KINDERHOOK, N.Y. - New York Army National Guard Maj. Gen. Michel Natali commemorated the 241st birthday of former President Martin Van Buren Dec. 5 by laying a wreath from the White House at the eighth president’s grave.
The presentation of the wreath from President Joseph Biden marked the climax of a ceremony that featured wreath presentations from local officials, volunteer groups and the Martin Van Buren National Historic Site.
The New York Army National Guard also provided a color guard and honor cordon for the ceremony, along with a bugler to sound taps and a military chaplain to open and close the ceremony.
New York Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Alison Ogden, a member of Joint Force Headquarters who participated in the honor cordon, said she was proud to participate in the ceremony for the second time.
”It is good for the military to be part of local events like this one,” Ogden said.
Natali, the assistant adjutant, Army, for the New York National Guard, praised Van Buren, who served from 1836-1840, for his efforts to keep the United States from going to war with Great Britain over border disputes in Maine and Americans’ support for a rebellion in Canada. Van Buren also refused to support the annexation of Texas as a state to avoid war with Mexico, Natali noted.
Since 1967, the current occupant of the White House has sent wreaths to be presented at the gravesites of former presidents on their birthdays, Natali said.
The ceremony at the Kinderhook Reformed Cemetery, hosted by Kinderhook Mayor Michael Abrams, included remarks by Megan O’Malley, the superintendent of the Martin Van Buren Historic Site, and a presentation by children from Ichabod Crane Primary School.
Natali said it was important to hold events like this to tie the legacy of the past to the present.
Jane Miller, the president of the Friends of Lindenwald, a volunteer group that supports the National Historic Site, said she appreciated the National Guard participating in the annual tradition in Kinderhook.
“We need to remember that our nation was shaped by people like Martin Van Buren,” Miller said.
He was the son of a Dutch tavern owner who worked and studied hard to become a lawyer and important political leader, she said.
Van Buren was the first president born as an American citizen rather than a subject of the King of England. He was also the only president not to have spoken English as his first language, having grown up speaking Dutch, and the first president from New York.
Before running for president in 1836, Van Buren, a lawyer, served as a New York state senator, attorney general, and governor of New York. He was secretary of state for President Andrew Jackson and vice president during Jackson's second term.
Shortly after taking office in 1837, an economic downturn known as the Panic of 1837 hit. Businesses closed, people lost their jobs, and the agricultural economy took a hit.
Van Buren ran for re-election in 1840 but was defeated by William Henry Harrison. He sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 1844 but lost to James K. Polk.
In 1848, he was the unsuccessful presidential candidate of the Free-Soil Party, a group opposing an extension of slavery. That defeat marked the end of his political career.
Van Buren, known as Old Kinderhook because of his hometown, supposedly gave the English language the term OK. During his run for office, OK clubs were organized to support him. He also initialed papers with the letters OK to indicate he approved.
Van Buren died in 1862 during the Civil War.
The New York Army and Air National Guard headquarters traditionally conduct the wreath presentations at the grave of former President Chester A. Arthur in Menands and Van Buren in Kinderhook. The New York Air National Guard's 107th Airlift Wing in Niagara Falls honors former President Millard Fillmore.