Kinderhook is about 23 miles south of Albany, New York. Martin's father Abraham Van Buren was a farmer who was also a slaveholder. He had six slaves. Abraham was also a tavern-keeper in Kinderhook and supported the American Revolution and later the Jeffersonian Republicans. Martin Van Buren's mother was Maria Van Alen (née Hoes) Van Buren.
Van Buren was the first president born as a citizen of the United States, as all previous presidents were born before the American Revolution. His great-great-great-grandfather Cornelis Maessen van Buren had come to America in 1631 from the small city of Buren, Dutch Republic, in present day Netherlands. Van Buren grew up in a Dutch-speaking community. His native language was Dutch, and he was the only President who spoke English as a second language.
Martin Van Buren became involved in politics at the age of 17, and was a supporter of Aaron Burr. He became a lawyer and served as Attorney General of New York from 1815 to 1819, a US Senator from New York from 1821 to 1828 and Governor of New York for 3 months in 1829 before being selected by President Andrew Jackson as his Secretary of State. He earned a reputation as a good politician and political organizer. His prowess and skill earned him the nickname "the Little Magician".
Van Buren won Jackson's approval by his courtesy to Peggy Eaton, wife of Secretary of War John H. Eaton, with whom the wives of the cabinet officers (led by Vice President John C. Calhoun's wife, Floride Calhoun) had refused to associate, in what was known as "the Petticoat Affair." Jackson picked Van Buren as his Vice-President for his second term and then chose him as his successor in the election of 1836.
As President, Van Buren did not want the United States to annex Texas. His administration was mostly remembered for the severe economic recession of his time, known as "the Panic of 1837". Van Buren paid the price for his predecessor's war with the Bank of the United States and Jackson's decision to rescind the Bank's Charter. He was unfairly scapegoated for the depression and was pejoratively called "Martin Van Ruin" by his political opponents. He is also remembered by historian unfavorably for his carrying out the Indian removal policies of his predecessor Jackson. The actual sad march of displaced members of First Nations known as the "Trail of Tears" happened on Van Buren's watch.
In the election of 1840 Van Buren lost his bid for reelection to Whig candidate William Henry Harrison, in a campaign in which the spin doctors of the day portrayed Harrison as a poor cider-drinking man born in a log cabin, while Van Buren was spun as being fancy and rich.
Upon leaving the White House, Van Buren returned to his estate, Lindenwald in Kinderhook, where he planned on a return to the White House. When the Democratic convention began in 1844, Van Buren was at first considered to be the front runner. But he sunk his chances with a famous letter of April 27, 1844, in which he opposed the immediate annexation of Texas. At the Democratic convention in Baltimore, he had a majority of the votes, but not the two-thirds which the convention required, and after eight ballots his name was withdrawn. James K. Polk received the nomination instead.
In 1848, Van Buren was nominated by two minor parties, first by the "Barnburner" faction of the Democrats, then by the Free Soilers, with whom the "Barnburners" later merged. He didn't win any electoral votes, but took enough votes in New York to give the state — and perhaps the election — to Zachary Taylor. In the election of 1860, he voted for the fusion ticket in New York which was opposed to Abraham Lincoln, but he was critical of President Buchanan's course in dealing with secession and eventually supported Lincoln.
Van Buren then retired to his home in Kinderhook. After being bedridden with a case of pneumonia during the fall of 1861, Martin Van Buren died of bronchial asthma and heart failure at his Lindenwald estate in Kinderhook at 2:00 a.m. on July 24, 1862. He is buried in the Kinderhook Cemetery along with his wife Hannah, his parents, and his son Martin Van Buren, Jr. Van Buren outlived his four immediate successors as President (William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, James K. Polk and Zachary Taylor).