James Buchanan was the 15th President of the United States of America.  He served one term from 1857-1861.

I read “James Buchanan” by Jean H. Baker

Political Nicknames: Ten Cent Jimmy, Old Buck

Quote: “There are portions of the Union in which if you emancipate your slaves they will become your masters.  Is there any man who would for a moment indulge the horrible idea of abolishing slavery by the massacre of the chivalrous race of men in the South?”

Some facts on President James Buchanan:

  • born on April 23, 1791 in Pennsylvania
  • was the second child of eleven
  • was a part of the richest family in town growing up
  • attended Dickinson College, expelled for bad behavior and then re-instated when his father pulled some strings
  • never had a nickname
  • graduated with honors and became a lawyer’s apprentice
  • was under severe pressure from his father to be a success
  • became a well-respected lawyer in Lancaster, PA
  • was chief master of his Masonic Lodge
  • elected to the Pennsylvania Assembly as a Federalist in 1814, was the youngest member
  • had wandering eyes (literally – the medical condition)
  • was briefly engaged to Ann Coleman, she broke it off and died soon after
  • never had to shave
  • has long been suspected as being a homosexual
  • the only bachelor President
  • wrote about himself in the third person
  • his father died suddenly in 1821
  • strongly supported states’ rights (a Democrat in those days)
  • his best friend and suspected sexual partner was Alabama Senator William King; their enemies called them “Miss Nancy and Aunt “Fancy” – they lived together for 15 years
  • became Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee
  • was assigned to be Ambassador to Russia by President Jackson in 1831 for 18 months, during which his mother died
  • elected as the US Senator for Pennsylvania in 1834
  • was a staunch supporter not only of states rights but Manifest Destiny
  • wanted to annex Texas and divide it into five states
  • fought for the Democratic Presidential nomination in 1844
  • served as President Polk’s Secretary of State but wanted to be a Supreme Court Judge
  • campaigned for a Presidential nomination by holding lavish dinners every 10 days for the social season, inviting only influential people
  • wanted to annex Cuba and make it a state
  • was known for his old-fashioned taste in clothing
  • bought an estate named Wheatland near Lancaster
  • was primary breadwinner and guardian for 22 nieces and nephews, 13 grandnieces and grandnephews by 1852; running a family employment agency to help defer costs
  • his niece, Harriet Lane, was his favorite niece and served as his First Lady (and was the first woman to be called the “First Lady” because she wasn’t his wife)
  • loved cigars and rye whiskey
  • was known as a doughface because of his support of the South despite being a northerner
  • declined the office of Vice President offered to him by President Pierce
  • served as minister to Great Britain for three years under President Pierce, accepting and withdrawing twice before finally committing
  • was lonely in Britain and often called meetings with officials just to have someone to talk to
  • got in social disagreement over proper court dress when dining with royalty and was thought to be “twisting the lion’s tail” – mocking ridiculous British fashions
  • wrote the “Ostend Manifesto”, justifying the US purchasing Cuba from the Spanish for $100 million
  • ran against the first Republican candidate for President in history, John C. Frémont
  • did no campaigning, believing that being elected President was a gift of the people.  instead he wrote letters to influential people stating his views
  • supported building a railroad to the Pacific, which generally the Democrats did not support
  • 79% of the voting electorate went to the polls for that election – the fourth highest turnout at the writing of the book
  • barely won his home state
  • encouraged the American public to view the Republican party as a threat to the South
  • had made some contact with 10 former presidents when he took office
  • would invite his Cabinet members to stay at the White House when their wives were out of town so they could have late night discussions on policy
  • contracted dysentery during a hotel stay en route to Washington DC and was sick for months; his nephew died of it
  • filled his Cabinet with wealthy Southerners, insulting the North
  • pushed for a decision in the Dred Scott case, which essentially nullfied the Missouri Compromise
  • lost a lot of respect, many believing he had influenced the judges’ decision in the Dred Scott case
  • favorite foods included beef, mutton, venison, ham, terrapin, calf’s head dressed as terrapin, Pennsylvania Dutch specialties such as scrapple and succotash, moss rose cake, peach charlotte, Confederate pudding and Jeff Davis pie, grape pie, and ice cream
  • was vastly over-involved in his Cabinet’s decision making, often overrident cabinet members on the choices they made concerning their own departments
  • his Vice President was John Breckenridge, and was very poorly treated by Buchanan
  • met with his cabinet every afternoon except on Sundays
  • the White House’s social calendar was managed by Harriet Lane and Buchanan’s nephew, James Henry – both terribly lacking in experience
  • during his term, 1400 state banks, 5,000 business (including railroads and factories) went bankrupt after a NY branch of an Ohio corporation suspended payment – named the Panic of 1857
  • Buchanan did nothing to help the economy, blaming it on the North’s greed
  • also during his term, Brigham Young, governor of Utah and leader of the Mormon church, facilitated and covered up the murder of 125 Arkansas immigrants who “trespassed” on their land and blamed the deaths on the Paiute Indians
  • sent 2500 troops to discipline the Mormons, but the conflict was peacefully resolved by Thomas Kane
  • believed slavery existed wherever slaveholders wished to take their “property” – so he did nothing to alleviate growing violence over proslavery terrorism acts in Kansas
  • used ridiculous lobbying tactics to try and force a slave state Kansas Constitution through the House of Representatives, but he failed
  • in 1859, asked Congress to raise a military force to invade Mexico
  • sent 2500 sailors and marines on 19 warships to Paraguay to punish them for firing on an American vessel – the inability of these warships to reinforce coastal forts against attack was part of what convinced some Southern states to secede
  • he hated New England, believing it to be populated only by religious fanatics and preachers
  • the Republican controlled House of Representatives initiated a committee to investigate corruption in his administration in 1858
  • the committee proved that Buchanan’s cabinet was one of the most corrupt in American history, even by today’s standards
  • because of his corruption and unwillingness to support anyone but the South, Buchanan was the last Democratic President elected for 24 years
  • he managed to split the Democratic party
  • was advised by Winfield Scott, General in Chief of the Army, to garrison federal forts in the South in case there were attacks made by seceding states’ troops if Lincoln was elected President – Buchanan disliked Scott and therefore ignored his advice
  • South Carolina seceded on December 20, 1860
  • Buchanan denied the constitutional right to secession, but also denied Congress or the Presidential right to declare on states who were seceding
  • he did nothing to stop Southern forces from seizing federal buildings in Texas and other southern states
  • settled a truce with South Carolina, agreeing not to reinforce forts in exchange for not being attacked, thereby giving South Carolina time to train, arm and ready its militia and to overtake several gov’t buildings full of ammunition and arms
  • gave signs of suffering extreme mental and emotional duress – twitching in his cheek and jaw, unkempt hygiene, trembling in his limbs, depression so great he could not leave his bed
  • his Secretary of War, Floyd, had long been involved in embezzlement of government funds but was never fired but instead asked for a resignation, which he did not give until three months before Buchanan left office
  • Floyd also sent arms to the militias of southern states upon hearing of their intent to secede.  he later became a Confederate general.
  • Buchanan continued to surround himself with Southern supporting politicians, who managed to leak administrative plans, money to buy from arms dealers, and insider trading information
  • he wrote and published his memoir, entitled “Mr. Buchanan’s Administration on the Eve of the Rebellion” defending his actions as President
  • died at age 77 on June 1, 1868 of pneumonia at Wheatland

 

<– Franklin Pierce                                     Abraham Lincoln –>

 

Post title taken from Jonathan Coulton’s song “The Presidents”

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