James Buchanan

James Buchanan Jr. (/bʌˈkænən/ buh-CAN-nən; April 23, 1791  June 1, 1868) was an American lawyer and politician who served as the 15th president of the United States from 1857 to 1861. He previously served as secretary of state from 1845 to 1849 and represented Pennsylvania in both houses of the U.S. Congress. He was a states' rights advocate, and minimized the role of the federal government in the nation's final years of slavery.

James Buchanan
Photograph by Mathew Brady, 1850–1868
15th President of the United States
In office
March 4, 1857  March 4, 1861
Vice PresidentJohn C. Breckinridge
Preceded byFranklin Pierce
Succeeded byAbraham Lincoln
20th United States Minister to the United Kingdom
In office
August 23, 1853  March 15, 1856
PresidentFranklin Pierce
Preceded byJoseph Reed Ingersoll
Succeeded byGeorge M. Dallas
17th United States Secretary of State
In office
March 10, 1845  March 7, 1849
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 P. Barbour
Succeeded byWarren R. Davis
Member of the
U.S. House of Representatives
from Pennsylvania
In office
March 4, 1821  March 3, 1831
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Constituency3rd district (1821–1823)
4th district (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.
Cause of deathRespiratory failure
Resting placeWoodward Hill Cemetery
Political party
RelationsHarriet Lane (niece)
EducationDickinson College (BA)
  • Politician
  • lawyer
Military service
AllegianceUnited States
Branch/servicePennsylvania Militia
Years of service1814[2]
UnitHenry Shippen's Company, 1st Brigade, 4th Division

Buchanan was a prominent lawyer in Pennsylvania and won his first election to the state's House of Representatives as a Federalist. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1820 and retained that post for 11 years, aligning with Andrew Jackson's Democratic Party. Buchanan served as Jackson's minister to Russia (1832). He won election in 1834 as a U.S. senator from Pennsylvania and also held that position for 11 years. Buchanan was appointed to serve as President James K. Polk's secretary of state in 1845, and eight years later was named as President Franklin Pierce's minister to the United Kingdom. In 1846, Buchanan was elected as a member to the American Philosophical Society.[3]

Beginning in 1844, Buchanan became a regular contender for the Democratic party's presidential nomination. He was finally nominated in 1856, defeating incumbent Franklin Pierce and Senator Stephen A. Douglas at the Democratic National Convention; he benefited from the fact that he had been out of the country (as ambassador in London) and thus had not been involved in slavery issues. Buchanan and running mate John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky carried every slave state except Maryland, defeating anti-slavery Republican John C. Frémont and Know-Nothing former president Millard Fillmore to win the 1856 presidential election.

As President, Buchanan intervened in the Supreme Court to gather majority support of the pro-slavery and anti-black decision in the Dred Scott case. He did what Southern leaders wanted in attempting to engineer Kansas coming into the Union as a slave state under the Lecompton Constitution. He thereby angered not only the Republicans but also many Northern Democrats. Buchanan honored his pledge to serve only one term, and supported Breckinridge's unsuccessful candidacy in the 1860 presidential election. He failed to reconcile the fractured Democratic party due to a simmering grudge against Stephen Douglas, leading to a four-way electoral split and the election of Republican and former Congressman Abraham Lincoln.

Just weeks after Lincoln was elected as Buchanan's successor, Southern states began seceding from the Union, precipitating the American Civil War. Buchanan's bumbling leadership during his lame duck period was widely criticized. He simultaneously angered the North by not stopping secession, and the South by not acceding to their secession. He supported the ill-fated Corwin Amendment in an attempt to reconcile the country, but it was too little too late. He made an unsuccessful attempt to reinforce the defenders of Fort Sumter, but otherwise refrained from taking any action to prepare the military. His failure to forestall the Civil War has been described alternatively as incompetent inaction, or passive acceptance of the South. Many contemporaries blamed him for the war, and he was much reviled after his presidency. He spent his last years defending his reputation. In his personal life, Buchanan never married and as of 2021, he is the only U.S. president to remain a lifelong bachelor. Biographers have variously suggested that he was celibate, homosexual, or asexual. Buchanan died of respiratory failure in 1868, and was buried in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where he had lived for nearly 60 years. Modern historians and critics condemn him for not addressing the issue of slavery or forestalling the secession of the Southern states over it. Historians and scholars consistently rank Buchanan as one of the country's worst presidents.