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ble disposition, sagacity, and exemplary piety. She survived until 1818, four years after the death of her second husband.
Martin Van Buren is the eldest son of these parents. He was born at Kinderhook, December, 5, 1782. At an early age he exhibited indications of a superior understanding. His opportunities of instruction were limited, probably on account of the moderate property of his father, who had two other sons, and two daughters."
After acquiring the rudiments of an English education, he became a student in the academy, in his native village. He there made considerable progress in the variotis branches of English literature, and gained some knowledge of Latin. It may be inferred, however, that all these acquisitions were not great in amount, as he left the academy, when but fourteen years of age, to begin the study of his profession.
At that early period he evinced a strong passion for extempore speaking and literary composition. Even at that early age, too, he is represented, by those who knew him, to have had a spirit of observation, with regard to public events, and the personal dispositions and characters of those around him, which gave an earnest of his future proficiency in the science of politics and of the human heart.
In the year 1796, at the age of fourteen, Mr. Van Buren commenced the study of the law, in the office of Francis Sylvester, Esq., a respectable lawyer of Kinderhook. The courts of law in the state of New York have adhered more closely to the English forms of practice than has been done in most of the other states. The period of study preparatory to admission to the bar, was seven years, for candidates who, like the subject of this memoir, had not the benefit of a collegiate education.
The management of cases in courts held by justices of the peace, not unfrequently devolved upon students at law. The early indications of ability as a speaker and reasoner, which were exhibited by Mr. Van Buren, occasioned his almost incessant employment in trials in these courts, from the earliest period of commencing the study of his profession. His father was a firm whig in the revolution, and a democrat in the days of John Adams; and the son was educated in the same principles, and of course formed his most intimate connexion with persons of the same political faith. The democratic party was then a small minority in the town and county of his nativity. His political opinions, as well as his talents, led to his employment by the members of his own party, in their controversies with regard to personal rights, and rights of property. It often happened that, in the management of cases, he encountered men of age, talent, and high standing in the profession.
At this early period Mr. Van Buren was an ardent and active politician. It was his constant habit to attend all meetings of the democratic party, to study with attention the political intelligence of the day, and to yield his
• For part of this memoir we are indebted to Professor Holland's Life of Van Buren.
most zealous aid 10 the principles he held to be true. As early as 1800, when only in his eighteenth year, and still a student at law, he was deputed by the republicans in his native town, to attend a convention of delegates to nominate a candidate for the legislature. He had similar marks of the confidence of his political friends, on other occasions during his minority.
The last year of Mr. Van Buren's preparatory studies was passed in the city of New York, in the office of Mr. William P. Van Ness, and under his direction. This gentleman was a native of Columbia county, but at that time a distinguished member of the bar in the city of New York, and a very conspicuous leader of the democratic party. In this situation Mr. Van Buren had every possible advantage for improvement; and his thirst for knowledge, together with his aptitude in acquiring it, enabled him to make great advances.
Mr. Van Ness was a devoted and intimate friend of Colonel Aaron Burr, at that time vice-president of the United States; and in the feud which sprung up after the presidential election, between the respective friends of the president and vice-president, Mr. Van Ness advocated the cause of Colonel Burr, through the public press, with signal ability. Through the medium of this gentleman, Mr. Van Buren was introduced to the notice of the vice-president, who was led, by his knowledge of the young lawyer's activity and influence in his native county, as well as by a quick-sighted observation of the future eminence promised by his early display of talent, to treat him with marked attention, and to make every reasonable effort to secure his favorable regard. The tact and ability displayed by Colonel Burr in the great political contest which resulted in elevating Mr. Jefferson and himself to the highest offices in the gift of the people, and the reputation he had acquired as a leader of the party, caused him to be looked upon as an oracle of political wisdom, particularly by young and ardent democrats, who were desirous of availing themselves of instruction from so experienced and influential a source. Among the maxims of Colonel Burr for the guidance of politicians, one of the most prominent was, that the people at elections were to be managed by the same rules of discipline as the soldiers of an army; that a few leaders were to think for the masses; and that the latter were to obey implicitly their leaders, and to move only at the word of command. He had, therefore, great confidence in the machinery of party, and that system of regular nominations in American politics of which he may perhaps be considered one of the founders. Educated as a military man, and imbibing his early views with regard to governing others, in the camp, it is not surprising that Colonel Burr should have applied the rules of military life to politics, and always inculcated the importance of discipline in the ranks of a party, to insure its ultimate success. In no part of the United States have these party rules been more constantly and rigidly enforced, than among the democrats of the state of New York ; and to their steady adherence to them may be attributed the long succession of triumphs which have been achieved by the party with whom Mr. Van Buren has uniformly acted.
In November, 1803, in the twenty-first year of his age, Mr. Van Buren was admitted, as an attorney at law, to the bar of the supreme court in the state of New York, and immediately returned to his native village, to commence the practice of his profession. He formed a partnership in business with the Hon. James I. Van Alen, a half-brother on his mother's side, and a gentleman who was considerably his senior. The bar of Columbia county, at that time, embraced some of the most distinguished members of the legal profession in the state of New York, among whom were William W. Van Ness (afterward a judge of the supreme court of the state), Elisha Williams, Thomas P. Grosvenor, and Jacob R. Van Rensselaer. Other names might be mentioned as then in the field of competition upon which the youthful subject of this sketch then entered. The state of political parties at the period shows the difficulties with which he contended.
At the time when Mr. Van Buren commenced his professional career, the violence of party spirit was extreme throughout the country. The state of New York was fearfully agitated by its influence; and in the county of Mr. Van Buren's residence, political dissensions were carried to the greatest extremities. The administration of the federal government had then passed, after a violent struggle, into the hands of the democratic party, but it was considered by no means certain that their ascendency would be of long continuance. In the state of New York generally, the democratic party triumphed in the elections after 1800 ; but in the county of Columbia the federal party long held the reins of power.
The landholders in Kinderhook and its vicinity had inherited large estates from a long line of wealthy ancestors, and had exercised, by proscription, an influence over their tenants and the more recent emigrants, analogous in its nature, and almost in its extent, to the baronial prerogatives of feudal lords. The great mass of mercantile and professional men in the county were dependent upon these wealthy freeholders for patronage, as also. were the laborers and mechanics, in a still greater degree. The members of these families were generally federalists, and looked with anxious disapprobation upon any efforts to extend popular rights. Toward the champions of the democracy they exhibited neither liberality nor toleration, but carried on a warfare against them, both in public and private, of the most obstinate and embittered character.
Mr. Van Buren's early exhibition of energy and talent attracted their attention, and no ordinary pains were taken to detach him from the connexion he had chosen with the democracy. The gentleman with whom he had studied his profession, Mr. Sylvester, and his relative and partner in business, Mr. Van Alen, were federalists, and by their example and
advice endeavored to withdraw him from a political connexion which they viewed as wrong, and injurious to his prospects in business. “Firmly fixed in the political faith of his father, who was a whig in the revolution, an anti-federalist in 1788, and an early supporter of Jefferson, the subject of this memoir," says his biographer,“ shrunk not from the severe tests which were applied to the strength and integrity of his convictions. Without patronage, comparatively poor, a plebeian by birth, and not furnished with the advantages of a superior education, he refused to worship, either at the shrine of wealth or power, but followed the dictates of his native judgment, and hesitated not, in behalf of the cause which he thus adopted, to encounter the utmost violence of his political enemies."
Thus connected with the democratic party, he naturally became the vindicator, not only of their political faith, but of their legal rights. The conflicts in which he engaged, rapidly invigorated and enlarged his natural powers. It was soon seen that he was able to cope with the ablest of his opponents in the local courts. In 1807 he was admitted as a counsellor in the supreme court, where he was brought into more immediate collision with the most distinguished members of the profession. In 1808 he was appointed surrogate of Columbia county, soon after which he removed to the city of Hudson, where he resided during seven years, and rapidly advanced toward a high rank in his profession. In 1815 he was appointed attorney-general of the state, at which time his practice in the courts had become extensive and lucrative. His career as a lawyer occupies a period of twenty-five years, and was closed in the spring of 1828.
Mr. Van Buren was married in 1806, to Miss Hannah Hoes, who was distantly related to him before their marriage. The intimacy which resulted in this union, was formed in very early life. His ardent attachment to her was evinced on all occasions until the period of her decease, by consumption, in 1818. This lady left him a family of four sons, and Mr. Van Buren has since remained a widower.
Having thus noted the professional and private life of Mr. Van Buren, it remains briefly to sketch his career as a politician and statesman.
His first active participation in political affairs, was in the great contest which preceded the elevation of Mr. Jefferson to the presidency, in 1801. At the early age of eighteen years we find him intrusted with the expression of the political views of a portion of the democratic party, as we have already stated, in being chosen a delegate to a convention. His abilities were put in requisition on that occasion, in preparing an address to the electors of the district in which he resided.
In the spring of 1804, he made his first appearance at the polls as an elector. At that election Morgan Lewis and Aaron Burr (then vice-president of the United States) were the opposing candidates for governor of New York. Both belonged to the democratic party, but the former received the regular nomination of a majority of the democrats in the legis. lature, while the latter was supported by a smaller section of the party, and a portion of the federalists. In Columbia county Colonel Burr was warmly sustained by many leading politicians, among whom were some of Mr. Van Buren's best friends. During his own residence as a student at law in the city of New York, with Mr. William P. Van Ness, a friend of Burr, he had received many flattering marks of attention from the vicepresident. But true to his own principles and the spirit of his party, Mr. Van Buren gave his vigorous and unhesitating support to Mr. Lewis, at the hazard of a temporary estrangement from several valued democratic friends.
In 1807 the antagonist candidates for governor were Morgan Lewis and Daniel D. Tompkins. The latter was then the candidate of a large majority of the democratic party; Governor Lewis receiving the support of the federalists and a few democrats. Tompkins was elected by a large majority of votes; he received Mr. Van Buren's most zealous and decided support on this occasion, also in 1810 and 1813; the views of these two leaders of the democratic party generally agreeing on the prominent political questions of the period.
In 1808 Mr. Van Buren was appointed surrogate of Columbia county, and retained the office until February, 1813, when, the federalists having obtained the ascendency in the state, he was removed. It may be here remarked, that the administration of Mr. Jefferson, during its whole course, received his constant support. The non-intercourse act, the embargo, and other measures of Mr. Jefferson, received his hearty concurrence. He warmly defended and justified the course of George Clinton, then vice-president of the United States, in giving his casting vote, in February, 1811, against the bill for renewing the charter of the first bank of the United States. It is curious to notice in this place, that the renewal of the charter of the bank was recommended by Mr. Gallatin, then secretary of the treasury, and sustained in the senate by William H. Crawford, two gentlemen whom Mr. Van Buren joined with others in recommending for president and vicepresident of the United States in 1824.
In 1812 Mr. Van Buren was, for the first time, a candidate for an elective office, having been nominated as a senator from the counties then comprising the middle district of the state. His opponent was Edward P. Livingston, belonging also to the democracy; a man of wealth and powerful family connexions, and supported by the bank democrats and the entire federal party of the district. The contest was one of the most violent ever known in the state, and resulted in the election of Mr. Van Buren, by a majority of about 200, in an aggregate of twenty thousand votes. Thus, in the thirtieth year of his age, he was placed in the highest branch of the legislature of his native state.
Previous to his election, the democratic members of the legislature of