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Martin Van Buren

8th President of the United States (1837-1841)

Martin Van Buren portrait
Martin Van Buren, 8th President of the United States
White House Collection: White House Historical Association

The President of the United States serves as the head of the Executive Branch of our United States Government. Over forty men have been privileged to serve in this role.

The oil portrait of Martin Van Buren to the right was painted by Connecticut artist Alexander Francis c.1830-1840. It is not known exactly when this painting was executed, though Mr. Francis was in Europe from 1831-1833.

The original portrait belongs to the White House Historical Association and is part of their White House Collection.

Martin Van Buren (1782-1862)
Date of birth: December 5, 1782
Birth place: Kinderhook, New York
Mother: Maria Hoes Van Allen
Father: Abraham Van Buren
Education: Kinderhook Academy (graduated 1796)
Profession: Lawyer
Religion: Dutch Reformed
Marriage: January 26, 1807, to Hannah Hoes (1783-1819)
Children: Abraham (1807-1873), John (1810-1866), Martin (1812-1855), Winfield Scott (1813), Smith Thompson (1817-1876)
Political party: Democrat
Presidential term: 1837-1841 (One term)
Nickname(s): "The Little Magician," "The Red Fox of Kinderhook"
Date of death: July 24, 1862
Place of death: Kinderhook, New York
Resting place: Kinderhook Cemetery, Kinderhook, New York
Source: The Whitehouse, www.whitehouse.gov, January 26, 2008
Source: Miller Center of Public Affairs, The University of Virginia, www.millercenter.virginia.edu, January 26, 2008
Source: The White House Historical Association, www.whitehousehistory.org, January 26, 2008

Martin Van Buren's presidency

  • March 4, 1837: Martin Van Buren, the eighth President of the United States, delivers his inaugural address. The speech serves largely as a commemoration of his predecessor, President Andrew Jackson. Additionally, Van Buren presents his states’ rights approach to slavery.
  • May 10, 1837: The Panic of 1837 begins in New York when banks first suspend payments of specie. Following the collapse of credit facility, banks can no longer redeem currency notes in gold and silver. Compounding the problem, a depression in England causes the price of cotton to drop and ends British loans to the United States. An already unstable economy now suffers from additional debts and unemployment.
  • August 5, 1837: Van Buren announces his opposition to the annexation of Texas, primarily to make possible the ensuing peace with Mexico but also to alleviate abolitionist concerns at home.
  • September 5, 1837: In response to the economic crisis, Van Buren calls for a special session of Congress. As a proponent of laissez-faire, he feels no obligation toward public welfare but worries about the government’s own financial situation. Refusing to participate in sectional disputes, Van Buren proposes a bank divorce policy and the establishment of an independent treasury.
  • November, 1837: A rebellion erupts in Lower and Upper Canada against the British. Sympathetic volunteers in Maine and New York rally in support with promises of various bounties and land allotments. The American volunteers cross the Niagara River into Canada and occupy Navy Island. After a series of events, Van Buren instructs General Winfield Scott to persuade the American citizens to restrain themselves from further incursions violating national law and neutrality.
  • December, 1837: Britain orders the Canadian militia to seize the American steamship Caroline, which had been supplying Canadian rebels, on the Niagara River. One American is killed, and several are wounded.
  • January, 1838: Following the Caroline incident, Van Buren criticizes the British but maintains a neutral stance in the conflict. While Van Buren’s peace appeals to the invading partisans and enjoys initial success, even the Neutrality Law of 1838 -- which provides for the arrest of people and the confiscation of arms, vehicles, and supplies flowing illegally across the border -- fails to deter additional incursions. Rebel assistance by secret rebel societies will continue in Detroit, Cleveland, and along the New York and Vermont borders.
  • September 11, 1838: Van Buren agrees on the principle of forming an arbitration commission to settle disputed claims with Mexico.
  • March 25, 1839: A treaty ending the Aroostook War, which begins in 1838, is signed between the United States and Canada. Lumberjacks in Maine and New Brunswick had disputed the border and disagreed on the ownership of trees in the Aroostook Valley; the claims stemmed from an ambiguous boundary determination in the 1783 Treaty of Paris. Van Buren sends General Winfield Scott to calm matters in the area before working toward the treaty.
  • May, 1839: Van Buren secures an agreement with England on compensation for two slave ships, the Comet and the Encomium, which had run ashore on the British territory of the Bahamas.
  • August 26, 1839: The U.S.S. Washington seizes the Amistad, a mutinous slave ship, and brings the captives to a jail in New Haven, Connecticut. West African slaves had taken over the Cuban ship, traveling from one Cuban port to another, and sail up the United States coastline. The incident prompts the Van Buren administration to argue, first, that the property and expropriation dispute be handled by the executive branch, and second, that the United States would uphold its obligations under the Treaty of 1795, whereby ships stranded abroad remain under the jurisdiction of the originating nation. These principles dictate the return of the Amistad and its occupants to Havana.
  • December 4, 1839: The Whigs meet in Pennsylvania to determine their presidential ticket and nominate William Henry Harrison for President and John Tyler for vice president.
  • September 19, 1840: The Amistad hearings begin in a Hartford, Connecticut, courtroom. The court will find the clearance papers of the Amistad to fraudulently identify the slaves as Spanish-speaking Ladinos; however, the Hartford court, a circuit court, and ultimately the Supreme Court concur that treaty obligations have no relevance to the matter of slaves and award compensation for the ship only. The slaves will be returned to Africa in January 1842.
  • July 4, 1840: By signing the Independent Treasury Act, Van Buren “divorces” the federal Treasury Department from its relationship with all banks. His action stems from the controversy surrounding the Deposit Act of 1836. The Whigs will repeal the Independent Treasury Act in 1841; it will be restored in 1846.
  • November, 1840: The contest between Democrat Martin Van Buren and Whig William Henry Harrison results in the largest turnout of any election to that point. Harrison soundly defeats Van Buren with 234 electoral votes to the incumbent’s 60. Among the reasons for his loss, Van Buren cannot overcome opposition from southern and expansionist groups who support the immediate annexation of Texas.
  • March 4, 1841: William Henry Harrison is inaugurated as the ninth President of the United States.

Source: Miller Center of Public Affairs, The University of Virginia, www.millercenter.virginia.edu, January 26, 2008

Martin Van Buren's cabinet
Vice President: Richard Mentor Johnson (1837 - 1841)
Secretary of State: John Forsyth (1837 - 1841)
Secretary of War: Joel Roberts Poinsett (1837 - 1841)
Postmaster General: Amos Kendall (1837 - 1840), John Milton Niles (1840 - 1841)
Secretary of the Treasury: Levi Woodbury (1837 - 1841)
Attorney General: Benjamin F. Butler (1837 - 1838), Felix Grundy (1838 - 1839), Henry Dilworth Gilpin (1840 - 1841)
Secretary of the Navy: Mahlon Dickerson (1837 - 1838), James Kirke Paulding (1838 - 1841)
Source: Miller Center of Public Affairs, The University of Virginia, www.millercenter.virginia.edu, January 26, 2008

Martin Van BurenPresidential $1 Coin — Eighth President, 1837-1841

Martin Van Buren Presidential Coin
U.S. Mint image

Martin Van Buren, the first president from New York and not of British descent, was also the first president to be born an American citizen. Raised in a Dutch neighborhood in Kinderhook, New York, his interest in politics took root at his father’s tavern where prominent politicians, including Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, would stop by on their travels.

He served in the United States Senate and was governor of New York before becoming Andrew Jackson’s secretary of state. He served as vice president during Jackson’s second term and handily won the 1837 presidential election.

As president, Van Buren initiated an independent federal treasury system to take the place of state banks’ handling of federal monies and peacefully settled disputes with Great Britain that were threatening to take the country to war. However, a deep economic depression persisted throughout his term in office and he lost his bid for re-election in 1841.

Coinage Legislation under President Martin Van Buren

No coinage legislation was enacted under President Van Buren.

United States Mint Directors appointed by President Washington

President Martin Van Buren did not appoint a Director of the United States Mint.

Martin Van Buren Liberty $10 Gold Coin

Martin Van Buren Liberty Coin
U.S. Mint image
Martin Van Buren Liberty Coin (reverse)
U.S. Mint image

The Presidential $1 Coin Act of 2005 contains a provision to provide continuity of the First Spouse Gold Coin Program during those times in which a president served without a first spouse. This provision applies to Martin Van Buren, whose wife Hannah died in 1819. Married in 1807, Van Buren was a widower for 18 years when he became president in 1837.

The gold coins issued to accompany any president who served without a spouse will each feature a design emblematic of Liberty on its obverse, as depicted on a United States coin issued during the President’s time in office. For Martin Van Buren’s presidency, the selected image appeared on the Liberty Seated Dime coin from 1837–1891, and was originally executed by United States Mint Engraver Christian Gobrecht.

Reverse Design

Born in New York in December of 1782, Martin Van Buren holds the distinction of being the first president to be born in a newly independent Nation. His family operated a tavern in the town of Kinderhook, a primarily Dutch enclave located on the post road between New York City and Albany. Here, young Martin was exposed to political ideology at an early age, as local and state politicians would often gather at the Van Buren establishment as they traveled between the two cities.

Source: The United States Mint, www.usmint.gov, December 12, 2008

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