John Van Buren
John Van Buren was an American lawyer and politician.


He was the second son of President
President of the United States
The President of the United States of America is the head of state and head of government of the United States. The president leads the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces....

 Martin Van Buren
Martin Van Buren
Martin Van Buren was the eighth President of the United States . Before his presidency, he was the eighth Vice President and the tenth Secretary of State, under Andrew Jackson ....

 and graduated from Yale College
Yale College
Yale College was the official name of Yale University from 1718 to 1887. The name now refers to the undergraduate part of the university. Each undergraduate student is assigned to one of 12 residential colleges.-Residential colleges:...

 in 1828. In 1831, when his father was appointed U.S. Minister to Britain, he accompanied him as secretary of the American Legation in London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

. Both returned in 1832 after Congress failed to confirm the appointment.

John Van Buren then opened a law practice with James McKown in Albany. He is said to have possessed a “remarkable memory”, “his success at the bar was great, but his fame as a lawyer has been dimmed by his wit and his wonderful ability as a politician." He returned to England on his own in 1838-39 (during his father's Presidency). He had spectacular seats at Queen Victoria's coronation, also attended the Queen's prorogue to Parliament, and earned his nickname of “Prince John” after he danced with her in 1838 . Van Buren dined with the who’s who of 19th century England, Ireland and Scotland. He also met with the King of France, Louis-Philippe, the King of Belgium, Leopold I, and the King of the Netherlands, William I, (Prince William IV of Orange).

On June 22, 1841, he married Elizabeth Vanderpoel (May 22, 1810 - November 19, 1844), his childhood sweetheart. They had one daughter, Anna, and after her death, Van Buren never remarried.

From 1845 to 1847, he served as New York State Attorney General
New York State Attorney General
The New York State Attorney General is the chief legal officer of the State of New York. The office has been in existence in some form since 1626, under the Dutch colonial government of New York.The current Attorney General is Eric Schneiderman...

, the last holder of that office elected by joint ballot of the Assembly and Senate, under the provisions of the state Constitution of 1821. In 1845, he conducted the prosecution of some leaders of the Anti-Rent War
Anti-Rent War
The Anti-Rent War was a tenants' revolt in upstate New York during the early 19th century, beginning with the death of Stephen Van Rensselaer III in 1839....

 at their trial for riot, conspiracy and robbery. Ambrose L. Jordan
Ambrose L. Jordan
Ambrose Latting Jordan was an American lawyer, newspaper editor and politician.-Early life:...

 led for the defense. At the first trial the jury was deadlocked. At the re-trial, in September 1845, the two leading counsel started a fist-fight in open court, and were both sentenced by the presiding judge, Justice John W. Edmonds, to "solitary confinement in the county jail for 24 hours." Governor Silas Wright
Silas Wright
Silas Wright, Jr. was an American Democratic politician. Wright was born in Amherst, Massachusetts and moved with his father to Weybridge, Vermont in 1796. He graduated from Middlebury College in 1815 and moved to Sandy Hill, New York, the next year, where he studied law, being admitted to the bar...

 refused to accept Van Buren's resignation, and both counsel continued with the case after their release from jail. The defendant, Smith A. Boughton ("Big Thunder"), was sentenced to life imprisonment. At the next state election Governor Wright was defeated by John Young
John Young (Governor)
John Young was an American politician.He was born in Chelsea, Vermont. As a child, he moved to Freeport , Livingston County, New York. He had only basic schooling but, by self-study accumulated a knowledge of classics and became a law clerk, becoming admitted to the bar in 1829...

, who had the support of the Anti-Renters. Young pardoned Big Thunder.

In December 1845, Governor Wright charged Van Buren to work on an act to limit the tenure of landlords. The bill, “An Act to amend the Statute of Devices and Descents, and to extinguish certain Tenures” was the most radical reform considered by the New York State Legislature during the Anti-Rent years. It basically said that the death of a landlord ended a lease.

John Van Buren also prosecuted the case of William Freeman, who murdered four members of the Van Nest Family of Cayuga County, New York on March 12, 1846. The Defense tried to prove that Freeman was insane and therefore could not stand trial, but a local jury disagreed and the trial began after days of jury selection. Because it was a capital case, Quakers (Anti- death penalty) were dismissed from the jury panel. The local District Attorney, Luman Sherwood, also served as a prosecutor. He and Van Buren fought vehemently against the Defense’s insanity strategy. Van Buren believed that the legal system rested on lawbreakers being punished and that finding a man innocent because of insanity would cause the system to crumble. In his addresses to the jury, he explained the cause and effect of finding Freeman guilty. The Prosecution did everything they could to show the jury that Freeman was in fact sane and should be found guilty and face the death penalty. Race was a huge factor: Freeman’s mother was Native American and his father was black. It was argued he was a product of the mixing of two inferior races and that this was one reason for his actions. In a society in which racism was common, these claims did not fall on deaf ears. The jury deliberated for two hours before finding Freeman guilty on July 23, 1846, and at 6:30AM the next day, William Freeman was sentenced by Judge Whiting to hang on the afternoon of September, 18, 1846. In January 1847, however, the Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Cayuga County Court and granted Freeman a new trial. Freeman died on August 21, 1847 of tuberculosis in his jail cell, weeks before that trial was to begin.

Later in 1847, Van Buren moved to New York City
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

 and formed a partnership with Hamilton W. Robinson. A suit for the divorce of Edwin Forrest, an actor, brought Van Buren before the public once more. He was asked to run for various offices but always declined, stating he had been far too close to the seats of power to seek them out.

In 1848, Van Buren was the leader of the Barnburner
Barnburners and Hunkers
The Barnburners were the more radical faction of the New York state Democratic Party in the mid 19th century. The term barnburner was derived from the idea of someone who would burn down his own barn to get rid of a rat infestation, in this case those who would destroy all banks and corporations,...

 faction of the Democratic Party, which repudiated the 1848 Democratic National Convention
1848 Democratic National Convention
The 1848 Democratic National Convention, a presidential nominating convention of United States Democratic Party delegates representing all thirty states in the union at the time, met in Baltimore on May 22, 1848. Former Speaker of the House Andrew Stevenson of Virginia was made the president of...

 held in Baltimore
Baltimore is the largest independent city in the United States and the largest city and cultural center of the US state of Maryland. The city is located in central Maryland along the tidal portion of the Patapsco River, an arm of the Chesapeake Bay. Baltimore is sometimes referred to as Baltimore...

. The Barnburners met for a State Convention in Utica, New York
Utica, New York
Utica is a city in and the county seat of Oneida County, New York, United States. The population was 62,235 at the 2010 census, an increase of 2.6% from the 2000 census....

 on June 22 and nominated Van Buren's father as their presidential candidate. On August 9, the National Convention of the Free Soil Party
Free Soil Party
The Free Soil Party was a short-lived political party in the United States active in the 1848 and 1852 presidential elections, and in some state elections. It was a third party and a single-issue party that largely appealed to and drew its greatest strength from New York State. The party leadership...

, held at Buffalo, New York
Buffalo, New York
Buffalo is the second most populous city in the state of New York, after New York City. Located in Western New York on the eastern shores of Lake Erie and at the head of the Niagara River across from Fort Erie, Ontario, Buffalo is the seat of Erie County and the principal city of the...

, endorsed this nomination. Lewis Cass ended up on the official Democratic ticket, which forever incensed the Van Burens, who felt Martin had been robbed of the position. Martin Van Buren failed to win a single state and Zachary Taylor won the presidency. But Martin Van Buren’s votes in New York cost Cass the election.

Jon Earle argues that “Prince John” Van Buren was the “most effective campaign speaker" and that Van Buren was especially effective with urban working-class audiences. In his speeches Van Buren "took Jacksonian antislavery arguments to new rhetorical height, excoriating the slavery conspirators, ridiculing comprising "doughfaces" and "meddlesome Whigs," and above all, emphasizing the degrading influence of slavery on free labor.” (p. 167). “John Van Buren often stressed the Free Soil Party plank calling for free homesteads in his appeals to workingmen and freeholders, reminding them that reserving the public lands for settlers kept [the lands] out of the hands of speculators and land monopolies, as well as slaveholders.” The Free Soil Party
Free Soil Party
The Free Soil Party was a short-lived political party in the United States active in the 1848 and 1852 presidential elections, and in some state elections. It was a third party and a single-issue party that largely appealed to and drew its greatest strength from New York State. The party leadership...

 was anti-slavery because it believed that slavery promoted laziness and went against free land/labor ideas. As a strong supporter of this third party, Van Buren convinced his father to run on its platform in 1848. The Free Soil Party completely split with the Democratic Party, which came to be influenced by elite slaveholders. Many of the Free Soil members became joined the Republican Party
Republican Party (United States)
The Republican Party is one of the two major contemporary political parties in the United States, along with the Democratic Party. Founded by anti-slavery expansion activists in 1854, it is often called the GOP . The party's platform generally reflects American conservatism in the U.S...

 in 1860 when Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States, serving from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865. He successfully led his country through a great constitutional, military and moral crisis – the American Civil War – preserving the Union, while ending slavery, and...

 ran for President, even nominating one of their own, Hannibal Hamlin
Hannibal Hamlin
Hannibal Hamlin was the 15th Vice President of the United States , serving under President Abraham Lincoln during the American Civil War...

 to the vice presidency. Many, if not most of the Free Soil Party’s ideals were appropriated by the Republican Party.

In 1865
New York state election, 1865
The 1865 New York state election was held on November 7, 1865, to elect the Secretary of State, the State Comptroller, the Attorney General, the State Treasurer, the State Engineer, two Judges of the New York Court of Appeals, a Canal Commissioners, an Inspector of State Prisons and the Clerk of...

, John Van Buren again ran for the office of New York state Attorney General on the Democratic ticket, but was defeated by Republican John H. Martindale
John H. Martindale
John Henry Martindale was an American lawyer, Union Army general, and politician.-Early life:Martindale was born in Sandy Hill, Washington County, New York, the son of Congressman Henry C. Martindale and Minerva Hitchcock Martindale. He entered the United States Military Academy at West Point in...

. After Van Buren's political defeat, he visited Europe (1866) accompanied by his daughter and niece. “They traveled extensively in England, Sweden, Norway and Russia.”(195) Van Buren died from exposure on the return journey from Liverpool to New York City aboard the Scotia. A storm set in after his death, and feeling that was an omen, the sailors tried to cast his body into the sea, but the captain would not allow it. After the ship arrived in New York, funeral services were held at that city's Grace Church and in Albany's St. Peter’s Church. John Van Buren's grave is located in the Albany Rural Cemetery.

Van Buren was a man surrounded by innuendoes, even after his death. He was rumored to have lost $5000, and with it, his father's home, Lindenwald as well as a mistress, the very popular Elena America Vespucci, descendent of Amerigo Vespucci
Amerigo Vespucci
Amerigo Vespucci was an Italian explorer, financier, navigator and cartographer. The Americas are generally believed to have derived their name from the feminized Latin version of his first name.-Expeditions:...

, to George Parish of Ogdensburg, New York
Ogdensburg, New York
Ogdensburg is a city in St. Lawrence County, New York, United States. The population was 11,128 at the 2010 census. In the late 18th century, European-American settlers named the community after American land owner and developer Samuel Ogden....

 in a card game at the LeRay Hotel
LeRay Hotel
LeRay Hotel, also known as Hoover Brick Hotel, is a historic hotel located at Evans Mills in Jefferson County, New York. It was completed in 1828 and is a two story, Federal style brick structure with a shingled gable roof...

 in Evans Mills, New York
Evans Mills, New York
Evans Mills is a village in Jefferson County, New York, United States. The population was 605 at the 2000 census.The Village of Evans Mills in within the Town of Le Ray and is northeast of Watertown.- History :...

. This story has not been verified, but it has plagued Van Buren's reputation.


  •, NY history
  • Political Graveyard
  • Miller, Peyton F. A Group of Great Lawyers of Columbia Country, New York. Privately Printed, 1904. Pages 184-196.
  •, Van Buren Genealogy
  • Earle, Jonathan Halperin, Jacksonian antislavery & the politics of free soil, 1824-1854. UNC Press, 2004.
  •, an account of the altercation at the trial.
  • Arpey, Andrew W. The William Freeman Murder Trial: Insanity, Politics and Race. Syracuse University Press
    Syracuse University Press
    Syracuse University Press, founded in 1943, is a university press that is part of Syracuse University. The areas of focus for the Press include Middle East Studies, Native American Studies, Peace and Conflict Resolution, Irish Studies and Jewish Studies, among others. The Press has an international...

    : Syracuse, New York. 2003.
  •, History of Columbia County, New York by Captain Franklin Ellis (Everts & Ensign, Philadelphia PA, 1878)
  •, Obit in NYT on October 17, 1866
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