REVIEW POTPOURRI – U.S. President: Martin Van Buren

Martin Van Buren

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Martin Van Buren

When I was in third grade, an aunt gave me a calendar with paintings and photos of all the presidents from George Washington to Dwight D. Eisenhower. I remember being fascinated by these names and faces: Washington’s implacable dignity, John Adams’ cherubic candor, Jefferson’s humane inscrutability, etc.

Martin Van Buren (1782-1862) with his bald head and wavy hair similar to that of the Three Stooges Larry Fine, had a good-natured congeniality and aura of approachability.

Reading up on his career in New York state politics and his subsequent rise to national clout, I now see how the term used to describe him, “sly fox”, was an apt one.

A few examples:

Van Buren was sympathetic to the farmers but also allied himself with the insidious Tammany Hall party machine which would influence so much of what went on in New York.

He supported state Governor Dewitt Clinton’s spearheading of the building of the Erie Canal but then threw his weight behind Clinton’s opponent in a re-election campaign.

He believed in the expansion of voting rights but opposed universal suffrage.

He opposed the annexation of Texas as a slave state but was otherwise silent, seeing the abolition of slavery as a threat to national unity (in 1848, he would speak out against slavery as the chosen candidate for the short-lived Free Soil party, a coalition of anti-slavery Democrats, Whigs and abolitionists.).

His skills as a mediator and good listener were highly conducive to building some bridges between political foes, as was his occasional support of policies anathema to his allies.

Van Buren’s wife Hannah died at 35 of tuberculosis in 1819. In 1838, their son Abraham married Angelica Singleton (1818-1877), a second cousin of former First Lady Dolly Madison who finagled the match. During the remaining two years of Van Buren’s presidency, she served as her father-in-law’s hostess with consummate elegance.

Van Buren outlived presidents Harrison, Tyler, Polk and Taylor and witnessed the election of the 16th president, Abraham Lincoln. Being born to Dutch-speaking parents, Van Buren learned English as a second language.


Responsible journalism is hard work!
It is also expensive!

If you enjoy reading The Town Line and the good news we bring you each week, would you consider a donation to help us continue the work we’re doing?

The Town Line is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit private foundation, and all donations are tax deductible under the Internal Revenue Service code.

To help, please visit our online donation page or mail a check payable to The Town Line, PO Box 89, South China, ME 04358. Your contribution is appreciated!

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *