Martin Van Buren, the eighth U.S. President, was the first to be born a U.S. citizen; all of his predecessors had been British subjects. And that’s just one of the many “firsts” this American leader racked up during his life.
- Van Buren (1782-1862) was the first President not of British descent: His parents were Dutch. His father, Abraham, was a farmer and a tavern keeper in the small town of Kinderhook, New York.
- He was the first President from New York state. Van Buren was drawn to politics early, influenced by the many politicians who visited his father’s tavern. He began studying law around age 14 and moved to New York City during his apprenticeship, receiving his lawyer’s license in 1803.
- As the leader of a powerful New York political organization called the “Albany Regency,” he rewarded loyal followers with prestigious positions and other favors. His skillful way of working the system earned the 5’6″ Van Buren a lasting nickname: “the Little Magician.” (Detractors called him “the Fox.”)
- Seven years after being elected to the U.S. Senate in 1821, Van Buren joined other Jeffersonian Republicans in a breakaway coalition that became the modern Democratic Party.
- As President, he established an independent federal treasury system to handle U.S. government finances and keep federal funds out of state banks.
Van Buren’s deft-but-cordial political maneuvering helped him win the Vice Presidency under President Andrew Jackson in 1832, and four years later he became President. But his time in office was plagued by an economic crisis that caused the worst depression the nation had yet experienced. He lost his 1840 reelection bid to the Whig Party’s William Henry Harrison. In 1848, Van Buren ran for President again, on the anti-slavery Free-Soil Party ticket — and again lost to a Whig, Zachary Taylor.