Political campaigns in the 1800’s introduced candidates to the public using nicknames. A good nickname could make a candidate seem like a friend from childhood. Andrew Jackson was “Old Hickory,” because he was reputed to be tough as a hickory stick. Jackson’s vice president and political advisor, Martin Van Buren, gave himself the name “Old Kinderhook,” or O.K., since he came from Kinderhook, NY. Rivals preferred to call him “The Little Magician.”
In addition to his indispensable contribution to American lingo, Van Buren served as President. Late in his career he led Democrats who opposed slavery in western territories, called “barnburners,” to the new Free Soil Party. The Free Soil Party, calling for “Free Soil, Free Speech, Free Labor, and Free Man,” was the ancestor of the Republican Party. Mainstream Democrats, who were trying to keep pro- and anti-slavery factions together, said Van Buren and his followers were “burning down the barn to get rid of a few rats.”

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