Martin Van Buren was our nation's eighth president. Chester A. Arthur was the 21st. Though their time in the White house was separated by decades, the two had a few things in common, including ties to the Capital Region. Our Megan Eaton has more.
ALBANY, N.Y.-- Born in 1782, Martin Van Buren was the first president born an American citizen. According to Martin Van Buren National Historic Site Park Ranger Jim McKay, Van Buren was the first president born after the declaration of independence. The seven prior presidents were all British subjects.
His parents owned a Kinderhook tavern. It was there, where election polls were held, that Van Buren became immersed in politics. The "Little Magician," coined for his short stature and ability to influence politics, went on to hold many powerful offices, including New York governor, vice president, and president.
McKay says Van Buren will most be remembered for his work prior to being president, as well as for his activities after. His own presidency was hamstrung by an economic depression.
Meanwhile, Chester A. Arthur was born in Vermont, in 1829, though he lived most of his life in New York. Arthur spent four years at Union College, but left a lasting impression. And that's not just from his taboo dorm-room windowsill carving. He was a student of Eliphalet Nott, whose civil rights beliefs may have shaped Arthur's opinion on the subject.
According to Union College Political Science Professor Clifford Brown, Arthur became a New York City lawyer after graduation, and fought for civil rights. He was involved with integrating the transportation system in New York City; this was in the days of horse drawn trolleys.
Though maybe not as well-remembered as other presidents, Van Buren and Arthur both had a lasting impact on their political parties. For example, though his presidency was marred by a poor economy, Van Buren is credited with creating the Democratic Party, according to McKay because he thought it would be useful to have something to organize people around, to motivate them and put a political agenda forward. He also hoped a party's discipline would keep people on the straight and narrow.
Arthur, a Republican, reformed the political system by orchestrating the Civil Service Commission. Brown says the Commission eliminated the idea that when a new party came in to power everybody would be fired and replaced by political supporters as opposed to people with competence.
The list of commonalities between the two presidents continues. Both were vice presidents before taking over the Oval Office. Both had wives who died before they became president. And both were known for living something of a grandeur lifestyle in the White House. Van Buren and Arthur were both highly respected individuals, and politicians. But it wasn't enough to get them re-elected. Both presidents served just one term before being ousted. Both ran for re-election, but lost. Van Buren retired to his Kinderhook home, called Lindenwald. It's now a historical site. He became a farmer for the remainder of his life. He died at home in 1862, 18 years before Chester A. Arthur would take office. He died shortly after his term ended, in 1886, and is buried in Albany's Rural Cemetery, beside his wife.