|PORTRAIT AND BIOGRAPHICAL ALBUM|
MUSCTINE COUNTY, IOWA
Presidents of the United States
Source: Portrait and Biographical Album, Muscatine County, Iowa, 1889, page 47
MARTIN VAN BUREN
MARTIN VAN BUREN, the eighth President of the United States, was born at Kinderhook, N. Y., Dec. 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 halfway 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 concious of his powers, he pursued his studies with indefatigable industry. After spending sixteen years in an office in his native village, he went to the city of New York, and prosecuted his studies for the seventh year.
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 party 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, the 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, he 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 the true democracy did not require that " universal suffrage," which admits the vile, the degraded, the ignorant, to the right of governing the State. In true consistancy 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 perogative, 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 deemed 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 thr 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, sagcious 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 gigantis results. By these powers it is said that he outwitted Mr. Adams, Mr. Clay, Mr. Webster, and secured results which few thought then 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 ; was nominated Vice President in 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 to his wisdom. The financial stress was attributed to the management of the Democratic party, and brought the President into such disfavor that he failed of re-election.
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. His unblemished character, his commanding abilities, his unquestioned patriotism, and the distinguished positions which he had occupied in the government of our country, secured to him not only the homage of his party, but the respect of the whole community. It was on the fourth of March, 1841, that 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. 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.
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