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James Buchanan

James Buchanan

Overview
James Buchanan, Jr. (April 23, 1791 June 1, 1868, bjuːˈkænən) was the 15th President of the United States
President of the United States
The President of the United States of America is the head of state and head of government of the United States. The president leads the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces....

 (1857–1861). He is the only president from Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is a U.S. state that is located in the Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States. The state borders Delaware and Maryland to the south, West Virginia to the southwest, Ohio to the west, New York and Ontario, Canada, to the north, and New Jersey to...

, the only president who remained a lifelong bachelor and the last to be born in the 18th century.

Buchanan (often called Buck-anan by his contemporaries) was a popular and experienced state politician and a successful attorney before his presidency.
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Quotations

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 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

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
Encyclopedia
James Buchanan, Jr. (April 23, 1791 June 1, 1868, bjuːˈkænən) was the 15th President of the United States
President of the United States
The President of the United States of America is the head of state and head of government of the United States. The president leads the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces....

 (1857–1861). He is the only president from Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is a U.S. state that is located in the Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States. The state borders Delaware and Maryland to the south, West Virginia to the southwest, Ohio to the west, New York and Ontario, Canada, to the north, and New Jersey to...

, the only president who remained a lifelong bachelor and the last to be born in the 18th century.

Buchanan (often called Buck-anan by his contemporaries) was a popular and experienced state politician and a successful attorney before his presidency. He represented Pennsylvania in the U.S. House of Representatives
United States House of Representatives
The United States House of Representatives is one of the two Houses of the United States Congress, the bicameral legislature which also includes the Senate.The composition and powers of the House are established in Article One of the Constitution...

 and later the Senate
United States Senate
The United States Senate is the upper house of the bicameral legislature of the United States, and together with the United States House of Representatives comprises the United States Congress. The composition and powers of the Senate are established in Article One of the U.S. Constitution. Each...

, and served as Minister to Russia under President Andrew Jackson
Andrew Jackson
Andrew Jackson was the seventh President of the United States . Based in frontier Tennessee, Jackson was a politician and army general who defeated the Creek Indians at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend , and the British at the Battle of New Orleans...

. He also was Secretary of State
United States Secretary of State
The United States Secretary of State is the head of the United States Department of State, concerned with foreign affairs. The Secretary is a member of the Cabinet and the highest-ranking cabinet secretary both in line of succession and order of precedence...

 under President James K. Polk
James K. Polk
James Knox Polk was the 11th President of the United States . Polk was born in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. He later lived in and represented Tennessee. A Democrat, Polk served as the 17th Speaker of the House of Representatives and the 12th Governor of Tennessee...

. After turning down an offer for an appointment to the Supreme Court
Supreme Court of the United States
The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest court in the United States. It has ultimate appellate jurisdiction over all state and federal courts, and original jurisdiction over a small range of cases...

, President Franklin Pierce
Franklin Pierce
Franklin Pierce was the 14th President of the United States and is the only President from New Hampshire. Pierce was a Democrat and a "doughface" who served in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate. Pierce took part in the Mexican-American War and became a brigadier general in the Army...

 appointed him Minister to the United Kingdom
United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom
The office of United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom was traditionally, and still is very much so today due to the Special Relationship, the most prestigious position in the United States Foreign Service...

, in which capacity he helped draft the controversial Ostend Manifesto
Ostend Manifesto
The Ostend Manifesto was a document written in 1854 that described the rationale for the United States to purchase Cuba from Spain and implied the U.S. should declare war if Spain refused. Cuba's annexation had long been a goal of U.S. expansionists, particularly as the U.S. set its sights...

.

Buchanan was nominated in the 1856 election
United States presidential election, 1856
The United States presidential election of 1856 was an unusually heated contest that led to the election of James Buchanan, the ambassador to the United Kingdom. Republican candidate John C. Frémont condemned the Kansas–Nebraska Act and crusaded against the expansion of slavery, while Democrat...

. Throughout most of Franklin Pierce
Franklin Pierce
Franklin Pierce was the 14th President of the United States and is the only President from New Hampshire. Pierce was a Democrat and a "doughface" who served in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate. Pierce took part in the Mexican-American War and became a brigadier general in the Army...

's term he was stationed in London as a Minister to the Court of St. James's
Court of St. James's
The Court of St James's is the royal court of the United Kingdom. It previously had the same function in the Kingdom of England and in the Kingdom of Great Britain .-Overview:...

 and therefore was not caught up in the crossfire of sectional politics that dominated the country. Buchanan was viewed by many as a compromise between the two sides of the slavery question. His subsequent election victory took place in a three-man race with John C. Frémont
John C. Frémont
John Charles Frémont , was an American military officer, explorer, and the first candidate of the anti-slavery Republican Party for the office of President of the United States. During the 1840s, that era's penny press accorded Frémont the sobriquet The Pathfinder...

 and Millard Fillmore
Millard Fillmore
Millard Fillmore was the 13th President of the United States and the last member of the Whig Party to hold the office of president...

. As President, he was often called a "doughface
Doughface
The term doughface originally referred to an actual mask made of dough, but came to be used in a disparaging context for someone, especially a politician, who is perceived to be pliable and moldable...

", a Northerner with Southern sympathies, who battled with Stephen A. Douglas
Stephen A. Douglas
Stephen Arnold Douglas was an American politician from the western state of Illinois, and was the Northern Democratic Party nominee for President in 1860. He lost to the Republican Party's candidate, Abraham Lincoln, whom he had defeated two years earlier in a Senate contest following a famed...

 for the control of the Democratic Party
History of the United States Democratic Party
The history of the Democratic Party of the United States is an account of the oldest political party in the United States and arguably the oldest democratic party in the world....

. Buchanan's efforts to maintain peace
Origins of the American Civil War
The main explanation for the origins of the American Civil War is slavery, especially Southern anger at the attempts by Northern antislavery political forces to block the expansion of slavery into the western territories...

 between the North and the South alienated both sides, and the Southern states declared their secession
Secession in the United States
Secession in the United States can refer to secession of a state from the United States, secession of part of a state from that state to form a new state, or secession of an area from a city or county....

 in the prologue to the American Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

. 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."

When 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. 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
Historical rankings of United States Presidents
In political science, historical rankings of Presidents of the United States are surveys conducted in order to construct rankings of the success of individuals who have served as President of the United States. Ranking systems are usually based on surveys of academic historians and political...

. Buchanan biographer Philip Klein puts these rankings into context: "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
Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States, serving from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865. He successfully led his country through a great constitutional, military and moral crisis – the American Civil War – preserving the Union, while ending slavery, and...

."

Early life


James Buchanan, Jr., was born in a log cabin
Log cabin
A log cabin is a house built from logs. It is a fairly simple type of log house. A distinction should be drawn between the traditional meanings of "log cabin" and "log house." Historically most "Log cabins" were a simple one- or 1½-story structures, somewhat impermanent, and less finished or less...

 in Cove Gap
Cove Gap, Pennsylvania
Cove Gap is a village in Peters Township, Franklin County, Pennsylvania, in the United States. Buchanan's Birthplace State Park is located here and honors the 15th US president James Buchanan, who was born in this village on April 23, 1791....

 (now James Buchanan Birthplace State Park), Franklin County, Pennsylvania
Franklin County, Pennsylvania
As of the census of 2000, there were 129,313 people, 50,633 households, and 36,405 families residing in the county. The population density was 168 people per square mile . There were 53,803 housing units at an average density of 70 per square mile...

, on April 23, 1791, to James Buchanan, Sr. (1761–1833), a well-to-do businessman, and Elizabeth Speer (1767–1833). His parents were both of Scots-Irish descent, the father having emigrated from Donegal
Donegal
Donegal or Donegal Town is a town in County Donegal, Ireland. Its name, which was historically written in English as Dunnagall or Dunagall, translates from Irish as "stronghold of the foreigners" ....

, 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.

In 1797, the family moved to nearby Mercersburg, Pennsylvania
Mercersburg, Pennsylvania
Mercersburg is a borough in Franklin County, Pennsylvania, southwest of Harrisburg. Originally called Black Town, it was incorporated in 1831. In 1900, 956 people lived here, and in 1910, 1,410 people lived here...

. The home in Mercersburg was later turned into the James Buchanan Hotel.

Buchanan attended the village academy and later Dickinson College
Dickinson College
Dickinson College is a private, residential liberal arts college in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Originally established as a Grammar School in 1773, Dickinson was chartered September 9, 1783, five days after the signing of the Treaty of Paris, making it the first college to be founded in the newly...

 in Carlisle, Pennsylvania
Carlisle, Pennsylvania
Carlisle is a borough in and the county seat of Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, United States. The name is traditionally pronounced with emphasis on the second syllable. Carlisle is located within the Cumberland Valley, a highly productive agricultural region. As of the 2010 census, the borough...

. Expelled at one point for poor behavior, after pleading for a second chance, he graduated with honors on September 19, 1809. Later that year, he moved to Lancaster
Lancaster, Pennsylvania
Lancaster is a city in the south-central part of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. It is the county seat of Lancaster County and one of the older inland cities in the United States, . With a population of 59,322, it ranks eighth in population among Pennsylvania's cities...

, where he studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1812. A dedicated Federalist, he initially opposed the War of 1812
War of 1812
The War of 1812 was a military conflict fought between the forces of the United States of America and those of the British Empire. The Americans declared war in 1812 for several reasons, including trade restrictions because of Britain's ongoing war with France, impressment of American merchant...

 because he believed it was an unnecessary conflict. When the British invaded neighboring Maryland
Maryland
Maryland is a U.S. state located in the Mid Atlantic region of the United States, bordering Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia to its south and west; Pennsylvania to its north; and Delaware to its east...

, he joined a volunteer light dragoon unit and served in the defense of Baltimore.

An active Freemason, he was the Master of Masonic Lodge #43 in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and a District Deputy Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania
Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania
The Right Worshipful Grand Lodge of the Most Ancient and Honorable Fraternity of Free and Accepted Masons of Pennsylvania and Masonic Jurisdiction Thereunto Belonging is the premier masonic organization in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania...

.

Political career


Buchanan began his political career in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
The Pennsylvania House of Representatives is the lower house of the bicameral Pennsylvania General Assembly, the legislature of the U.S. state of Pennsylvania. There are 203 members, elected for two year terms from single member districts....

 from 1814–1816, serving as a Federalist
Federalist Party (United States)
The Federalist Party was the first American political party, from the early 1790s to 1816, the era of the First Party System, with remnants lasting into the 1820s. The Federalists controlled the federal government until 1801...

. He was elected to the 17th United States Congress
17th United States Congress
The Seventeenth United States Congress was a meeting of the legislative branch of the United States federal government, consisting of the United States Senate and the United States House of Representatives. It met in Washington, D.C. from March 4, 1821 to March 3, 1823, during the fifth and sixth...

 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
21st United States Congress
-House of Representatives:-Leadership:- Senate :* President: John C. Calhoun * President pro tempore: Samuel Smith - House of Representatives :* Speaker: Andrew Stevenson -Members:This list is arranged by chamber, then by state...

. In 1830, he was among the members appointed by the House to conduct impeachment
Impeachment
Impeachment is a formal process in which an official is accused of unlawful activity, the outcome of which, depending on the country, may include the removal of that official from office as well as other punishment....

 proceedings against James H. Peck
James H. Peck
James Hawkins Peck was a son of Revolutionary Soldier Adam Peck and his wife Elizabeth Sharkey Peck. He was a United States federal judge on the United States District Court for the District of Missouri...

, judge of the United States District Court for the District of Missouri, who was ultimately acquitted. Buchanan did not seek reelection, and from 1832 to 1834 he served as Minister to Russia.

With the Federalist Party long defunct, Buchanan was elected as a Democrat
History of the United States Democratic Party
The history of the Democratic Party of the United States is an account of the oldest political party in the United States and arguably the oldest democratic party in the world....

 to the United States Senate
United States Senate
The United States Senate is the upper house of the bicameral legislature of the United States, and together with the United States House of Representatives comprises the United States Congress. The composition and powers of the Senate are established in Article One of the U.S. Constitution. Each...

 to fill a vacancy and served from December 1834; he was reelected in 1837 and 1843, and resigned in 1845 to accept President Polk's nomination of him as Secretary of State. He was chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations
United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations
The United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations is a standing committee of the United States Senate. It is charged with leading foreign-policy legislation and debate in the Senate. The Foreign Relations Committee is generally responsible for overseeing and funding foreign aid programs as...

 (24th through 26th Congresses).

After the death of Supreme Court Justice Henry Baldwin
Henry Baldwin (judge)
Henry Baldwin was an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from January 18, 1830, to April 21, 1844.-Biography:...

 in 1844, Buchanan was nominated by President Polk
James K. Polk
James Knox Polk was the 11th President of the United States . Polk was born in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. He later lived in and represented Tennessee. A Democrat, Polk served as the 17th Speaker of the House of Representatives and the 12th Governor of Tennessee...

 to serve as a Justice of the Supreme Court. He declined that nomination because he felt compelled to complete his collaboration on the Oregon Treaty negotiations. The seat was filled by Robert Cooper Grier
Robert Cooper Grier
Robert Cooper Grier , was an American jurist who served on the Supreme Court of the United States.-Early life, education, and career:...

.

Buchanan served as Secretary of State
United States Secretary of State
The United States Secretary of State is the head of the United States Department of State, concerned with foreign affairs. The Secretary is a member of the Cabinet and the highest-ranking cabinet secretary both in line of succession and order of precedence...

 under James K. Polk from 1845 to 1849, despite objections from Buchanan's rival, Vice President George Dallas
George M. Dallas
George Mifflin Dallas was a U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania and the 11th Vice President of the United States , serving under James K. Polk.-Family and early life:...

. In this capacity, he helped negotiate the 1846 Oregon Treaty
Oregon Treaty
The Oregon Treaty is a treaty between the United Kingdom and the United States that was signed on June 15, 1846, in Washington, D.C. The treaty brought an end to the Oregon boundary dispute by settling competing American and British claims to the Oregon Country, which had been jointly occupied by...

 establishing the 49th parallel
49th parallel north
The 49th parallel north is a circle of latitude that is 49 degrees north of the Earth's equatorial plane. It crosses Europe, Asia, the Pacific Ocean, North America, and the Atlantic Ocean....

 as the northern boundary of the western U.S.
No Secretary of State has become President since James Buchanan, although William Howard Taft
William Howard Taft
William Howard Taft was the 27th President of the United States and later the tenth Chief Justice of the United States...

, the 27th President of the United States, often served as Acting Secretary of State during the Theodore Roosevelt
Theodore Roosevelt
Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt was the 26th President of the United States . He is noted for his exuberant personality, range of interests and achievements, and his leadership of the Progressive Movement, as well as his "cowboy" persona and robust masculinity...

 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, despite a false report that he was fired.

He served as minister to the Court of St. James's
United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom
The office of United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom was traditionally, and still is very much so today due to the Special Relationship, the most prestigious position in the United States Foreign Service...

 (Britain) from 1853 to 1856, during which time he helped to draft and then signed, with Pierre Soulé
Pierre Soulé
Pierre Soulé was a U.S. politician and diplomat from Louisiana during the mid-19th century. He is best known for his role in writing the Ostend Manifesto, which was written in 1854 as part of an attempt to annex Cuba to the United States...

 and John Mason
John Y. Mason
John Young Mason was an American politician, diplomat, and United States federal judge.-Early life, education, and career:...

, a memorandum that became known as the Ostend Manifesto
Ostend Manifesto
The Ostend Manifesto was a document written in 1854 that described the rationale for the United States to purchase Cuba from Spain and implied the U.S. should declare war if Spain refused. Cuba's annexation had long been a goal of U.S. expansionists, particularly as the U.S. set its sights...

. This document proposed the purchase from Spain of Cuba
Cuba
The Republic of Cuba is an island nation in the Caribbean. The nation of Cuba consists of the main island of Cuba, the Isla de la Juventud, and several archipelagos. Havana is the largest city in Cuba and the country's capital. Santiago de Cuba is the second largest city...

, then in the midst of revolution and near bankruptcy, declaring the island "as necessary to the North American republic as any of its present ... family of states." Against Buchanan's recommendation, the final draft of the Manifesto suggested that "wresting it from Spain" if Spain refused to sell would be justified "by every law, human and Divine." The Manifesto, generally considered a blunder overall, was never acted upon but weakened the Pierce administration and support for Manifest Destiny
Manifest Destiny
Manifest Destiny was the 19th century American belief that the United States was destined to expand across the continent. It was used by Democrat-Republicans in the 1840s to justify the war with Mexico; the concept was denounced by Whigs, and fell into disuse after the mid-19th century.Advocates of...

.

Presidential election of 1856



The Democrats nominated Buchanan ("Old Public Functionary") in 1856. He had been in England during the Kansas-Nebraska
Kansas-Nebraska Act
The Kansas–Nebraska Act of 1854 created the territories of Kansas and Nebraska, opening new lands for settlement, and had the effect of repealing the Missouri Compromise of 1820 by allowing settlers in those territories to determine through Popular Sovereignty if they would allow slavery within...

 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, it is apparent from all his correspondence, that he was aware of the distinct possibility of his nomination by the Democratic convention in Cincinnati, even before heading home at the finish of his work as Minister to England. Dr. Jonathan Foltz told Buchanan in November 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.

Former president Millard Fillmore
Millard Fillmore
Millard Fillmore was the 13th President of the United States and the last member of the Whig Party to hold the office of president...

's "Know-Nothing" candidacy helped Buchanan defeat John C. Frémont
John C. Frémont
John Charles Frémont , was an American military officer, explorer, and the first candidate of the anti-slavery Republican Party for the office of President of the United States. During the 1840s, that era's penny press accorded Frémont the sobriquet The Pathfinder...

, 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
Martin Van Buren
Martin Van Buren was the eighth President of the United States . Before his presidency, he was the eighth Vice President and the tenth Secretary of State, under Andrew Jackson ....

) to succeed a fellow Democrat to the Presidency by election in his own right. President-elect
President-elect of the United States
President-elect of the United States is the title used for an incoming President of the United States in the period between the general election on Election Day in November and noon eastern standard time on Inauguration Day, January 20, during which he is not in office yet...

 Buchanan stated about the growing schism in the country: "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". 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
Supreme Court of the United States
The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest court in the United States. It has ultimate appellate jurisdiction over all state and federal courts, and original jurisdiction over a small range of cases...

 interpreted it. The court was considering the legality of restricting slavery in the territories and two justices had hinted to Buchanan what the decision would be.

Presidency 1857–1861



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," and proclaimed that when the decision came he would "cheerfully submit, whatever this may be." Two days later, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney
Roger B. Taney
Roger Brooke Taney was the fifth Chief Justice of the United States, holding that office from 1836 until his death in 1864. He was the first Roman Catholic to hold that office or sit on the Supreme Court of the United States. He was also the eleventh United States Attorney General. He is most...

 delivered the Dred Scott Decision
Dred Scott v. Sandford
Dred Scott v. Sandford, , also known as the Dred Scott Decision, was a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that people of African descent brought into the United States and held as slaves were not protected by the Constitution and could never be U.S...

, 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
Obiter dictum
Obiter dictum is Latin for a statement "said in passing". An obiter dictum is a remark or observation made by a judge that, although included in the body of the court's opinion, does not form a necessary part of the court's decision...

—statements commonly made by a jurist that are not central to the decision in the case. Such comments delighted Southerners and incited anger in the North.

Buchanan, in his view, preferred to see the territorial question resolved by the Supreme Court. He had written to Justice John Catron
John Catron
John Catron was an American jurist who served as a US Supreme Court justice from 1837 to 1865.-Early life:Little is known of Catron's early life, but he served in the War of 1812 under Andrew Jackson...

 in January 1857, inquiring about the outcome of the case and suggesting that a broader decision would be more prudent. Catron, who was from Tennessee
Tennessee
Tennessee is a U.S. state located in the Southeastern United States. It has a population of 6,346,105, making it the nation's 17th-largest state by population, and covers , making it the 36th-largest by total land area...

, replied on February 10 that the Supreme Court's southern majority would decide against Scott, but would likely have to publish the decision on narrow grounds if there was no support from the Court's northern justices—unless Buchanan could convince his fellow Pennsylvanian, Justice Robert Cooper Grier
Robert Cooper Grier
Robert Cooper Grier , was an American jurist who served on the Supreme Court of the United States.-Early life, education, and career:...

, to join the majority. Buchanan then wrote to Grier and successfully prevailed upon him, allowing the majority leverage to issue a broad-ranging decision that transcended the specific circumstances of Scott's case to declare the Missouri Compromise of 1820 unconstitutional. The correspondence was not public at the time; however, at his inauguration, Buchanan was seen in whispered conversation with Chief Justice
Chief Justice of the United States
The Chief Justice of the United States is the head of the United States federal court system and the chief judge of the Supreme Court of the United States. The Chief Justice is one of nine Supreme Court justices; the other eight are the Associate Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States...

 Roger B. Taney
Roger B. Taney
Roger Brooke Taney was the fifth Chief Justice of the United States, holding that office from 1836 until his death in 1864. He was the first Roman Catholic to hold that office or sit on the Supreme Court of the United States. He was also the eleventh United States Attorney General. He is most...

; when the decision was issued two days later, Republicans began spreading word that Taney had then told Buchanan what the forthcoming result would be. Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States, serving from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865. He successfully led his country through a great constitutional, military and moral crisis – the American Civil War – preserving the Union, while ending slavery, and...

 denounced him as an accomplice of the Slave Power
Slave power
The Slave Power was a term used in the Northern United States to characterize the political power of the slaveholding class of the South....

, which Lincoln saw as a conspiracy
Conspiracy (political)
In a political sense, conspiracy refers to a group of persons united in the goal of usurping or overthrowing an established political power. Typically, the final goal is to gain power through a revolutionary coup d'état or through assassination....

 of slaveowners to seize control of the federal government and nationalize
Nationalization
Nationalisation, also spelled nationalization, is the process of taking an industry or assets into government ownership by a national government or state. Nationalization usually refers to private assets, but may also mean assets owned by lower levels of government, such as municipalities, being...

 slavery.

Chaos in Kansas


In 1854 President Pierce faced massive violence in Kansas
Kansas
Kansas is a US state located in the Midwestern United States. It is named after the Kansas River which flows through it, which in turn was named after the Kansa Native American tribe, which inhabited the area. The tribe's name is often said to mean "people of the wind" or "people of the south...

, dubbed Bleeding Kansas
Bleeding Kansas
Bleeding Kansas, Bloody Kansas or the Border War, was a series of violent events, involving anti-slavery Free-Staters and pro-slavery "Border Ruffian" elements, that took place in the Kansas Territory and the western frontier towns of the U.S. state of Missouri roughly between 1854 and 1858...

 by the Republican Party. During its development in the Pierce administration, Kansas saw escalating violence and political fraud between abolitionist and proslavery factions of settlers. The proslavery settlers decided to establish a seat of government in Lecompton, while the abolitionists organized a rival government in Topeka. Nevertheless, to achieve statehood the territory needed to submit to Washington one state constitution adopted by all Kansans. Toward this end, Buchanan appointed Robert Walker
Robert J. Walker
Robert John Walker was an American economist and statesman.- Early life and education :Born in Northumberland, Pennsylvania, the son of a judge. He lived in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania from 1806 to 1814, where his father was presiding judge of the judicial district. Walker was educated at the...

 as Governor and dispatched him to the territory. It was Walker's mission to reduce the divisiveness and ensure a fair and full vote by all the people in forming a constitution. Walker acted poorly in tamping down the partisanship. The result was a census and vote corrupted by partisans on both sides. Kansans thus adopted the pro-slavery Lecompton Constitution
Lecompton Constitution
The Lecompton Constitution was the second of four proposed constitutions for the state of Kansas . The document was written in response to the anti-slavery position of the 1855 Topeka Constitution of James H. Lane and other free-state advocates...

 which was rejected by the anti-slavery forces.

Buchanan's goal was the legal admission of Kansas to the United States and the end of duel
Duel
A duel is an arranged engagement in combat between two individuals, with matched weapons in accordance with agreed-upon rules.Duels in this form were chiefly practised in Early Modern Europe, with precedents in the medieval code of chivalry, and continued into the modern period especially among...

ing governments in the territory. He threw the support of his administration behind congressional approval of the proslavery Lecompton Constitution. Senator Stephen A. Douglas
Stephen A. Douglas
Stephen Arnold Douglas was an American politician from the western state of Illinois, and was the Northern Democratic Party nominee for President in 1860. He lost to the Republican Party's candidate, Abraham Lincoln, whom he had defeated two years earlier in a Senate contest following a famed...

, leader of the Democrats in the Senate, denounced Lecompton and the battle over Kansas escalated into a battle over the control of the Democratic Party. Buchanan made every effort, legal or not, to defeat Douglas and secure Congressional approval for Kansas statehood, offering favor
Favor
Favor, Favour, or Favors, may refer to:* Favor , a deed in which help is voluntarily provided* Party favor, a small gift given to the guests at a party...

s, patronage
Patronage
Patronage is the support, encouragement, privilege, or financial aid that an organization or individual bestows to another. In the history of art, arts patronage refers to the support that kings or popes have provided to musicians, painters, and sculptors...

 appointments and even cash
Bribery
Bribery, a form of corruption, is an act implying money or gift giving that alters the behavior of the recipient. Bribery constitutes a crime and is defined by Black's Law Dictionary as the offering, giving, receiving, or soliciting of any item of value to influence the actions of an official or...

 in exchange for votes. The Lecompton bill passed through the House, but it was blocked by Douglas. 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 Democratic party in 1857–60, with Buchanan using his patronage powers and Douglas rallying the popular base. Douglas emerged victorious, and Buchanan was reduced to a narrow base of southern supporters.

Buchanan's political views


Buchanan considered the essence of good self-government to be founded on 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 people's 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."

One of the greatest issues of the day was tariffs. Buchanan condemned both free trade and prohibitive tariffs, since either 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."

Buchanan, like many of his time, was torn between his desire to expand the country for the benefit of all and his insistence on guaranteeing to the people settling the expanded areas their rights, including 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." 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." For instance, he hoped the acquisition of Texas would "be the means of limiting, not enlarging, the dominion of slavery."

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".

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
Divine Providence
In Christian theology, divine providence, or simply providence, is God's activity in the world. " Providence" is also used as a title of God exercising His providence, and then the word are usually capitalized...

 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
Doughface
The term doughface originally referred to an actual mask made of dough, but came to be used in a disparaging context for someone, especially a politician, who is perceived to be pliable and moldable...

", a northern man with southern principles.

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."

Buchanan was irked that the abolitionists were preventing the solution to 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."

Buchanan's indifference to educational issues was demonstrated by his veto of a bill passed by Congress to create more colleges, for he believed that "there were already too many educated people." In fact, the bill he vetoed was a ruse for a federal land donation act designed to benefit Rep. John Covode
John Covode
John Covode was a United States Congressman and abolitionist.-Early life:Covode was born in West Fairfield, Pennsylvania. After serving an apprenticeship to a blacksmith, he became involved in the Westmoreland Coal Company, serving as the first president of the company in 1854...

's railroad company, and fashioned to appear as a land grant for new agricultural colleges.

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."

Panic of 1857


The Panic of 1857
Panic of 1857
The Panic of 1857 was a financial panic in the United States caused by the declining international economy and over-expansion of the domestic economy. Indeed, because of the interconnectedness of the world economy by the time of the 1850s, the financial crisis which began in the autumn of 1857 was...

 began in summer of that year, brought on mostly by the people's over-consumption of goods from Europe to such an extent that the Union's specie
Coin
A coin is a piece of hard material that is standardized in weight, is produced in large quantities in order to facilitate trade, and primarily can be used as a legal tender token for commerce in the designated country, region, or territory....

 was drained off, overbuilding by competing railroads, and 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 tariffs.

Buchanan's response, outlined in his first Annual Message to Congress, was "reform not relief." While the government was "without the power to extend relief,", it 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, though many Americans suffered as a result of the panic. The South, due to an agriculture-based economy, was considered to have been less severely affected than the North, where manufacturers were hardest hit. Buchanan, by the time he left office in 1861, had accumulated a federal deficit of $17 million.

Utah War



In March 1857, Buchanan received conflicting reports from federal judges in the Utah Territory
Utah Territory
The Territory of Utah was an organized incorporated territory of the United States that existed from September 9, 1850, until January 4, 1896, when the final extent of the territory was admitted to the Union as the State of Utah....

 that their offices had been disrupted and they had been driven from their posts by the Mormons
Mormons
The Mormons are a religious and cultural group related to Mormonism, a religion started by Joseph Smith during the American Second Great Awakening. A vast majority of Mormons are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints while a minority are members of other independent churches....

. He knew that the Pierce administration had refused to facilitate Utah's being granted statehood and the Mormons feared the loss of their property rights. Accepting the wildest rumors and believing the Mormons to be in open rebellion against the United States, Buchanan sent the Army in November of that year to replace Brigham Young
Brigham Young
Brigham Young was an American leader in the Latter Day Saint movement and a settler of the Western United States. He was the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 1847 until his death in 1877, he founded Salt Lake City, and he served as the first governor of the Utah...

 as Governor with the non-Mormon Alfred Cumming
Alfred Cumming (governor)
Alfred Cumming was appointed governor of the Utah territory in 1858 replacing Brigham Young following the Utah War...

. While the Mormons' defiance of federal authority in the past had become traditional, some question whether Buchanan's action was a justifiable or prudent response to uncorroborated reports. Complicating matters, Young's notice of his replacement was not delivered because the Pierce administration had annulled the Utah mail contract. After Young reacted to the military action by mustering a two-week expedition destroying wagon trains, oxen and other Army property, Buchanan dispatched Thomas L. Kane
Thomas L. Kane
Thomas Leiper Kane was an American attorney, abolitionist, and military officer who was influential in the western migration of the Latter-day Saint movement and served as a Union Army colonel and general of volunteers in the American Civil War...

 as a private agent to negotiate peace. The mission succeeded, the new governor was shortly placed in office, and the Utah War
Utah War
The Utah War, also known as the Utah Expedition, Buchanan's Blunder, the Mormon War, or the Mormon Rebellion was an armed confrontation between LDS settlers in the Utah Territory and the armed forces of the United States government. The confrontation lasted from May 1857 until July 1858...

 ended. The President granted amnesty to all inhabitants who would respect the authority of the government, and moved the federal troops to a non-threatening distance for the balance of his administration.

Partisan deadlock


The division between northern and southern Democrats allowed the Republicans to win a plurality in the House in the election of 1858
United States House election, 1858
Following the U.S. House election of 1858, the Republicans gained control of the House for the first time, benefiting from the continued breakdown in the anti-immigration and anti-Catholic American Party of the Know Nothing Movement, and from strife within the Democratic Party.The Republicans were...

. 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
Cuba
The Republic of Cuba is an island nation in the Caribbean. The nation of Cuba consists of the main island of Cuba, the Isla de la Juventud, and several archipelagos. Havana is the largest city in Cuba and the country's capital. Santiago de Cuba is the second largest city...

). Buchanan thought the ideologies of the United States would bring peace and prosperity to these neighboring lands as they had in the Northwest and that without 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. These goals would not be reached. Buchanan, in turn, vetoed six substantial pieces of Republican legislation, causing further hostility between Congress and the White House.

In March 1860 the House created the Covode Committee
The Covode Committee
The Select Committee to Investigte Alleged Corruptions in Government was as select committee of the United States House of Representatives which operated during the spring and summer of 1860 during the 36th Congress. The committee was charged with a broad investigation of the administration of...

 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's 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 corruption and abuse of power among members of his Cabinet. 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.

Disintegration: election of 1860



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 little part at the national convention, meeting in Charleston, South Carolina
Charleston, South Carolina
Charleston is the second largest city in the U.S. state of South Carolina. It was made the county seat of Charleston County in 1901 when Charleston County was founded. The city's original name was Charles Towne in 1670, and it moved to its present location from a location on the west bank of the...

. The southern wing walked out of the convention and nominated its own candidate for the presidency, incumbent Vice President John C. Breckinridge
John C. Breckinridge
John Cabell Breckinridge was an American lawyer and politician. He served as a U.S. Representative and U.S. Senator from Kentucky and was the 14th Vice President of the United States , to date the youngest vice president in U.S...

. Another faction nominated former Speaker of the House John Bell, who took no position on slavery; his only focus was on saving the Union. The remainder of the party finally nominated Buchanan's archenemy, Stephen Douglas. For his part, President Buchanan supported Breckenridge's candidacy. When the Republicans nominated Abraham Lincoln, it was a near certainty that he would be elected.

As early as October, the army's Commanding General
Commanding General of the United States Army
Prior to the institution of the Chief of Staff of the United States Army in 1903, there was generally a single senior-most officer in the army. From 1783, he was known simply as the Senior Officer of the United States Army, but in 1821, the title was changed to Commanding General of the United...

, Winfield Scott
Winfield Scott
Winfield Scott was a United States Army general, and unsuccessful presidential candidate of the Whig Party in 1852....

, warned Buchanan that Lincoln's election would likely cause at least seven states to secede. He also recommended to Buchanan that massive amounts of federal troops and artillery be deployed to those states to protect federal property, although he also warned that few reinforcements were available (Congress had since 1857 failed to heed both men's calls for a stronger militia and had allowed the Army to fall into deplorable condition.) Buchanan, however, distrusted Scott (the two had long been political adversaries) and ignored his recommendations. After Lincoln's election, Buchanan directed War Secretary Floyd to reinforce southern forts with such provisions, arms and men as were available; however, Floyd convinced him to revoke the order.

With Lincoln's victory, talk of secession and disunion reached a boiling point. Buchanan was forced to address it in his final message to Congress. Both factions awaited news of how Buchanan would deal with the question. In his message, Buchanan denied the legal right of states to secede but held that the federal government legally could not prevent them. He placed the blame for the crisis solely on "intemperate interference of the Northern people with the question of slavery in the Southern States", and suggested that if they did not "repeal their unconstitutional and obnoxious enactments ... the injured States, after having first used all peaceful and constitutional means to obtain redress, would be justified in revolutionary resistance to the Government of the Union." Buchanan's only suggestion to solve the crisis was "an explanatory amendment" reaffirming the constitutionality of slavery in the states, the fugitive slave laws, and popular sovereignty
Popular sovereignty
Popular sovereignty or the sovereignty of the people is the political principle that the legitimacy of the state is created and sustained by the will or consent of its people, who are the source of all political power. It is closely associated with Republicanism and the social contract...

 in the territories. His address was sharply criticized both by the north, for its refusal to stop secession, and the south, for refuting its right to secede. Five days after the address was delivered, Treasury Secretary Howell Cobb
Howell Cobb
Howell Cobb was an American political figure. A Southern Democrat, Cobb was a five-term member of the United States House of Representatives and Speaker of the House from 1849 to 1851...

 resigned, feeling that his views and the President's had become irreconcilable.

Efforts were made by statesmen such as Sen. John J. Crittenden
John J. Crittenden
John Jordan Crittenden was a politician from the U.S. state of Kentucky. He represented the state in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate and twice served as United States Attorney General in the administrations of William Henry Harrison and Millard Fillmore...

, Rep. Thomas Corwin
Thomas Corwin
Thomas Corwin , also known as Tom Corwin and The Wagon Boy, was a politician from the state of Ohio who served as a prosecuting attorney, a member of the Ohio House of Representatives, the United States House of Representatives, and the United States Senate, and as the 15th Governor of Ohio 20th...

, and former president John Tyler
John Tyler
John Tyler was the tenth President of the United States . A native of Virginia, Tyler served as a state legislator, governor, U.S. representative, and U.S. senator before being elected Vice President . He was the first to succeed to the office of President following the death of a predecessor...

 to negotiate a compromise to stop secession, with Buchanan's support; all 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 attempted in vain to procure President-elect Lincoln's call for a constitutional convention or national referendum to resolve the issue of slavery. Lincoln declined.

South Carolina declared its secession on December 20, 1860, followed by six other slave states
Southern United States
The Southern United States—commonly referred to as the American South, Dixie, or simply the South—constitutes a large distinctive area in the southeastern and south-central United States...

, and, by February 1861, they had formed the Confederate States of America
Confederate States of America
The Confederate States of America was a government set up from 1861 to 1865 by 11 Southern slave states of the United States of America that had declared their secession from the U.S...

. As Scott had surmised, the secessionist governments declared eminent domain over federal property within their states; Buchanan and his administration took no action to stop the confiscation of government property.

Beginning in late December, Buchanan reorganized his cabinet, ousting Confederate sympathizers and replacing them with hard-line nationalists
Nationalism
Nationalism is a political ideology that involves a strong identification of a group of individuals with a political entity defined in national terms, i.e. a nation. In the 'modernist' image of the nation, it is nationalism that creates national identity. There are various definitions for what...

 Jeremiah S. Black
Jeremiah S. Black
Jeremiah Sullivan Black was an American statesman and lawyer. He was the son of Representative Henry Black, and the father of writer and Lieutenant Governor of Pennsylvania Chauncey Forward Black....

, Edwin M. Stanton
Edwin M. Stanton
Edwin McMasters Stanton was an American lawyer and politician who served as Secretary of War under the Lincoln Administration during the American Civil War from 1862–1865...

, Joseph Holt
Joseph Holt
General Joseph Holt was a leading member of the Buchanan administration and was Judge Advocate General of the United States Army, most notably during the Lincoln assassination trials.-Early life:...

 and John A. Dix
John Adams Dix
John Adams Dix was an American politician from New York. He served as Secretary of the Treasury, U.S. Senator, and the 24th Governor of New York. He was also a Union major general during the Civil War.-Early life and career:...

. 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, 1861. Nevertheless, by that time Buchanan's relations with Congress were so strained that his requests were rejected out of hand.

Fort Sumter


Before Buchanan left office, all arsenals and forts in the seceding states were lost (except Fort Sumter
Fort Sumter
Fort Sumter is a Third System masonry coastal fortification located in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina. The fort is best known as the site upon which the shots initiating the American Civil War were fired, at the Battle of Fort Sumter.- Construction :...

, off the coast of Charleston, South Carolina
Charleston, South Carolina
Charleston is the second largest city in the U.S. state of South Carolina. It was made the county seat of Charleston County in 1901 when Charleston County was founded. The city's original name was Charles Towne in 1670, and it moved to its present location from a location on the west bank of the...

, and three island outposts in Florida), and a fourth of all federal soldiers surrendered to Texas
Texas
Texas is the second largest U.S. state by both area and population, and the largest state by area in the contiguous United States.The name, based on the Caddo word "Tejas" meaning "friends" or "allies", was applied by the Spanish to the Caddo themselves and to the region of their settlement in...

 troops. Knowing that secessionist fervor was strongest in South Carolina, Buchanan made a quiet pact with South Carolina's legislators that he would not reinforce the Charleston garrison in exchange for no interference from the state. However, Buchanan did not inform the Charleston commander, Major Robert Anderson
Major Robert Anderson
Robert Anderson was an American military leader. He served as a Union Army officer in the American Civil War, known for his command of Fort Sumter at the start of the war. He is often referred to as Major Robert Anderson, referring to his rank at Fort Sumter...

, of the agreement, and on December 26 Anderson violated it by moving his command to Fort Sumter. Southerners responded with a demand that Buchanan remove Anderson, while northerners demanded support for the commander. On December 31, in an apparent panic and without consulting Anderson, Buchanan ordered reinforcements.

On January 5, Buchanan sent civilian steamer Star of the West
Star of the West
The Star of the West was a civilian steamship hired by the United States government to transport military supplies and reinforcements to the garrison of Fort Sumter, but was fired on by Confederates in its effort to do so at the dawning of the American Civil War...

to carry reinforcements and supplies to Fort Sumter, which was located in Charleston
Charleston, South Carolina
Charleston is the second largest city in the U.S. state of South Carolina. It was made the county seat of Charleston County in 1901 when Charleston County was founded. The city's original name was Charles Towne in 1670, and it moved to its present location from a location on the west bank of the...

 harbor, a conspicuously visible spot in the Confederacy. On January 9, 1861, South Carolina
South Carolina
South Carolina is a state in the Deep South of the United States that borders Georgia to the south, North Carolina to the north, and the Atlantic Ocean to the east. Originally part of the Province of Carolina, the Province of South Carolina was one of the 13 colonies that declared independence...

 state batteries opened fire on the ship, which returned to New York
New York
New York is a state in the Northeastern region of the United States. It is the nation's third most populous state. New York is bordered by New Jersey and Pennsylvania to the south, and by Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont to the east...

. Buchanan was again criticized by both north (for lack of retaliation against the hostile South Carolina batteries) and south (for attempting to reinforce Fort Sumter), further alienating both factions. Paralyzed, Buchanan made no further moves either to prepare for war or to avert it.

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
White House
The White House is the official residence and principal workplace of the president of the United States. Located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW in Washington, D.C., the house was designed by Irish-born James Hoban, and built between 1792 and 1800 of white-painted Aquia sandstone in the Neoclassical...

 as I shall feel on returning to Wheatland
Wheatland (Lancaster)
Wheatland, or the James Buchanan House, is a brick, Federal style house outside of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in Lancaster Township, Lancaster County. It was formerly owned by the 15th President of the United States, James Buchanan....

, you are a happy man."

James Buchanan's presidential cabinet


Judicial appointments



Buchanan appointed one Justice to the Supreme Court of the United States
Supreme Court of the United States
The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest court in the United States. It has ultimate appellate jurisdiction over all state and federal courts, and original jurisdiction over a small range of cases...

, Nathan Clifford
Nathan Clifford
Nathan Clifford was an American statesman, diplomat and jurist.Clifford was born of old Yankee stock in Rumney, New Hampshire, to farmers, the only son of seven children He attended the public schools of that town, then the Haverhill Academy in New...

. Buchanan appointed only seven other Article III federal judges, all to United States district court
United States district court
The United States district courts are the general trial courts of the United States federal court system. Both civil and criminal cases are filed in the district court, which is a court of law, equity, and admiralty. There is a United States bankruptcy court associated with each United States...

s. He also appointed two Article I judges to the United States Court of Claims
United States Court of Claims
The Court of Claims was a federal court that heard claims against the United States government. It was established in 1855 as the Court of Claims, renamed in 1948 to the United States Court of Claims , and abolished in 1982....

.

States admitted to the Union

  • Minnesota
    Minnesota
    Minnesota is a U.S. state located in the Midwestern United States. The twelfth largest state of the U.S., it is the twenty-first most populous, with 5.3 million residents. Minnesota was carved out of the eastern half of the Minnesota Territory and admitted to the Union as the thirty-second state...

     – May 11, 1858
  • Oregon
    Oregon
    Oregon is a state in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. It is located on the Pacific coast, with Washington to the north, California to the south, Nevada on the southeast and Idaho to the east. The Columbia and Snake rivers delineate much of Oregon's northern and eastern...

     – February 14, 1859
  • Kansas
    Kansas
    Kansas is a US state located in the Midwestern United States. It is named after the Kansas River which flows through it, which in turn was named after the Kansa Native American tribe, which inhabited the area. The tribe's name is often said to mean "people of the wind" or "people of the south...

     – January 29, 1861

Personal relationships



In 1819, Buchanan was engaged to Ann Caroline Coleman, the daughter of a wealthy iron
Iron
Iron is a chemical element with the symbol Fe and atomic number 26. It is a metal in the first transition series. It is the most common element forming the planet Earth as a whole, forming much of Earth's outer and inner core. It is the fourth most common element in the Earth's crust...

 manufacturing businessman and sister-in-law of Philadelphia judge Joseph Hemphill
Joseph Hemphill
Joseph Hemphill was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Pennsylvania.Hemphill was born in Thornbury Township, Pennsylvania. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania at Philadelphia in 1791. He studied law, was admitted to the bar in 1793 and commenced practice in West...

, one of Buchanan's colleagues from the House of Representatives
United States House of Representatives
The United States House of Representatives is one of the two Houses of the United States Congress, the bicameral legislature which also includes the Senate.The composition and powers of the House are established in Article One of the Constitution...

. 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
Panic of 1819
The Panic of 1819 was the first major financial crisis in the United States, and had occurred during the political calm of the Era of Good Feelings. The new nation previously had faced a depression following the war of independence in the late 1780s and led directly to the establishment of the...

, which took him away from Coleman for weeks at a time. Conflicting rumors abounded, suggesting that he was marrying her for her money, because his own family was less affluent, or that he was involved with other women. Buchanan 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 afterward, on December 9, 1819. The records of a Dr. Chapman, who looked after her in her final hours, and who said just after her death that this was "the first instance he ever knew of hysteria
Female hysteria
Female hysteria was a once-common medical diagnosis, made exclusively in women, which is today no longer recognized by modern medical authorities as a medical disorder. Its diagnosis and treatment were routine for many hundreds of years in Western Europe. Hysteria was widely discussed in the...

 producing death", reveal that he theorized, despite the absence of any valid evidence, the woman's demise was caused by an overdose of laudanum
Laudanum
Laudanum , also known as Tincture of Opium, is an alcoholic herbal preparation containing approximately 10% powdered opium by weight ....

, a concentrated tincture of opium.

His fiancée's death struck Buchanan a terrible blow. In a letter to her father, which was returned to him unopened, Buchanan wrote "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
Acute stress reaction
Acute stress reaction is a psychological condition arising in response to a terrifying or traumatic event...

 of her death, but I feel that happiness has fled from me forever." The Coleman family became bitter towards Buchanan and denied him a place at Ann's funeral. Buchanan vowed he would never marry, though he continued to be flirtatious. Some pressed him to seek a wife; in response, Buchanan said, "Marry I could not, for my affections were buried in the grave." He preserved Ann Coleman's letters, keeping them with him throughout his life; at his request, they were burned upon his death.

For fifteen years in Washington, D.C., before his presidency, Buchanan lived with his close friend, Alabama
Alabama
Alabama is a state located in the southeastern region of the United States. It is bordered by Tennessee to the north, Georgia to the east, Florida and the Gulf of Mexico to the south, and Mississippi to the west. Alabama ranks 30th in total land area and ranks second in the size of its inland...

 Senator William Rufus King. King became Vice President
Vice president
A vice president is an officer in government or business who is below a president in rank. The name comes from the Latin vice meaning 'in place of'. In some countries, the vice president is called the deputy president...

 under Franklin Pierce
Franklin Pierce
Franklin Pierce was the 14th President of the United States and is the only President from New Hampshire. Pierce was a Democrat and a "doughface" who served in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate. Pierce took part in the Mexican-American War and became a brigadier general in the Army...

. He became ill and died shortly after Pierce's inauguration, four years before Buchanan became President. Buchanan's and King's close relationship prompted Andrew Jackson
Andrew Jackson
Andrew Jackson was the seventh President of the United States . Based in frontier Tennessee, Jackson was a politician and army general who defeated the Creek Indians at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend , and the British at the Battle of New Orleans...

 to call King "Miss Nancy" and "Aunt Fancy", while Aaron V. Brown
Aaron V. Brown
Aaron Venable Brown was a Governor of Tennessee and Postmaster General in the Buchanan administration. He was also the law partner of James K. Polk.-Biography:...

 spoke of the two as "Buchanan and his wife." Some of the contemporary press also speculated about Buchanan's and King's relationship. The two men's nieces destroyed their uncles' correspondence, leaving some questions about their relationship; but the length and intimacy of surviving letters illustrate "the affection of a special friendship", and Buchanan wrote of his "communion" with his housemate. 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."

Circumstances surrounding Buchanan's and King's close emotional ties have led to speculation that Buchanan was homosexual
Homosexuality
Homosexuality is romantic or sexual attraction or behavior between members of the same sex or gender. As a sexual orientation, homosexuality refers to "an enduring pattern of or disposition to experience sexual, affectional, or romantic attractions" primarily or exclusively to people of the same...

. Buchanan's correspondence during this period with Thomas Kittera, however, mentions his romance with Mary K. Snyder. In Buchanan's letter to Mrs. Francis Preston Blair, he declines an invitation and expresses an expectation of marriage. The only President to remain a bachelor, Buchanan turned to Harriet Lane
Harriet Lane
Harriet Rebecca Lane Johnston , niece of lifelong bachelor United States President James Buchanan, acted as First Lady of the United States from 1857 to 1861. She was one of the few women to hold the position of First Lady while not being married to the President.-Early life:Harriet Lane's family...

, an orphaned niece, whom he had earlier adopted, to act as his official hostess.

Legacy


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". Buchanan died on June 1, 1868, at the age of 77 at his home at Wheatland
Wheatland (Lancaster)
Wheatland, or the James Buchanan House, is a brick, Federal style house outside of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in Lancaster Township, Lancaster County. It was formerly owned by the 15th President of the United States, James Buchanan....

 and was interred in Woodward Hill Cemetery
Woodward Hill Cemetery
Woodward Hill Cemetery is a historic cemetery in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. It was founded by the Trinity Lutheran Church of Lancaster at some time between 1849 and 1852, but became a non-denominational cemetery in 1856. It is well known for being the burial place of James Buchanan, the 15th...

 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. Historical rankings of United States Presidents
Historical rankings of United States Presidents
In political science, historical rankings of Presidents of the United States are surveys conducted in order to construct rankings of the success of individuals who have served as President of the United States. Ranking systems are usually based on surveys of academic historians and political...

, considering presidential achievements, leadership qualities, failures and faults, consistently place Buchanan among the least successful presidents. In an academic poll of 47 British academics specialising in American history and politics in 2011 it was reported that he came last (40th). They "were asked to rate the performance of every president from 1789 to 2009 (excluding William Henry Harrison
William Henry Harrison
William Henry Harrison was the ninth President of the United States , an American military officer and politician, and the first president to die in office. He was 68 years, 23 days old when elected, the oldest president elected until Ronald Reagan in 1980, and last President to be born before the...

 and James Garfield
James Garfield
James Abram Garfield served as the 20th President of the United States, after completing nine consecutive terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. Garfield's accomplishments as President included a controversial resurgence of Presidential authority above Senatorial courtesy in executive...

, who both died shortly after taking office) in five categories:vision/agenda-setting, domestic leadership, foreign policy leadership, moral authority and positive historical significance of their legacy". James K. Polk
James K. Polk
James Knox Polk was the 11th President of the United States . Polk was born in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. He later lived in and represented Tennessee. A Democrat, Polk served as the 17th Speaker of the House of Representatives and the 12th Governor of Tennessee...

 confided to his diary: "Mr. Buchanan is an able man, but is in small matter without judgment and sometimes acts like an old maid."

In somewhat of a contradiction to modern historians and pollsters however, the following prominent observation was made near the middle 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?


A bronze and granite memorial residing near the Southeast corner of Washington, D.C.'s Meridian Hill Park
Meridian Hill Park
Meridian Hill Park, is located in the Washington, D.C. neighborhood of Columbia Heights in the United States. The 12 acres of landscaped grounds are maintained by the National Park Service as part of Rock Creek Park, but are not contiguous with the main part of that park...

 was designed by architect William Gorden Beecher and sculpted by Maryland artist Hans Schuler
Hans Schuler
Hans K. Schuler was a German-born American sculptor and monument maker. He was the first American sculptor ever to win the Salon Gold Medal. His works are in several important museum collections, and he also created many public monuments, mostly for locations in Maryland and in the Washington,...

. 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
Jeremiah S. Black
Jeremiah Sullivan Black was an American statesman and lawyer. He was the son of Representative Henry Black, and the father of writer and Lieutenant Governor of Pennsylvania Chauncey Forward 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
Buchanan's Birthplace State Park
Buchanan's Birthplace State Park is a Pennsylvania state park near Cove Gap, in Peters Township, Franklin County, Pennsylvania in the United States. The park is on Pennsylvania Route 16 along Tuscarora Mountain...

. Part of an 18.5 acres (74,866.9 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, Iowa
-2010 census:The 2010 census recorded a population of 20,958 in the county, with a population density of . There were 8,968 housing units, of which 8,161 were occupied.-2000 census:...

, Buchanan County, Missouri
Buchanan County, Missouri
Buchanan County is a county located in the U.S. state of Missouri. As of 2010, the population was 89,201. Its county seat is Saint Joseph. When originally formed in 1838, the county was named Roberts County, after settler Hiram Roberts; it was renamed in 1839 for James Buchanan, then a U.S....

, and Buchanan County, Virginia
Buchanan County, Virginia
As of the census of 2000, there were 26,978 people, 10,464 households, and 7,900 families residing in the county. The population density was 54 people per square mile . There were 11,887 housing units at an average density of 24 per square mile...

. Another in Texas was christened in 1858 but renamed Stephens County
Stephens County, Texas
As of the census of 2000, there were 9,674 people, 3,661 households, and 2,591 families residing in the county. The population density was 11 people per square mile . There were 4,893 housing units at an average density of 6 per square mile...

, after the newly elected Vice President of the Confederate States of America, Alexander Stephens
Alexander Stephens
Alexander Hamilton Stephens was an American politician from Georgia. He was Vice President of the Confederate States of America during the American Civil War. He also served as a U.S...

, in 1861.

See also

  • Historical rankings of United States Presidents
    Historical rankings of United States Presidents
    In political science, historical rankings of Presidents of the United States are surveys conducted in order to construct rankings of the success of individuals who have served as President of the United States. Ranking systems are usually based on surveys of academic historians and political...

  • List of Presidents of the United States
  • Presidential Dollar
  • U.S. Presidents on U.S. postage stamps
    U.S. Presidents on U.S. postage stamps
    For more than 160 years the one subject that has appeared most frequently on the face of U.S. Postage stamps is that of American Presidents. When the U.S. Post Office released its first two postage stamps in 1847, George Washington, along with Benjamin Franklin, were the two subjects depicted on...


Ancestors





Further reading

  • Binder, Frederick Moore. "James Buchanan: Jacksonian Expansionist" Historian 1992 55(1): 69–84. ISSN 0018-2370 Full text: 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
    Allan Nevins
    Allan Nevins was an American historian and journalist, renowned for his extensive work on the history of the Civil War and his biographies of such figures as President Grover Cleveland, Hamilton Fish, Henry Ford, and John D. Rockefeller.-Life:Born in Camp Point, Illinois, Nevins was educated at...

    . 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
    John Updike
    John Hoyer Updike was an American novelist, poet, short story writer, art critic, and literary critic....

     Buchanan Dying: A Play (1974). ISBN 0-394-49042-8, ISBN 0-8117-0238-3, containing an 80-page historical "Afterword" that discusses sources, etc.

External links




Primary sources

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