James Buchanan Biography

James Buchanan was the fifteenth President of the United States. Born: Near Mercersburg, Pa., April 23, 1791. Dickinson Graduate and Lawyer. Served in the House from 1821to 31. Polk's secretary of state in 1845. Served as President from 1856 to 1861. Died: Lancaster, Pa., June 1, 1868.

James Buchanan Biography:
James Buchanan, Jr. (April 23, 1791 - June 1, 1868) was the fifteenth President of the United States (1857-1861) and the last to be born in the 18th Century. To date he is the only President from Pennsylvania and is the only never to marry. As president he was a "doughface" (a Northerner with Southern sympathies) who battled Stephen A. Douglas for control of the Democratic Party. As Southern states declared their secession in the lead-up to the American Civil War, he held that secession was illegal but that going to war to stop it was also illegal and hence remained inactive.

James Buchanan was born in a log cabin at Cove Gap, near Mercersburg, Franklin County, Pennsylvania, on April 23, 1791, to James Buchanan and Elizabeth Speer. He was the second of 10 children, two of whom did not survive past infancy. The Buchanan family claims descent from King James I of Scotland. He later attended the village academy and graduated from Dickinson College, in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. At one point, he was expelled from Dickinson for wild behavior and bad conduct, but after pleading for a second chance, he graduated with honors three years later on September 7, 1809. Later that year he moved to Lancaster, Pennsylvania. For the next three years he studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1812. A dedicated Federalist, he strongly opposed the War of 1812 on the grounds that it was an unnecessary conflict. Nevertheless, when the British invaded neighboring Maryland, he joined a volunteer light dragoon unit and served in the defense of Baltimore.

An active Freemason during his lifetime, he was Master of Masonic Lodge #43 in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and a District Deputy Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania.

Buchanan started his political career in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives from 1814-1816. He was elected to the 17th United States Congress and to the four succeeding Congresses (March 4, 1821 - March 4, 1831). He was chairman of the U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary (Twenty-first Congress). He was not a candidate for renomination in 1830. Buchanan served as one of the managers appointed by the House of Representatives in 1830 to conduct the impeachment proceedings against James H. Peck, judge of the United States District Court for the District of Missouri. Buchanan served as ambassador to Russia from 1832 to 1834. With his original party of choice, the Federalists, long defunct, Buchanan was elected as a Democrat to the United States Senate to fill a vacancy and served from December 1834; he was reelected in 1837 and 1843 and resigned in 1845. He was chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations (Twenty-fourth through Twenty-sixth Congresses). After the death of Supreme Court Justice Henry Baldwin in 1844, Buchanan was nominated (and refused the nomination) by President Polk to serve as a Justice of the Supreme Court (the seat was filled by Robert Cooper Grier). Buchanan served as Secretary of State in the Cabinet of President James K. Polk from 1845 to 1849, during which time he negotiated the 1846 Oregon Treaty establishing the 49th parallel as the northern boundary in the western U.S. No Secretary of State has become President since James Buchanan, although William Howard Taft, the 27th President of the United States, often served as Acting Secretary of State during the Theodore Roosevelt administration. In 1852, Buchanan was named president of the Board of Trustees of Franklin and Marshall College in his hometown of Lancaster. He served in this capacity until 1866.

He served as minister to the Court of St. James's (Britain) from 1853 to 1856, during which time he helped to draft the Ostend Manifesto, which proposed the purchase of Cuba from Spain in order to extend slavery. The Manifesto was a major blunder for the Pierce administration and greatly weakened support for Manifest Destiny.

The Democrats nominated Buchanan in 1856 largely because he was in England during the Kansas-Nebraska debate and thus remained untainted by either side of the issue. He was nominated on the 17th ballot. Although he did not want to run, he accepted the nomination. Former president Millard Fillmore's "Know-Nothing" candidacy helped Buchanan defeat John C. Frémont, the first Republican candidate for president in 1856, and he served from March 4, 1857, to March 4, 1861. With regard to the growing schism in the country, as President-elect, he intended to sit out the crisis by maintaining a sectional balance in his appointments and persuading the people to accept constitutional law as the Supreme Court interpreted it. The court was considering the legality of restricting slavery in the territories, and two justices hinted to Buchanan what the decision would be.

In his inaugural address, besides promising not to run again, Buchanan referred to the territorial question as "happily, a matter of but little practical importance" since the Supreme Court was about to settle it "speedily and finally". Two days later, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney (a fellow alumnus of Dickinson College) delivered the Dred Scott Decision, asserting that Congress had no constitutional power to exclude slavery in the territories. Much of Taney’s written judgment is widely interpreted as obiter dictum statements made by a judge that are unnecessary to the outcome of the case, which in this case, while they delighted Southerners, created a furor in the North. Buchanan was widely believed to have been personally involved in the outcome of the case, with many Northerners recalling Taney whispering to Buchanan during Buchanan's inauguration. Buchanan wished to see the territorial question resolved by the Supreme Court. To further this, Buchanan personally lobbied his fellow Pennsylvanian Justice Robert Cooper Grier to vote with the majority in that case to uphold the right of owning slave property. Abraham Lincoln denounced him as an accomplice of the Slave Power, which Lincoln saw as a conspiracy of slaveowners to seize control of the federal government and nationalize slavery.

Buchanan's Inauguration was the first one to be recorded in photographs.

Buchanan, however, faced further trouble on the territorial question. Buchanan threw the full prestige of his administration behind congressional approval of the Lecompton Constitution in Kansas, which would have admitted Kansas as a slave state, going so far as to offer patronage appointments and even cash bribes in exchange for votes. The Lecompton government was unpopular to Northerners, as it was dominated by slaveholders who had enacted laws curtailing the rights of non-slaveholders. Even though the voters in Kansas had rejected the Lecompton Constitution, Buchanan managed to pass his bill through the House, but it was blocked in the Senate by Northerners led by Stephen A. Douglas. Eventually, Congress voted to call a new vote on the Lecompton Constitution, a move which infuriated Southerners. Buchanan and Douglas engaged in an all-out struggle for control of the party in 1859-60, with Buchanan using his patronage powers and Douglas rallying the grass roots; Buchanan lost control of the greatly weakened party.

Buchanan personally favored slaveowners' rights, and he sympathized with the slave-expansionists who coveted Cuba. Buchanan despised both abolitionists and free-soil Republicans, lumping the two together. He fought the opponents of the Slave Power.

In March 1857, Buchanan received false reports that Governor Brigham Young of the Mormon-dominated Utah Territory was planning revolt. In November of that year, Buchanan sent the Army to replace Young as Governor with the non-Mormon Alfred Cumming without either confirming the reports or notifying Young of his replacement. Years of anti-Mormon rhetoric in Washington combined with denouncements and lurid descriptions of both the Mormon practice of polygamy and the intentions of the President and the Army in eastern newspapers led the Mormons to expect the worst. Young called up a militia of several thousand men to defend the territory and sent a small band to harass and delay the Army from entering the Territory. However, the early onset of winter forced the Army to camp in present-day Wyoming, allowing for negotiations between the Territory and the federal government. Poor planning, inadequate supplies for the Army, and the failure of the President to verify the reports of rebellion and to notify the territorial government of his intentions to replace Young led to widespread condemnation of Buchanan from Congress and the press, who labeled the war as "Buchanan's Blunder". When Young agreed to be replaced by Cumming and to allow the Army to enter the Utah Territory and establish a base, Buchanan attempted to save face by issuing proclamations detailing his merciful pardoning of the "rebels", which were poorly received by both Congress and the inhabitants of Utah. The troops, however, would soon be recalled to the East when the Civil War erupted.

Then Republicans won a plurality in the House in 1856, every significant bill they passed fell before Southern votes in the Senate or a Presidential veto. The Federal Government reached a stalemate. Bitter hostility between Republicans and Southern Democrats prevailed on the floor of Congress.

To make matters worse, Buchanan was dogged by the partisan Covode committee, which was investigating the administration for evidence of impeachable offenses. Sectional strife rose to such a pitch in 1860 that the Democratic Party split. Buchanan played little part as the national convention meeting in Charleston, South Carolina deadlocked. The southern wing walked out of the Charleston convention and nominated its own candidate for the presidency, incumbent Vice President John C. Breckinridge, whom Buchanan refused to support. The remainder of the party finally nominated Buchanan's archenemy, Douglas. Consequently, when the Republicans nominated Abraham Lincoln, it was a foregone conclusion that he would be elected even though his name appeared on the ballot only in the free states, Delaware, and a few other border states. Buchanan watched silently as South Carolina seceded on December 20, followed by six other cotton states, and by February, they formed the Confederate States of America. Eight slave states refused to join. In Buchanan's Message to Congress (December 3, 1860), he denied the legal right of states to secede but held that the Federal Government legally could not prevent them. He hoped for compromise, but secessionist leaders did not want it. Beginning in late December, Buchanan reorganized his cabinet, ousting Confederate sympathizers and replacing them with hard-line nationalists Jeremiah S. Black, Edwin M. Stanton, Joseph Holt and John A. Dix. These conservative Democrats strongly believed in American nationalism and refused to countenance secession.

Before Buchanan left office, seven slave states seceded, the Confederacy was formed, all arsenals and forts in the seceded states were lost (except Fort Sumter and two remote ones), and a fourth of all federal soldiers surrendered to Texas troops. The government decided to hold on to Fort Sumter, which was located in Charleston harbor, a visible spot in the Confederacy. On January 5, Buchanan sent a civilian steamer Star of the West to carry reinforcements and supplies to Fort Sumter. On January 9, 1861, South Carolina state batteries opened fire on the Star of the West, which returned to New York. Buchanan made no further moves to prepare for war.

In 1819 Buchanan was engaged to Ann Caroline Coleman, the daughter of a wealthy iron manufacturing businessman and sister-in-law of Philadelphia judge Joseph Hemphill, a colleague of Buchanan's from the House of Representatives. However, Buchanan spent little time with her during the courtship; Buchanan was extremely busy with his law firm and political projects at the time, taking him away from Coleman for weeks at a time. Conflicting rumors abounded, suggesting that he was marrying for her money as he came from a less affluent family, or that he was involved with other women. Buchanan, for his part, never publicly spoke of his motives or feelings, but letters from Ann revealed she was paying heed to the rumors, and after Buchanan paid a visit to the wife of a friend, she broke off the engagement. Ann soon after died; the records of a Dr. Chapman, who looked after Ann in her final hours, and who said just after her passing that this was "the first instance he ever knew of hysteria producing death", reveal that he theorized the woman's demise was caused by an overdose of laudanum. His fiancée's death struck Buchanan.

In 1866 Buchanan published Mr Buchanan's Administration on the Eve of the Rebellion, the first presidential memoir. He died June 1, 1868, at the age of 77 at his home at Wheatland and was interred in Woodward Hill Cemetery in Lancaster.

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