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Martin Van Buren was the eighth president of the United States. His shrewd dealings laid the foundations for the Democratic Party and the modern political machine.
Martin Van Buren was considered the first professional politician to hold the office and was known as the "ok" president.
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In 1832, when Jackson ran for a second term, he selected Van Buren as his running mate. Van Buren was officially nominated later that year in the first-ever Democratic convention, and he and Jackson were easily elected. In 1835, at the end of Jackson’s term, Van Buren was unanimously nominated for president. He ran on the platform that he would essentially continue Jackson’s policies, and in 1836 easily defeated his three opponents from the Whig Party.
Van Buren took office in March of 1837 and immediately faced significant challenges. The most significant of these was a financial panic, begun during Jackson’s second term and triggered by the transfer of federal funds from the Bank of the United States to state banks. In the aftermath, hundreds of banks and businesses failed and thousands of people lost their land, making it the worst financial crisis in the nation’s history up to that point. Van Buren pointed the finger primarily at the Bank of the United States and proposed that federal funds instead be transferred to an independent treasury. A measure establishing this treasury would eventually pass years later, but in the interim Van Buren’s political opponents sought to blame him for the crisis.
Another challenge Van Buren faced during his presidency was rising tension between the U.S. and British governments over a border dispute. Skirmishes along the Maine–New Brunswick border were bringing the two nations to the brink of war, but Van Buren sought to resolve the issue diplomatically, sending an envoy to negotiate a treaty with Great Britain. Though the negotiations were ultimately successful, those who had desired that the United States take a stronger stance in the matter counted this among Van Buren’s failings. Further wounding Van Buren’s political image, both without his party and within, were Van Buren’s stance against the annexation of Texas and his continuation of Jackson’s policies against Native Americans, which many people viewed as inhumane.
In 1840, Martin Van Buren was unanimously nominated as the Democratic candidate, but the challenges and controversies of his first term proved too great to overcome (they had also earned him the nickname “Martin Van Ruin”). He was soundly defeated by the candidate from the Whig Party, William Henry Harrison, failing to carry even his home state of New York. Van Buren finished out his term, and in 1841 returned to his “Lindenwald” estate in Kinderhook.
Four years after his failed bid for a second term, Van Buren expected to once again receive the Democratic nomination, but was passed over in favor of James K. Polk, whose support of the annexations of Texas and Oregon was more popular than Van Buren’s stance against it. Van Buren ran again in 1848 as a member of the Free Soil Party, which was made up primarily of various antislavery factions, but he received only 10 percent of the vote.
Van Buren spent much of his later years travelling extensively, then returned to Kinderhook and wrote his memoirs. He died on July 24, 1862, at the age 79, and was buried in the Kinderhook Cemetery.
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