James Buchanan

James Buchanan
James Buchanan.jpg
15th president of the United States
In office
March 4, 1857 – March 4, 1861
Vice PresidentJohn C. Breckinridge
Preceded byFranklin Pierce
Succeeded byAbraham Lincoln
United States Minister to the United Kingdom
In office
August 23, 1853 – March 15, 1856
Preceded byJoseph Reed Ingersoll
Succeeded byGeorge M. Dallas
17th United States Secretary of State
In office
March 10, 1845 – March 7, 1849
PresidentJames K. Polk
Zachary Taylor
Preceded byJohn C. Calhoun
Succeeded byJohn M. Clayton
United States Senator
from Pennsylvania
In office
December 6, 1834 – March 5, 1845
Preceded byWilliam Wilkins
Succeeded bySimon Cameron
5th United States Minister to Russia
In office
June 11, 1832 – August 5, 1833
PresidentAndrew Jackson
Preceded byJohn Randolph
Succeeded byWilliam Wilkins
Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee
In office
March 5, 1829 – March 3, 1831
Preceded byPhilip Pendleton Barbour
Succeeded byWarren R. Davis
Member of the
U.S. House of Representatives
from Pennsylvania
In office
March 4, 1821 – March 3, 1831
Preceded byJacob Hibshman (3rd)
James S. Mitchell (4th)
Succeeded byDaniel H. Miller (3rd)
William Hiester (4th)
Constituency3rd (1821–1823)
4th (1823–1831)
Member of the
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
from Lancaster County
In office
Preceded byEmanuel Reigart, Joel Lightner, Jacob Grosh, John Graff, Henry Hambright, Robert Maxwell
Succeeded byJoel Lightner, Hugh Martin, John Forrey, Henry Hambright, Jasper Slaymaker, Jacob Grosh[1]
Personal details
Born(1791-04-23)April 23, 1791
Cove Gap, Pennsylvania, U.S.
DiedJune 1, 1868(1868-06-01) (aged 77)
Lancaster, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Resting placeWoodward Hill Cemetery
Political partyDemocratic
ChildrenHarriet Lane, adopted
EducationDickinson College (BA)
SignatureCursive signature in ink
Military service
Allegiance United States
Branch/servicePennsylvania Militia
Years of service1814[2][3]
UnitHenry Shippen's Company, 1st Brigade, 4th Division
Battles/warsWar of 1812
 • Defense of Baltimore

James Buchanan Jr. (ən/; April 23, 1791 – June 1, 1868) was the 15th president of the United States from 1857 to 1861, serving immediately prior to the American Civil War. He was a member of the Democratic Party and the 17th Secretary of State, and he had served in the Senate and House of Representatives before becoming president.

Buchanan was born in Cove Gap, Pennsylvania of Ulster Scots descent. He became a prominent lawyer in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and won election to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives as a Federalist. In 1820, he won election to the United States House of Representatives, eventually becoming aligned with Andrew Jackson's Democratic Party. He served as Jackson's Minister to Russia, then won election as a senator from Pennsylvania. In 1845, he accepted appointment as President James K. Polk's Secretary of State. He was a major contender for his party's presidential nomination throughout the 1840s and 1850s and was finally nominated in 1856, defeating incumbent President Franklin Pierce and Senator Stephen A. Douglas at the 1856 Democratic National Convention. Buchanan and running mate John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky defeated Republican John C. Frémont and Know-Nothing Millard Fillmore to win the 1856 election.

Shortly after his election, Buchanan lobbied the Supreme Court to issue a broad ruling in Dred Scott v. Sandford, which he fully endorsed. He allied with the South in attempting to admit Kansas to the Union as a slave state under the Lecompton Constitution. In the process, he alienated both Republican abolitionists and Northern Democrats, most of whom supported the principle of popular sovereignty in determining a new state's slave-holding status. He was often called a "doughface", a Northerner with Southern sympathies, and he fought with Douglas, the leader of the popular sovereignty faction, for control of the Democratic Party. The Panic of 1857 struck the nation in the midst of the growing sectional crisis. Buchanan indicated in his 1857 inaugural address that he would not seek a second term, and he kept his word and did not run for re-election in the 1860 presidential election. He supported the North during the Civil War and publicly defended himself against charges that he was responsible for the war. He died in 1868 at age 77, and is the only president to remain a lifelong bachelor.

Buchanan aspired to be a president who would rank in history with George Washington by using his tendencies toward neutrality and impartiality.[4] Historians fault him, however, for his failure to address the issue of slavery and the secession of the southern states, bringing the nation to the brink of civil war. His inability to bring together the sharply divided pro-slavery and anti-slavery partisans with a unifying principle on the brink of the Civil War has led to his consistent ranking by historians as one of the worst presidents in American history. Historians who participated in a 2006 survey voted his failure to deal with secession as the worst presidential mistake ever made.[5]

Early life

Buchanan's log cabin birthplace, relocated to Mercersburg, Pennsylvania

James Buchanan was born in a log cabin in Cove Gap, Pennsylvania (now Buchanan's Birthplace State Park), in Franklin County, on April 23, 1791, to James Buchanan Sr., a businessman, merchant, and farmer, and Elizabeth Speer, an educated woman.[6] His parents were both of Ulster Scot descent, his father having emigrated from Milford, County Donegal, Ireland, in 1783. One of eleven siblings, Buchanan was the oldest child in the family to survive infancy. Shortly after Buchanan's birth the family moved to a farm near Mercersburg, Pennsylvania, and in 1794 the family moved to Mercersburg itself. Buchanan's father became the wealthiest person in town, having attained success as a merchant, farmer, and real estate investor.[7]

Buchanan attended the village academy (Old Stone Academy) and, starting in 1807, Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.[8] Though he was nearly expelled at one point for poor behavior, he pleaded for a second chance and subsequently graduated with honors on September 19, 1809.[9] Later that year, he moved to Lancaster, which, at the time, was the capital of Pennsylvania. James Hopkins, the most prominent lawyer in Lancaster, accepted Buchanan as a student, and in 1812 Buchanan was admitted to the Pennsylvania bar after an oral exam. Though many other lawyers moved to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, after it became the capital of Pennsylvania in 1812, Lancaster would remain Buchanan's home town for the rest of his life. Buchanan's income rapidly rose after he established his own practice and by 1821 he was earning over $11,000 per year (equivalent to $207,048 in 2018). Buchanan handled various types of cases, including a high-profile impeachment trial in which he successfully defended Pennsylvania Judge Walter Franklin.[10]

Buchanan began his political career in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives (1814–1816) as a member of the Federalist Party.[11] The legislature met for only three months a year, and Buchanan's notoriety as a legislator helped him earn clients for his legal practice.[12] Like his father, Buchanan believed in federally-funded internal improvements, a high tariff, and a national bank. He emerged as a strong critic of the leadership of Democratic-Republican President James Madison during the War of 1812.[13]

An active Freemason, he was the Master of Masonic Lodge No. 43 in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and a District Deputy Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania.[14]

Military service

When the British invaded neighboring Maryland in 1814, he served in the defense of Baltimore after enlisting as a private in Henry Shippen's Company, 1st Brigade, 4th Division, Pennsylvania Militia, a unit of yagers[15] or light dragoons.[12][16] Buchanan is the only president with military experience who did not, at some point, serve as an officer.[17]

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