Collier's New Encyclopedia (1921)/Van Buren, Martin

VAN BUREN, MARTIN, an American statesman; 8th President of the United States; born in Kinderhook, N. Y., Dec. 5, 1782. He became office boy to the village lawyer, studied hard, and was called to the bar in 1803. Long before this, however, he had developed a precocious interst in politics, and at the age of 18 was already member of a nominating convention. In 1812 and 1816 he was elected to the State Senate, and in 1815–1819 he was State attorney-general. In 1821 he entered the United States Senate, of which he was a member till his election in 1828 to the governorship of New York. In the same year he zealously supported Jackson for the presidency, and in 1829 he was rewarded with the portfolio of Secretary of State. This he resigned in 1831. Two years later he was elected Vice-President, and in 1835 President, but by a popular majority of less than 25,000, and that largely owing to his declared opposition to the “slightest interference” with slavery. Van Buren's four years of office were darkened by the gloom of financial panic; but what one man could he did to lighten it, by wringing from Congress its assent to a measure for a treasury independent of private banks. This and his firm adherence to obligations of neutrality during the Canadian rebellion of 1837 are his most statesmanlike acts, but both cost him popularity and votes; in 1840 he and his party were overwhelmingly defeated by the Whigs. He lost the nomination in 1844, because he opposed the annexation of Texas; and his nomination by the Free Soil party in 1848 only secured the return of the Whig candidate and the rejection of both Democrats. This was his last important appearance. Van Buren was a master of the politician's arts, but he used his great skill for what he counted the highest ends. He loved not to follow but rather to make public opinion and a party for himself; for he had on the whole a statesman's soul and not a place-hunter's. So we see him often doggedly ranging himself on the unpopular side—favoring negro suffrage, and opposing an elective judiciary. He was intensely partisan, trained a Jefferson Democrat, and loyal to his early teaching; yet his political antipathies did not destroy his warm private friendship for great opponents such as Henry Clay. He died in Kinderhook, July 24, 1862.

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Source: “Van Buren, Martin”, Collier's New Encyclopedia, X (New York: P.F. Collier & Son Company, 1921), pp. 157–158.