Category: US President
James Buchanan (1857-1861) was the 15th president of the United States. He served immediately before the American Civil War.
The secession of the states began under Buchanan. His successor Abraham Lincoln used war to re-unite the country.
Buchanan died in 1868, living long enough to see the Civil War he failed to stop.
About the President
James Buchanan served as a private in the War of 1812, though he is the only President to have served in the military but not done so as an officer.
James Buchanan was a representative for Pennsylvania in the House of Representatives and then the Senate. James Buchanan was Minister to Russia for President Andrew Jackson. He was Secretary of State for President Polk. James Buchanan was offered a seat on the Supreme Court in 1844 but declined. James Buchanan worked on the Oregon Treaty negotiations instead.
Before he became President, James Buchanan drafted the Ostend Manifesto. The Ostend Manifesto was a proposal to annex Cuba, after Spain refused the U.S. offer to buy it. Franklin Pierce’s Democratic party abandoned him after the Ostend Manifesto, making Pierce the only sitting president not nominated by his own party for a second term.
In 1850, Pierce was in England negotiating. When the dust settled, he was one of the few nationally known politicians not associated with the divisive Compromise of 1850 and thus nominated for the Presidency.
Major Policies and Actions
James Buchanan is sometimes rated as one of the worst American presidents because he believed he had no Constitutional authority to act against those who were considering secession after the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. The Kansas-Nebraska Act allowed those two territories to choose to become free states, ending the free state / slave state roughly balance count that had kept the country together. With more free states than slave states, the southern slave-owning states saw themselves about to lose politically.
James Buchanan saw secession as illegal.
Historical Events during His Presidency
James Buchanan’s presidency saw the Dred Scott case, where the Supreme Court decided that Congress could not deny people their property (slaves) while in the territories. This meant that slave owners could move into new territories that Congress had made free; this opened up the possibility that rich Southerners could buy up land in free territories, grow in enough numbers to decide elections, and then turn free states into slave states. This was not James Buchanan’s decision, but the Supreme Court’s. James Buchanan’s decision was to try to urge Kansas to be admitted as a slave state. This angered the Republican Party, which was founded as an abolitionist party. The Republican Party won a plurality in the House of Representatives in 1858.
James Buchanan (1857-1861) is the only bachelor to ever be elected President of the United States.
James Buchanan, born in 1791, is also the last U.S. President to have been born in the 18th century.
James Buchanan is the only President ever to have come from Tennessee.
James Buchanan is the only Secretary of State to later become President.