Martin Van Buren

— 8th President of the United States —

View full portraits at:
National Portrait Gallery or the White House Presidential Portrait Gallery


TERM:March 4, 1837 to March 3, 1841

BORN:December 5, 1782
BIRTHPLACE:Kinderhook, N.Y.
DIED: July 24, 1862, Kinderhook, N.Y.
MARRIED:Hannah Hoes, 1807

Abraham, John, Martin, Jr., Smith Thompson

Being born in the year 1782 meant that Martin Van Buren was the first American president born in the United States of America. Little Van (as he was known then) did not go to school regularly while growing up. He lived with his parents and his seven brothers and sisters in a roadside inn halfway between New York City and Albany, New York.

The family inn was always a very busy place with all the children and all the paying customers who visited the place. Most of the visitors were lawyers and politicians who traveled between these two very politically active cities. Little Van, who spoke Dutch better than English, loved to listen as the travelers debated the issues of the day. Even though he did not go to school, he learned English and law by listening to these traveling politicians and lawyers. When only 14, he took a job as a law clerk with a lawyer he had come to know very well. By the age of 20, he had his own law practice, and soon he got into politics.

He worked his way up the political ladder and became known as an excellent politician. In 1828, he helped Andrew Jackson win the presidential election. In turn, President Jackson named Van Buren his Secretary of State, and later he was named vice president. In 1836, Martin Van Buren decided that he would run for president.

He was elected president, and soon after, economic catastrophe struck America. The young nation was in trouble because the Bank of the United States had been dissolved by President Jackson. The panic of 1837 touched off riots in New York City and other big American cities. Prices were rising quickly, and jobs and food were hard to find. Citizens who were hungry and unemployed grew very angry with President Van Buren because he felt that matters of business should be left to the private sector. Therefore, during these economic hard times, he did nothing.

President Van Buren was defeated for reelection by William Henry Harrison.He went on to run for president as a representative of the Free Soil Party in 1848, but he did not win, so he retired. He died in 1862.

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