Martin Van Buren

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In Mr. Van Buren's anti-slavery professions, Mr. Webster had no confidence. He said pleasantly, but significantly, that "if he and Mr. Van Buren should meet under the Free-soil flag, the latter with his accustomed good-nature would laugh." He added, with a touch of characteristic humor, "that the leader of the Free-spoil party suddenly becoming the leader of the Free-soil party is a joke to shake his sides and mine." [241]

Van Buren won no electoral votes, but finished second to Whig nominee Zachary Taylor in New York, taking enough votes from Cass to give the state—and perhaps the election—to Taylor. [242] Nationwide, Van Buren won 10.1% of the popular vote, the strongest showing by a third party presidential nominee up to that point in U.S. history.


Daguerreotype of Martin Van Buren, circa 1855 Martin Van Buren daguerreotype-restored.jpg
Daguerreotype of Martin Van Buren, circa 1855

Van Buren never sought public office again after the 1848 election, but he continued to closely follow national politics. He was deeply troubled by the stirrings of secessionism in the South and welcomed the Compromise of 1850 as a necessary conciliatory measure despite his opposition to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. [243] Van Buren also worked on a history of American political parties and embarked on a tour of Europe, becoming the first former American head of state to visit Britain. [244] Though still concerned about slavery, Van Buren and his followers returned to the Democratic fold, partly out of the fear that a continuing Democratic split would help the Whig Party. [245] He also attempted to reconcile the Barnburners and the Hunkers, with mixed results. [246]

Van Buren supported Franklin Pierce for president in 1852, [247] James Buchanan in 1856, [248] and Stephen A. Douglas in 1860. [249] Van Buren viewed the fledgling Know Nothing movement with contempt and felt that the anti-slavery Republican Party exacerbated sectional tensions. [250] He considered Chief Justice Roger Taney's ruling in the 1857 case of Dred Scott v. Sandford to be a "grievous mistake" since it overturned the Missouri Compromise. [251] He believed that the Buchanan administration handled the issue of Bleeding Kansas poorly, and saw the Lecompton Constitution as a sop to Southern extremists. [252]

1858 portrait by GPA Healy, on display at the White House Mvanburen.jpeg
1858 portrait by GPA Healy, on display at the White House

After the election of Abraham Lincoln and the secession of several Southern states in 1860, Van Buren unsuccessfully sought to call a constitutional convention. [249] In April 1861, former president Pierce wrote to the other living former presidents and asked them to consider meeting to use their stature and influence to propose a negotiated end to the war. Pierce asked Van Buren to use his role as the senior living ex-president to issue a formal call. Van Buren's reply suggested that Buchanan should be the one to call the meeting, since he was the former president who had served most recently, or that Pierce should issue the call himself if he strongly believed in the merit of his proposal. Neither Buchanan nor Pierce was willing to make Pierce's proposal public, and nothing more resulted from it. [253] Once the American Civil War began, Van Buren made public his support for the Union. [254]


Van Buren's health began to fail later in 1861, and he was bedridden with pneumonia during the fall and winter of 1861–1862. [255] He died of bronchial asthma and heart failure at his Lindenwald estate at 2:00 a.m. on July 24, 1862, at 79. [256] He is buried in the Kinderhook Reformed Dutch Church Cemetery, as are his wife Hannah, his parents, and his son Martin Van Buren Jr. [257]

Van Buren outlived all four of his immediate successors: Harrison, Tyler, Polk, and Taylor. [258] In addition, he saw more successors ascend to the presidency than anyone else (eight), living to see Abraham Lincoln elected as the 16th President before his death. [259]


Historical reputation

Van Buren's most lasting achievement was as a political organizer who built the Democratic Party and guided it to dominance in the Second Party System, [260] and historians have come to regard Van Buren as integral to the development of the American political system. [27] According to historian Robert Remini: [261]

Van Buren's creative contribution to the political development of the nation was enormous, and as such he earned his way to the presidency. After gaining control of New York's Republican Party he organized the Albany Regency to run the state in his absence while he pursued a national career in Washington. The Regency was a governing consul in Albany consisting of a group of politically astute and highly intelligent men. He was one of the first statewide political machines in the country was success resulted from its professional use of patronage, the legislative caucus, and the official party newspaper.....[In Washington] he labored to bring about the reorganization of the Republican Party through an alliance between what he called "the planters of the South and the plain Republicans of the North."... [His Democratic] emphasized the importance of building popular majorities and it perfected political techniques which would appeal to the masses....Heretofore parties were regarded as evils to be tolerated; Van Buren argued that the party system was the most sensible and intelligent way the affairs of the nation could be democratically conducted, a viewpoint that eventually won national approval.

Gubernatorial portrait of Martin Van Buren by Daniel Huntington in The Civil War MVanBuren.png
Gubernatorial portrait of Martin Van Buren by Daniel Huntington in The Civil War

However, his presidency is considered to be average, at best, by historians. He was blamed for the economic troubles and was defeated for reelection. [27] His tenure was dominated by the economic disaster of the Panic of 1837, and historians have split on the adequacy of the Independent Treasury as a response to that issue. [262] Several writers have portrayed Van Buren as among the nation's most obscure presidents. As noted in a 2014 Time magazine article on the "Top 10 Forgettable Presidents":

Making himself nearly disappear completely from the history books was probably not the trick the "Little Magician" Martin Van Buren had in mind, but his was the first truly forgettable American presidency. [263]


Van Buren's home in Kinderhook, New York, which he called Lindenwald, is now the Martin Van Buren National Historic Site. [264] Counties are named for Van Buren in Michigan, Iowa, Arkansas, and Tennessee. [265] Mount Van Buren, USS Van Buren, three state parks and numerous towns were named after him.


During the 1988 presidential campaign, George H. W. Bush, a Yale University graduate and member of the Skull and Bones secret society, was attempting to become the first incumbent vice president to win election to the presidency since Van Buren. In the comic strip Doonesbury , artist Garry Trudeau depicted members of Skull and Bones as attempting to rob Van Buren's grave, apparently intending to use the relics in a ritual that would aid Bush in the election. [266] [267]


Martin Van Buren appeared in the Presidential dollar coins series in 2008. [268] The U.S. Mint has also made commemorative silver medals for Van Buren, released for sale on February 1, 2021. [269] [270]

Film and TV

Van Buren is portrayed by Nigel Hawthorne in the 1997 film Amistad. The film depicts the legal battle surrounding the status of slaves who in 1839 rebelled against their transporters on La Amistad slave ship. [271]

On the television show Seinfeld , the episode "The Van Buren Boys" is about a fictional street gang that admires Van Buren and bases its rituals and symbols on him, including the hand sign of eight fingers pointing up. [272]

In an episode of The Monkees, "Dance, Monkee, Dance", a dance instruction studio offers free lessons to anyone who can answer the question, "Who was the eighth President of the United States?" Martin Van Buren, portrayed by Stephen Coit, appears at the studio to claim the prize. [273]


At least two bands have incorporated Van Buren as part of their name: the Illinois-based The Van Buren Boys and The Van Burens from Quincy, Massachusetts. [274] [275]

See also


  1. The "mistletoe" nickname was inspired by the fact that mistletoe is a parasitic plant which attaches itself to a host tree to survive. Comparing Van Buren to mistletoe implied that he advanced politically only through his connection to the "Old Hickory" tree, which represented Andrew Jackson. This idea was common in Whig propaganda pieces, and also seen in political comics such as The Rejected Minister, where Van Buren is shown being carried into office by Jackson.

Related Research Articles

The Whig Party was a political party active in the middle of the 19th century in the United States. Alongside the slightly larger Democratic Party, it was one of the two major parties in the United States between the late 1830s and the early 1850s as part of the Second Party System. Four presidents were affiliated with the Whig Party for at least part of their respective terms. Other influential party leaders include Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, William Seward, John J. Crittenden, and John Quincy Adams.

1836 United States presidential election 13th quadrennial U.S. presidential election

The 1836 United States presidential election was the 13th quadrennial presidential election, held from Thursday, November 3 to Wednesday, December 7, 1836. In the third consecutive election victory for the Democratic Party, incumbent Vice President Martin Van Buren defeated four candidates fielded by the nascent Whig Party.

1840 United States presidential election 14th quadrennial U.S. presidential election

The 1840 United States presidential election was the 14th quadrennial presidential election, held from Friday, October 30 to Wednesday, December 2, 1840. Economic recovery from the Panic of 1837 was incomplete, and Whig nominee William Henry Harrison defeated incumbent President Martin Van Buren of the Democratic Party. The election marked the first of two Whig victories in presidential elections.

1844 United States presidential election 15th quadrennial U.S. presidential election

The 1844 United States presidential election was the 15th quadrennial presidential election, held from Friday, November 1 to Wednesday, December 4, 1844. Democrat James K. Polk defeated Whig Henry Clay in a close contest turning on the controversial issues of slavery and the annexation of the Republic of Texas, As of 2022, this is the most recent presidential election where the election took place on different days and different states.

1848 United States presidential election 16th quadrennial U.S. presidential election

The 1848 United States presidential election was the 16th quadrennial presidential election, held on Tuesday, November 7, 1848. In the aftermath of the Mexican–American War, General Zachary Taylor of the Whig Party defeated Senator Lewis Cass of the Democratic Party.

John C. Calhoun 7th vice president of the United States from 1825 to 1832

John Caldwell Calhoun was an American statesman and political theorist from South Carolina who held many important positions including being the seventh vice president of the United States from 1825 to 1832, while adamantly defending slavery and protecting the interests of the white South. He began his political career as a nationalist, modernizer, and proponent of a strong national government and protective tariffs. In the late 1820s, his views changed radically, and he became a leading proponent of states' rights, limited government, nullification, and opposition to high tariffs. He saw Northern acceptance of those policies as a condition of the South remaining in the Union. His beliefs and warnings heavily influenced the South's secession from the Union in 1860–1861.

Free Soil Party Precursor to the US Republican Party

The Free Soil Party was a short-lived coalition political party in the United States active from 1848 to 1854, when it merged into the Republican Party. The party was largely focused on the single issue of opposing the expansion of slavery into the western territories of the United States.

Jacksonian democracy was a 19th-century political philosophy in the United States that expanded suffrage to most white men over the age of 21, and restructured a number of federal institutions. Originating with the seventh U.S. president, Andrew Jackson and his supporters, it became the nation's dominant political worldview for a generation. The term itself was in active use by the 1830s.

Second Party System Phase in the development of US electoral politics (1828–1852)

Historians and political scientists use Second Party System to periodize the political party system operating in the United States from about 1828 to 1852, after the First Party System ended. The system was characterized by rapidly rising levels of voter interest, beginning in 1828, as demonstrated by Election Day turnouts, rallies, partisan newspapers, and high degrees of personal loyalty to parties.

Martin Van Buren National Historic Site United States historic place

Martin Van Buren National Historic Site is a unit of the United States National Park Service in Columbia County, New York, 1 mile (1.6 km) south of the village of Kinderhook, 125 miles (201 km) north of New York City and 20 miles (32 km) south of Albany. The National Historic Site preserves the Lindenwald estate and thirty-six room mansion of Martin Van Buren, the eighth president of the United States. Van Buren purchased the estate during his presidency in 1839, and it became his home and farm from his leaving office in 1841 until his death in 1862.

1832 Democratic National Convention

The 1832 Democratic National Convention was held from May 21 to May 23, 1832, in Baltimore, Maryland. In the first presidential nominating convention ever held by the Democratic Party, incumbent President Andrew Jackson was nominated for a second term, while former Secretary of State Martin Van Buren was nominated for vice president.

Presidency of Andrew Jackson U.S. presidential administration from 1829 to 1837

The presidency of Andrew Jackson began on March 4, 1829, when Andrew Jackson was inaugurated as President of the United States, and ended on March 4, 1837. Jackson, the seventh United States president, took office after defeating incumbent President John Quincy Adams in the bitterly contested 1828 presidential election. During the 1828 presidential campaign, Jackson founded the political force that coalesced into the Democratic Party during Jackson's presidency. Jackson won re-election in 1832, defeating National Republican candidate Henry Clay by a wide margin. He was succeeded by his hand-picked successor, Vice President Martin Van Buren, after Van Buren won the 1836 presidential election.

Presidency of Martin Van Buren U.S. presidential administration from 1837 to 1841

The presidency of Martin Van Buren began on March 4, 1837, when Martin Van Buren was inaugurated as President of the United States, and ended on March 4, 1841. Van Buren, the incumbent vice president and chosen successor of President Andrew Jackson, took office as the eighth United States president after defeating multiple Whig Party candidates in the 1836 presidential election. A member of the Democratic Party, Van Buren's presidency ended following his defeat by Whig candidate William Henry Harrison in the 1840 presidential election.

The 1848 Democratic National Convention was a presidential nominating convention that met from monday May 22 to thursday May 25 in Baltimore, Maryland. It was held to nominate the Democratic Party's candidates for president and vice president in the 1848 election. The convention selected Senator Lewis Cass of Michigan for president and former Representative William O. Butler of Kentucky for vice president.

The 1844 Democratic National Convention was a presidential nominating convention held in Baltimore, Maryland from May 27 through 30. The convention nominated former Governor James K. Polk of Tennessee for president and former Senator George M. Dallas of Pennsylvania for vice president.

The 1840 Democratic National Convention was held in Baltimore, Maryland, from May 5 to May 6. The Democratic Party re-nominated President Martin Van Buren, but failed to select a nominee for vice president. Van Buren is the only major party presidential nominee since the ratification of the 12th Amendment to seek election without a running mate. Dragged down by the unpopularity of the Panic of 1837, Van Buren was defeated by the Whig Party's ticket in the 1840 presidential election.

1848 Free Soil & Liberty national conventions

The Free Soil Party was organized for the 1848 US election to oppose further expansion of slavery into the western territories. It included anti-slavery members of the Whigs, and drew much of its support anti-slavery Democrats, including former President Martin Van Buren.

The history of the United States Whig Party lasted from the establishment of the Whig Party early in President Andrew Jackson's second term (1833–1837) to the collapse of the party during the term of President Franklin Pierce (1853–1857).

Bibliography of Martin Van Buren Bibliography of books and journal articles about Martin Van Buren

This is a select bibliography of Post World War II books and journal articles about Martin Van Buren, an American statesman who served as the eighth president of the United States from 1837 to 1841.

1837 Massachusetts gubernatorial election Gubernatorial elections were held in Massachusetts November 13, 1837

The 1837 Massachusetts gubernatorial election was held on November 13.


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Further reading

Books by Van Buren

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Martin Van Buren
Martin Van Buren by Mathew Brady c1855-58.jpg
Van Buren by Mathew Brady, c.1855–1858
8th President of the United States
In office
March 4, 1837 March 4, 1841