The first president born after the Declaration of Independence was adopted in 1776, Martin Van Buren was the last president able to unite the country before the Civil War.
Van Buren entered the White House with impressive credentials. He remains one of only two men who served as secretary of state, vice president, and president. (The other is Thomas Jefferson.)
When Van Buren was inaugurated in 1837, slavery was the abiding issue of the day. Van Buren didn’t want to extend the institution to new states, but he realized the question could divide the nation.
The 8th president spent his only term in office trying to find common ground beneath the North and the South. In the end, his re-election campaign and a subsequent third-party presidential run failed as the country edged closer toward Civil War.
Van Buren did much of his campaign planning at Lindenwald, the farm he purchased the year after he entered the White House. The home, which once belonged to author Washington Irving, eventually housed Van Buren and his four grown sons.
A tour of the mansion provides a glimpse into the ante-bellum era. As you visit the rooms, imagine them packed with politicians, family, and friends debating the issues of the day. Picture the candidate strategizing on the porch, his eyes fixed on the linden trees that give the house its name.
Perhaps it was here that Van Buren said, “As to the presidency, the two happiest days of my life were those of my entrance upon the office and my surrender of it.”