Martin Van Buren—born in Kinderhook, N.Y., on 5 December 1782—began the study of law at age 14 and was admitted to the bar seven years later, beginning a law practice at Kinderhook. During his tour as a state senator from 1812 to 1820, Van Buren became a regent of the University of the State of New York in 1815 and, the following year, became attorney general of the state. In 1820, Van Buren had a part in organizing one of the first American political "machines," the Albany Regency.
Elected to the United States Senate in 1821, he was reelected to another term six years later. In 1828, however, he was elected Governor of New York, and took office in 1829, only to resign in March of that year to become President Andrew Jackson's Secretary of State. His most important achievement in that post was an agreement with Great Britian allowing a resumption of trade between the United States and the British West Indies, commerce banned at the close of the War of Independence.
Resigning his post in 1831, he was chosen as Minister to Great Britain but did not receive confirmation. He did, however, receive the nod as Andrew Jackson's running mate in the 1832 election and became Vice President. At the end of Jackson's second term, Van Buren, his hand-picked successor, was elected President in 1835 and took office on 4 March of the following year.
During Van Buren's presidency, the nation suffered a financial panic and depression. In addition, the Semi-nole War—a long and costly period of hostilities— brought condemnation from some quarters who decried the cost of the conflict in money and lives. In international affairs, the Canadian seizure and burning of the American ship Caroline in late 1837 caused great tension between the United States and Great Britain until the incident was settled by the Webster-Ashburton treaty.
Although the unanimous choice of his own party for the 1840 elections, Van Buren lost the election to the war hero, General William Henry Harrison. Although he was the leading contender for his party's nomination in 1844, Van Buren lost the bid to James K. Polk, who went on to win the Presidency.
In 1848, Van Buren's political career ended. Nominated by the Free-Soil party—which opposed the extension of slavery—the former President's candidacy split the Democratic Party in his home state. Ultimately, Zachary Taylor benefitted from that split. After the 1848 election, Van Buren spent two years in Europe, before he returned to the United States to live in retirement at Kinderhook. He died there on 24 July 1862.
The first Van Buren, a revenue cutter, was named for President Van Buren; the second Van Buren (PF-42), honors the small city of Van Buren, Ark.
(Sch: t. 112; lbp. 73'4&"; b. 20'2"; dph. 7'4"; a. 4 12-pdrs.)
The building of the first Van Buren, a schooner-rigged revenue cutter, was authorized on 26 June 1839. That same day, the Secretary of the Treasury ordered Lt. J. C. Jones, USRM, to superintend her construction at Baltimore. Reported ready for use on 29 November 1839, the ship entered service with the Revenue Marine on 2 December 1839, Capt. Henry Prince, USRM, in command.
Few records apparently exist to indicate the nature or extent of Van Buren's service in late 1839 and 1840. It can be assumed that she performed the usual duties assigned to the ships of the Revenue Marine (a forerunner of the United States Coast Guard), keeping watch off the coast of the United States for smugglers or shipwrecks, ready to enforce the laws of the land or rescue survivors from disasters at sea.
With the outbreak of the Seminole War in Florida in the late 1830's, the Revenue Marine came under the control of the Navy for cooperation with Army forces in their campaign to put down the Seminoles. On 30 July 1841, the Secretary of the Navy wrote to the Secretary of the Treasury, Thomas Ewing, transmitting the "authority of the President" to transfer the revenue cutters Jefferson, Madison, and Van Buren to the Navy's jurisdiction. Ewing, on 2 August, consequently relieved 1st Lieutenant John McGowan, USRM—Van Buren's commanding officer—"from the usual duties arising under the Revenue laws," and directed him to place himself, and his ship, under the direction of the Navy.
As part of the "Mosquito Fleet" under Lt, John T. McLaughlin, Van Buren operated as a unit of the Navy's "riverine" force, in conjunction with Army troops, in battling the wily and elusive Seminole foe. Such duty proved exacting, the officers and men undergoing "every species of privation and toil." The Seminole Wars had produced a riverine conflict similar to that waged in the Mekong Delta over a century and a quarter later.
At the end of nearly a year of such service, Van Buren, Madison, and Jefferson put into Norfolk by 23 July 1842. Six days later, the Secretary of the Treasury issued instructions to the Collector of Revenue to receive the vessels and put them back into the service of the Revenue Marine. She was accordingly transferred from Navy control on 18 August 1842.
Ordered to Charleston, S.C., on 22 August, Van Buren operated out of that port over the next three years. During that time, she underwent repairs at Baltimore in May and June 1844.
When the United States went to war with Mexico in 1846, Van Buren—under the command of Capt. Thomas C. Rudolph, USRM—received orders on 20 May from Robert J. Walker, Secretary of the Treasury, to take on board a "full supply of ammunition and stores for three months" and sail for the Gulf of Mexico. Eight days later, with instructions to report to the Collector of Customs at New Orleans, Van Buren stood out of Charleston.
However, as the schooner put to sea, a bolt of lightning struck the fore-royal mast and so damaged it that Capt. Rudolph was compelled to bring the ship back into harbor the same day. After repairs to the damaged mast, Van Buren cleared Charleston again on 2 June and headed for the gulf.
The cutter reached Belize. Honduras, simultaneously with the revenue cutter Walter Fonvard on 30 July and later sailed as part of the squadron commanded by Capt. John A. Webster, USRM, for blockade duty off the coast of Mexico. Van Buren took station off Vera Cruz.
Reported unfit for sea on 4 October, Van Buren lay at Southwest Pass, near New Orleans, preparing for a voyage to Soto la Marina, a town on the northeastern coast of Mexico. Three days later, the ship's officers remonstrated against that proposed cruise because of the ship's unseaworthiness. Ordered to proceed without delay to New York, Van Buren accordingly sailed for that port on 11 November 1846. She saw no further active service and was sold on 1 June 1847.