Served: March 4, 1837 – March 4, 1841
Born: December 5, 1782
Birthplace: Kinderhook, New York
Died: July 24, 1862
Political Party: Democratic-Republican (pre-1825), Democratic (1828-1848), Free Soil (1848-1854)
Spouse: Hannah Hoes
An Accomplished Path to Presidency
Martin Van Buren’s name may not be familiar to the average present-day citizen, but as the eighth president of the United States, he is an accomplished figure in American history.
In addition to his presidency, Van Buren served as secretary of state and vice president under Andrew Jackson and was instrumental in starting the Democratic Party.
Martin Van Buren’s Early Experiences
Van Buren’s education was not as extensive as that of many of the earlier presidents. While he valued learning and education, he finished his schooling at 14 and immediately chose to pursue law. He apprenticed at the law office of Francis Sylvester, a well-known and prominent lawyer, and was admitted to the New York bar in 1803.
Van Buren married Hannah Hoes, his first cousin, in 1807 and went on to have five children with her, four of whom survived. His wife died in 1819 from tuberculosis, nearly two decades before he took office as president.
Martin Van Buren’s Pets
- A pair of tiger cubs given to him by the Sultan of Oman that Congress made him send to the zoo
MORE PETS! Check out our photo gallery of selected White House pets
A Young Politician’s Path to the Presidency
Van Buren was involved in politics from a young age, but it wasn’t until he amassed a small fortune from his law practice that he began to take his political aspirations seriously.
From 1808 to 1813, he held his first political post as surrogate of Columbia County, New York under the Democratic-Republican Party. Van Buren also served on the New York State Senate, as New York attorney general, as presidential elector, and as a member of the State Constitutional Convention.
Under Jackson’s presidency, Van Buren served as both secretary of state and vice president. In 1836, under the Democratic Party, Van Buren ran against politicians involved in the Whig party and won the presidency on the strength of his anti-abolitionist platform.
However, once Van Buren was seated in the White House, he immediately had to deal with the economic depression and high unemployment rates that made him unpopular with the very constituents who had voted him in.
Did You Know…?
- Van Buren was the first president born as a United States citizen not as a British subject. His family was of Dutch descent, and he was the first president not of British or Irish background. He is also the only president elected who spoke another language — in his case Dutch — before learning English.
- The economic hardships were so bad during his presidency that his enemies created the nickname “Martin Van Ruin.” He was often blamed for the bad economy, both the creation of it and the failure to fix it.
- The popularity of the term “OK” has been attributed to Van Buren’s run for presidency during the 1840 election. During the elections, his nickname was “Old Kinderhook,” and many of his supporters were heard crying out “Vote for OK” in reference to his abbreviated nickname.