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Martin van Buren worked his way up through the political ranks and, for one term, held the highest office in America.

Born to Dutch parents in 1782 in the village of Kinderhook, N.Y., he grew up speaking Dutch and eventually learned English as well. An attentive student, Martin augmented his normal studies with Latin then began, at 14, to study the law. After a few years of study and apprenticeship, he passed the bar and, in 1803, became a lawyer.

During his law studies, Martin got involved in politics. When he was 17, he campaigned for a local Congressman, in the Democratic-Republican Party. He got himself elected to the New York State Senate in 1812 and served until 1820. During this time, he was also the state's Attorney General.

Martin proved himself adept at political organizing and became the most influential member of the Albany Regency, a statewide organization of politicians and their supporters. Commonplace today, this kind of organization was relatively new in Martin's day. 

He enjoyed his own support in a successful bid for the U.S. Senate. He was elected in 1820. He won re-election and, in the Election of 1828, was a major organizer of the presidential campaign of Andrew Jackson. While campaigning for Jackson, he also ran his own political race, abandoning the Senate to return home for a run at the governorship. He won election but served only a couple of months before accepting Jackson's appointment as Secretary of State.

Van Buren served in that capacity until 1831, when Jackson appointed him Minister to England. His nomination was not confirmed by the Senate, however, in part because of opposition from Vice-president John C. Calhoun. When Calhoun later resigned as Vice-president, Jackson appointed van Buren as his running mate. When Jackson was re-elected, van Buren became Vice-president.

Four years later, Jackson bowed out but made it clear that van Buren would carry on Jackson's political agenda. Van Buren was the Democratic candidate in the Election of 1836. Opposing him were four candidates from the Whig Party, whose strategy was to run regional candidates in order to deny van Buren enough electoral votes to win and force the election into the House of Representatives, where the Whigs held sway. The strategy was unsuccessful, and van Buren became the first President to have been born a U.S. citizen. (The seven previous Presidents had been born before the American Revolution and were, therefore, British citizens.)

Van Buren entered the White House a widower. He had married his childhood sweetheart, Hannah Hoes, in 1807, but she died of pneumonia in 1819 and he never remarried. They had five children.

Continuing Jackson's policies as well as his Cabinet, van Buren found himself knee-deep in economic trouble with the Panic of 1837. 

Jackson had vetoed the charter renewal for the Second Bank of the United States. As a result, some state banks were no longer held back by restrictions on financial practices. Especially in newly settled territories, banks allowed large loans with easy credit. To combat this, Jackson had put forth a Specie Circular, which stipulated that land had to be purchased with gold or silver, not paper money or credit. As a result, banks required lenders to pay back what they owed. No Bank of the United States existed to step in and regulate the crisis. Unemployment was also very high, as were food prices, creating a vicious circle of debt and want. Food riots occurred in some cities. Many businesses went bankrupt. 

Van Buren, like Jackson before him, believed that the Government should stay out of problems like the ones the country was experiencing. (This kind of thinking led to Jackson's War on the Bank of the U.S. in the first place.) But the economy did not improve on its own, and van Buren lost his bid for re-election in 1840, to William Henry Harrison.

During his presidency, van Buren had faced other political challenges as well. The Amistad trial happened while he was in office, as did the "Trail of Tears" and the Second Seminole War. 
Van Buren retired from public life, enjoying his time back home at Kinderhook. He campaigned again in 1844 but did not secure the nomination; James K. Polk did and was elected President. 

Van Buren was back in the Election of 1848, in which he ran as the presidential candidate of the Free Soil Party, which campaigned largely on stopping the extension of slavery into the states acquired in the Mexican Cession. Van Buren didn't win, but he did so well in New York that he took votes away from Democrat Lewis Cass and delivered New York's votes to the Whig Party's Zachary Taylor, who won a narrow victory. 

Van Buren once again retired to private life. He later said that the two happiest days of his life were the day he entered the White House and the day he left it. He died at home in 1862.

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David White