KINDERHOOK, N.Y. – The New York Army National Guard paid tribute to President Martin Van Buren in Kinderhook Sunday, Dec. 5, where he was born in 1782 and lived the latter part of his life before dying in 1862.
Army Brig. Gen. Isabel Rivera Smith, the director of joint staff for the New York National Guard, and Sgt. Major Jeff Colling presented a wreath from President Joseph Biden at Van Buren’s grave in Kinderhook Reformed Cemetery on the 239th anniversary of his birth.
Each year, military officers place a wreath from the current occupant of the White House at the graves of deceased presidents on the anniversary of their birth.
The New York National Guard is also responsible for placing wreaths at the graves of President Chester Arthur, the 21st president of the United States, in Albany, and Millard Fillmore, the 13th president, in Buffalo.
Smith and Colling were accompanied by an Honor Guard of ten Soldiers, a Color Guard, a chaplain and a bugler. After presenting the wreath from the White House, Smith and Colling saluted as the bugler sounded taps.
It’s an honor to represent President Joseph Biden and recognize the eight presidents of the United States in the Hudson Valley village he grew up in and retired, Smith said.
The annual ceremony at Van Buren’s grave involves the entire community. Representatives from the Town of Kinderhook, Village of Kinderhook, Columbia County, local civic groups, and the National Park Service also laid wreaths at Van Buren’s gravesite.
Students from Ichabod Crane Middle School recited the key elements of Van Buren’s life.
The community involvement is what makes this event so unique, said Megan O’Malley, the Superintendent of the Martin Van Buren National Historic Site.
“He was a product of, and a champion of, this community, “O’Malley said. “Martin Van Buren was too young to be a founding father,” Smith said.” He wasn’t born when the Declaration of Independence was drafted in 1776 and he was five when the Constitutional Convention was held in 1787.”
“But he too shaped the future of the young United States, “Smith said. He held several state and local offices and created the first national party, the Democratic Party; she pointed out. While Van Buren was remarkably accomplished and politically astute, Smith noted that he was not a popular president.
She noted a financial collapse known as the Panic of 1837 followed him into office and the U.S. Army was bogged down in a drawn-out war, fighting the Seminole Indians in Florida.
He was condemned by those against slavery for defending its existence in the Southern states while he was president. Still, He ran unsuccessfully as an anti-slavery candidate for president in 1848.
Van Buren was the first president who had not originally been a British subject. His family descended from the Dutch settlers of New York, and he grew up speaking Dutch as his first language.
Van Buren became a lawyer and ran for the New York State Senate at age 21. He was selected to represent New York in the U.S. Senate in 1821.
Van Buren served as governor of New York before becoming the secretary of state under President Andrew Jackson. During Jackson’s second term, he was vice president and was elected president in 1836.
He was so skilled at politics that he was nicknamed “The Red Fox of Kinderhook” in reference to his red hair.
Another nickname for Van Buren – “Old Kinderhook” – reputedly prompted the use of the term “OK.” Van Buren reportedly initialed documents he approved of as “OK,” and his backers formed “OK Clubs.” After losing the 1848 election retired to Lindenwald, his home outside Kinderhook.
He died on Jul. 24, 1862, at age 79, and was buried next to his wife, Hanna, his parents, and his son, Martin Van Buren Jr.
“The forty-five men who have served as president had different political views, and they faced different political challenges, “she said.
“But they were all chosen through democratic processes, and they all sought to do what they thought was the best for the United States,” she added.
“By being here today and taking part in this ceremony, we are affirming that we all have faith in the system that’s governed our country since 1791, “Smith said.