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James Buchanan: 15th President

Updated on February 17, 2017
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Angela loves history and feels it is essential to our future to know the past. Without it, we are destined to repeat the past.

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From 1857-1861, James Buchanan, aka "Old Buck," served as America’s 15th president. He was born on April 23, 1791 in Cove Gap, Pennsylvania as the oldest of eleven children to James Buchanan Sr. and Elizabeth Speer Buchanan. His father owned a store that he worked in. At 18, he graduated from Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. He went on to study law and built a very successful law practice in Lancaster, PA. By the time he was thirty years old, he had already made $300,000.

Although professionally he was very successful, he had trouble in romance. He was engaged in 1819 to Ann Coleman, but due to a misunderstanding, she broke off their engagement. Before he had a chance to reconcile, she died. Rumors stated it was a suicide, although no one knows that for sure. Buchanan never pursued a marriage with anyone else, making him the only President of the United States to never have been married.

List of United States Presidents

1. George Washington

2. John Adams

3. Thomas Jefferson

4. James Madison

5. James Monroe

6. John Quincy Adams

7. Andrew Jackson

8. Martin Van Buren

9. William Henry Harrison

10. John Tyler

11. James K. Polk

12. Zachary Taylor

13. Millard Fillmore

14. Franklin Pierce

15. James Buchanan

16. Abraham Lincoln

17. Andrew Johnson

18. Ulysses S. Grant

19. Rutherford B. Hayes

20. James Garfield

21. Chester A. Arthur

22. Grover Cleveland

23. Benjamin Harrison

24. Grover Cleveland

25. William McKinley

26. Theodore Roosevelt

27. William Howard Taft

28. Woodrow Wilson

29. Warren G. Harding

30. Calvin Coolidge

31. Herbert Hoover

32. Franklin D. Roosevelt

33. Harry S. Truman

34. Dwight D. Eisenhower

35. John F. Kennedy

36. Lyndon B. Johnson

37. Richard M. Nixon

38. Gerald R. Ford

39. James Carter

40. Ronald Reagan

41. George H. W. Bush

42. William J. Clinton

43. George W. Bush

44. Barack Obama

45. Donald Trump

Buchanan's Governmental Positions

From the time he was 22 until he was president at 65, he served many governmental positions, where he was well-liked for all 43 years. Ten of those years, beginning in 1820, he served as a Congressman under the Federalist party, and was reelected five times. Then he worked as Minister to Russia, and eventually served twelve years as a Senator. The Federalist party dissolved and he realigned himself with the Democratic party.

Throughout the presidencies of Jackson, Polk, and Pierce he worked as a top-level foreign diplomat. During Jackson's term he was the U.S. ambassador to Russia. It was during Polk's term, where James resigned from the Senate, and he became Secretary of State. He was very successful in this position and the nation's territory grew substantially. California was acquired, Texas was annexed, and what would become the Oregon Territory was secured after settling with Great Britain over a boundary dispute.

During his predecessor Pierce's term, he was appointed the Minister to Great Britain. He drafted the Ostend Manifesto, which Pierce strongly encouraged, which allowed Cuba to be acquired from Spain. Many did not like Pierce's involvement in this, and it caused a lot of controversy between Northern and slave states. Many feared Cuba would become a slave state. Although that did not happen, Pierce became very unlikely due to this along with other decisions. Because Buchanan was overseas during much of his governmental experience, he was free from many of the domestic controversies including slavery, so the Democratic Convention felt he was a better choice than Pierce.

Although the Democratic party strongly supported him, the Republican party nicknamed him "Ten-Cent Jimmy," because he had stated during his presidential campaign that ten cents was a fair daily wage for manual laborers. John Fremont, the first-ever Republican presidential candidate, strongly asserted that the government should ban slavery in all states, while Buchanan maintained that each individual state and territory should decide. He maintained this stance, because he felt that the constitution protected the right to own slaves, despite his strong views that slavery was morally objectionable.

Buchanan won 174 electoral votes, winning the race. He named John Breckinridge vice-president who was only 35 at the time, which made him the youngest to serve in that position ever. Having been a bachelor when he entered the office, his niece Harriet Lane took on the social duties of first lady and was well-liked.

Unfortunately, since he was often serving in foreign countries, he was able to avoid the bitter argument of slavery. Although this helped him get elected, his neutrality caused conflict after he was elected. He was unprepared for the slavery conflict, due in part to his very cautious nature. Many felt he was unable to make the hard decisions he needed to make as President. He wanted to keep the peace between Northerners and Southerners, but this was viewed as being sympathetic to Southern pro-slavery beliefs.

Two weeks into his presidency, the Dred Scott decision had been made by the Supreme Court, which forbid Congress in interfering in cases of slavery and allowed for slave hunters to search in free states for runaway slaves. Most notably, it denied African Americans the rights to be U.S. citizens. The ruling increased the animosity between Northerners and Southerners, which brought the US even closer to the looming Civil War.

Buchanan was criticized since he refused to take sides. Many southern states threatened to secede unless he backed slavery, so trying to keep peace he urged Kansas to become a slave state by supporting the Lecompton Constitution. Although Kansas remained a territory until after his presidency, this angered the Republican party.

In 1858, the Republican party won a plurality in the House in 1858, which caused stalemates on many significant bills as they would block Buchanan's agendas and he would veto Republican legislation.

Civil War and Lincoln's Inauguration

Buchanan did not seek reelection, which was inline with his promise during his inaugural address. His successor Abraham Lincoln, a republican, was elected during the 1860 election with a large majority of the electoral votes, despite his name not appearing on any southern ballots. Southern states became fearful of losing their "right" to have slaves under Lincoln's presidency; therefore, on December 20, 1860, during Buchanan's last few months as President, South Carolina was the first of seven states to secede. They created the "Confederate States of America" under Jefferson Davis.

Although Buchanan denied the legal right to allow a state to secede, the Federal Government could not legally prevent them from doing so. It was then that James took more aggressive action, by replacing any Cabinet members that resigned with Northerners. He then sent reinforcements to Fort Sumter. Before he left office, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas seceded and joined the Conferderate States of America.

A month after he left office, Confederate forces fired on Fort Sumter in South Carolina and the Civil War Began. Buchanan supported Lincoln's policies and the Union during the war.

In 1866, the former president published a memoir, “Mr. Buchanan’s Administration on the Eve of Rebellion,” in which he defended his administration. He died seven years after leaving office, on June 1, 1868, at age 77, and was buried at Woodward Hill Cemetery in Lancaster.

Buchanan Cabinet

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

Fun Facts

  • He currently is the only president to be elected from Pennsylvania, thus far.
  • His nicknames include "Old Buck," and "Ten Cent Jimmy."
  • He was the oldest of 11 children.
  • He is the only president whom never married.
  • His niece Harriet Lane assumed the responsibilities of first lady and was quite popular.
  • The Dred Scott decision was made while he was in office.
  • Seven states seceded during his last months n office.

Excerpt from the History Channel

Basic Facts

Question
Answer
Born
April 23, 1791 - Pennsylvania
President Number
15th
Party
Democratic
Military Service
United States of America Dragoons - Private
Wars Served
War of 1812
Age at Beginning of Presidency
66 years old
Term of Office
March 4, 1857 - March 3, 1861
How Long President
4 years
Vice-President
John C. Breckinridge
Age and Year of Death
June 1, 1868 (aged 77)
Cause of Death
tuberculosis

Homes of President James Buchanan

Stately Residence
Stately Residence | Source
Birthplace
Birthplace | Source

Sources

  • Freidel, F., & Sidey, H. (2009). James Buchanan. Retrieved April 22, 2016, from
    https://www.whitehouse.gov/1600/presidents/jamesbuchanan
  • History.com Staff. (2009). James Buchanan. Retrieved May 10, 2016, from http://www.history.com/topics/us-presidents/james-buchanan
  • Sullivan, George. Mr. President: A Book of U.S. Presidents. New York: Scholastic, 2001. Print.

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