Fast FactsEssential FactsInteresting Facts

Martin Van Buren was the First US-Born President

The first of our Martin Van Buren Facts is that, even though he was the 8th President, he was the first to be born on US soil. All of his predecessors were born in Europe – perhaps not unusual, considering how new the USA was at the time. Van Buren ended up setting the precedent for all his successors – they had to be born in the United States of America to run for the office of President.

Martin Van Buren Grew up in a Political Atmosphere

Martin Van Buren’s father was a farmer and a tavern keeper, or what we’d more commonly know as a hotel owner today. Martin worked at his father’s business, which was frequented by lawyers and politicians. It was while working here that he met some of the more famous politicians of the day – people like Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. Although he didn’t originally consider a career as a politician, his exposure to such figures introduced him to the world of politics, as well as the art of negotiation that served him in later life.

Martin Van Buren Created One of America’s Earliest Political Machines

A political machine is an organization devoted to a political cause, and is run like a business, similar to today’s political parties. In 1817, Van Buren created the Albany Regency in New York, which dominated the politics not just of that city, but of the rest of the country. Van Buren therefore created America’s first political party. Because he was able to get so many different groups together, he was popularly known as the Little Magician; “little” because he stood only 5’6″ tall.

Martin Van Buren was Governor of New York State for just 3 Months

In 1828, Van Buren wanted Andrew Jackson to become the country’s 7th President. To help Jackson get votes, Van Buren ran for governor of his state – and won. Using his position, he increased the number of votes that Jackson got. When Jackson became president, Van Buren resigned the governorship so he could become the country’s secretary of state. Since he was so instrumental in Jackson’s success, he became part of the President’s kitchen cabinet, the name for the close group of personal advisors.

Martin Van Buren was Opposed by the Whig Party

Jackson owed his own presidency to Van Buren, so he supported the latter’s bid to become President of the United States before stepping down. But the Whig Party had opposed Jackson, so they didn’t want Van Buren to be the next president. To stop him, they set up three candidates to oppose the Little Magician’s bid. They hoped that one of them would succeed, causing Van Buren to lose. It was the Whig Party which failed, however, and Van Buren won 58% of the electoral vote.

Martin Van Buren’s Daughter-In-Law Acted as First Lady

One of the most well-known of our Martin Van Buren facts was that he loved his wife, Hannah, very much. Sadly, Hannah died on 5 February 1819, 18 years before Van Buren became President. Out of devotion to his wife, he refused to remarry, becoming the only US President to serve while single. His daughter-in-law, Angelica Singleton, who was married to his oldest son, took up the duties of First Lady while Van Buren served as president.

Martin Van Buren Famously became Martin Van Ruin in 1837

Though a good politician, one of the most commonly accepted Martin Van Buren facts is that he was not a very good economist. Under the former president, severe restrictions has been placed on the country’s banks, resulting in the Panic of 1837, when people withdrew their money in droves, causing financial ruin.

Although Van Buren didn’t cause the problem, he had to deal with its effects. Since he didn’t believe it was the government’s job to step in and handle the situation, he did absolutely nothing. As a result, over 900 banks were forced to close, thousands of people lost their jobs, and many more lost their life savings. People started calling him Van Ruin, which destroyed his reputation and his career.

Martin Van Buren Denied Texas Entry into the Union

One of the most surprising of our Martin Van Buren facts is that he blocked Texas’ application to become part of the United States. At that time, the country was a lot smaller, and while Texas was once part of the Union, it became independent in 1861. In 1836, Texas decided to rejoin the Union, but Van Buren said “no” because slavery was legal in Texas at the time, and Martin didn’t want the USA to be associated with the practice.

Martin Van Buren Made Peace with Canada

In 1836, the borders of America were not always clear. Canada was British territory, but where America’s border ended and Canada’s began hadn’t yet been officially set. In 1839, the state of Maine argued with Canada over who owned which parts of the Aroostook River. Maine sent a militia to expel the Canadians and war seemed imminent. To make peace, Van Buren sent in General Winfield Scott to cool things down, ensuring peace between the two nations.

Martin Van Buren Tried to Be President 3 More Times

The Panic of 1837 was so devastating that Van Buren’s reputation never fully recovered. In 1840, he ran for reelection and lost. He tried again in 1844 and yet again in 1848, but never stood a chance as people just couldn’t forgive him. Nevertheless, he had gained enough political clout to remain an active figure in politics. He became the presidential elector (the one who chooses the country’s president and vice president) for Franklin Pierce (14th president) and for James Buchanan (15th president).

Martin Van Buren Spoke English as a Second Language

Though born and raised on US soil, Van Buren never forgot his European roots, especially since he had no choice in the matter! Since the Van Buren family were from the Netherlands, Dutch was the language they used at home. His village of Kinderhook in New York was set up by Dutch settlers, so Dutch was spoken by the entire community. As a result, Van Buren is famous for being the only American president who spoke English as his second language.

Martin Van Buren’s Other Nickname was “OK”

Since Van Buren grew up in the small village of Kinderhook (which is Dutch for “children’s corner”), people referred to him as “Old Kinderhook.” In time, they would eventually shorten that moniker to simply “OK.” When Van Buren later became President, and people referred to his policies, they would ask, “Is it OK?” They meant two things by it. The first was, “Did Van Buren come up with this bill?” and “Did he approve or pass this bill?”

Martin Van Buren Successfully Worked with the Ottomans

During Van Buren’s tenure, the Ottoman Empire controlled the Black Sea and the territories around it. These territories included not just the Middle East and Iran, but most of Eastern Europe. In 1815, the US defeated the Ottomans in the Second Barbary War because the latter enslaved a number of American merchants in the Mediterranean Sea, hurting diplomatic relations between the two sides. Since America wanted to reopen trade, Van Buren successfully negotiated with the Ottoman Sultan to let them do so.

Martin Van Buren was Responsible for the Trail of Tears

President Andrew Jackson wanted to expand America’s territory by seizing more Indian lands, but the end of his presidency put that project on hold. When Van Buren took over, he carried on with Jackson’s policies by signing the Indian Removal Act in 1830. This resulted in the expulsion of over 15,000 Cherokee Indians east of the Mississippi River, who were collectively known as the “Five Civilized Tribes.” Most died from hunger, exhaustion, or disease, and the events are known today as the Trail of Tears.

Martin Van Buren Received a Coat of Arms from the Dutch King

Van Buren had expensive tastes and an extravagant sense of style, often dressing in frilly clothes with bows and ribbons. He hired expensive and overly-decorated carriages, and demanded he be served with gold spoons in the White House. He also thought of himself as a noble, so in 1832 he petitioned the Dutch King, William I, for a coat of arms. It was granted, and can still be seen at his home today. Such attitudes and spending, however, were an embarrassment to his party.

Martin Van Buren Facts – Facts about Martin Van Buren Summary

Martin Van Buren FactsMartin Van Buren was the 8th President of the United States and the first to be born in the country. He was also the first to serve in office without a wife. A man of many contradictions, he was a good politician, but bad at handling the country’s financial crisis in 1837. While he blocked Texas’ entry into the US because he disapproved of slavery, he thought nothing of expelling thousands of Amerindians from their homes. And, though born to a mercantile family with Democratic views, he thought of himself as a noble, even acquiring a coat of arms.