James Buchanan

James Buchanan by George Peter Alexander Healy, 1859

James Buchanan by George Peter Alexander Healy, 1859

James Buchanan was the fifteenth President of the United States. He served from 1857-1861. He was born on April 23, 1791 in Cove Gap, Pennsylvania. Buchanan was born into a wealthy family and he attended Dickinson College where he graduated in 1809. He was well-known for his debate skills and studied law.

Buchanan served the county in many different positions. Buchanan was elected to the House of Representatives five times. He served as Minister to Russia and then was elected for 10 years to the Senate.

Polk appointed Buchanan as his Secretary of State and he was also appointed by Pierce as the Minister to Great Britain. In 1856, Buchanan got the Democratic nomination for President. It has been said that Buchanan got the nomination due to the fact that he was overseas and therefore not involved in domestic and party conflicts.

The division between the North and the South were intensifying while Buchanan was in office. Slavery was the main issue that divided the country. Buchanan, whose nickname was “Old Buck”, was to try to pull the country together.

Buchanan failed to do this. Although personally Buchanan was considered a decent and likeable man, he was considered a weak and ineffective President. In fact, he was known to have bought slaves in Washington D.C. and then let them go free in Pennsylvania to show he was against slavery, but he never could confront the issue head on.

Serving as a peacemaker was Buchanan’s main desire overall, and that was stated in his inaugural address. Buchanan stated at his inauguration that slavery was a matter for each individual state and territories to decide on for themselves.

However, two days after the inauguration, the Supreme Court gave its decision in the “Dred Scott” case – which stated that slaves (and former slaves) were not citizens and therefore had no right to sue in a US court of law for their freedom. The Supreme Court further stated that the Missouri Compromise of 1820 was unconstitutional – which had slavery banned in the area of the Louisiana Purchase above 36 degrees and 30 minutes north latitude.

This pitted the Republicans who were mainly Northern and antislavery, and the Democrats, mainly Southerners who defended slavery, against one another. The reaction to the Supreme Court’s announcement was strong. The situation made it difficult for Buchanan, who was a new President, to start his term. Buchanan thought to smooth things over; he would appoint moderates to positions in his cabinet and avoided strong proslavery advocates.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act, which was signed 3 years before Buchanan became President, allowed Kansas to hold an election to decide whether it would be a free or slave state. There was some chaos as some people from Missouri came over to Kansas to vote for slavery. Buchanan was trying to get the support of the proslavery Democrats and supported Kansas as a slave state, even though only a minority of whites in Kansas supported the results. The territorial governor even had urged Buchanan not to accept the results.

Senator Stephen Douglas did not endorse Kansas as a slave state and said the results were a fraud. Buchanan won out over Douglas in the Senate, but in the House, a compromise was reached where Kansas would have another vote. The new vote resulted in Kansas becoming a free state. This resulted in the credibility of the Buchanan administration being compromised.

While President Buchanan was in office, the Republicans had the majority only in the House in 1858 and every major bill they passed fell, either to southern votes in the Senate or a veto from the President.

There was so much division in the country that even the Democratic Party divided into a north and south wing, with each nominating their own candidate for President. The Republicans nominated Abraham Lincoln even though his name was not on southern ballots. Rather than accept the Republican administration, the Southern suggested secession.

Buchanan denied the right of states to secede but Buchanan believed that the Federal Government legally could not prevent succession. Buchanan wanted a compromise but that was not to happen. Buchanan then took a more militant solution. As some Cabinet members resigned their post, Buchanan appointed northerners. He then rejected the demands of the southerners that Buchanan surrender Fort Sumpter, one of the last garrisons that was still in federal control in southern territory.

Buchanan never married; he was a bachelor for his whole life. His niece, Harriet Lane, was the official White House hostess. She was put into the care of Buchanan after the death of her mother and her father.

The Civil War started just six weeks after Buchanan left office. Although the start can not be pinned on Buchanan, he and his administration made the war inevitable. Buchanan died on June 1, 1868 in Pennsylvania. He is buried at the Woodward Hill Cemetery in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

James Buchanan Facts

  • President No.: 15th
  • When did James Buchanan serve? 1857-61
  • What was James Buchanan’s party? Democrat
  • Where was James Buchanan from? Pennsylvania
  • Who was James Buchanan’s wife? Never married
  • When was James Buchanan born? April 23, 1791
  • Where was James Buchanan born? Cove Gap near Mercersburg, Pennslyvania
  • When did James Buchanan die? June 1, 1868
  • Where did James Buchanan die? Lancaster, Pennsylvania
  • Which college did James Buchanan attend? Dickinson College
  • What was James Buchanan’s Jobs Before President? Lawyer, Ambassador to Great Britain, Congressman, U.S. Senator, Secretary of State
  • What was James Buchanan’s height? 6 feet
  • What was the population when James Buchanan was president? 31,443,321
  • What transportation did James Buchanan use? Train
  • How did James Buchanan communicate? Letter, telegram


James Buchanan Inaugural Addresses

James Buchanan State of the Union Addresses

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