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The Red Fox of Kinderhook

Known as “The Red Fox of Kinderhook” for his red hair and as a nod to his birthplace of Kinderhook, N.Y., Martin Van Buren was the eighth president of the United States and the first born on American soil. He cut his political teeth as a young lawyer involved in New York politics. His first appointed post, as a county official, set him on an upward course that led to the highest office in the state, and eventually, the nation. By 1827, he had emerged as the principal northern leader for Andrew Jackson. President Jackson rewarded Van Buren by appointing him Secretary of State. In 1832, he was elected vice president on the Jacksonian ticket and then won the presidency in 1837.

Martin Van Buren, eighth president of the United States. Between 1839 and 1841. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction Information: Reproduction Nos.: LC-DIG-pga-02634 (digital file from original print), LC-USZ62-1738 (b&w film copy neg.); Call No.: PGA - Sartain (J.)--Martin Van Buren (D size) [P&P] First anniversary Federal Theatre production and world premiere of "Rachel's Man," a dramatization of the life of America's most colorful soldier-statesman Andrew Jackson. 1937. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction Information: Reproduction No.: LC-USZC2-5537 (color film copy slide); Call No.: POS - WPA - CA .01 .R33, no. 1 (C size) [P&P] [P&P]

"It is said that he is a great magician," wrote Andrew Jackson of Van Buren. "I believe it, but his only wand is good common sense which he uses for the benefit of the country."

At the time of his election, the country was prosperous, but less than three months later the panic of 1837 punctured that prosperity and set the stage for Van Buren’s time in office. Hundreds of banks and businesses failed. Thousands lost their lands. Van Buren's remedy was to continue his predecessor Jackson's deflationary policies, but that only prolonged the depression. He was voted out of office after four years, losing to Whig candidate William Henry Harrison. In 1848 he ran unsuccessfully for president on a third-party ticket, the Free Soil Party.

Van Buren confronted several other potentially divisive issues while president, including denying Texas' formal request to join the United States in 1837 and siding with the Spanish government to return the kidnapped slaves in the case of the ship Amistad.

Van Buren’s four years were marked as much by failure and criticism as by success and popular acclaim. Despite his troubled presidency, his significant contributions to American political development can be seen in the creation of both the Democratic Party and the so-called "second-party system" in which, at the time, Democrats competed with their opponents, the Whigs.

The digital collections of the Library contain a wide variety of material associated with Van Buren. A handy resource guide compiles links to related digital materials such as manuscripts, letters, broadsides, government documents, and images that are available throughout the Library’s website. In addition, it provides links to external websites focusing on Van Buren and a bibliography containing selected works for both general and younger readers.

In fact, a guide has been put together for many of the presidents, including Van Buren’s predecessor, Andrew Jackson.