Community remembers President Martin Van Buren on his 239th birthday

Columbia County

KINDERHOOK, N.Y. (NEWS10) — The life of Martin Van Buren was celebrated Sunday in Kinderhook on what would have been the eighth president’s 239th birthday. A ceremony included the presentation of several wreaths at his Columbia County gravesite, including one from President Biden.

“He was born here, he left, and came back,” said Megan O’Malley, the supervisor at the Martin Van Buren National Historic Site.

Van Buren was born in Kinderhook in 1782, and as the eighth president, he was actually the first to be born a US citizen, as each of his predecessors was born under British rule. Van Buren briefly served as governor before joining Andrew Jackson’s administration, eventually becoming his vice president. He took office after defeating William Henry Harrison in the 1836 election, but was in the White House for just one term after an economic crisis struck early in his presidency.

“Because he comes in this antebellum period, before the Civil War, he often just gets forgotten. There are actually a lot of things we don’t fully know about him,” O’Malley explained.

While more research continues revealing more about our eighth commander in chief, Van Buren is credited with starting the two party system that has become an integral part of American politics. “This is foundational to our political system today,” said O’Malley.

But beyond his politics, Sunday’s ceremony also recognized who he was as a person. “His political career was very complicated. But we know a lot about him as a person. His family was very important to him,” said O’Malley.

While also recognizing the continued tradition of sitting president’s sending wreaths to the graves of their predecessors on their birthday. “They did so much for us as a country, and for us to honor them and those that have passed before us, it is an amazing event,” said Brigadier General Isabel Smith, the Director of Joint Staff for the New York National Guard, who presented the wreath on behalf of President Biden.

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