Martin Van Buren

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Martin Van Buren
Reproduction of 1839 painting by Henry Inman

Martin Van Buren was born in Kinderhook in 1782, soon after a fragile union of states successfully ended its fight for independence. His parents kept a tavern and, like their Dutch predecessors of 150 years, made a moderate living farming in the Hudson Valley.

Young Martin, possessed of a fine mind and a strong ambition, embarked on a legal career at 14 with an apprenticeship to a local attorney. In 1804 he joined his half-brother's law practice in their home town. Three years later Van Buren married a distant relative and childhood sweetheart, Hannah Hoes.

Meanwhile, he was becoming known as more than a country lawyer. His first appointed post, as a county official, set him on an upward course that led to the highest office in the state, and eventually, the nation.

Early 19th century politics was a whirlwind of boisterous characters and opposing interest groups where a new party system was taking shape. Van Buren artfully positioned himself in the eye of the storm, persistently advocating the principles of the Jeffersonian Republicans, namely states' rights, strict constitutional construction, and civil liberties.

His efforts, along with those of like-minded politicians brought about an alliance of the "planters of the South and the plain people of the North" to form the Democratic Party. During the administration of the new party's first president, the enormously popular Andrew Jackson, Van Buren served as Old Hickory's top advisor. As the eighth President (and the first to be born under the US flag) Martin Van Buren continued the the era of Jacksonian Democracy. Not until his defeat for the presidency in 1848 did Van Buren give up public life.

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Hannah Hoes Van Buren
Photograph of cropped engraving (1886) by
Buttre, John Chester, 1821-1893.

"Ex-President Van Buren returned to the place of his nativity on Saturday last . . . (A)fter the lapse of a long series of years, spent in the service of his country, he has returned to the home of his youth, probably to spend the evening of his days among those who have long appreciated the splendor of his genius and admired his virtues."
--Kinderhook Sentinel, May 1841

The recipient of this florid praise did indeed spend the rest of his days in close proximity to the small New York village he had always considered home. Once settled at Lindenwald, he resisted all attempts to lure him back into politics. In 1862 Martin Van Buren succumbed to his "old enemy" bronchial asthma. He was buried in the village of Kinderhook, where in life he had always known a beloved home.

Adapted from the Official Map and Guide to the Martin Van Buren National Historic Site, put out by the National Park Service in 1990.

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Martin Van Buren's Political Career

"It is said that he is a great magician," wrote Andrew Jackson. "I believe it, but his only wand is good common sense which he uses for the benefit of the country."

A long series of elected and appointed posts afforded the "Little Magician" ample opportunity to practice his true craft: cool, competent diplomacy. A discreet, guarded man, Van Buren operated most effectively behind the scenes, where one observer noted, he "rowed to his object with muffled oars." Yet, in his later years Van Buren realized sadly that the wizardry had failed, that the political system he had helped to create would not prevent civil war.

1801 Delegate to the Republican party caucus in Troy, NY where he avidly supports Jeffersonian principles for the rest of his life.
1808 Surrogate (local judicial officer) of Columbia County, NY
1812-20 NY State Senator; State Attorney General; leader of the Jeffersonian Republicans in NY state; establishes Albany Regency, the first state-wide political machine in the country.
1821 Delegate to Third Constitutional Convention for the revision of the NY state constitution.
1821-28 U.S. Senator; helps form Democratic party
1828 Manages Andrew Jackson's presidential campaign.
1829 Governor of NY state for only 71 days, until
1829-31 appointed Secretary of State by President Jackson; acts as his chief advisor.
1831 Nominated ambassador to Great Britain, the highest US diplomatic post, but the Senate does not confirm him.
1833-37 Vice-President of U.S. under Andrew Jackson
1836
Candidate Party Electoral Votes
Martin Van Buren Democratic 170
William H. Harrison Whig 73
Hugh L. White Whig 26
Daniel Webster Whig 14
Willie P. Mangum Anti-Jacksonian 11
1837-41 8th President of the United States; carries on Jacksonian policies; opposes extension of slavery and annexation of Texas; establishes independent treasury; faces worst economic depression in country's short history. Vice-President is Richard M. Johnson of Kentucky. Inauguration March 4th.
1844 Loses bid for nomination as presidential candidate of the Democratic party to James K. Polk.
1848 Campaigns again for the Presidency, this time under the banner of the Free-Soil party, a group opposing the extension of slavery; after this defeat he ended his political career.
   

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Adapted from the Official Map and Guide to the Martin Van Buren National Historic Site, put out by the National Park Service in 1990.

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Martin Van Buren's Lindenwald

Lindenwald 1961

Lindenwald in 1961 photographed by Samuel H. Gottscho (1875-1971).

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Martin Van Buren's Lindenwald

Just south of the village of Kinderhook, on land that once belonged to his ancestors, stood a dwelling that Martin Van Buren thought would make a fine home in which to live out his post White House years. The large, two-story red brick house had been built by wealthy judge Peter Van Ness using local materials. The simple square plan lent emphasis to a Palladian window illuminating the second story hallway. The Georgian style carried over to the inside as well, where pilasters and entablatures framed six-panel molded doors, and finely carved cornices edged the ceilings. Adorning the entrance was a silver-plated door-knocker inscribed with 1797 for the year in which the house was completed.

William Van Ness, Van Buren's lifelong friend and former employer, inherited the house from his father, but lost it to creditors in 1824. [reputedly having something to do with card games and gambling--ed.] Fifteen years later, though neglect had rendered the building and grounds rather unattractive to a man who took pride in elegant surroundings, Van Buren paid owner William Paulding, Jr. $14,000 for the estate. Even before he moved in permanently Van Buren was anxious to begin what he called "improvements. "In accordance with his heritage, he set about making his piece of the Hudson Valley into a working farm. It was not long before the place came back to life. By 1845, he could gaze proudly out over more than 220 acres of cropland, as well as formal flower gardens, ornamental fish ponds, wooded paths, and outbuildings of all kinds.

Although primarily concerned with the grounds, Van Buren also lavished attention on his new house. His most elaborate modification involved removing the central stairway from the entrance hall to create large rooms on both stories. Fifty-one vividly colored wallpaper panels imported from France, formed a mural-like hunting scene in the downstairs hall. Underneath was a wallpaper balustrade design. Elsewhere he placed fine furniture and Brussels carpets, and hung portraits of some of his personal friends - Thomas Jefferson, Henry Clay, and Andrew Jackson. Van Buren described one "improvement" to a friend in 1846 in this way: "When you visit me again you shall wash off the impurities of Mammon in the Bath which has been put up." Lindenwald was a source of great satisfaction to its owner.

"We are to undergo a great revolution here," Van Buren wrote in 1849. Because his son Smith agreed to move in and help manage the estate, Van Buren gave him license to make alterations in order to accommodate his growing family. Smith sought out Richard Upjohn, whom Van Buren referred to as the "great architectural oracle." The new plan called for kitchen ranges, running water, a furnace, and many additional rooms. But it was the decorative features that transported Lindenwald from the 18th to the mid-19th century, an era when fashionable builders modeled their works after the grand villas of northern Italy. Upjohn designed a four-story brick tower, a central gable, attic dormers, and "as beautiful a Porch as you ever laid your eyes upon." Finally, Lindenwald was painted yellow. The indulgent father explained that "the idea of seeing in life, the changes which my heir would be sure to make after I am gone, amuses me."

The next decade brought few changes to Lindenwald. Van Buren lived happily at his country seat until his death in 1862. Afterward, the house changed hands many times. Over the next century or so it served as a private residence, a tea house, a nursing home, and an antiques shop. The property became part of the National Park Service in the 1970s. Restored to the era of Van Buren's occupancy, the mansion and the grounds recall the time when this gentleman farmer "drank the pure pleasure of a rural life" at his Lindenwald.

The Martin Van Buren National Historic Site was established by Congress on October 26, 1974 to commemorate the life and work of the eighth US President. It preserves 22 acres of land from Van Buren's original holdings, as well as the mansion that was built in the 1790s and renovated in the mid-19th century. Named for the numerous Linden trees on the estate, Lindenwald was Van Buren's home from 1841 to 1862.

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Adapted from the Official Map and Guide to the Martin Van Buren National Historic Site, put out by the National Park Service in 1990.

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Related Sites

There is more to know about Van Buren's life and background by taking the short drive north from Lindenwald to the Village of Kinderhook.

There is a histoical marker on Hudson Street indicating the site of the Van Buren family's tavern where Martin was born on December 5, 1782. The original structure burned down long ago, replaced by a succession of other buildings. The tavern served as a hostel for travelers and a gathering place for villagers desiring food, drink, and lively conversation. Helping out in his parents' tavern taught young Martin a great deal about human nature.

Martin's brother Lawrence and son Smith were founding members of St. Paul's Episcopal Church, still on Sylvester Street, also designed by architect Richard Upjohn. Martin, however, attended the nearby Dutch Reformed Church on Broad Street. The present building, still on the original site, replaced the original which burned in 1867.

Van Buren died on July 24, 1862, at the age of 79. He is buried in the Kinderhook Reformed Cemetery, along with his wife Hannah, his parents, and his son Martin Jr. The cemetery, dating from 1817, is located on Albany Avenue. Each year on December 5th, a graveside ceremony is held in his honor.

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Adapted from the Official Map and Guide to the Martin Van Buren National Historic Site, put out by the National Park Service in 1990.

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The Van Buren Family

Father:
Abraham Van Buren
Born: February 17, 1737 Albany, NY
  Died: April 8, 1817 Kinderhook, NY
Mother:
Maria Hoes Van Alen Van Buren
Born: February 27, 1747  
  Died: February 16, 1817 Kinderhook, NY
Brothers:
Lawrence
Abraham
 
1786 - 1868
1788 - 1836
 
Sisters:
Derike
Hannah
 
1777 - 1865
1780 - ?
 
Wife:
Hannah Hoes
Born: March 8, 1783 Kinderhook, NY
  Married: February 21, 1807 Catskill, NY
  Died: February 5, 1819 Albany, NY
Sons:
Abraham
John
Martin
Smith Thompson
 
1807 - 1873
1820 - 1866
1812 - 1855
1817 - 1876
 
Ancestry: Dutch Religion: Dutch Reformed  

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Kinderhook Connection