The third of six children born to a farmer-tavern keeper in the small Dutch village of Kinderhook, New York, Martin Van Buren learned the law at age 15 as an apprentice to a village lawyer. Within two years, he had secured the pa tronage of fellow townsmen John

Van Ness and William Van Ness-Van Buren played an important role in electing John, a Jeffersonian Republican, to Congress in 1800-and soon followed them to New York City. There, he participated at the margins in the fierce political struggle between the Burr and Clinton factions of New York’s Republican party. From the experience, Van Buren learned how to remain uncommitted while gauging the strengths of various interests and assessing their potential for success. This skill became a political trademark.