December 5 - Happy Birthday, Martin Van Buren

Posted on December 5, 2018

Today's famous birthday, born on this date in 1782 in New York, was one of the founders of the Democratic Party - AND he was a political leader with a pretty primo resume:

State Senator in New York
14th Attorney General of New York
U.S. Senator from New York
9th Governor of New York
10th U.S. Secretary of State
8th Vice President of the U.S.
8th President of the U.S.

Here are a few tidbits about Martin Van Buren:

He was the only U.S. president to speak English as a Second Language. His first language was Dutch - even though he was born in New York!

Van Buren's birth name wasn't "Martin," but rather the Dutch version, "Maarten." He was the first U.S. President that wasn't born a British subject (because he was born several years after independence was declared) nor of British ancestry.

In 1931, President Andrew Jackson appointed Van Buren as the ambassador to Great Britain. But one of Jackson's and Van Buren's enemies was the Vice-President at the time, John C. Calhoun, and he led many senators into rejecting the appointment.

Apparently Calhoun was elated and told a friend that Van Buren's career in politics - at least at the federal level - would be over after that rejection. Calhoun reportedly said, "It will kill him dead, sir, kill him dead."

But instead, Calhoun's action against Van Buren made the latter more popular with Jackson and with many others in the Democratic Party - and that's why Van Buren ended up being Jackson's Vice President for his second term, and then president.

In other words, Calhoun tried to destroy Van Buren but instead helped make him the head of state!

Way back when Van Buren was young, he actually owned a slave (and his dad owned six slaves), although that one slave ran away and remained free for the rest of his life. 

A New York born-and-bred slave owner? Remember, the north only got rid of slavery gradually from the late 1700s to the early 1800s. 

When he ran for president, Van Buren tried to win the southern states by promising them that he was not an abolitionist, but as he got older, Van Buren became more and more outspoken in opposition to slavery. When many southern Democrats turned against him, Van Buren ran for a second term as president with a third party, the Free Soil Party. 


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