Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Martin Van Buren

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VAN BUREN, Martin (1782–1862), eighth president of the United States, was the son of a small farmer, and was born 5th December 1782 at Kinderhook, Columbia, New York State, on the banks of the Hudson. He was educated at the village school, and, entering on the study of law at the age of fourteen, was called to the bar in 1803. Possessing in addition to his other abilities a peculiar power of winning personal trust and influence, his rise both in his profession and political reputation was rapid. In 1808 he was chosen surrogate of Columbia county, and in 1812 a member of the State legislature. From 1815 to 1819 he was attorney-general of the State, and during this period came to be recognized as the ruling spirit of the new Democratic school known as the Albany regency. In 1821 he was chosen to the United States senate and the same year was elected a member of the convention for revising the State constitution, in which, though advocating an extension of the franchise, he opposed universal suffrage. In 1828 he was appointed governor of New York State. From March 1829 to April 1831 he was secretary of state in the administration of President Jackson, of whom he was the chief political adviser. During the recess he was appointed minister to England; but, on the ground that he had previously shown a too submissive attitude towards that country, and also a tendency to be influenced in his foreign predilections by home politics, the senate refused to ratify the appointment. In the following year he was, however, chosen vice-president of the United States, and in 1837 he succeeded Jackson as president. He entered upon office at the time of a severe commercial crisis (see United States), and, although the methods he adopted to deal with it were in themselves admirable, the financial strain which existed during his term of office weakened for a time the influence of his party. Besides the establishment of the independent treasury system, Van Buren's name is associated with the pre-emption law giving settlers on public lands the preference in their purchase. On the expiry of his term of office he was again, in 1840, nominated for the presidency, but lost by a large majority. In 1844 a majority of the delegates to the Democratic convention were pledged to support him, but on account of his opposition to the annexation of Texas they allowed a motion to be introduced making a two-thirds vote necessary for nomination. This he failed to obtain and his name was withdrawn. In 1848 he was nominated by the anti-slavery section of his party, but the split caused the defeat of both Democratic candidates. The remainder of his life was spent chiefly in retirement on his estate at Kinderhook. In 1853-55 he went on a European tour. He died at Kinderhook, 24th July 1862. His Inquiry into the Origin and Course of Political Parties in the United States was published by his sons in 1867.

See W. Allen Butler, Martin Van Buren, Lawyer, Statesman, and Man, New York, 1862.