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Collection Martin Van Buren Papers, 1787 to 1910

Part III: 1837-1841

A chronology of key events in the life of Martin Van Buren (1782-1862) covering the period of his presidency, 1837-1841.

  • 1837, Feb.

    Flour riots in New York City reflected a growing concern over food prices and economic policies, signaling the financial Panic of 1837, a period of serious economic recession that lasted into the mid-1840s.

  • 1837, Feb.

    The Democrat-controlled U.S. Senate, acting in accordance with the provisions of the Twelfth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, selected Richard Mentor Johnson (1780-1850), Kentucky resident and veteran of the War of 1812, to serve as Vice President of the United States.

    Col. Richard M. Johnson, of Kentucky. A. A. Hoffey, artist, John Dorival, lithographer. New York, c. 1833. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. LC-DIG-pga-05959
  • 1837, Mar. 3

    On the last day of his administration, President Andrew Jackson recognized the independence of Texas.

  • 1837, Mar. 4

    Inaugurated as the eighth president of the U.S. He was the first U.S. President from New York and the first not to be primarily of British (English, Scottish, Irish, or Welsh) descent. He followed in the trend set by John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, becoming the third sitting vice president to be elected to the presidency. Chief Justice Roger Taney administered the oath of office on the East Portico of the U.S. Capitol. Vice President Johnson took his oath of office in the Senate Chamber.

  • 1837, Mar. 8

    Appointed two new members to the U.S. Supreme Court, both southerners.

    Chief Justice Roger B. Taney. Unattributed, c. 1850. Biographical file, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. LC-USZ62-107588
  • 1837

    The economic Panic of 1837 led to widespread unemployment, economic depression, devaluing of cotton and paper money, and bank and financial failures. President Van Buren blamed the crisis on the easy availability of credit and rampant speculation. Surplus revenue was distributed to the states, and treasury notes were issued to help stave off a broadening of the crisis.

  • 1837, June

    Victoria (1819-1901) becomes Queen of England. She reigned in the United Kingdom until her death, presiding over what became known as the Victorian era.

  • 1837, Oct.

    Despite a truce, Seminole Chief Osceola was seized and imprisoned. He died in custody in January 1838.

    Osceola of Florida. George Catlin. New York, 1838. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. LC-DIG-pga-00467
  • 1837, Nov. 7

    In an escalation of anti-abolitionist violence, printer Elijha P. Lovejoy was murdered in Alton, Illinois.

    Elijah Parish Lovejoy, 1802-1837, printer and abolitionist. Silhouette. Unattributed illustration in Magazine of American History, v. 10 (May 1891): 364. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. LC-USZ62-60120
  • 1837, Dec. 5

    Pressed for an independent Treasury in his first Annual Message to Congress.

  • 1837-1839

    A series of events, including the Caroline affair involving the suppression of rebels favoring a Canadian republic, raised disputes over international border lines and tensions between Great Britain, Canada, and the U.S.

  • 1838

    In keeping with the Indian Removal Act of 1830 and Indian policy developed during the Andrew Jackson administration and within separate states, Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee, and Seminole citizens were relocated under governmental militia authority from traditional homelands in the southeastern U.S. to Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma). The forced relocation of members of the Cherokee Nation--primarily from Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee to the Cherokee Nation West--despite negotiations by Cherokee Principal Chief John Ross (1790-1866) with the Van Buren administration, resulted in great suffering, illness, and loss of life. It became known as the “Trail of Tears.” Ross’s wife Quatie Ross was among those who died in the forced exodus.

    John Ross [Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation]. Unattributed, c. 1850. Daguerreotype collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. LC-USZC4-11120
  • 1838, Apr. 11

    Benjamin Franklin Butler resigned as Attorney General. He was succeeded in July by Felix Grundy of Tennessee and then in January of 1840 by Henry D. Gilpin of Pennsylvania.

  • 1838, Nov. 27

    Son Abraham Van Buren, who served as the presidential private secretary, married Sarah Angelica Singleton (1818-1877) of South Carolina, niece of former first lady Dolley Madison. The sophisticated Angelica Singleton Van Buren provided “first lady” hostess duties at the White House for her widower father-in-law.

  • 1839

    Purchased the Lindenwald estate and farm outside his home town of Kinderhook, New York. It would become his retirement home.

    Lindenwald, Home of Martin Van Buren, Kinderhook, NY. Nelson E. Baldwin, photographer, Jan. 15, 1937. Historic American Building Survey, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. HABS NY, 11-KINHO.V.1—1
  • 1839, July

    Cinque led other kidnapped Africans held aboard the Spanish schooner Amistad in a shipboard rebellion. Their subsequent capture off American shores sparked a long court case and international incident over slavery.

  • 1840, Jan.

    With international relations foremost in mind, President Van Buren sided with the Spanish as the Amistad case was heard in the U.S. District Court in Connecticut. Expecting a ruling in favor of the Spanish, Van Buren ordered a U.S. schooner to New Haven harbor to remove the captured Africans to Spanish control soon after the verdict, and before an appeal could be filed. The court, however, found in favor of the Africans, who are supported by abolitionist counsel, and the case was further appealed to higher court.

    Prince Cinque [and rebellion aboard the slave ship Amistad]. Romare Bearden, artist, 1971.Goldstein Foundation Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. LC-USZC4-6168
  • 1840, Mar.

    Issued an executive order limiting work days to ten hours for federally funded projects.

  • 1840, Apr. 14

    Representative Charles Ogle of Pennsylvania accused Van Buren, who was known for his fashionable clothing and appreciation of good food, of “sloth and effeminacy.” Charges of dandyism in dress and aristocratic habits continued to haunt Van Buren throughout his bid for re-election.

  • 1840, May

    Nominated to run for reelection by the Democrats. William Henry Harrison was nominated for another try at the presidency by the Whigs. Amos Kendall took command of Van Buren’s campaign.

  • 1840

    Defeated by William Henry Harrison, who though wealthy, was associated in the campaign with “common man” iconography of log cabins and hard cider.

    William Henry Harrison of Ohio. Unattributed, associated name John Sartain, c. Feb. 11, 1840. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. LC-DIG-pga-08235
  • 1841, Feb. 24

    Former President of the U.S. John Quincy Adams (1767-1848) argued successfully before the U.S. Supreme Court for the release of the Africans in the Amistad case, on the grounds that they were illegally captured free individuals who rebelled in self-defense, and that human rights, and not property rights, should prevail as legal precedent.

  • 1841, Mar. 3

    Appointed another southerner to the U.S. Supreme Court (Peter Vivian Daniel of Virginia). All the Supreme Court appointments made during his presidency went to individuals from the South.

  • 1841, Mar. 4

    Presidency comes to an end. Attended William Henry Harrison’s inauguration.

  • 1841, April-May

    Left Washington, D.C., and spent time in New York City in April, then took up residence in his Lindenwald mansion outside his home town of Kinderhook, New York.

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