So who was Hannah Van Buren? She is a mysterious presence in the story of Martin Van Buren, a crucial piece of his life reduced to a shadow—mostly because of Martin’s silence. Van Buren famously did not mention her in his autobiography, an omission that has long confounded historians. It is believed that he destroyed all their correspondence. We arguably know less about her than any other president’s wife. Contemporaries described her as “mild,” “unassuming,” and “shy.” Martin’s longtime law partner Benjamin F. Butler added that Hannah was “a woman of sweet nature but few intellectual gifts... Continue Reading
On February 21, 1807, in the town of Catskill, on a hilltop overlooking the Hudson River, Martin Van Buren secretly married his first cousin once removed, Hannah Hoes. The couple had traveled for twelve miles in the harsh Hudson Valley winter to reach the Hoxton House Inn, the country estate of Hannah’s brother-in-law, a former state senator, Judge Moses I. Cantine. By family standards, Martin was marrying young; Van Buren men had traditionally remained bachelors well into their thirties. Martin was twenty-four; Hannah, one month shy of the same age. He did not want to marry, it was said,... Continue Reading
In this dignified and enlightening campaign season, we’ve seen Republican candidate Donald Trump hurl many names at his opponents. Lately he’s called Marco Rubio “Little Marco.” Most of Trump’s insults are childish and silly (we needn’t go in details), but by mocking Rubio’s height, he’s at least keeping with some semblance of political tradition. Politicians have been quarreling about their height for some time. Admirers of George Washington used to boast that the general was as tall as 6-3; Ron Chernow now says he was actually 6-1. James Madison, our shortest president, also grew and lost... Continue Reading
It’s been a well-kept secret that Martin Van Buren had a half brother, James I. Van Alen, who was a U.S. congressman. Van Buren himself never revealed much about his oldest sibling, who died in 1823 at age 49. I’ve written before (in blog posts now deleted, alas) about how little we know about Van Alen, the degree of misinformation about him (Wikipedia has finally been corrected, though) and how central he was to Van Buren’s early career, in politics and (especially) the law. I can only conclude from his silence that Van Buren wanted to maintain the image that he was a self-made man whose... Continue Reading
Many historians have asserted that Martin Van Buren represented William P. Van Ness in the murder trial stemming from the Burr-Hamilton duel. After spending many months digging into this subject, I’m fairly confident that this is a myth. It was probably an old canard that found its way into some 19th-century history books and has been repeated by quite a few (though certainly not all) scholars who’ve covered this period ever since. The Burr-Hamilton duel hardly needs retelling here (just go plop a few thousand and see the Broadway show), but Van Buren was more closely connected to this... Continue Reading
We were pleased to launch The Papers of Martin Van Buren project at Cumberland University on Presidents Day 2016. The Lebanon Democrat posted video of the press conference announcing the project, which we wanted to share with you.