Monday, February 15, 2010

Presidents Born in New York State (1)

Martin Van Buren 1782-1862

He was the first president who was not born a British subject, and the first of Dutch ancestry. Van Buren was born in Kinderhook, New York, a little village on the east bank of the Hudson. At fourteen he left school to study law and two years later astonished the people of his home town by winning his first lawsuit. He was small, and elegant in his manners and dress. His complexion was a bright blond, and he dressed accordingly. A capable politician he filled the roles of State senator, attorney general of New York, United States senator, governor of New York and under Jackson, secretary of state, minister to England and vice-president. Van Buren had been a widower for eighteen years when he moved into the White House in 1837 with his four sons.

The new Administration was unfortunate in its beginnings. A financial disaster, such as had not until then been known in the United States, swept over the country in 1837. A general suspension of specie payments occurred; many banks suspended altogether, and innumerable corporations and individuals were ruined. Congress authorized the issue of $10,000,000 in treasury notes, and Jackson's Specie Circular was revoked. Van Buren's administration was marked by the establishment of the independent treasury system (reestablished in 1846), by a renewal of hostilities against the Seminole Indians, and by the establishment of regular steamship communication with Europe. The Democrats with difficulty retained control of the House of Representatives, and through such methods as to decrease public confidence in the party leaders. This, together with the prevalent depression in business, weakened the dominant party in the country at large, so that in the campaign of 1840 the candidacy of the Whig nominee, General William Henry Harrison of Ohio, was supported with an enthusiasm such as no subsequent political campaign has ever witnessed. The Democrats renominated Van Buren.

Millard Fillmore 1800-1874 President 1850-1853

He was born of New England Parents in a log cabin at Locke, Cayuga County, in the Finger Lakes region of New York, on January 7, 1800. At fifteen he was bound out by his parents to serve an apprenticeship to a wool carder (clothmaker) at an annual salary of fifty-five dollars. A bright lad, young Millard spent his spare moments when he was not working on the carding machine, in reading. While serving his apprenticeship he attended a one-room country school and fell in love the the schoolma'am, Abigail Powers. Abigail helped him with hsi learning to the extent that he was soon able to teach school himself and earn enough money to read law. Four years later Abigail and Millard were married. His political career was under way: New York assemblyman, member of Congress, state controller of New York, and vice-president.

He sought without success the Presidential nomination in 1844 and in the same year he ran for Governor of the State on the Whig ticket, but was defeated by Silas Wright. He became Comptroller of New York State in 1847. In the following year he was elected by the Whig Party Vice-President on the ticket with Zachary Taylor. Upon the death of the President, in July, 1850, Fillmore succeeded him, and the change in administration was marked by the early passage of the Compromise Measures. Fillmore's support of those measures, and especially his signing of the Fugitive Slave Law, alienated many of the extreme Northern members of his party. Aside from the developments of the slavery problem, his administration was marked by one conspicuous event, the establishment of diplomatic relations with Japan. In 1852 he was a prominent Presidential candidate before the National Convention of the Whig Party. In 1856 he was a candidate for the Presidency on the ticket of the Know-Nothing or American Party, and although supported by many conservative Whigs, such as Edward Everett, he received the electoral votes of only one State, Maryland. He took no active part in the Civil War, and spent the remaining years of his life at Buffalo, where he died March 8, 1874.

To be continued: Presidents Born in New York State (2)

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