American Presidents

Martin Van Buren American Presidents Teacher Guide

Biographical Vignette on Martin Van Buren
The relationship of Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren
May 3, 1999 on C-SPAN (approximate length: five minutes)
Recommended Use:
Secondary Level

Note to teachers: This activity is a comparison and contrast of Presidents Martin Van Buren and Andrew Jackson. C-SPANís biographical vignettes and web pages for both men may be used as resources.

Before Viewing American Presidents
Part 1
Introduce students to Martin Van Buren. Draw a time line on the board with the Revolutionary War on one end, and the Civil War on the other. Tell students Martin Van Burenís life roughly spanned that time period. He was born in 1782 and died in 1862. How did the country change during that time period?

Part 2
Make predictions about the ways Martin Van Burenís life was different from the early presidents. Prompt students with some information and questions:

  • Martin Van Buren was the first president to be born a United States citizen. List experiences unique to presidents before him.
  • Martin Van Buren was from New York state. What regional differences in the United States were forming during this time period?
  • The country was growing in size and economic power. How did that affect politics?

Part 3
Point out to students the relationship between Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren. Martin Van Buren served as Andrew Jacksonís vice-president and became Jacksonís hand-picked successor for president. Ask students: When a president picks a vice-president, what personal qualities should he look for? political qualities? What would you expect Jackson and Van Buren to have in common? How can it be useful for the president and vice-president to have contrasting personalities or experience?

While Viewing American Presidents
Directions: Use the following chart to note information about Martin Van Buren and Andrew Jackson. Note especially information that highlights their similarities and differences.

Martin Van Buren Andrew Jackson
Home state
First exposure to politics
First job(s)
Positions held in
the state government
Positions held in
the United States
federal government
Political party
with the public
Personal qualities
Political skills
First lady
Major events
during presidency
Attitude toward the office
Reason for leaving office
Public life
after presidency
Private life
after presidency

After Viewing American Presidents
Have students write two paragraphs, one that highlights the differences between Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren, and one that highlights the similarities. Discuss the following questions to help students apply what they have learned:

  • In what ways did Andrew Jacksonís personal qualities contribute to his success as president?
  • In what ways did Martin Van Burenís personal qualities contribute to his success as president?

What drew them together? What set them apart? Could Martin Van Buren have been elected without Andrew Jackson? What assets did Martin Van Buren bring to Andrew Jackson? Make predictions about the personality and politics of William Henry Harrison, the president who beat Van Buren in his run for re-election.

Finally, reconsider the following question, making connections to modern presidents and vice-presidents: When a president picks a vice-president, what qualities should he look for?

Additional Activities
1. Have students complete additional research to discover how Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren met and became political allies.

2. Write a position paper to either the Republican National Committee or the Democratic National Committee, or another political party explaining your findings, as a historian, on one of the following two topics: "Choosing a vice-presidential candidate" or "What a popular president should look for in his hand-picked successor."

3. The biographical vignette points out that Martin Van Buren was exposed to politics at an early age because his fatherís tavern was located in a town on a main road to Albany. Visit the C-SPAN's American Presidents web site to learn more about Kinderhook, Van Burenís hometown.

Using the American Presidents web site, locate and view a map of New York, showing both Kinderhook and Albany. How far was the distance between the two towns? How did people travel between the two towns when Van Buren was a child? How long would a trip between these two cities take? How would the journey be different today?

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