|Carroll County IAGenWeb|
Transcribed by Sharon Elijah January 8, 2021
MARTIN VAN BUREN, the eighth President of the United States, 1837-’41, was born at Kinderhook, New York, December 5, 1782. His ancestors were of Dutch origin, and were among the earliest emigrants from Holland to the banks of the Hudson. His father was a tavern-keeper, as well as a farmer, and a very decided Democrat.
Martin commenced the study of law at the age of fourteen, and took an active part in politics before he had reached the age of twenty. In 1803 he commenced the practice of law in his native village. In 1809 he removed to Hudson, the shire town of his county, where he spent seven years, gaining strength by contending in the courts with some of the ablest men who have adorned the bar of his State. The heroic example of John Quincy Adams in retaining in office every faithful man, without regard to his political preferences, had been thoroughly repudiated by General Jackson. The unfortunate principle was now fully established, that “to the victor belong the spoils.” Still, this principle, to which Mr. Van Buren gave his adherence, was not devoid of inconveniences. When, subsequently, he attained power which placed vast patronage in his hands, he was heard to say: “I prefer an office that has no patronage. When I give a man an office I offend his disappointed competitors and their friends. Nor am I certain of gaining a friend in the man I appoint, for, in all probability, he expected something better.”
In 1812 Mr. Van Buren was elected to the State Senate. In 1815 he was appointed Attorney-General, and in 1816 to the Senate a second time. In 1818 there was a great split in the Democratic party in New York, and Mr. Van Buren took the lead in organizing that portion of the party called the Albany Regency, which is said to have swayed the destinies of the State for a quarter of a century.
In 1812 he was chosen a member of the convention for revising the State Constitution, in which he advocated an extension of the franchise, but opposed universal suffrage, and also favored the proposal that colored persons, in order to vote, should have freehold property to the amount of $250. In this year he was also elected to the United States Senate, and at the concluding of his term, in 1827, was re-elected, but resigned the following year, having been chosen Governor of the State. In March, 1829, he was appointed Secretary of State by President Jackson, but resigned in April, 1831, and during the recess of Congress was appointed minister to England, whither he proceeded in September, but the Senate, when convened in December, refused to ratify the appointment.
In May, 1832, Mr. Van Buren was nominated as the Democratic candidate for Vice-President, and elected in the following November. May 26, 1836, he received the nomination to succeed General Jackson as President, and received 170 electoral votes, out of 283.
Scarcely had he taken his seat in the Presidential chair when a financial panic swept over the land. Many attributed this to the war which General Jackson had waged on the banks, and to his endeavor to secure an almost exclusive specie currency. Nearly every bank in the country was compelled to suspend specie payment, and ruin pervaded all our great cities. Not less than 254 houses failed in New York in one week. All public works were brought to a stand, and there was a general state of dismay. President Van Buren urged the adoption of the independent treasury system, which was twice passed in the Senate and defeated in the House, but finally became a law near the close of his administration.
Another important measure was the passage of a pre-emption law, giving actual settlers the preference in the purchase of public lands. The question of slavery, also, now began to assume great prominence in national politics, and after an elaborate anti-slavery speech by Mr. Slade, of Vermont, in the House of Representatives, the Southern members withdrew for a separate consultation, at which Mr. Rhett, of South Carolina, proposed to declare it expedient that the Union should be dissolved; but the matter was tided over by the passage of a resolution that no petitions or papers relating to slavery should be in any way considered or acted upon.
In the Presidential election of 1840 Mr. Van Buren was nominated, without opposition, as the Democratic candidate, William H. Harrison being the candidate of the Whig party. The Democrats carried only seven States, and out of 294 electoral votes only sixty were for Mr. Van Buren, the remaining 234 being for his opponent. The Whig popular majority, however, was not large, the elections in many of the States being very close.
March 4, 1841, Mr. Van Buren retired from the Presidency. From his fine estate at Lindenwald he still exerted a powerful influence upon the politics of the country. In 1844 he was again proposed as the Democratic candidate for the Presidency, and a majority of the delegates of the nominating convention were in his favor; but, owing to his opposition to the proposed annexation of Texas, he could not secure the requisite two-thirds vote. His name was at length withdrawn by his friends, and Mr. Polk received the nomination, and was elected.
In 1848 Mr. Cass was the regular Democratic candidate. A schism, however, sprang up in the party, upon the question of the permission of slavery in the newly-acquired territory, and a portion of the party, taking the name of “Free-Soilers,” nominated Mr. Van Buren. They drew away sufficient votes to secure the election of General Taylor, the Whig candidate. After this Mr. Van Buren retired to his estate at Kinderhook, where the remainder of his life was passed, with the exception of a European tour in 1853. He died at Kinderhook, July 24, 1862, at the age of eighty years.
Martin Van Buren was a great and good man, and no one will question his right to a high position among those who have been the successor Washington in the faithful occupancy of the Presidential chair.
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