On this day in 1782, Martin Van Buren, America’s 8th president, is born in Kinderhook, New York, to Dutch parents. He left grammar school with his sights set on studying law and pursuing a career in politics.
Van Buren married one of his Dutch cousins, Hannah Hoes, in 1807. The couple, who spoke Dutch at home, settled in Albany, New York, and had five children before she died from tuberculosis in 1819. Two years later, he won his first political election, earning a seat in the U.S. Senate. In 1828, Van Buren became governor of New York, but left that office four months later to accept President Andrew Jackson’s offer to serve as secretary of state. He resigned the office in 1831 to accept a commission as minister to Great Britain; Congress, however, ultimately rejected his nomination. In 1832, Van Buren was elected vice president under Andrew Jackson.
Van Buren was exceptionally effective at uniting the disparate factions of the Democratic Party and at riding the coattails of the very popular Jackson, and he easily won the presidency in 1836. At this point, his political fortunes took a turn for the worse. A financial crisis in 1837 plunged the country into depression. Van Buren’s ineffective response to the crisis, his refusal to pursue annexation of Texas and his anti-slavery leanings caused the pro-slavery, pro-expansionist Democratic Party to split during the election of 1840. Van Buren lost that campaign to Whig William Henry Harrison. He tried and failed to get the Democratic nomination in 1844 and in 1848 ran as the Free-Soil Party candidate on an anti-slavery, anti-annexation platform, but lost again.
Defeated, Van Buren retired to his hometown of Kinderhook, New York in 1849. He died in 1862.