POTUS Fact 8: The only President who spoke English as a Second Language

Little, shrewd, wily and Red-haired, the eighth President of America (1837-1841), Martin Van Buren (December 5, 1782 – July 24, 1862), was the first American citizen to become President having been born six years after independence, in 1782. Others before him were born as British subjects.

Van Buren ended up setting the precedent for all his successors – they had to be born in the United States of America to run for the office of President.

He was also the first President without British ancestry (he was Dutch) and the first without a university degree or military commission.

Image of President Martin Van Buren
Martin Van Buren (1782-1862), 8th President of the United States (1837-1841)/Wikipedia.

Martin Van Buren stood about 5 feet 6 inches tall. His nickname was “the Little Magician”, though his enemies also referred to him as “the Fox” for his sly political maneuvers.

He was Governor of New York (for three months), Secretary of State, Vice President and then President, succeeding Andrew Jackson.

He remains one of the only two incumbent Vice Presidents to ascend to the Presidency; the other was George H.W Bush in 1988. Both served only one term.

He formed the first political party in America-the Democratic Party.

Though born and raised on US soil, Van Buren never forgot his European roots, especially since he had no choice in the matter! Since the Van Buren family were from the Netherlands, Dutch was the language they used at home. His village of Kinderhook in New York was set up by Dutch settlers, so Dutch was spoken by the entire community. Thus, Van Buren remains the only American President to have spoken English as a second language.

Van Buren is the only U.S. president to have been alive during both the U.S. Revolutionary War and the U.S. Civil War. As of 2017, he is the most recent Democrat elected to succeed an incumbent Democratic president who had served two presidential terms.

His wife of 12 years was Hannah Hoes Van Buren, a distant cousin, who bore him four children. Though he loved his wife so much, he did not mention her name at all, not even once, in his autobiography.

His father died in 1817.

His mother died in 1818.

His wife died in 1819.

The word OK we use today originated from Van Buren. He had many nicknames and Old Kinderhook was one of them. He was born in Kinderhook, New York city and he looked old when he was President, though he was only 55. Hence, the sobriquet Old Kinderhook (OK). When he was being referred to, his contemporaries always ask, “Is it OK?” Meaning, “Is it Van Buren?” The word became so popular, especially in the campaigns of 1840 that Oxford had to add the lexicon to her dictionary. OK, okay. Thanks to Van Buren.

He never remarried after his wife’s death (eighteen years before he became President). His daughter-in-law, Angelica (his oldest son’s wife), acted as First Lady while he was President.

Though a good politician, one of the most commonly accepted Martin Van Buren facts is that he was not a very good economist. Under the former president, severe restrictions has been placed on the country’s banks, resulting in the Panic of 1837, when people withdrew their money in droves, causing financial ruin.

Image of Angelica Singleton Van Buren
Angelica Singleton Van Buren (1818-1873), Martin Van Buren’s daughter-in-law, acted as First Lady (November 27, 1838-March 4, 1841)/Wikipedia.

Although Van Buren didn’t cause the problem, he had to deal with its effects. Since he didn’t believe it was the government’s job to step in and handle the situation, he did absolutely nothing. As a result, over 900 banks were forced to close, thousands of people lost their jobs, and many more lost their life savings. People started calling him “Van Ruin,” which destroyed his reputation and his career.

In his reelection bid, Van Buren garnered only 60 electoral votes to military hero William Henry Harrison’s 234 and failed to carry his home state of New York. After the panic of 1837, caused mainly by his predecessor’s disastrous economic policies, the U.S. was hit by a five-year depression and Van Buren won only seven states in the next election.

“The people under our system, like the king in a monarchy, never dies.”- Martin Van Buren (1782-1862), 8th President of the United States (1837-1841).

After losing his bid for reelection in 1840, Van Buren ran again unsuccessfully in 1844 (when he lost the Democratic nomination to the pro-southern candidate James K. Polk) and 1848 (as a member of the antislavery Free Soil Party).

Van Buren is the only U.S. president to have been alive during both the U.S. Revolutionary War and the U.S. Civil War. As of 2017, he is the most recent Democrat elected to succeed an incumbent Democratic president who had served two presidential terms.

During his lifetime he lived to see eight different Presidents succeed him.

Interestingly, President Martin Van Buren outlived his next four successors; William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, James K. Polk and Zachary Taylor.

He died of pneumonia on July 24, 1862 after he had been bedridden for nearly one year. He was 79.

Sources:

Wikipedia
Mental Floss
History
facts.net
Kids Fun Facts

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