House of Representatives. Their strategy failed horribly, and Van Buren was elected the 8th President of the United States.

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