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James Buchanan

President Buchanan, 1859 portrait, by George Healy

In office
March 4, 1857 – March 4, 1861
Vice President John C. Breckinridge
Preceded by Franklin Pierce
Succeeded by Abraham Lincoln

In office
March 10, 1845 – March 7, 1849
President James K. Polk
Preceded by John C. Calhoun
Succeeded by John M. Clayton

In office
December 6, 1834 – March 5, 1845
Preceded by William Wilkins
Succeeded by Simon Cameron

In office
January 4, 1832 – August 5, 1833
President Andrew Jackson
Preceded by John Randolph
Succeeded by Mahlon Dickerson

In office
President Franklin Pierce
Preceded by Joseph R. Ingersoll
Succeeded by George M. Dallas

Member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Pennsylvania's 4th district
In office
March 4, 1823 – March 3, 1831
Alongside: Samuel Edwards, Isaac Wayne, Charles Miner, Samuel Anderson, Joshua Evans, Jr. and George G. Leiper
Preceded by James S. Mitchell
Succeeded by William Hiester
David Potts, Jr.
Joshua Evans, Jr.

Member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Pennsylvania's 3rd district
In office
March 4, 1821 – March 3, 1823
Alongside: John Phillips
Preceded by Jacob Hibshman
James M. Wallace
Succeeded by Daniel H. Miller

In office
March 4, 1829 – March 3, 1831
Preceded by Philip P. Barbour
Succeeded by Warren R. Davis

Born April 23, 1791(1791-04-23)
Mercersburg, Pennsylvania
Died June 1, 1868 (aged 77)
Lancaster, Pennsylvania
Birth name James Buchanan, Jr.
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) None (Bachelor)
Alma mater Dickinson College
Occupation Lawyer, Diplomat
Religion Presbyterian
Military service
Service/branch Volunteer
Battles/wars War of 1812

James Buchanan, Jr. (April 23, 1791 – June 1, 1868) was the fifteenth President of the United States from 1857–1861 and the last to be born in the eighteenth century. To date he is the only president from the state of Pennsylvania and the only president to remain a bachelor.

A popular and experienced politician 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 inflammatory Ostend Manifesto, which suggested the U.S. should declare war if Spain refused to sell Cuba. The Ostend Manifesto was never acted upon and greatly damaged the Pierce administration.

Despite unsuccessfully seeking the Democratic presidential nomination in 1844, 1848, and 1852, Buchanan was nominated in the election of 1856 as a compromise between the two sides of the slavery issue; this occurred while he was away on business. His subsequent election was largely due to the even more divided state of the opposition. As President he was 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 as the Southern states declared their secession in the prologue to the American Civil War, Buchanan's opinion was that secession was illegal, but that going to war to stop it was also illegal; hence, he remained inactive. By the time he left office, popular opinion had turned against him, and the Democratic Party had split in two. Buchanan had once dared to hope that his presidency might rank in history with that of George Washington.[1] However, his handling of the crisis preceding the Civil War has led to his consistent ranking by historians as one of the worst Presidents.


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.[2]

He spent his childhood living in the James Buchanan Hotel.[3]

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.[4] Later that year, he moved to Lancaster, where he studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1812. A dedicated Federalist, he strongly opposed the War of 1812 on the grounds that it was an unnecessary conflict. Nevertheless, when the British invaded neighboring Maryland, he joined a volunteer light dragoon unit and served in the defense of Baltimore.[5]

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.[6]

Political career

Buchanan began his political career in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives from 1814–1816, serving as a Federalist.[7] 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.[8] 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, and the seat was filled by Robert Cooper Grier.

Buchanan served as Secretary of State under James K. Polk from 1845 to 1849, despite objections from Buchanan's rival, Vice President George Dallas.[9] In this capacity, he helped negotiate the 1846 Oregon Treaty establishing the 49th parallel as the northern boundary of the western U.S.[10] 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,[11] despite a false report that he was fired.[12]

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 of Cuba from Spain in order to extend slavery. The Manifesto was a major blunder for the Pierce administration and greatly weakened 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 largely because he was in England during the Kansas-Nebraska debate and thus remained untainted by either side of the issue. He was nominated on the 17th ballot and accepted, although he did not want to run.[citation needed]

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 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 intended to sit out the crisis 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 hinted to Buchanan what the decision would be.

Presidency 1857-1861

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 (a fellow alumnus of Dickinson College) delivered the Dred Scott Decision, asserting that Congress had no constitutional power to exclude slavery in the territories. Much of Taney’s written judgment is widely interpreted as obiter dictum — statements made by a judge that are unnecessary to the outcome of the case, but in this instance they delighted Southerners while creating a furor in the North. Buchanan was widely believed to have been personally involved in the decision, with many Northerners recalling Taney whispering to Buchanan during the inauguration. Buchanan wished to see the territorial question resolved by the Supreme Court. To further this, he personally lobbied his fellow Pennsylvanian Justice Robert Cooper Grier to vote with the majority to uphold the right of owning slave property. 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.

Bleeding Kansas

Buchanan, however, faced further trouble on the territorial question. He threw the full prestige of his administration behind congressional approval of the Lecompton Constitution in Kansas, which would have admitted Kansas as a slave state, going as far as offering patronage appointments and even cash bribes 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. Even though the voters in Kansas had rejected the Lecompton Constitution, Buchanan managed to pass his bill 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, 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. Buchanan lost control of the greatly weakened party.

Buchanan's personal views

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

Buchanan personally favored slaveowners' rights and he sympathized with the slave-expansionists who coveted Cuba. Buchanan despised both abolitionists and free-soil Republicans, lumping the two together. He fought the opponents of the Slave Power. 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" [13]. 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 short, in the northern anti-slavery idiom of his day Buchanan was the consummate "doughface," a northern man with southern principles.[14]

His inactivity was so great, he even vetoed a bill passed by Congress to create more colleges, for he believed that "there were already too many educated people."[15]


Panic of 1857

Economic troubles also plagued Buchanan's administration with the outbreak of the Panic of 1857. The government suddenly faced a shortfall of revenue, partly because of the Democrats' successful push to lower the tariff. At the behest of Treasury Secretary Howell Cobb, Buchanan's administration began issuing deficit financing for the government, a move which flew in the face of two decades of Democratic support for hard money policies and allowed Republicans to attack Buchanan for financial mismanagement.

Utah War

In March 1857, Buchanan received false reports[citation needed] that Governor Brigham Young of the Mormon-dominated Utah Territory was planning a revolt. In November of that year, Buchanan sent the Army to replace Young as Governor with the non-Mormon Alfred Cumming before either confirming the reports or notifying Young that he was about to be replaced. Years of anti-Mormon rhetoric in Washington, combined with denouncements and lurid descriptions of both the Mormon practice of polygamy and the intentions of the President and the Army in eastern newspapers, led the Mormons to expect the worst. Young called up a militia of several thousand men to defend the Territory and sent a small band to harass and delay the Army from entering it. Providentially, the early onset of winter forced the Army to camp in present-day Wyoming, allowing for negotiations between the Territory and the federal government. Poor planning, the Army's inadequate supplies, and the failure of the President to verify the reports of rebellion and warning the territorial government of his intentions led to widespread condemnation of Buchanan from Congress and the press, who labeled the war "Buchanan's Blunder". When Young agreed to be replaced by Cumming and to allow the Army to enter the Utah Territory and establish a base, Buchanan attempted to save face by issuing proclamations detailing his merciful pardoning of the "rebels". These were poorly received by both Congress and the inhabitants of Utah. The troops, in any case, would soon be recalled to the East when the Civil War erupted.


When Republicans won a plurality in the House in 1858, every significant bill they passed fell before Southern votes in the Senate or a Presidential veto. The Federal Government reached a stalemate. Bitter hostility between Republicans and Southern Democrats prevailed on the floor of Congress.

To make matters worse, Buchanan was dogged by the partisan Covode committee, which was investigating the administration for evidence of impeachable offenses.

Sectional strife rose to such a pitch in 1860 that the Democratic Party split. 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, whom Buchanan refused to support. 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.

In Buchanan's Message to Congress (December 3, 1860), he denied the legal right of states to secede but held that the Federal Government legally could not prevent them. He hoped for compromise, but secessionist leaders did not want it. He then watched silently as South Carolina seceded on December 20, followed by six other cotton states and, by February, they had formed the Confederate States of America. Eight slave states refused to join.

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".

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."[16]

James Buchanan's presidential cabinet

The Buchanan Cabinet
Office Name Term
President James Buchanan 1857–1861
Vice President John C. Breckinridge 1857–1861
Secretary of State Lewis Cass 1857–1860
Jeremiah S. Black 1860–1861
Secretary of Treasury Howell Cobb 1857–1860
Philip Francis Thomas 1860–1861
John Adams Dix 1861
Secretary of War John B. Floyd 1857–1860
Joseph Holt 1860–1861
Attorney General Jeremiah S. Black 1857–1860
Edwin M. Stanton 1860–1861
Postmaster General Aaron V. Brown 1857–1859
Joseph Holt 1859–1860
Horatio King 1861
Secretary of the Navy Isaac Toucey 1857–1861
Secretary of the Interior Jacob Thompson 1857–1861

Judicial appointments

Presidential Dollar of James Buchanan

Supreme Court

Buchanan appointed the following Justice to the Supreme Court of the United States:

Judge Seat State Began active
Ended active
Nathan Clifford Seat 2 Maine 18580112January 12, 1858 18810725July 25, 1881

Other courts

Buchanan appointed only seven other federal judges, all to United States district courts:

Judge Court Began active
Ended active
Asa Biggs D. N.C. 01858-05-13 May 13, 1858 01861-04-03 April 3, 1861
John Cadwalader E.D. Pa. 01858-04-24 April 24, 1858 01879-01-26 January 26, 1879
Matthew Deady D. Or. 01859-03-09 March 9, 1859 01893-03-24 March 24, 1893
William Giles Jones N.D. Ala.
S.D. Ala.
01859-09-29 September 29, 1859[17] 01861-01-12 January 12, 1861
Wilson McCandless W.D. Pa. 01859-02-08 February 8, 1859 01876-07-24 July 24, 1876
Rensselaer Russell Nelson D. Minn. 01858-05-20 May 20, 1858 01896-05-16 May 16, 1896
William Davis Shipman D. Conn. 01860-03-12 March 12, 1860 01873-04-16 April 16, 1873

United States Court of Claims

Judge Began active
Ended active
Gilchrist, John JamesJohn James Gilchrist 1855 1858
Scarburgh, George ParkerGeorge Parker Scarburgh 1855 1861

States admitted to the Union

Personal relationships

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 the woman's demise was caused by an overdose of laudanum, a concentrated tincture of opium.[18] 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."[18] The Coleman family became bitter towards Buchanan and denied him a place at Ann's funeral.[19] 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.[18]

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.[20][21] 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".[22] 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"[22] and Buchanan wrote of his "communion" with his housemate.[23] 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.[22] In his book, Lies Across America, James W. Loewen points out that in May 1844, during one of the interruptions in Buchanan and King's relationship that resulted from King's appointment as minister to France, Buchanan wrote to a Mrs. Roosevelt about his social life, "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."[24][25][26] The only President never to marry, Buchanan turned to Harriet Lane, an orphaned niece whom he had earlier adopted, to act as his First Lady.


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".[27] Buchanan died June 1, 1868, at the age of 77 at his home at Wheatland and was interred in Woodward Hill Cemetery in Lancaster.

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.[28] Historical rankings of United States Presidents by scholars considering presidential achievements, leadership qualities, failures and faults, consistently place Buchanan among the worst presidents, if not the worst, in U.S. history.[29][30]

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 in Iowa, Missouri, and 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.[31]



  1. ^ Klein (1962), pp. xviii.
  2. ^ [1]
  3. ^ [2]
  4. ^ Klein (1962), pp. 9-12.
  5. ^ Baker (2004), p. 18.
  6. ^ Klein (1962), p. 27.
  7. ^ Curtis (1883), p. 22.
  8. ^ Curtis (1883), pp. 107-109.
  9. ^ Seigenthaler (2004), pp. 107-108.
  10. ^ Klein (1962), pp. 181-183.
  11. ^ Klein (1962), p. 210.
  12. ^ Klein (1962), p. 415.
  13. ^
  14. ^ Stampp (1990) p. 48
  15. ^ Hakim, Joy. The New Nation: 1789-1850 A History of US Book 4
  16. ^ Baker (2004), p. 140.
  17. ^ Recess appointment; formally nominated on January 23, 1860, confirmed by the United States Senate on January 30, 1860, and received commission on January 30, 1860.
  18. ^ a b c Klein, Philip Shriver (December 1955). "The Lost Love of a Bachelor President". American Heritage Magazine 7 (1). Retrieved 2007-06-18. 
  19. ^ University of Virginia: Miller Center of Public Affairs: James Buchanan: Life Before the Presidency.
  20. ^ Klein (1962), p. 111.
  21. ^ Katz, Jonathan (1976). Gay American History: Lesbians and Gay Men in the U.S.A. : A Documentary. Crowell. p. 647. ISBN 9780690011654. 
  22. ^ a b c Baker (2004), p. 75.
  23. ^ 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.
  24. ^ James W. Loewen. Lies Across America. Page 367. The New Press. 1999
  25. ^ Klein (1962), p. 156.
  26. ^ Curtis (1883), pp. 188, 519.
  27. ^ "Buchanan's Birthplace State Park". Pennsylvania State Parks. Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. Retrieved 2009-03-28. 
  28. ^ "U.S. historians pick top 10 presidential errors". Associated Press (CTV). 2006-02-18. 
  29. ^ Tolson, Jay (2007-02-16). "The 10 Worst Presidents". U.S. News & World Report. Retrieved 2009-03-26. 
  30. ^ Hines, Nico (2008-10-28). "The 10 worst presidents to have held office". London: The Times. Retrieved 2009-03-26. 
  31. ^ 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

Political offices
Preceded by
Franklin Pierce
President of the United States
March 4, 1857 – March 4, 1861
Succeeded by
Abraham Lincoln
Preceded by
John C. Calhoun
United States Secretary of State
Served under: James K. Polk

March 10, 1845 – March 7, 1849
Succeeded by
John M. Clayton
United States Senate
Preceded by
William Wilkins
United States Senator (Class 3) from Pennsylvania
1834 – 1845
Served alongside: Samuel McKean, Daniel Sturgeon
Succeeded by
Simon Cameron
United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
James S. Mitchell
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Pennsylvania's 4th congressional district

Seat One
1823 – 1831
Succeeded by
William M. Hiester
Preceded by
Jacob Hibshman
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Pennsylvania's 3rd congressional district

Seat One
1821 – 1823
Succeeded by
Daniel H. Miller
Preceded by
Philip P. Barbour
Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee
1829 – 1831
Succeeded by
Warren R. Davis
Party political offices
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
Honorary titles
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.


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

I am the last President of the United States!

James Buchanan (23 April 17911 June 1868) was the 15th President of the United States (1857-1861). He was the only bachelor President, and the only resident of Pennsylvania to hold that office. He has been criticized for failing to prevent the country from sliding into schism and the American Civil War.


  • You have lost a child, a dear, dear child. I have lost the only earthly object of my affection.... I have now one request to make,... deny me not. Afford me the melancholy pleasure of seeing her body before internment.
    • Letter returned to him unopened, to the father of his former fiancée Ann Coleman, written after her death, rumored to have been suicide soon after her breaking of their engagement. (1819)
  • I shall not again be a candidate for the Presidency...I shall be 65 on the 23rd April next, and I had determined upon my line of life from the remnant of days with which a kind Providence might bless me, discarding every idea of the Presidency...I can now leave public life, I trust, with credit. Should I become President, the case may be very different, after I shall have worn myself out with the toil and anxiety of the office.
    • Responding to suggestions that he run for President in 1856, as quoted at
  • All agree that under the Constitution slavery in the States is beyond the reach of any human power except that of the respective States themselves wherein it exists. May we not, then, hope that the long agitation on this subject is approaching its end, and that the geographical parties to which it has given birth, so much dreaded by the Father of his Country, will speedily become extinct? Most happy will it be for the country when the public mind shall be diverted from this question to others of more pressing and practical importance. Throughout the whole progress of this agitation, which has scarcely known any intermission for more than twenty years, whilst it has been productive of no positive good to any human being it has been the prolific source of great evils to the master, to the slave, and to the whole country. It has alienated and estranged the people of the sister States from each other, and has even seriously endangered the very existence of the Union. Nor has the danger yet entirely ceased. Under our system there is a remedy for all mere political evils in the sound sense and sober judgment of the people. Time is a great corrective. Political subjects which but a few years ago excited and exasperated the public mind have passed away and are now nearly forgotten. But this question of domestic slavery is of far graver importance than any mere political question, because should the agitation continue it may eventually endanger the personal safety of a large portion of our countrymen where the institution exists. In that event no form of government, however admirable in itself and however productive of material benefits, can compensate for the loss of peace and domestic security around the family altar. Let every Union-loving man, therefore, exert his best influence to suppress this agitation, which since the recent legislation of Congress is without any legitimate object.
    • Inaugural address (4 March 1857)
  • I am the last President of the United States!
    • A statement he is reported to have made several times to others after the secession of South Carolina, or as early as after the election of Abraham Lincoln (1860), as quoted in Lincoln's War: The Untold Story of America's Greatest President as Commander in Chief (2004) by Geoffrey Perret
I feel that my duty has been faithfully, though it may be imperfectly, performed, and, whatever the result may be, I shall carry to my grave the consciousness that I at least meant well for my country.
  • The course of events is so rapidly hastening forward that the emergency may soon arise when you may be called upon to decide the momentous question whether you possess the power by force of arms to compel a State to remain in the Union. I should feel myself recreant to my duty were I not to express an opinion on this important subject.
    The question fairly stated is, Has the Constitution delegated to Congress the power to coerce a State into submission which is attempting to withdraw or has actually withdrawn from the Confederacy? If answered in the affirmative, it must be on the principle that the power has been conferred upon Congress to declare and to make war against a State. After much serious reflection I have arrived at the conclusion that no such power has been delegated to Congress or to any other department of the Federal Government. It is manifest upon an inspection of the Constitution that this is not among the specific and enumerated powers granted to Congress, and it is equally apparent that its exercise is not "necessary and proper for carrying into execution" any one of these powers. So far from this power having been delegated to Congress, it was expressly refused by the Convention which framed the Constitution.
    • Speech before Congress (3 December 1860)
  • It is said that serious apprehensions are to some extent entertained (in which I do not share) that the peace of this District may be disturbed before the 4th of March next. In any event, it will be my duty to preserve it, and this duty shall be performed.
    In conclusion it may be permitted to me to remark that I have often warned my countrymen of the dangers which now surround us. This may be the last time I shall refer to the subject officially. I feel that my duty has been faithfully, though it may be imperfectly, performed, and, whatever the result may be, I shall carry to my grave the consciousness that I at least meant well for my country.
    • Speech to Congress (8 January 1861)
Sir, if you are as happy in entering the White House as I shall feel on returning to Wheatland, you are a happy man indeed.
  • Sir, if you are as happy in entering the White House as I shall feel on returning to Wheatland, you are a happy man indeed.
    • Said to Abraham Lincoln on the ride back from Lincoln's inauguration as president (4 March 1861); as quoted in James Buchanan (2004) by Jean H. Baker, Pg 140; This or slightly paraphrased variants or abbreviated versions have also been been reported as having been said said before the inauguration:
      Sir, if you are as happy in entering the White House as I shall feel on returning [home], you are a happy man indeed.
      If you are as happy entering the presidency as I am in leaving it, then you are truly a happy man.
      • As quoted in Presidential Leadership : Rating the Best and the Worst in the White House (2004) edited by James Taranto and Leonard Leo
    • Earlier variant: Some knave or fool got up a lie from the whole cloth and it was telegraphed over the country that I was about to purchase or had purchased a place somewhere else and would not return to Wheatland. If my successor should be as happy in entering the White House as I shall feel on returning to Wheatland he will indeed be a happy man. I am just now in my own mind chalking out the course of my last message. In it, should Providence continue his blessing, I shall have nothing to record but uninterrupted success for my country. The trouble about the slavery question would all have been avoided, had the Country submitted to the decision of the Supreme Court delivered two or three days after my inaugural.
      • Letter to William Carpenter (13 September 1860); as published in Historical Papers and Addresses of the Lancaster County Historical Society
  • Liberty must be allowed to work out its natural results; and these will, ere long, astonish the world.
    • As quoted in Presidential Leadership : Rating the Best and the Worst in the White House (2004) edited by James Taranto and Leonard Leo
  • What is right and what is practicable are two different things.
    • As quoted in Presidential Leadership : Rating the Best and the Worst in the White House (2004) edited by James Taranto and Leonard Leo

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1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

JAMES BUCHANAN (1791-1868), fifteenth president of the United States, was born near Foltz, Franklin county, Pennsylvania, on the 23rd of April 1791. Both parents were of ScottishIrish Presbyterian descent. He graduated at Dickinson College, Carlisle, Pennsylvania, in 1809, studied law at Lancaster in 1809-1812, and was admitted to the bar in 1812. He served in the lower house of the state legislature in 1814-1816, and as a representative in Congress from 1821 to 1831. As chairman of the judiciary committee he conducted the impeachment trial (1830) of Judge James H. Peck, led an unsuccessful movement to increase the number of Supreme Court judges and to relieve them of their circuit duties, and succeeded in defeating an attempt to repeal the twenty-fifth section of the Judiciary Act of 1789, which gave the Supreme Court appellate jurisdiction by writ of error to the state courts in cases where federal laws and treaties are in question. After the dissolution of the Federalist party, of which he had been a member, he supported the Jackson-Van Buren faction, and soon came to be definitely associated with the Democrats. He represented the United States at the court of St Petersburg in 1832-1833, and there negotiated an important commercial treaty. He was a Democratic member of the United States Senate from December 1834 until March 1845, ardently supporting President Jackson, and was secretary of state in the cabinet of President Polk from 1845 to 1849 - a period marked by the annexation of Texas, the Mexican War, and negotiations with Great Britain relative to the Oregon question. After four years of retirement spent in the practice of his profession, he was appointed by President Pierce minister to Great Britain in 1853.

Up to this time Buchanan's attitude on the slavery question had been that held by the conservative element among Northern Democrats. He felt that the institution was morally wrong, but held that Congress could not interfere with it in the states in which it existed, and ought not to hinder the natural tendency toward territorial expansion through a fear that the evil would spread. He voted for the bill to exclude anti-slavery literature from the mails, approved of the annexation of Texas, the war with Mexico, and the Compromise of 1850, and disapproved of the Wilmot Proviso. Fortunately for his career he was abroad during the Kansas-Nebraska debates, and hence did not share in the unpopularity which attached to Stephen A. Douglas as the author of the bill, and to President Pierce as the executive who was called upon to enforce it. At the same time, by joining with J. Y. Mason and Pierre Soule in issuing the Ostend Manifesto in 1854, he retained the good-will of the South." Accord ' This " manifesto," which was bitterly attacked in the North, was agreed upon (October 18, 1854) by the three ministers after several meetings at Ostend and at Aix-la-Chapelle, arranged in pursuance of instructions to them from President Pierce to " corn-, pare opinions, and to adopt measures for perfect concert of action in aid of the negotiations at Madrid " on the subject of reparations demanded from Spain by the United States for alleged injuries to American commerce with Cuba. In the manifesto the three ministers asserted that " from the peculiarity of its geographical position, and the considerations attendant upon it, Cuba is as necessary to the North American republic as any of its present members "; spoke of the danger to the United States of an insurrection in Cuba; asserted that " we should be recreant to our duty, be unworthy ingly on his return from England in 1856 he was nominated by the Democrats as a compromise candidate for president, and was elected, receiving 174 electoral votes to 114 for John C. Fremont, Republican, and 8 for Millard Fillmore, American or " Know-Nothing." His high moral character, the breadth of his legal knowledge, and his experience as congressman, cabinet member and diplomat, would have made Buchanan an excellent president in ordinary times; but he lacked the soundness of judgment, the self-reliance and the moral courage needed to face a crisis. At the beginning of his administration he appointed Robert J. Walker of Mississippi, territorial governor of Kansas, and Frederick P. Stanton of Tennessee, secretary, and assured them of his determination to adhere to the popular sovereignty principle. He soon began to use his influence, however, to force the admission of Kansas into the Union under the pro-slavery Lecompton Constitution, contrary to the wishes of the majority of the settlers. Stanton was removed from office for opposing the scheme, and Walker resigned in disgust. This change of policy was doubtless the result of timidity rather than of a desire to secure re-election by gaining the favour of the Southern Democracy. Under the influence of Howell Cobb of Georgia, secretary of the treasury, and Jacob Thompson of Mississippi, secretary of the interior, the president was convinced that it was the only way to avoid civil war. Federal patronage was freely used to advance the Lecompton measure and the compromise English Bill, and to prevent Douglas's election to the Senate in 1858. Some of these facts were brought out in the famous Covode Investigation conducted by a committee of the House of Representatives in 1860. The investigations, however, were very partisan in character, and there is reason to doubt the constitutional power of the House to make it, except as the basis for an impeachment trial.

The call issued by the South Carolina legislature just after the election of Lincoln for a state convention to decide upon the advisability of secession brought forward the most serious question of Buchanan's administration. The part of his annual message of the 4th of December 1860 dealing with it is based upon a report prepared by Attorney-General Jeremiah S. Black of Pennsylvania. He argued that a state had no legal right to secede, but denied that the federal government had any power forcibly to prevent it. At the same time it was the duty of the president to call out the army and navy of the United States to protect federal property or to enforce federal laws. Soon after the secession movement began the Southern members of the cabinet resigned, and the president gradually came under the influence of Black, Stanton, Dix, and other Northern leaders. He continued, however, to work for a peaceful settlement, supporting the Crittenden Compromise and the work of the Peace Congress. He disapproved of Major Anderson's removal of his troops from Fort Moultrie to Fort Sumter in December 1860; but there is probably no basis for the charge made by Southern writers that the removal itself was in violation of a pledge given by the president to preserve the status quo in Charleston harbour until the arrival of the South Carolina commissioners in Washington. Equally unfounded is the assertion first made by Thurlow Weed in the London Observer (gth of February 1862) that the president was prevented from ordering Anderson back to Fort Moultrie only by the threat of four members of the cabinet to resign.

of our gallant forefathers, and commit base treason against our posterity, should we permit Cuba to be Africanized and become a second Santo Domingo, with all its attendant horrors to the white race, and suffer the flames to extend to our own neighboring shores, seriously to endanger or actually destroy the fair fabric of our Union "; and recommended that " the United States ought, if practicable, to purchase Cuba as soon as possible." To Spain, they argued, the sale of the island would be a great advantage. The most startling declaration of the manifesto was that if Spain should refuse to sell " after we have offered a price for Cuba far beyond its present value," and if Cuba, in the possession of Spain, should seriously endanger " our internal peace and the existence of our cherished Union," then " by every law, human and divine, we shall be justified in wresting it from Spain if we have the power." On the expiration of his term of office(March 4, 1861) Buchanan retired to his home at Wheatland, near Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where he died on the 1st of June 1868. His mistakes as president have been so emphasized as to obscure the fact that he was a man of unimpeachable honesty, of the highest patriotism, and of considerable ability. He never married.

See George Ticknor Curtis, The Life of James Buchanan (2 vols., New York, 1883), the standard biography; Curtis, however, was a close personal and political friend, and his work is too eulogistic. More trustworthy, but at times unduly severe, is the account given by James Ford Rhodes in the first two volumes of his History of the United States since the Compromise of 1850 (New York, new edition, 1902 et seq.). John Bassett Moore has edited The Works of James Buchanan, comprising his Speeches, State Papers, and Private Correspondence (Philadelphia, 1908 et seq.).

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Simple English

James Buchanan

In office
March 4, 1857 – March 3, 1861
Vice President John C. Breckinridge
Preceded by Franklin Pierce
Succeeded by Abraham Lincoln

Born April 23, 1791
Cove Gap, Pennsylvania
Died June 1, 1868
Lancaster, Pennsylvania
Nationality American
Political party Democratic
Spouse Never Married
Religion Presbyterianism

James Buchanan (April 23, 1791 - June 1, 1868) was the 15th President of the United States. He was the only President not to have married. His niece, Harriet Lane, stood in as First Lady. He was an experienced politician and he became president in 1857.


During the beginning of his presidency, he called slavery an issue of little importance. This was clearly not the case at the time; Northerners and Southerners were very divided on slavery, almost to the point of war.

The Supreme Court declared that African-Americans were not American citizens and that the states were allowed to keep slavery legal. James Buchanan supported that decision because he did not want the pro-slavery states to stop being part of the United States.

Buchanan supported the rights of slave owners to keep their slaves and wanted Kansas to adopt a constitution that allowed slavery. Because of that, the Democratic Party was divided on that issue and after the 1858 Congressional election, there were more Republicans in Congress than Democrats. He did not get along with the Republicans.

He ordered troops to fight against Utah based on untrue information that Utah was planning a revolt. Buchanan later realized that he made a mistake and apologized.

During his term, the country was becoming more and more divided over the slavery issue. A few months before his term ended, some of the southern states decided that they were going to not be a part of the United States any more.

Buchanan believed that it was a bad thing, but he did nothing about it because he felt that using force against the south was against the Constitution. He did not even prepare the country for war.

At the end of his term, he would leave the next president, Abraham Lincoln, to face the greatest crisis in United States history, the Civil War.

Many historians think that he is the worst U.S. president.

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