Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick

Martin Van Buren

When Van Buren County formed on December 7, 1836 it was part of Wisconsin Territory and was named for the president elect of the United States, who had just won the national election in November.
What was Martin Van Buren like?  He lived nearly 80 years (1782-1862).  Born in the village of Kinderhook, New York, his father was a farmer, owner of a few slaves, and ran a tavern.  He supported the American Revolution and Jeffersonian Republicans.  Martin followed suit and initiated grass roots campaigning.
Van Buren was the first president born as an American citizen, the first whose ancestry did not come from the United Kingdom (England, Wales, Scotland or Ireland) and was the first president from New York.  He is the only president not to have spoken English as a first language, having grown up speaking Dutch.
In 1817, Van Buren created the first political machine encompassing all of New York, called the Bucktails.  He gained the nickname "Little Magician" for his skills.  He was the prime architect of the first nationwide political party, the Jacksonian Democrats....but it took him 15 years to build it into a successful party.
Although he was a slave owner himself, his attitude towards slavery was shown when he voted in opposition to allowing Missouri to enter the Union as a slave state in 1820. 
In building his new party, Van Buren sought to reorganize and unify the old Republican Party behind Jackson. He created a popular style of politicking.  "Hurra Boys" would plant hickory trees in honor of Jackson or hand out hickory sticks at rallies.  He had a journalist write a campaign piece portraying Jackson as humble, pious and honest--born in a log cabin.  "Organization is the secret of victory," an editor wrote.
Van Buren served as Jackson's Secretary of State from 1829 to 1831, then ran with him as vice president for his second term.  The Jackson-Van Buren ticket won by a landslide in 1832.  Jackson wished to continue his legacy, so he promoted the Van Buren presidency and Martin was unanimously nominated by the Democratic National Convention in 1835.  He tried to follow in the footsteps of Jackson and retained all but one of his cabinet members.  But he reversed some of Jackson's plans and decisions. 
Instead of settling a financial dispute between American citizens and the Mexican government by force, Van Buren advocated diplomacy and denied the admission of Texas as a state.  In 1839, Joseph Smith Jr. pleaded for help from Van Buren.  Governor Lilburn Boggs of Missouri had issued an executive order authorizing troops to force 20,000 Mormons out of the state.  Smith appealed to the president to intercede in their behalf, but Van Buren said, "Your cause is just but I can do nothing for you; if I take up for you I shall lose the vote of Missouri."
The Panic of 1837 married his administration with economic hard times, for which Van Buren acknowledged and took blame.  His relations with England, Mexico and other countries were strained.
State elections in 1837 and 1838 were disastrous for Democrats.  A partial economic recovery in 1838 was offset by a commercial crisis that year and revolt against Democratic rule led to the election of Whig candidate William H. Harrison in 1840.
Van Buren's best quote was, "As to my presidency the best two days of my life were those of my entrance upon the office and my surrender of it."

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Contributed to the Van Buren Co. IAGenWeb Project by Andy Reddick