John Van Buren

Attorney General of New York, 1845-1847

John Van Buren, second son of President Martin Van Buren, was born on February 18, 1810 in Hudson, New York and graduated from Yale College in 1828. He studied law, first in the office of Benjamin F. Butler and later in the office of Aaron Vanderpoel and was admitted to the bar in Albany in 1830. John Van Buren spent the following year in England with his father who had been appointed Minister to England and on their return to America six months later, opened a law practice in Albany in partnership with James McKown.

In 1845, he became the last New York Attorney General to be elected by joint ballot of the Assembly and Senate under the provisions of the Constitution of 1821. Immediately, he was plunged into the prosecutions related to the Anti-Rent movement, one of the most influential popular movements of the antebellum era. With Columbia County District Attorney Theodore Miller, he prosecuted the Anti-Rent leader, Smith A. Boughton, known as “Big Thunder.” The case was tried in March 1845, before Judge Amasa J. Parker, and resulted in a hung jury. At the second trial, held before Judge John W. Edmonds, Smith Boughton was convicted and sentenced to life in prison, but shortly afterward received a gubernatorial pardon.

John Van Buren also prosecuted the case of William Freeman, who was accused of the murder of four members of the Van Nest family of Cayuga County, New York on March 12, 1846. Attorney and former Governor William Seward defended Freeman, relying on the insanity defense that had been newly recognized in the English courts in the McNaughton case.

Upon leaving office at the end of 1847, Van Buren moved to New York City and formed successful law partnership with Hamilton W. Robinson. His most prominent case from this time was the highly publicized divorce case of the actor Edwin Forrest.

John Van Buren ran for the office of Attorney General again in 1865 but was defeated. Soon afterward, he left for Europe on an extended trip with his daughter and niece. On the return voyage, he became ill and died at sea on October 13, 1866. His remains are buried in the Albany Rural Cemetery.

John Van Buren died at sea on October 13, 1866, while on a voyage from Liverpool to New York.



Anna R. Bradbury. History of the City of Hudson (1908).
L. B. Proctor. John Van Buren. Albany Law Journal, vol. 45, p 31 (1892)
Some Notable Trial XIV: The Case of Smith Boughton. New York Times, February 23, 1896
Cayuga County Courthouse and the Case that Helped Establish the Insanity Defense in New York. Benchmarks: Journal of the New York State Unified Court System. Spring 2007.
Sinclair Genealogy. The McBride Family.


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