Monday, April 19, 2010
James Buchanan (byooKANuhn) (1791-1868), the fifteenth President of the United States, may go down in history as our worst President because he was in the White House when our nation started to break apart and did nothing to stop the secession. There were many issues that divided the North and the South, but slavery was the main argument. Buchanan was personally against slavery. While he was President he insisted that slavery was protected by the Constitution and that the law must be obeyed. In 1860-61, seven of the fifteen slave states seceded from the Union. Buchanan refused to use force to keep them in the Union, hoping they would return on their own. He worried that all the slave states would leave if force was attempted. His policy delayed the Civil War until he was out of office. His reason for the delay of war was to allow Abraham Lincoln the opportunity to try a peaceful settlement. James Buchanan was born in a log cabin in Stony Batter, near Mercersburg, Pennsylvania, on April 23, 1791. His father, James Buchanan, Sr., came from Ireland in 1783 after being invited to come by an uncle living near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. He married Elizabeth Speer, his uncle's neighbor, and opened a country store. James and Elizabeth had eleven children with young James being second oldest. He learned arithmetic and bookkeeping while working in his father's store. He studied Greek and Latin with the village pastor and then attended Dickenson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. He was expelled for breaking rules but returned to earn scholastic honors. Buchanan, a supporter of the Federalist Party, favored a strong central government and opposed a second war with Great Britain. When the War of 1812 started he volunteered as a private to help in the defense of Baltimore. He served two terms in the Pennsylvania legislature from 1814 to 1816. He then retired from politics and went back to practicing law in Lancaster. He fell in love and became engaged to Ann Coleman in 1819. After a misunderstanding with James, Ann went to Philadelphia to stay with a married sister - and died there. There was never any proof of it, but rumors were that she killed herself. James never married due to his grief. He was the only President who never married. Buchanan was described by his nephew as being "tall - over six feet, broad shouldered, with a portly, dignified bearing…; his eyes were blue, intelligent and kindly, the peculiarity that one was far and the other near sighted which resulted in a slight habitual inclination of the head to one side…." Buchanan served in the United States House of Representatives for ten years, being elected in 1820. He supported the unsuccessful campaign of Andrew Jackson, a Democrat, in 1824. After Jackson was elected President in 1828, he appointed Buchanan minister to Russia in 1831. While minister Buchanan negotiated the first trade treaty of the United States and Russia in 1832. He returned home in 1833 and was elected by the Pennsylvania legislature to fill a vacancy in the United States Senate in 1834. He served there until 1845 when he resigned to accept the position of secretary of state under James K. Polk. As secretary of state, Buchanan completed the steps to bring Texas into the Union as a state. Mexico didn't recognize Texan independence and wouldn't accept peaceful negotiations. After the Mexican War, the United States acquired the entire Southwest. At this time the United States and Great Britain both occupied the Oregon area. The United States claimed the entire region. Buchanan was in charge of negotiations and eventually agreed to compromise on the line that forms the current border with Canada. The Democrats lost the Presidency in 1849, and Buchanan retired to Wheatland, his estate in Lancaster, Pennsylvania . He ran for President in 1852, but Franklin Pierce won the Democratic nomination and the election. Buchanan was appointed minister to Great Britain. While there he was instrumental in an attempt to purchase Cuba from Spain. He was nominated for President in 1856 and won the Presidency with a large electoral majority. His administration was a continuing struggle over slavery. Abolitionist authors stirred up New England. The debates between Lincoln and Douglas in Illinois focused on the immorality of slavery. Buchanan's support of the Dred Scott Decision hinted at Southern favoritism as did the number of Southerners invited to White House social functions. In the fight to determine statehood for Kansas, he favored the idea of letting the people decide if they wanted to be a free state or a slave state. This stand angered Northerners. Northern candidates who opposed the President won a majority in both houses of Congress in 1858. In addition, there was wild speculation in western land and railroads, which caused an economic panic. Many banks, factories, and railroads went broke, and thousands of unemployed workers stood in line for free food. At the same time, women's outfits included hoop skirts and beaver hats trimmed with ostrich feathers. Mail was delivered in the expanding West by Pony Express riders. Buchanan received greetings from Queen Victoria over the first Atlantic cable. Americans enjoyed horse-drawn sleighs and a new song entitled "Jingle Bells" in the winter. There were brilliant social activities in the White House during the Buchanan years. Harriet Lane, Buchanan's niece and ward, served as White House hostess and hosted almost continuous receptions and balls. To provide flowers for the numerous galas, Buchanan added a conservatory to the White House. Buchanan was not nominated to run for a second term in 1860 and did not even want to run. The period between Lincoln's election and his inauguration was a difficult time for Buchanan. South Carolina seceded from the Union on December 20, 1860, and then became one of the six states that formed the Confederate States of America on February 4, 1861. Buchanan said that there was no "right of secession" but admitted that the Constitution gave no legal way to stop it. Buchanan refused to surrender Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina, when a commission from the state made the request. Several members of his Cabinet resigned, some thinking that he was too hard on the South and others thinking he was not hard enough on them. When Buchanan agreed to allow a steamer to take supplies to the fort, troops from South Carolina opened fire on the vessel on January 9, 1861, and forced it to turn back. Buchanan would not regard the attack as an act of war, and he had several reasons for his action: 1) No blood had been spilled; 2) he did not have an army big enough to fight a war; 3) he wanted to hand the government to Lincoln with an opportunity to settle the problem peaceably. Lincoln continued the Buchanan policy until April 12, 1861, when Confederate troops fired on Fort Sumter. The South instigated the war, and Lincoln had no alternative than to fight to preserve the Union. Buchanan retired to his estate at Wheatland where he followed the events of the war and wrote a book defending his policies. Harriet Lane and James Buchanan, a nephew, lived with him at Wheatland. Buchanan died on June 1, 1868, and was buried in Woodward Hill Cemetery in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Wheatland has been restored and furnished in the Buchanan style. World events in the time of President Buchanan included: 1) In its Dred Scott Decision, the Supreme Court on March 6, 1857, said that Congress could not prohibit slavery and denied United States citizenship rights to all blacks; 2) The first passenger elevator was installed in 1857; 3) The first transatlantic telegraph cable was laid in 1858; 4) The Lincoln-Douglas took place; 5) Thousands of prospectors flocked to Nevada in 1859 because of the discovery of silver and gold in the Comstock Lode; 6) The first oil well in the United States started pumping oil in Titusville, Pennsylvania, in 1859; 7) The Origin of Species appeared in 1859. Facts for this post came from an article by Phillip S. Klein in World Book Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, pp 668-672.