Slavery and the Republic

Slavery was the major political, social, and moral question of Martin Van Buren’s generation, and his relationship with the institution was incredibly complicated. Van Buren’s political connections to slavery and the lives of enslaved people who lived, worked, and visited Lindenwald are stories integral to our understanding of the site.

Drawing of a group of enslaved people in chains being driven through the streets
Slave Coffle in Washington, DC

Library of Congress

Martin Van Buren and the Politics of Slavery

Van Buren grew up not only among enslaved people, but also with six slaves owned by his parents. This early exposure to the institution of slavery later provided him with an understanding of southern politics that differed from his northern colleagues raised without similar experiences. It was an understanding Martin Van Buren seemed to exploit for professional success, but also an understanding he struggled with as the country began to split over the fate and expansion of slavery.

Oil painting of a man standing in simple dress against a natural backdrop
Sengbe Pieh Painting: The Sierra Leonean man led the Amistad slave revolt and won his freedom in a U.S. court in 1841.

New Haven Museum


Throughout the history of the United States, enslaved individuals have taken an active role in their own emancipation. Learn more about some of the various ways people sought freedom.

Black and white image of Martin Van Buren as an older man
Daguerreotype of Martin Van Buren

Library of Congress

Martin Van Buren, Compromise, and Privilege

The United States is a nation built on compromise, and the antebellum period saw more than its fair share of compromises. At the core of these deals was often the preservation and expansion of the institution of slavery.

Last updated: September 18, 2022

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