Old Kinderhook's Early Career
After Van Buren was admitted to the bar, he began to practice law in New York. In 1812, he was elected to the New York State Senate, where he served until 1820. He became an important figure in the Democratic party during this time. In fact, he held the post of state attorney general while still serving in the Senate from 1815 until 1819.
Van Buren also created one of the first political machines in the form of the Albany Regency. His group of democratic allies was active on both the state and national levels and was very effective in maintaining party discipline and using patronage positions to influence people.
The term “OK” probably had its origins with Martin Van Buren. The oldest written reference to the term in fact was during the election of 1840. His nickname was “Old Kinderhook” after his birthplace in New York, and his supporters formed the “OK Club.” “OK” later came to mean “all correct.”
Van Buren was elected to serve in the U.S. Senate beginning in 1821. He did not always follow a consistent voting record in the Senate — for example, he supported the national government's right to impose tariffs but did not always agree that it had the right to make internal improvements like interstate roads. However, he strongly supported Andrew Jackson in 1828 and worked hard to get him elected. In fact, he ran for governor in the state of New York as a means to garner support for Jackson in 1828.
Serving Under Andrew Jackson
When Jackson took office in 1828, he appointed Van Buren to be his secretary of state. Van Buren, who had served as governor of New York for three months, resigned this elected position to take the appointment. Van Buren was a very influential member of Jackson's cabinet and a prominent figure in his “kitchen cabinet.” He held this position until he resigned in 1831 over the Peggy Eaton affair. He felt that the scandal was overtaking national concerns within the cabinet. The effect of his move was that other cabinet members also resigned, allowing Jackson to appoint new members who he felt would be more in line with his policies. In 1832, Van Buren ran and won as Jackson's vice president.
Only four vice presidents have succeeded the president under whom they served. Three of these, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Martin Van Buren, happened within the first forty years of the presidency. This did not occur again until 1988 when George H. W. Bush succeeded Ronald Reagan to become the forty-first president of the United States.
Election of 1836
Jackson rewarded Van Buren's loyalty by supporting him for the Democratic nomination of 1836. The opposing party, the Whigs, was created in 1834 for the sole purpose of opposing Andrew Jackson. This election was unique in that the Whig party did not oppose Van Buren with a single candidate but instead chose three separate candidates who could do well in particular regions of the country. They felt that if they could deny Van Buren a majority, then this would send the vote into the House of Representatives to decide who would be president, thus giving them a better chance of winning. However, the Whig party's plan backfired and Van Buren was able to carry the majority and win the presidency with 58 percent of the electoral vote.