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Collection Martin Van Buren Papers, 1787 to 1910

Part IV: 1841-1862

A chronology of key events in the life of Martin Van Buren (1782-1862) covering the period after leaving the White House in 1841 to his death in 1862.


  1. 1841, Apr. 4

    President William Henry Harrison died of illness weeks after taking office. Vice President John Tyler (1790-1862) of Virginia assumed the presidency.

    President John Tyler. Brady-Handy collection, c. 1860. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. LC-USZ62-13010
  2. 1841, Aug.

    When President Tyler demonstrated his opposition to the National Bank, his entire cabinet (with the exception of Secretary of State Daniel Webster) resigned.

  3. 1841, Feb.-May

    Visited the South and spent time with both powerful Whig politician Henry Clay (1777-1852) of Kentucky and former president Andrew Jackson in Tennessee.

  4. 1842

    With a presidential run in mind, engaged in extensive travel in southern and western states.

  5. 1842, Nov.

    Democrats gained power in Congress, a positive development for Van Buren’s re-election ambitions.

  6. 1844

    Although Van Buren was a strong contender within his party for the Democratic nomination for the presidency, James K. Polk (1795-1849) of Tennessee was the ultimate nominee. Polk was elected to office, defeating Henry Clay in a close election in which New York electoral votes played an important part. While Van Buren and Clay opposed annexation of Texas, fearing it would push existing controversies over slavery in the West to a breaking point and result in war with Mexico, Polk pledged to promote territorial expansion and won support in the South.

  7. 1846-1848

    Under the Polk administration, the Mexican War resulted in subsequent expansion of the western territories of the U.S. to the Pacific coast.

    James K. Polk. Reproduction of a daguerreotype by Mathew Brady, c. 1849, reproduced c. 1860. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. LC-USZ62-1491
  8. 1846, Aug. 8

    Van Buren’s wing of the Democratic Party supported the Wilmot Proviso, intended to exclude slavery from any territory acquired from Mexico.

  9. 1848

    Opposed the expansion of slavery into western territories and was nominated for the presidency by the Free Soil Party. Lewis Cass (1782-1866) of Michigan, who served as Secretary of War with Van Buren in the Andrew Jackson administration, became the Democratic candidate. Mexican War veteran and Whig Party candidate Zachary Taylor (1784-1850) of Louisiana was victorious in the presidential election, after Van Buren shifted votes from Cass in New York.

  10. 1850, July

    President Zachary Taylor died in office and Vice President Millard Fillmore (1800-1874) succeeded him as president.

    Zachary Taylor. Mathew Brady, c. 1844-1849. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. LC-USZ62-110067
  11. 1852, Nov.

    Supported Democrat Franklin Pierce (1804-1869) of New Hampshire for the presidency.

  12. 1853-1855

    Visited Europe with his son, Martin, who died in Paris, France, in March 1855. Received by Pope Pius IX in Rome.

  13. 1854

    Began work on his autobiography while in Italy.

  14. 1856, Nov.

    Reluctantly supported Democrat James Buchanan (1791-1868) of Pennsylvania for the presidency. John C. Frémont ( 1813-1890) of California was Buchanan’s Republican opponent. Buchanan elected without a majority of the popular vote and would be the last Democratic president to serve until Grover Cleveland.

  15. 1859, Oct.

    Abolitionist John Brown led raid on U.S. federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia (later West Virginia).

    John Brown’s fort, Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia [fire engine house used by Brown during suppression of the 1859 raid, turned into a tourist attraction, c. 1885]. Liljenquist Family Collection of Civil War Photographs, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. LC-DIG-ppmsca-40573
  16. 1860

    Supported Unionist electoral politics in New York State, working in favor of Democrat Stephen Douglas and in opposition to the candidacy of Republican Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), both of Illinois. Lincoln was elected U.S. president.

  17. 1861, Jan.

    Seven slave states in the South announced their secession from the U.S. and formed the Confederate States of America.

  18. 1861, Mar.

    Abraham Lincoln took office as president of the U.S.

  19. 1861, Apr.

    Ignored Franklin Pierce’s plea for the five living ex-presidents to gather and head a meeting to try to formulate political compromises to avoid further disunion and civil war. Events at Fort Sumter, Charleston, South Carolina, on April 12 signaled the beginning of the American Civil War. Van Buren lent his political support to the Union cause and Republican President Abraham Lincoln.

    Lindenwald, 1013 Old Post Road, Kinderhook, Columbia County, NY. Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record/ Historic American Landscapes Survey, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. HABS NY, 11-KINHO.V,1-96 (CT)
  20. 1862, July 24

    While the Civil War raged, Martin Van Buren died due to complications of asthma at his Lindenwald estate. He was buried in the local Kinderhook cemetery. Lindenwald became a National Historic Landmark a century later, in 1961, a National Historic Site in 1974, and is now operated by the National Park Service.