Van Buren Timeline

CHRONOLOGY

1782

December 5: Born in Kinderhook, New York, the third of five children of Abraham and Maria Goes Van Alen, five days after the preliminary articles of the Treaty of Paris are signed, making Van Buren the first U.S. president not born a British subject.

1787

Abraham Van Buren elected Kinderhook’s first town clerk since independence, serves for 10 years.

1796

Leaves the local village school, possibly for financial reasons, becomes a law clerk in the law office of Federalist Francis Silvester.

1801

Selected as a delegate to Democratic-Republican Congressional Caucus in Troy, New York, accompanying his cousin, John Peter Van Ness, a perennial candidate for Congress. Van Ness gets the nomination, largely thanks to Van Buren’s campaigning. He wins in the special election in the fall.

1802

November: Enters as clerk in the New York City law office of William P. Van Ness, close associate of Vice President Aaron Burr. Van Ness later gains notoriety as the second in the fatal Burr-Hamilton duel of 1804.

1803

November: Appears before the bar in New York City and is admitted immediately. Forms a partnership with his half brother James I. Van Alen in Kinderhook.

1804

Spring: Breaks away from the Burrites and endorses Morgan Lewis for governor. Lewis is backed by the Clinton-Livingston wing of the Democratic-Republican party.

1805

Forms the Kinderhook Law Society with six other young Republican attorneys.

July 4: Invited by Kinderhook’s Republicans to read the Declaration of Independence at the Annual Fourth of July dinner.

1806

April: Elected to his first office, Kinderhook’s important “fence viewer,” adjudicated disputed property boundaries. James Van Alen elected to congress.

1807

February 21: Marries childhood sweetheart Hannah Hoes in Catskill, New York.

April: Supports Daniel D. Tompkins for governor, over the incumbent Morgan Lewis. Tompkins wins.

November 27: First son, Abraham, born in Kinderhook.

1808

February 20: Appointed to his first public office, surrogate of Columbia County, shortly after Governor Tompkins took office.

December: Moves to Hudson, the county seat of government.

1810

February 18: His second son, John, is born.

1812

April: In a close, heated race, is elected to the New York State Senate over Edward P. Livingston.

November: At the New York Republican caucus, leads effort to secure New York’s vote for DeWitt Clinton over James Madison’s reelection. Clinton wins New York’s electoral vote but loses race to Madison. Van Buren later regrets these actions.

December 20: His third son, Martin, is born.

1813

February: Cuts ties with DeWitt Clinton.

March 19: Removed from surrogate’s office by Federalist-controlled Council of Appointment.

1814

January 3 – March 28: One of two lead prosecutors in court-martial trial of William Hull, who surrendered Detroit to British in 1812 before a shot was fired. Hull is found guilty and is sentenced to death. Madison later rescinds the death sentence.

September: Introduces and secures passage of a “Classification Bill,” a draft proposal to conscript New Yorkers according to a class quota. The war ends before its implementation.

1815

February 17: Appointed attorney general of New York. Continues to serve as state senator.

1816

April: Moves to Albany and forms the “Albany Regency” with Benjamin F. Butler, William L. Marcy, Samuel A. Talcott, Silas Wright and Edwin Croswell. They are informally known as the Bucktails (for the feathers worn in their hats at meetings), a name Van Buren never likes.

1817

January 16: Fourth son, Smith Thompson, is born.

April 8: His father, Abraham Van Buren, dies at the age of 80.

April: Campaigns against DeWitt Clinton’s election as governor of New York.

May: Votes for Erie Canal, after initial opposition.

1818

February 16: His mother, Maria Van Buren, dies at the age of 68.

1819

February 5: His wife, Hannah Van Buren, dies of tuberculosis, at the age of 35. She’s buried in Kinderhook. Van Buren never remarries.

March: Removed as attorney general by Clinton.

1821

February 6: Elected to the United States Senate by the New York state legislature.

August 28: Bucktails force a new constitutional convention, abolishing the Council of Appointment and broadening suffrage for white men and reducing it for African-Americans.

December 21: Takes seat in Senate.

1822

January 7: Loses a bitter fight with Postmaster General Return Jonathan Meigs over an attempt to block the appointment of a former Federalist, General Solomon Van Rensselaer as postmaster of Albany. President Monroe finally backs Meigs.

1823

January: Named chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

March 30: Decides to accept appointment to the Supreme Court if offered to him. Monroe offers seat to Smith Thompson instead, infuriating Van Buren.

Spring-Summer: Makes trips to Virginia to promote William H. Crawford for president.

September: Crawford suffers debilitating stroke, but Van Buren continues to work for his nomination.

1824

January: Proposed Constitutional amendment removing from House the election of President in event candidate did not receive majority, but calling for new election by the electors. Also proposed Constitutional amendment to give Congress power to make internal improvements, but only with consent of states within which improvements were to be made and only under such states’ supervision of funds. Congress voted against both amendments.

April: Albany Regency removes Clinton from his office as canal commissioner.

November 2: Clinton wins governorship, largely a reaction to his removal as canal commissioner.

November 16: Van Buren outmaneuvered by Thurlow Weed and anti-Regency factions so that New York’s electoral vote was split, with Crawford last.

December 1: Georgia gives its nine votes for Van Buren for vice president.

1825

February 23: Votes against appropriation to extend Cumberland Road.

March: Votes for Henry Clay as secretary of state.

November 2: Does not participate in Erie Canal ceremonies.

1826

February 15: Introduced first of series of proposals to defeat President Adams’ Panama Mission, Van Buren’s first move against the Administration.

April 7: Unsuccessfully pushes for legislation adding three justices to Supreme Court.

1827

January 9: The Albany Argus reports the formation of the first political convention for a president.

April-May: Travels throughout the south campaigning for Andrew Jackson.

August 3: Convention at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, opposes tariff increase. Van Buren does not attend.

September 26: Commits the Bucktails and the Regency to Jackson, confirming the North-South alliance. This could be considered the official beginning of the Democratic Party.

November: Re-elected New York’s Senator by large majorities in both houses of New York legislature.

1828

January 31: A tariff bill with high duties on raw materials is introduced in the House by Bucktail lieutenant Silas Wright. Van Buren hopes the bill will shore up support for Jackson in the West and Middle states. Its critics memorably call it a “Tariff of Abominations.”

February 11: DeWitt Clinton dies suddenly of a heart attack, ridding Van Buren of his chief rival in New York.

July: Decides to run for governor of New York in order to strengthen Jackson’s campaign in his native state.

November: Elected governor. Jackson takes a majority of New York’s electoral votes, is elected nation’s seventh president.

1829

January 1: Inaugurated as governor. Delivers an ambitious inaugural address calling for reforms in banking and campaign financing.

February 15: Accepts Andrew Jackson’s offer to serve in his cabinet as secretary of state, a position four of the past five presidents occupied.

March 12: Resigns as governor.

April 5: Takes up duties as secretary of state, becomes the cabinet’s leader and one of Jackson’s closest advisers.

May: Visits Margaret Eaton, wife of Secretary of War John Eaton, snubbed by other cabinet members for her supposed scandalous past. Jackson appreciates the gesture, and Van Buren secures his position in the administration.

1830

April 13: In a rebuke to Calhoun, delivers toast at Jefferson Birthday Dinner declaring support for the Union above states’ rights.

May 7: Negotiates treaty with Turkey that gives American shipping rights in the Black Sea.

May 27: Writes Jackson’s veto message on the Maysville Road, drawing a sharp line between Democratic Party and Henry Clay’s National Republicans.

October 5: Negotiates treaty with Great Britain securing trade with the West Indies.

1831

May 23: Resigns as Secretary of State to give Jackson opportunity to remove entire Cabinet and replace with members loyal to him than to Calhoun.

June 23: Appointed Minister to Great Britain.

July 4: Negotiates treaty with France in which America is compensated for damages from Napoleonic wars.

August 16: Sails to London with his son John.

1832

January 25: Rejected by Senate as minister to England, with Vice President Calhoun casting the deciding vote after a tie.

May 21-23: Democratic National Convention in Baltimore nominates Van Buren for vice president to run with Jackson.

July 5: Arrives in New York after taking a long trip throughout Europe.

July 10: Jackson vetoes the bill to recharter the Bank of the United States. Van Buren supports the president but with reservations.

November: Elected Jackson’s vice president. Thirty electors refuse to support Van Buren.

1833

March 4: Inaugurated vice president.

December 16: Presides over the Senate for the first time.

1834

April: Led by Henry Clay, the Whig Party is formed.

April: Senate censures Jackson for removing Bank of United States deposits. Van Buren had warned Jackson that his opponents would attack him for this.

1835

May 20-22: Nominated for President at second national convention of the Democratic Party held in Baltimore. Richard M. Johnson of Kentucky nominated for vice president. The Whigs would hold no nationwide convention and nominate four candidates.

1836

March 2: Texas declared independence from Mexico during siege of Alamo. Van Buren opposes annexation.

June 23: Jackson signs Distribution Act, giving federal surplus revenue to the states.

July 11: Jackson issues Specie Circular, requiring gold and silver payments for public land.

November 8: Election Day, in most states.

December 7: Elected eighth president of the United States, capturing 50.83% of the popular vote. He receives 170 electoral votes, winning 15 out of 26 states. Coming in second was William Henry Harrison (seven states), followed by Senators Hugh L. White of Tennessee (two states), Daniel Webster of Massachusetts (one state) and Willie P. Mangum of North Carolina (one state). Even though the race was a bit closer than expected, Van Buren still got more votes than his four Whig opponents combined.

1837

February: “Flour riots” in New York City, protesting high food prices, take place, signaling imminent depression.

March 3: Jackson recognizes Texas independence.

March 4: Inaugurated as eighth president of the United States.

March 7: Appoints Joel Poinsett as his secretary of war. The rest of his cabinet was retained from the Jackson administration.

March 8: Appoints John McKinley to the U.S. Supreme Court, the first of his two Court selections.

May 7: Delegation of fifty New York merchants demand that Van Buren rescind the Specie Circular.

May 10: New York banks suspend specie payments. The Panic of 1837 starts. More than 600 banks will fold in the following year.

May 15: Calls for special session of Congress in September to address economic crisis.

August 4: Texas applies for annexation.

August 25: Secretary of State John Forsyth refuses the annexation.

September 5: Proposes Independent Treasury in his message to Congress.

October 14: Independent treasury fails in the House after passing in the Senate.

October 21: Osceola, Seminole Chief, seized and later dies in prison.

November: Whigs sweep New York’s elections. Van Buren calls it the “New York tornado.” Other statehouses go to the Whigs as well.

December 5: Sends first State of the Union message to Congress.

December 13: Canadian insurgent leader William Lyon Mackenzie arranges provisional government on Navy Island in the Niagara River.

December 29: British forces seize a private American steamship, the Caroline, which had been transporting supplies to rebels on Navy Island. The British removed the crew and guests and set fire to the ship. A bystander is killed in the melee.

1838

January 5: Issues proclamation of neutrality regarding border violence in Canada. Sends Winfield Scott to the border to mediate.

January 13: Mackenzie forced by U.S. to abandon Navy Island. He’s later sentenced to 18 month in prison.

March 21: Senate votes against Van Buren’s bill to “divorce” the Treasury from all state banks.

April 17: New York bankers announce they will resume specie payments in May.

May 26: The forced Cherokee removal begins, resulting in the deaths of approximately 4,000 Cherokee Indians. This is later called the “Trail of Tears.”

June 12: Signs act establishing Territory of Iowa.

July 4: Appoints new attorney general, Felix Grundy, replacing Benjamin F. Butler.

November: Whig William H. Seward is elected governor of New York, ending the ten-year reign of the Albany Regency.

November 21: Issues second proclamation of neutrality regarding Canada.

December 3: Sends second State of the Union to Congress.

1839

March 3: Authorized to send troops to Maine in the so-called “Aroostook War,” which arose after a Maine land agent expelled Canadian lumberjacks from the region and was arrested by Canadians. Van Buren sent General Winfield Scott to arrange truce between Maine and New Brunswick. The dispute is later settled in the Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1842.

March 5: Pocket vetoes joint resolution providing for distribution in part of Madison papers. This is Van Buren’s only veto as president.

June 28: Two Spanish slave dealers bribe officials in Havana so they can transport 52 kidnapped Africans to America to be sold into slavery.

July 2: Led by Sengbe Pieh, later known as Joseph Cinque, the Africans stage a successful mutiny and order the slave dealers to return them to Africa. But the slave dealers send the ship in the other direction.

August 24: The ship, Amistad, drifts into the Long Island Sound and is seized by an American survey ship. Looking to cash in on salvage money, the commander of the ship steers it to New London, Connecticut.

September: Van Buren administration accepts the Spanish position that the ship and its passengers belong to the Spanish government. The matter soon heads into the courts.

December 2: Sends third State of the Union to Congress.

December 24: Urges adoption of Independent Treasury.

1840

January 11: Appoints third attorney general, Henry D. Gilpin.

January 23: Federal court ruled that Africans who staged the mutiny on the Amistad were kidnapped and should be transported back to Sierra Lione. Van Buren administration appeals the decision.

March 31: Issues executive order limiting to a ten-hour day the work of all laborers on federal projects without reduction in pay.

July 4: Signs Independent Treasury Act, establishing subtreasuries in New York City, Boston, Philadelphia, Charleston, New Orleans, St. Louis and Washington, D.C.

Fall: Runs for reelection against William Henry Harrison.

November: Loses reelection.

November 12: Canadian Alexander McLeod arrested in New York for murder in the Caroline affair. Great Britain strongly objects.

December 2: Presidential electors cast ballots. Harrison received 234 electoral votes. Van Buren received 60.

December 5: Sends fourth and last State of Union to Congress.

1841

February 10: On Van Buren’s invitation, President-elect Harrison visits Van Buren at the White House.

February 22: Citing international treaties, Gilpin presents administration’s case to the supreme court on the Amistad case. Former President John Quincy Adams represents Cinque and the Africans.

February 26: Appoints Peter V. Daniel on his last day in office to the Supreme Court.

March 4: Attends inauguration ceremonies. Two previous losers for reelection—John and John Quincy Adams—left Washington and refused to be part of the inauguration.

March 9: Supreme Court affirms the lower court decision.

May 8: Returns to Kinderhook, buys house on Albany Post Road once owned by the Van Ness family. He names the house “Lindenwald.”

August 13: Whigs repeal the Independent Treasury Act.

1842

February-May: Makes trip to the South, visits Henry Clay, Andrew Jackson and an unknown legislator from Illinois named Abraham Lincoln.

November: Democrats take over Congress.

1844

March 22: Jackson publishes letter in the Richmond Enquirer calling for the annexation of Texas.

April 27: Publishes letter in the Washington Globe opposing annexation, though uses evasive language.

May 27: Democratic convention convenes in Baltimore. Van Buren fails to get two-thirds of the delegate vote. After days of wrangling, nomination goes to James K. Polk of Tennessee.

1845

January-February: Polk offers Silas Wright a cabinet post; Wright declines. He offers no cabinet posts to any Van Buren men, leading to a major fallout.

August 8: Wilmot Proviso introduced, banning the extension of slavery into territory acquired in the Mexican War.

August: Declines appointment as minister to Great Britain.

1848

April: Publicly denounces the spread of slavery and writes a long statement that becomes the Barnburner Manifesto.

May: Barnburner and Hunkers send separate delegations to Democratic Convention in New York.

August 9-10: Free Soil Party formed by a heterogeneous group of people including Barnburners, Liberty Party men, “Conscience” Whigs and free land advocates. Van Buren nominated for President, with Charles Francis Adams of Massachusetts for Vice-President. The platform called for “free soil, free speech, free labor, and free men.”

November 7: Van Buren receives 291,263 votes, fails to win a single state. He did come in second in New York, possibly giving the election to the Whig, Zachary Taylor. After the election, Van Buren announces his retirement from politics.

1852

November: Returns to Democratic Party and supports Franklin Pierce for president.

1853

April: Becomes the first ex-President to leave the United States when he goes on a European tour with his son Martin. He visits England, France, Switzerland, Belgium, Holland and Italy. He is later received by Queen Victoria of Great Britain and Pope Pius IX.

1854

June 21: Begins work on his autobiography while vacationing in Sorrento, Italy. He never finishes the book but it is published in 1920 and is widely read today by scholars.

1855

March 19: Martin Van Buren Jr. dies in Paris of tuberculosis. Van Buren returns to Kinderhook.

1856

November: Supports James Buchanan for president, albeit with great reservations.

1860

November: Supports Stephen A. Douglas for president.

1861

Supports Lincoln and the Union cause in the Civil War.

1862

Spring: Travels to New York City to see doctors for several illnesses.

July 24: Surrounded by his family, Van Buren dies several months shy of his 80th birthday. Cause of death is asthma. Buried in Kinderhook.