• Martin Van Buren was born to Dutch parents in a town near Albany, New York, in 1782. He was the first president to never spend a day under British rule.
• Van Buren’s father owned a tavern and inn where government workers traveling to and from Albany stayed, so as a boy Martin was exposed to politicians like Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr.
• Van Buren grew up to practice law and became involved in New York politics as a Democratic-Republican, the party led by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. This shaped the view of limited government he would carry through his life.
• Van Buren was elected to the New York State Senate, spent time as the state’s attorney general and moved to Washington after winning a United States Senate seat. As a senator he opposed President John Quincy Adams’ policies and helped Andrew Jackson win the 1828 election.
• Van Buren was elected governor of New York but left that position quickly when Jackson named him secretary of state, and by the time Jackson was up for re-election in 1832 he picked Van Buren as his vice presidential candidate. Van Buren’s promise to continue Jackson’s policies helped him win the presidency in 1836.
How he defined the office
• Van Buren helped shape the Democratic Party during his time as vice president and, like his predecessor, the Whig Party, which was created to take power back from the Democrats.
Successes and failures
• Almost immediately after taking office Van Buren faced his first crisis: the Panic of 1837. The financial crisis was the worst America had faced in its short history, and the country would not recover until the early 1840s.
• Van Buren continued the policy established under Jackson to move all Native Americans west of the Mississippi, and in addition to the Native Americans who died during the forced movement, thousands more died in violence that resulted from resistance to the move.
• Van Buren’s opponents capitalized on his shortcomings in office and defeated him when he was up for re-election in 1840.