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Template:Infobox President James Buchanan, Jr. (April 23, 1791 – June 1, 1868) was the 15th President of the United States from 1857–1861 and the last to be born in the 18th century. To date he is the only president from the state of Pennsylvania and the only one to have never married.

A popular and experienced politician and very successful attorney prior to his presidency, Buchanan represented Pennsylvania in the House of Representatives and later the Senate, and served as Secretary of State under President James K. Polk. After turning down an offer for an appointment to the Supreme Court, he served as Minister to the United Kingdom under President Franklin Pierce, in which capacity he helped draft the controversial Ostend Manifesto.

After unsuccessfully seeking the Democratic presidential nomination in 1844, 1848, and 1852, Buchanan was nominated in the election of 1856 to some extent as a compromise between the two sides of the slavery issue; this occurred just as he was completing his duties as a diplomat. His subsequent election victory took place in a three man race with Fremont and Fillmore. As President he was often referred to as a "doughface", a Northerner with Southern sympathies who battled with Stephen A. Douglas for the control of the Democratic Party. Buchanan's efforts to maintain peace between the North and the South alienated both sides, and the Southern states declared their secession in the prologue to the American Civil War. Buchanan's view of record was that secession was illegal, but that going to war to stop it was also illegal. Buchanan, first and foremost an attorney, was noted for his mantra, "I acknowledge no master but the law." [1]

By the time he left office, popular opinion had turned against him, and the Democratic Party had split in two. Buchanan had once aspired to a presidency that would rank in history with that of George Washington.[2] However, his inability to impose peace on sharply divided partisans on the brink of the Civil War has led to his consistent ranking by historians as one of the worst Presidents. Noted Buchanan biographer Philip Klein puts these rankings into context, as follows: "Buchanan assumed leadership...when an unprecedented wave of angry passion was sweeping over the nation. That he held the hostile sections in check during these revolutionary times was in itself a remarkable achievement. His weaknesses in the stormy years of his presidency were magnified by enraged partisans of the North and South. His many talents, which in a quieter era might have gained for him a place among the great presidents, were quickly overshadowed by the cataclysmic events of civil war and by the towering Abraham Lincoln." [3]

Early life[]

James Buchanan, Jr., was born in a log cabin in Cove Gap, near Harrisburg (now James Buchanan Birthplace State Park), Franklin County, Pennsylvania, on April 23, 1791, to James Buchanan, Sr. (1761–1833), and Elizabeth Speer (1767–1833). His parents were both of Scotch-Irish descent, the father having emigrated from northern Ireland in 1783. He was the second of eleven children, three of whom died in infancy. Buchanan had six sisters and four brothers, only one of whom lived past 1840.[4]

In 1797, the family moved to nearby Mercersburg, Pennsylvania. The home in Mercersburg was later turned into the James Buchanan Hotel.[5]

Buchanan attended the village academy and later Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Expelled at one point for poor behavior, after pleading for a second chance, he graduated with honors on September 19, 1809.[6] Later that year, he moved to Lancaster, where he studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1812. A dedicated Federalist, he initially opposed the War of 1812 on the grounds that it was an unnecessary conflict; but, when the British invaded neighboring Maryland, he joined a volunteer light dragoon unit and served in the defense of Baltimore.[7]

An active Freemason during his lifetime, he was the Master of Masonic Lodge #43 in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and a District Deputy Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania.[8]

Political career[]

Buchanan began his political career in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives from 1814–1816, serving as a Federalist.[9] He was elected to the 17th United States Congress and to the four succeeding Congresses (March 4, 1821 – March 4, 1831), serving as chairman of the U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary in the 21st United States Congress. In 1830, he was among the members appointed by the House to conduct impeachment proceedings against James H. Peck, judge of the United States District Court for the District of Missouri, who was ultimately acquitted.[10] Buchanan did not seek reelection, and from 1832 to 1834 he served as ambassador to Russia.

With the Federalist Party long defunct, Buchanan was elected as a Democrat to the United States Senate to fill a vacancy and served from December 1834; he was reelected in 1837 and 1843, and resigned in 1845. He was chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations (24th through 26th Congresses).

After the death of Supreme Court Justice Henry Baldwin in 1844, Buchanan was nominated by President Polk to serve as a Justice of the Supreme Court. He declined that nomination, despite having earlier been interested in previous vacancies on the court; at the time of this particular nomination, he felt compelled to complete his collaboration on the Oregon Treaty negotiations; the Court seat was filled by Robert Cooper Grier. [11]

Buchanan served as Secretary of State under James K. Polk from 1845 to 1849, despite objections from Buchanan's rival, Vice President George Dallas.[12] In this capacity, he helped negotiate the 1846 Oregon Treaty establishing the 49th parallel as the northern boundary of the western U.S.[13]

File:James Buchanan 1938 Iaaue-15c.jpg

James Buchanan
Issue of 1938

No Secretary of State has become President since James Buchanan, although William Howard Taft, the 27th President of the United States, often served as Acting Secretary of State during the Theodore Roosevelt administration.

In 1852, Buchanan was named president of the Board of Trustees of Franklin and Marshall College in his hometown of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and he served in this capacity until 1866,[14] despite a false report that he was fired.[15]

He served as minister to the Court of St. James's (Britain) from 1853 to 1856, during which time he helped to draft the Ostend Manifesto, which proposed the purchase from Spain of Cuba, then in the midst of revolution and near bankruptcy. Against Buchanan's recommendation, the final draft of the Manifesto suggested that the U.S. should declare war if Spain refused to sell Cuba. The Manifesto, generally considered a blunder overall, was never acted upon, but nevertheless weakened the Pierce administration and support for Manifest Destiny.

Election of 1856[]


An anti-Buchanan political cartoon from the 1856 election depicts the sentiment of many Northerners. Buchanan, lying beneath a slave owner ("Fire Eater") and slave, is saying, "I am no longer James Buchanan but the Platform of my party."

The Democrats nominated Buchanan in 1856. He had been in England during the Kansas-Nebraska debate and thus remained untainted by either side of the issue. Pennsylvania, which had three times failed Buchanan, now gave its full support in its state convention. Though he never formally threw his hat into the ring, he was quite aware, from all his correspondence, of the distinct possibility of his nomination by the Democratic convention in Cincinnati, even before heading home at the finish of his work as a diplomat. Dr.Jonathan Foltz told Buchanan in November of 1855: "The people have taken the next presidency out of the hands of the politicians...the people and not your political friends will place you there." While Buchanan did not overtly seek the office, he most deliberately chose not to discourage the movement on his behalf, something that was well within his power on many occasions.[16]

Former president Millard Fillmore's "Know-Nothing" candidacy helped Buchanan defeat John C. Frémont, the first Republican candidate for president in 1856, and he served from March 4, 1857, to March 4, 1861. Buchanan remains the most recent of the two Democrats (the other being Martin Van Buren) to succeed a fellow Democrat to the Presidency via election in his own right.

With regard to the growing schism in the country, as President-elect, Buchanan stated: "the object of my administration will be to destroy sectional party, North or South, and to restore harmony to the Union under a national and conservative government'.[17] He set about this initially by maintaining a sectional balance in his appointments and persuading the people to accept constitutional law as the Supreme Court interpreted it. The court was considering the legality of restricting slavery in the territories; and two justices in fact hinted to Buchanan what the decision would be.

Presidency 1857-1861[]

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Inauguration of James Buchanan, March 4, 1857, from a photograph by John Wood. Buchanan's Inauguration was the first one to be recorded in photographs.

The Dred Scott Case[]

In his inaugural address, besides promising not to run again, Buchanan referred to the territorial question as "happily, a matter of but little practical importance" since the Supreme Court was about to settle it "speedily and finally." Two days later, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney delivered the Dred Scott Decision, asserting that Congress had no constitutional power to exclude slavery in the territories. Part of Taney’s written judgment has been characterized as obiter dictum — statements commonly made by a jurist that are not central to the decision in the case; in this instance such comments delighted Southerners while creating a furor in the North. Buchanan, in his view, preferred to see the territorial question resolved by the Supreme Court; and it is known that he was told of the Court's decision a week before his inauguration. Abraham Lincoln denounced him as an accomplice of the Slave Power, which Lincoln saw as a conspiracy of slave owners to seize control of the federal government and nationalize slavery. There is no record that bears witness to any involvement of Buchanan in the Court's rendering of the Dred Scott decision.[18]

Chaos in Kansas[]

Buchanan encountered trouble in the territorial dispute in Kansas, dubbed Bleeding Kansas by the Republican Party. During its development in the Pierce administration, Kansas found itself in the throws of abolitionist and proslavery factions of settlers. The proslavery settlers decided to establish a seat of government in Lecompton, while the abolitionists set up shop in Topeka. Nevertheless, in order to achieve statehood, the territory needed to submit to Washington one state constitution adopted by all Kansans. Toward this end, Buchanan appointed and dispatched to the territory Robert Walker as governor, whose mission was to attempt to reduce the divisiveness, and insure a fair and full vote by all the people in the formation of a Kansas constitution. Walker acted poorly in terms of tamping down the partisanship; the result was a census, and ultimate voting process, conducted (and corrupted to a degree) by partisans on both sides. The ink was not dry on the product, the Lecompton Constitution, before the disputes began anew.

Buchanan's exclusive goal was the legal admission of Kansas to the United States and the end of dueling governments in the territory. He threw the support of his administration behind congressional approval of the Lecompton Constitution, which, flawed as it was, had been adopted with due process by the people of Kansas, and would grant admission of Kansas as a state, albeit predominantly proslavery due to the manner in which irregular voting took place. Paradoxically, the President pulled out all the stops, legal or not, to obtain Congressional approval for Kansas statehood, offering favors, patronage appointments and even cash in exchange for votes. The Lecompton government was unpopular among Northerners because it was dominated by slaveholders who had enacted laws curtailing the rights of non-slaveholders. The Lecompton bill passed through the House, but it was blocked in the Senate by Northerners led by Stephen A. Douglas. Eventually, Congress voted to call a new vote on the Lecompton Constitution which succeeded, a move which infuriated Southerners. Buchanan and Douglas engaged in an all-out struggle for control of the party in 1859–60, with Buchanan using his patronage powers and Douglas rallying the grass roots. The result was a further weakened party and government.[19]

Buchanan's personal views[]

File:Buchanan Cabinet.jpg

President Buchanan and his Cabinet
From left to right: Jacob Thompson, Lewis Cass, John B. Floyd, James Buchanan, Howell Cobb, Isaac Toucey, Josep Holt and Jeremiah S. Black, (c. 1859)

Buchanan considered the essence of good self government to be founded upon restraint. The constitution he considered to be "...restraints, imposed not by arbitrary authority, but by the people upon themselves and their representatives... In an enlarged view, the peoples' interests may seem identical, but "to the eye of local and sectional prejudice, they always appear to be conflicting... and the jealousies that will perpetually arise can be repressed only by the mutual forbearance which pervades the constitution." [20]

As to the economy, one of the greatest issues of the day was the tarriff. He condemned both free trade and prohibitive tarriffs, since either system would benefit one section of the country to the detriment of the other. As the Senator from Pennsylvania, he thought: "I am viewed as the strongest advocate of protection in other states, whilst I am denounced as its enemy in Pennsylvania." [21]

Buchanan, like many of his time, was torn between his interest in the expansion of the country for the benefit of all, and the insistence of the people settling the expanded areas to all of their rights, including some rights not beneficial to all, i.e. slavery. On territorial expansion, he said, "What, sir! Prevent the people from crossing the Rocky Mountains? You might just as well command the Niagara not to flow. We must fulfill our destiny." [22] On the resulting spread of slavery, through unconditional expansion, he stated: "I feel a strong repugnance by any act of mine to extend the present limits of the Union over a new slave-holding territory." The acquisition of Texas, he hoped for instance, would "be the means of limiting, not enlarging, the dominion of slavery." Ibid.

Nevertheless, in deference to the intentions of the typical slaveholder, he was quick to provide the benefit of much doubt. In his third annual message Buchanan claimed that the slaves were "treated with kindness and humanity.... Both the philanthropy and the self-interest of the master have combined to produce this humane result" [23].

Historian Kenneth Stampp wrote: "Shortly after his election, he assured a southern Senator that the "great object" of his administration would be "to arrest, if possible, the agitation of the Slavery question in the North and to destroy sectional parties. Should a kind Providence enable me to succeed in my efforts to restore harmony to the Union, I shall feel that I have not lived in vain." In the northern anti-slavery idiom of his day, Buchanan was often considered a "doughface," a northern man with southern principles.[24]

The President, however, also felt that "this question of domestic slavery is the weak point in our institutions, touch this question seriously,,,and the Union is from that moment dissolved. Although in Pennsylvania we are all opposed to slavery in the abstract, we can never violate the constitutional compact we have with our sister states. Their rights will be held sacred by us. Under the constitution it is their own question; and there let it remain." [25]

As regards the abolitionist movement, Buchanan was irked that the abolitionists were preventing the very result everyone sought, i.e. the solution of the slavery problem. He stated, " Before [the abolitionists] commenced this agitation, a very large and growing party existed in several of the slave states in favor of the gradual abolition of slavery; and now not a voice is heard there in support of such a measure. The abolitionists have postponed the emancipation of the slaves in three or four states for at least half a century." Ibid

On educational issues, it has been said his disinterest was greatly evidenced by his veto of a bill passed by Congress to create more colleges, for he believed that "there were already too many educated people."[26] In fact, the bill he vetoed was a ruse for a federal land donation act designed to benefit Rep. John Covode's railroad company, and fashioned to appear as a land grant for new agricultural colleges. [27]

As to his religious convictions, near the end of his administration he had a serious exchange with the Rev. William Paxton. After what Paxton described as quite a probative discussion, Buchanan said, " Well, sir..., I hope I am a Christian. I have much of the experience you have described, and as soon as I retire, I will unite with the Presbyterian Church." Paxton asked why he delayed, to which he replied, "I must delay for the honor of religion. If I were to unite with the church now, they would say 'hypocrite' from Maine to Georgia." [28]

Panic of 1857[]

In August suddenly came the Panic of 1857, brought on mostly by 1) the people's over-consumption of goods from Europe to such an extent that the Union's specie was drained off; 2) overbuilding by competing railroads; and 3) rampant land speculation in the west. Most of the state banks had overextended credit, to more than $7.00 for each dollar of gold or silver. The Republicans considered the Congress to be the culprit for having recently reduced tarriffs. Buchanan's response was reform not relief. The government would continue to pay its debts in specie, and while it would not curtail public works, none would be added. He urged the states to restrict the banks to a credit level of $3 to $1 of specie, and discouraged the use of federal or state bonds as security for bank note issues. The economy did eventually recover on the shoulders of determined individuals able and willing making difficult but sound business choices. Nevertheless, it was only after many lives had suffered despair, poverty and even starvation.[29] The South was considered to have been less severely effected, due to "King Cotton", than the North where manufacturers were hardest hit.

Utah War[]

In March 1857, Buchanan received conflicting and unconfirmed reports from federal judges in Utah that their offices had been disrupted and they had been driven from their posts by the Mormons. Historically, the Mormons had genuine complaints. The Pierce administration had refused to facilitate Utah's being granted statehood and the Mormons feared for their property title rights. In November of that year, Buchanan sent the Army to replace Young as Governor with the non-Mormon Alfred Cumming. While Buchanan should have first confirmed the reports, the Mormons' defiance of federal authority in the past had become habitual. Also, Brigham Young's notice of his replacement was not delivered because the Pierce administration had annulled the Utah mail contract. After a menacing response by Young in the form of a scorched earth policy, in which his two week expedition left wagon trains destroyed and many oxen and much property lost, Buchanan dispatched Thomas Kane as a private agent to make peace. The mission succeeded, the new governor shortly placed in office, and the Utah War ended. The President granted amnesty to all inhabtants who would respect the authority of the government, and moved the federal troops to a non-threatening distance for the balance of his administration.[30]

Partisan Deadlock[]

The division between northern and southern Democrats allowed the Republicans to win a plurality in the House in the election of 1858. Their control of the chamber allowed the Republicans to block most of Buchanan's agenda (including his proposals for expansion of influence in Central America, and for the purchase of Cuba). Buchanan thought the ideologies of the Unites States would bring peace and prosperity to these neighboring lands as they had in the Northwest and that in the absence of U.S. influence, the major European powers would intervene. The imperative of safe and speedy travel from east to west was of strategic importance to the country. In any case, these efforts were not to be. Buchanan, in turn, vetoed six substantial pieces of Republican legislation, generating even further hostilities between Congress and the White House. [31]

In March 1860 the House created the Covode Committee to investigate the administration for evidence of offenses, some impeachable, such as bribery and extortion of Congressmen in exchange for their votes. The Committee for its part was nakedly partisan, with three Republicans and one Democrat, and Buchanan enemy John Covode as chairman; the group leaked damaging information about the President without affording him the chance to testify or respond officially; the committee was unable to establish grounds for impeaching Buchanan, but its final report in June exposed a level of corruption and abuse of power among members of his Cabinet; practices which had become common since the days of the Jackson administration. In several incidents, the Buchanan administration assisted the Committee in exposing and correcting abuses during the investigation. Republican operatives distributed thousands copies of the Covode Committee report throughout the nation as campaign material in that year's presidential election.[32][33]

Disintegration: Election of 1860[]

File:John C Breckinridge-04775-restored.jpg

John C. Breckinridge, Vice President of the United States under Buchanan.

Sectional strife rose to such a pitch that the Democratic Party's national convention in 1860 led directly to a schism in the Party. Buchanan played very little part as the national convention, meeting in Charleston, South Carolina, deadlocked. The southern wing walked out of the convention and nominated its own candidate for the presidency, incumbent Vice President John C. Breckinridge. The remainder of the party finally nominated Buchanan's archenemy, Douglas. Consequently, when the Republicans nominated Abraham Lincoln, it was a foregone conclusion that on November 6, 1860 he would be elected even though his name appeared on the ballot only in the free states, Delaware, and a handful of other border states.

As early as October, the army's Commanding General, Winfield Scott, warned Buchanan that the election of Lincoln would likely lead to the secession of at least seven states. He also quite disingenuously recommended to Buchanan that massive amounts of federal troops and artillery be deployed to those states to protect federal property. Buchanan directed War Secretary Floyd to immediately reinforce southern forts with such provisions, arms and men as were available. Nevertheless, through no fault of Scott or the President, Congress had since 1857 failed to heed both men's calls on behalf of a stronger militia and had allowed the Army to fall into deplorable condition. Scott himself had previously advised the Senate that the level of troops was such, that "to move any substantial number of troops from one frontier to reinforce another would invite instant attack on the weakened point". [34]

With Lincoln's victory, talk of secession and disunion reached a boiling point of such proportion that Buchanan's final message to Congress, due the month after the election, could not help but address it; both factions eagerly awaited news of how Buchanan would deal with the question. In his Message (December 3, 1860), Buchanan both denied the legal right of states to secede - and also held that the Federal Government legally could not prevent them. Furthermore, he placed the blame for the crisis solely on "intemperate interference of the Northern people with the question of slavery in the Southern States."[35]. Buchanan's specific solution to the crisis was that the Congress, in coordination with the state legislatures, call for a constitutional convention which would give the people of the country the opportunity to vote specifically on amendment to the constitution regarding the slavery issue. There was no ability to reach agreement on this approach as a solution to be pursued. [36]

South Carolina seceded on December 20, followed by six other cotton states and, by February, they had formed the Confederate States of America. As Scott had surmised, the secessionist governments declared eminent domain over federal property within their states.

Efforts were made by Sen. Crittenden and others in congress, which were supported by Buchanan, to reach a compromise, but failed. Failed efforts to compromise were also made by a group of governors meeting in New York. Buchanan employed a last minute tactic, in secret, to bring a solution. He again attempted in vain to procure President-elect Lincoln's call for a constitutional convention to give the citizens a popular vote on slavery and other issues. Lincoln declined, at least partially in deference to his party and it's Chicago platform.[37]

Beginning in late December, Buchanan reorganized his cabinet, ousting Confederate sympathizers and replacing them with hard-line nationalists Jeremiah S. Black, Edwin M. Stanton, Joseph Holt and John A. Dix. These conservative Democrats strongly believed in American nationalism and refused to countenance secession. At one point, Treasury Secretary Dix ordered Treasury agents in New Orleans, "If any man pulls down the American flag, shoot him on the spot." The new cabinet advised Buchanan to request from Congress the authority to call up militias and give himself emergency military powers, and this he did, on January 8. Nevertheless, by that time Buchanan's relations with Congress were so strained that his requests were rejected out of hand.


Editorial cartoon in Republican newspapers, 1861

Before Buchanan left office, all arsenals and forts in the seceding states were lost (except Fort Sumter and three island outposts in Florida), and a fourth of all federal soldiers surrendered to Texas troops. The government retained control of Fort Sumter, which was located in Charleston harbor, a conspicuously visible spot in the Confederacy. On January 5, Buchanan sent a civilian steamer Star of the West to carry reinforcements and supplies to Fort Sumter. On January 9, 1861, South Carolina state batteries opened fire on the Star of the West, which returned to New York. Paralyzed, Buchanan made no further moves to prepare for war.

On Buchanan's final day as president, March 4, 1861, he remarked to the incoming Lincoln, "If you are as happy in entering the White House as I shall feel on returning to Wheatland, you are a happy man."[38]

James Buchanan's presidential cabinet[]

Template:Infobox U.S. Cabinet

Judicial appointments[]

File:James Buchanan $1 Presidential Coin obverse sketch.jpg

Presidential Dollar of James Buchanan

Buchanan appointed one Justice to the Supreme Court of the United States, Nathan Clifford. Buchanan appointed only seven other Article III federal judges, all to United States district courts. He also appointed two Article I judges to the United States Court of Claims.

States admitted to the Union[]

  • Minnesota – May 11, 1858
  • Oregon – February 14, 1859
  • Kansas – January 29, 1861

Personal relationships[]

File:King the Vice President.jpg

William Rufus DeVane King, thirteenth Vice President of the United States. A friend of James Buchanan with whom he shared his home.

In 1819, Buchanan was engaged to Ann Caroline Coleman, the daughter of a wealthy iron manufacturing businessman and sister-in-law of Philadelphia judge Joseph Hemphill, a colleague of Buchanan's from the House of Representatives. However, Buchanan spent little time with her during the courtship. He was extremely busy with his law firm and political projects during the Panic of 1819, taking him away from Coleman for weeks at a time. Conflicting rumors abounded, suggesting that he was marrying her for her money as his own family was less affluent or that he was involved with other women. Buchanan, for his part, never publicly spoke of his motives or feelings, but letters from Ann revealed she was paying heed to the rumors. After Buchanan paid a visit to the wife of a friend, Ann broke off the engagement; she died soon afterwards, on December 9, 1819. The records of a Dr. Chapman, who looked after her in her final hours, and who said just after her passing that this was "the first instance he ever knew of hysteria producing death", reveal that he theorized, despite the absence of any valid evidence, the woman's demise was caused by an overdose of laudanum, a concentrated tincture of opium.[39] His fiancée's death struck Buchanan a terrible blow. In a letter to her father – which was returned to him unopened — Buchanan said, "It is now no time for explanation, but the time will come when you will discover that she, as well as I, have been much abused. God forgive the authors of it.... I may sustain the shock of her death, but I feel that happiness has fled from me forever."[39] The Coleman family became bitter towards Buchanan and denied him a place at Ann's funeral.[40] Buchanan vowed he would never marry, though he continued to be flirtatious, and some pressed him to seek a wife. In response he said, "Marry he could not, for his affections were buried in the grave." He preserved Ann Coleman's letters, keeping them with him throughout his life, and, at his request, they were burned upon his death.[39]

File:Buch poster.jpg

Hand-colored lithograph of Buchanan by Nathaniel Currier

For 15 years in Washington, D.C., prior to his presidency, Buchanan lived with his close friend, Alabama Senator William Rufus King.[41][42] King became Vice President under Franklin Pierce. He became ill and died shortly after Pierce's inauguration, just four years before Buchanan became President. Buchanan and King's close relationship prompted Andrew Jackson to refer to King as "Miss Nancy" and "Aunt Fancy", while Aaron V. Brown spoke of the two as "Buchanan and his wife".[43] Further, some of the contemporary press also speculated about Buchanan and King's relationship. Buchanan and King's nieces destroyed their uncles' correspondence, leaving some questions as to what relationship the two men had, but the length and intimacy of surviving letters illustrate "the affection of a special friendship"[43] and Buchanan wrote of his "communion" with his housemate.[44] Such expression, however, was not necessarily unusual among men at the time. Circumstances surrounding Buchanan and King's close emotional ties have led to speculation that Buchanan was a homosexual.[43]

This speculation is perhaps made more tenuous by Buchanan's correspondence during this period with Thomas Kittera, referring to his romance with Mary K. Snyder, and his letter to Mrs. Francis Preston Blair, in which he declines an invitation and expresses an expectation of marriage.[45]

In his book, Lies Across America, James W. Loewen points out that in May 1844, during one of King's absences that resulted from King's appointment as minister to France, Buchanan wrote to a Mrs. Roosevelt, "I am now 'solitary and alone', having no companion in the house with me. I have gone a wooing to several gentlemen, but have not succeeded with any one of them. I feel that it is not good for man to be alone, and [I] should not be astonished to find myself married to some old maid who can nurse me when I am sick, provide good dinners for me when I am well, and not expect from me any very ardent or romantic affection."[46][47][48] The only President never to marry, Buchanan turned to Harriet Lane, an orphaned niece whom he had earlier adopted, to act as his official hostess.


File:James Buchanan.jpg

President James Buchanan

In 1866 Buchanan published Mr Buchanan's Administration on the Eve of the Rebellion, the first published presidential memoir, in which he defended his actions; the day before his death he predicted that "history will vindicate my memory".[49] Buchanan died June 1, 1868, at the age of 77 at his home at Wheatland and was interred in Woodward Hill Cemetery in Lancaster.

File:James Buchanan - post presidency.jpg

Buchanan in his later years.

Nevertheless, historians continue to criticize Buchanan for his unwillingness or inability to act in the face of secession. Historians in both 2006 and 2009 voted his failure to deal with secession the worst presidential mistake ever made.[50] Historical rankings of United States Presidents considering presidential achievements, leadership qualities, failures and faults, consistently place Buchanan among the least successful presidents.[51][52]

In somewhat of a contradiction to modern historians and pollsters however, the following prominent observation was made near the end of Buchanan's administration: "We must retrench the extravagant list of magnificent schemes which received the sanction of the Executive...the great Napoleon himself, with all the resources of an empire at his sole command, never ventured the simultaneous accomplishments of so many daring projects. The acquisition of Cuba...; the construction of a Pacific Railroad...;a Mexican protectorate, the international preponderance in Central America, in spite of all the powers of Europe; the submission of distant South American states;...the enlargement of the navy; a largely increased standing Army...what government on earth could possibly meet all the exigencies of such a flood of innovations?"[53]


Buchanan memorial, Washington, D.C.

A bronze and granite memorial residing near the Southeast corner of Washington, D.C.'s Meridian Hill Park was designed by architect William Gorden Beecher and sculpted by Maryland artist Hans Schuler. Commissioned in 1916 but not approved by the U.S. Congress until 1918, and not completed and unveiled until June 26, 1930, the memorial features a statue of Buchanan bookended by male and female classical figures representing law and diplomacy, with the engraved text reading: "The incorruptible statesman whose walk was upon the mountain ranges of the law", a quote from a member of Buchanan's cabinet, Jeremiah S. Black. The memorial in the nation's capital complemented an earlier monument, constructed in 1907–08 and dedicated in 1911, on the site of Buchanan's birthplace in Stony Batter, Pennsylvania. Part of an 18.5-acre (75,000 m2) memorial site, the earlier monument is a 250-ton pyramid structure designed to show the original weathered surface of the native rubble and mortar.

Three counties are named in his honor: Buchanan County, Iowa, Buchanan County, Missouri, and Buchanan County, Virginia. Another in Texas was christened in 1858 but renamed Stephens County, after the newly elected Vice President of the Confederate States of America, Alexander Stephens, in 1861.[54]

See also[]

[[Image:Template:Portal/Images/Default |x28px]] Lancaster, Pennsylvania portal



  1. Klein (1962), p 305
  2. Klein (1962), pp. xviii.
  3. Klein (1962), p 429
  4. [1]
  5. James Buchanan Hotel website
  6. Klein (1962), pp. 9-12.
  7. Baker (2004), p. 18.
  8. Klein (1962), p. 27.
  9. Curtis (1883), p. 22.
  10. Curtis (1883), pp. 107-109.
  11. Klein (1962), p 170
  12. Seigenthaler (2004), pp. 107-108.
  13. Klein (1962), pp. 181-183.
  14. Klein (1962), p. 210.
  15. Klein (1962), p. 415.
  16. Klein (1962), pp 248-252
  17. Klein (1962), pp 261-262
  18. Klein (1962), pp 271-272
  19. Klein (1962), pp 286-299
  20. Klein (1962), p 143
  21. Klein (1962), p 144
  22. Klein (1962), p 147
  24. Stampp (1990) p. 48
  25. Klein (1962), p 150
  26. Hakim, Joy. The New Nation: 1789-1850 A History of US Book 4
  27. Klein (1962), p 338
  28. Klein (1962), pp 349-350
  29. Klein pp 314-315
  30. Klein pp 316-317
  31. Klein (1962), p 312
  32. Baker (2004), pp.114-118.
  33. Klein (1962), p 339
  34. Klein (1962), pp 356-358
  35. Buchanan (1860)
  36. Klein (1962), pp 362
  37. Klein (1962), pp 381-387
  38. Baker (2004), p. 140.
  39. 39.0 39.1 39.2 Klein, Philip Shriver (December 1955). "The Lost Love of a Bachelor President". American Heritage Magazine 7 (1). Retrieved 2007-06-18. 
  40. University of Virginia: Miller Center of Public Affairs: James Buchanan: Life Before the Presidency.
  41. Klein (1962), p. 111.
  42. Katz, Jonathan (1976). Gay American History: Lesbians and Gay Men in the U.S.A. : A Documentary. Crowell. p. 647. ISBN 9780690011654. 
  43. 43.0 43.1 43.2 Baker (2004), p. 75.
  44. Steve Tally discusses King and Buchanan's relationship in more depth in his book Bland Ambition: From Adams to Quayle--The Cranks, Criminals, Tax Cheats, and Golfers Who Made It to Vice President.
  45. Klein (1962), pp. 101, 119
  46. James W. Loewen. Lies Across America. Page 367. The New Press. 1999
  47. Klein (1962), p. 156.
  48. Curtis (1883), pp. 188, 519.
  49. "Buchanan's Birthplace State Park". Pennsylvania State Parks. Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. Retrieved 2009-03-28. 
  50. "U.S. historians pick top 10 presidential errors". Associated Press (CTV). 2006-02-18. 
  51. Tolson, Jay (2007-02-16). "The 10 Worst Presidents". U.S. News & World Report. Retrieved 2009-03-26. 
  52. Hines, Nico (2008-10-28). "The 10 worst presidents to have held office". London: The Times. Retrieved 2009-03-26. 
  53. "National Intelligencer" January 24, 1859.
  54. Beatty, Michael A. (2001). County Name Origins of the United States. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland. p. 310. ISBN 0786410256. 

Further reading[]

  • Binder, Frederick Moore. "James Buchanan: Jacksonian Expansionist" Historian 1992 55(1): 69–84. Issn: 0018-2370 Fulltext: in Ebsco
  • Binder, Frederick Moore. James Buchanan and the American Empire. Susquehanna U. Press, 1994. 318 pp.
  • Birkner, Michael J., ed. James Buchanan and the Political Crisis of the 1850s. Susquehanna U. Press, 1996. 215 pp.
  • Meerse, David. "Buchanan, the Patronage, and the Lecompton Constitution: a Case Study" Civil War History 1995 41(4): 291–312. Issn: 0009-8078
  • Nevins, Allan. The Emergence of Lincoln 2 vols. (1960) highly detailed narrative of his presidency
  • Nichols, Roy Franklin; The Democratic Machine, 1850–1854 (1923), detailed narrative; online
  • Potter, David Morris. The Impending Crisis, 1848–1861 (1976). ISBN 0-06-013403-8 Pulitzer prize.
  • Rhodes, James Ford History of the United States from the Compromise of 1850 to the McKinley-Bryan Campaign of 1896 vol 2. (1892)
  • Smith, Elbert B. The Presidency of James Buchanan (1975). ISBN 0-7006-0132-5, standard history of his administration
  • Updike, John Buchanan Dying (1974). ISBN 0-8117-0238-3

External links[]

Primary sources[]

Template:S-offTemplate:U.S. Secretary boxTemplate:S-ppoTemplate:S-hon
Preceded by
Franklin Pierce
President of the United States
March 4, 1857 – March 4, 1861
Succeeded by
Abraham Lincoln
United States Senate

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United States House of Representatives

Template:USRSB Template:USRSB

Preceded by
Philip P. Barbour
Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee
1829 – 1831
Succeeded by
Warren R. Davis
Preceded by
Franklin Pierce
Democratic Party presidential candidate
Succeeded by
Stephen A. Douglas
John C. Breckinridge¹
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Joseph R. Ingersoll
United States Minister to Great Britain
1853 – 1856
Succeeded by
George M. Dallas
Preceded by
John Randolph
United States Minister to Russia
1832 – 1833
Succeeded by
Mahlon Dickerson
Preceded by
Martin Van Buren
Oldest U.S. President still living
July 24, 1862 – June 1, 1868
Succeeded by
Millard Fillmore
Notes and references
1. The Democratic party split in 1860, producing two presidential candidates. Douglas was nominated by Northern Democrats; Breckinridge was nominated by Southern Democrats.

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