Martin Van Buren was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1821. The previous year, he had engineered a revolt against his party’s leader, Governor Clinton, who was trying to get John C. Spencer elected to the Senate. (Remember, the state legislatures elected U.S. Senators until 1914.) Van Buren led the rebellious forces in the legislature to defeat Spencer and get Rufus King elected. This helped to increase Van Buren’s stature, and when the next Senate seat became vacant, the legislature elected Van Buren in 1821. He was re-elected in 1827. Van Buren took his seat in the U.S. Senate on December 3, 1821 and quickly became a leader in the fight against imprisonment for debt. In 1828, Congress finally passed a law abolishing imprisonment for debt. Van Buren resigned his Senate seat when he was elected governor of New York in 1828. He shortly thereafter became Secretary of State under President Andrew Jackson, and later Vice President and President.
William Henry Harrison was the son of Benjamin Harrison, a member of the Continental Congress and a signer of the Declaration of Independence. He was also the father of John Scott Harrison, a member of Congress, and the grandfather of Benjamin Harrison, the 23rd President of the United States. He was a territorial delegate to Congress from the Northwest Territory, and a U.S. Representative and U.S. Senator from Ohio.
Harrison was elected as a delegate to Congress from the Northwest Territory, and served from March 4, 1799 until May 14, 1800, when he resigned to become Territorial Governor of Indiana, a position he held for 13 years. As a major general in the army, he led forces against Indians, and later the British during the War of 1812. He was then elected to the House of Representatives and served from October 8, 1816 until March 3, 1819. From 1819-1821, he served in the Ohio state senate. In 1821, he was elected to the U.S. Senate where he served from March 4, 1825 until May 20, 1828 when he resigned to become Minister to Colombia. While in the Senate, he served as chairman of the Committee on Military Affairs. In 1840, he was elected President, but died after serving for only one month.
John Tyler served as a Representative and a Senator from Virginia. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives to fill a vacancy caused by the death of John Clopton, and he served in the House from December 16, 1817 until March 3, 1821. He had declined to be a candidate for re-election due to poor health. After serving in the state legislature and as Governor of Virginia, he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1827 and was re-elected in 1833. He served in the Senate from March 4, 1837 until his resignation on February 29, 1836. He resigned over a constitutional issue. The Senate had voted to remove from the Congressional Record a vote of censure of Andrew Jackson. Tyler felt this was unconstitutional, but his legislature had instructed him to vote for the measure. (Legislatures, which elected Senators, often “instructed” them how to vote, and while Tyler believed in the right of the legislature to “instruct” Senators in this manner, he strongly disagreed with their instructions.) Unable to vote for the measure in good conscience, Tyler resigned. While in the Senate, Tyler served as President Pro Tempore of the Senate during the 23rd Congress, which placed him second in the line of succession just behind the Vice President. Tyler was later elected Vice President, and became the first Vice President to move up to the Presidency on the death of the elected President when William Henry Harrison died just 30 days into his term.
James Knox Polk was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives after serving in the Tennessee legislature. He served in the U.S. House from March 4, 1825 until March 3, 1839. Rising through the ranks of the House, he served as chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, and was elected Speaker of the House for his last two terms. Polk gave up this powerful position to run for Governor of Tennessee to help his party. He was elected, but was defeated for re-election two years later. In 1844, Polk was elected President, becoming the only Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives to become President. Polk was a colorless, hard working man. As President, he literally worked himself to death. His health was broken during his single term as President, and he died only three months after leaving the White House.
Millard Fillmore, after serving in the New York state legislature, was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives where he served from 1833-1835, and then from 1837-1843. He declined to be a candidate for re-election in 1842. In the House, he served as the chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, which made him one of the most powerful men in the government. Still, he remained little known outside the inner circles of government. In 1844, he was defeated in the race for Governor of New York, but was elected Comptroller in 1846. From this position, he was elected Vice President and became President when the elected President, Zachary Taylor, died in office. After finishing Taylor’s term in the White House, Fillmore tried to get the Whig nomination to a full term of his own but lost. Northern Whigs were angry at his stand on the Fugitive Slave Law, and turned to another candidate.