Monday, May 10, 2010
Martin Van Buren
Martin Van Buren (1782-1862) was born on December 5, 1782, in Kinderhook, New York, a Dutch community. He was the third child and second son born to his parents. His mother had three other children in a previous marriage that ended with the death of her husband. Martin's father owned a truck farm and a tavern, and Martin liked to listen as tavern patrons argued politics in the Dutch language. Martin attended school in the village and started studying law at age 14. He showed great talent and was allowed to sum up the arguments in a court case at age 15. He was paid with a silver half-dollar. He moved to New York City in 1801 to continue his law studies and was admitted to the bar in 1803. He opened a law office with his half-brother. Van Buren married his distant cousin and childhood sweetheart, Hannah Hoes, on February 21, 1807. The couple had four sons. Mrs. Van Buren died eighteen years prior to the time that Martin became President. Martin had a dignified appearance because of his erect bearing and high, broad forehead. He had courteous manners and treated his political rivals politely. Martin became involved in politics because of his enthusiasm for Thomas Jefferson's ideas. He demonstrated his deep convictions and courage by defending Jefferson's ideals. He served in the New York Senate before being elected to the United States Senate and being seated on December 3, 1821. In his first term he joined the fight against imprisonment for debt, a common evil of the day. He was re-elected in 1827. Congress passed a law in 1828 abolishing such imprisonment. Late in 1828 Martin resigned from the Senate to serve as New York Governor. He served in that position only two months before he was appointed by Andrew Jackson to be Secretary of State. He was elected as United State Vice President in 1832 while Andrew Jackson was President. He was elected President of the United States in 1836. He ran for President two other times but was not re-elected. Van Buren was president when the country went through its first great depression, the Panic of 1837. This financial crash came on May 10, 1837, just 67 days after Van Buren took office and lasted about three years. Banks in Philadelphia and New York City closed and were closely followed by every other bank in the nation. The panic brought financial ruin and misery to millions of people. Many of them sought aid from the government but were rejected by Van Buren. He believed, as did Jefferson, that the government should play a small part in American life. Van Buren explained, "The less government interferes, the better for general prosperity." Although he wanted to limit government, he protect government funds by pushing Congress to create the United States Treasury. This act cost him support from banks and financial institutions and led to his not being re-elected. In the time of Van Buren, the city of Washington, D.C. had muddy streets and few trees, but it reflected the excitement of a country that was growing. Visitors to Van Buren's inauguration rode the first railroad from New York City and Philadelphia. People from the Frontier such as Sam Houston mingled with proper New Englanders and genteel Southerners. Washington Irving, the author, was a popular dinner guest. The frontier town of Chicago became an incorporated city, and the Republic of Texas started its fight for statehood. Extravagant White House parties were avoided by Van Buren because of the depression. He limited his entertaining to simple dinners, which were described as austere and formal even when the Van Buren boys attended. A new daughter-in-law became the White House hostess. Besides the depression, Van Buren also had to deal with border disputes with Canada. A boundary dispute between Maine and New Brunswick nearly caused open warfare before Van Buren solved the problem with tact. He received little credit for his efforts. He was also in trouble with both proslavery and antislavery groups. Proslavery leaders faulted him for not working to annex Texas as a slave state. Antislavery leaders though Florida would become a slave state after the Seminole Indians were driven out. After Van Buren lost his re-election bid, he retired to his country estate, Lindenwold, located near the place of his birth. He stayed active in politics for more than 20 years and was nominated again for President. As the slavery dispute grew hotter, Van Buren made clear that he was opposed to slavery, but he remained an active Democrat. He supported Franklin Pierce in 1852 and James Buchanan in 1856. He died at Lindenwold on July 24, 1862, and was buried beside his wife in Kinderhook. The Lindenwold estate became the Martin Van Buren National historic Site in 1974. Other events in the world of President Van Buren include: 1) In 1837 John Deere invented the first steel plow that could turn the heavy prairie sod easily. 2) In 1837 the first popular method of photography, called daguerreotypes, was invented by Louis Daguerre of France. 3) In 1837 Samuel F. B. Morse demonstrated the telegraph for the first time. He patented it in 1840. 4) The Trail of Tears took place during the 1830's and early 1840's when thousands of American Indians were forced to march from their homelands in the Southeastern United States to the Indian Territory in what became Oklahoma. United States troops oversaw the march, which was organized to open land for white settlers. 5) An expedition by the United States Navy to Antarctica was led by Lt. Charles Wilkes between 1838 and 1842. He saw land in 1840 and sailed 1500 miles of the Antarctic coast. He was the first person to recognize that Antarctica was a continent and not just ice. 6) Only women were admitted when the first teacher-training school in the United States opened in Lexington, Massachusetts. Facts for this blog post came from an article by James C. Curtis in World Book Encyclopedia, Vol. 20, pp 294-297.