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Evans, Carol: Martin Van Buren - 8th President of the United States of America and catalyst for the expression "okay"

by Carol Evans, UE


Trim and erect standing about 5 feet, 6 inches tall, Martin Van Buren dressed meticulously. His fastidious appearance hid his amiability--and his unremarkable background. Being of Dutch descent and the son of a tavern keeper and farmer he was born in 1782, in Kinderhook, New York. He belonged to the Dutch Reformed Church and was a Democrat . He was actually the first president to be born in the United States rather than as a British subject. He completed studies at the Kinderhook Academy in 1796 but did not attend college. He was apprenticed to a local lawyer in 1796 and opened his own practice in 1803. He married his cousin Hannah Hoes in 1807 once his law practice was established. Together they had one son, Abraham, in Kinderhook and three more in Hudson - John, Martin and Winfield Scott. who died in infancy. The family moved to Albany in 1816 where a fifth son, Smith Thompson Van Buren was born in January of 1817. Hannah Van Buren died of tuberculosis on February 5, 1819. Martin Van Buren never remarried.

Van Buren became involved in New York politics while a young lawyer and subscribed to the theories of Thomas Jefferson who felt state rights took precedent over a strong central government . He spent two terms in the New York State Send and held the position of State Attorney General.He was leader of the "Albany Regency," an effective New York political organization which he had created and organized public offices and bounty in such a way as to gain votes. He did however faithfully fulfil his
official duties.

As of 1821 Martin Van Buren, widower, was elected to the United States Senate.
After John Quincy Adams won the election in 1824 Van Buren led the opposition to his administration in the senate and helped form a coalition of Jeffersonian Republicans that backed Andrew Jackson in the 1828 election. This coalition became a new political party - the Democratic Party.

As of 1827 he was a northern leader for Andrew Jackson and became his Secretary of State. He was also Jackson's most trusted advisor. Jackson called him a "true man with no guile."

By 1829 Van Buren was Governor of New York and Minister to England in 1831.

Also known as the "Little Magician" and the "Red Fox of Kinderhook", Van Buren was elected as the first Democratic Vice President in 1832 and became the 8th President of the United States in 1836. In his Inaugural Address he spoke of the American experiment as an example to the rest of the world. The country at the time was prosperous, but within three months the panic of 1837 had set in. The previous year Van Buren's predecessor, President Andrew Jackson, had insisted that land be bought with hard cash - gold or silver. Hundreds of banks and businesses failed while thousands of people lost their land. For the next five years the U.S. suffered the worst depression in its then history. A President's salary at the time was $25,000 per year.

Van Buren's deflationary measures further deepened and prolonged the depression. He did however maintain the solvency of the national Government. He chose not to place Government funds in state banks but rather established an independent treasury system to handle Government transactions. He cut expenses so well that even the tools for public works were sold.

Opposed to slavery, Van Buren was against the annexation of Texas into the United States as he felt it would add to slave territory and possibly bring war with Mexico.

His son Abraham while living with his brothers and father in the White House, met Angelica Singleton, a relative by marriage to Dolly Madison. Abraham and Anjelica married. This young woman acted as the "lady of the White House" while her husband, Abraham was the President's personal secretary.

The expression "OK" or "okay" became popular because of Van Buren who came from Kinderhook which was also known as Old Kinderhook or OK when printed in his speeches. OK Clubs were formed to support his campaigns and OK later came to mean all right or good.

At the end of his term in office Martin Van Buren took his four years of salary in a lump sum of $100,000 and built his retirement home which he called Lindenwald, located 2 miles south of Kinderhook. The home stands
today as a national Historic Site.

He was defeated in the 1840 election. Through his term in office a costly war with the Seminole Indians of Florida hurt his chances of re-election. He also continued the forced relocation of the Cherokee which was begun under Jackson. About 4000 Native Americans perished on the journey known as the "Trail of Tears".

Martin Van Buren died in 1862 soon after the outbreak of Civil War. He is buried in the Dutch Reformed Church cemetery of Kinderhook New York.


This man is the 2nd cousin 6 times removed of Carol Evans.