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James Buchanan
Civil War Encyclopedia >> People - Other
April 23, 1791 James Buchanan born, Cove Gap near Mercersburg, Pennslyvania Pennsylvania
April 8, 1832 James Buchanan leaves New York to become U. S. Foreign Minister to Russia
December 18, 1832 James Buchanan negotiates a commerce treaty with Russia
June 1, 1852 Democratic Convention begins in Baltimore, Maryland. Four candidates, Lewis Cass, Stephen Douglas, William Marcy and James Buchanan struggle for philosophical control of the Democrat Party. On the 35th ballot the name of Franklin Pierce is added by the state of Virginia
  Stephen A. Douglas
  Election of 1852
  Franklin Pierce
  Democratic Party
October 18, 1854 James Buchanan pens the Ostend Manifesto
June 2, 1856
June 6, 1856
Democratic Convention - After 14 ballots, sitting President Franklin Pierce withdraws his name from nomination. Stephen Douglas withdraws at the end of the 16th ballot. James Buchanan is nominated by acclamation Maryland
  Stephen A. Douglas
  Election of 1856
  Franklin Pierce
  Democratic Party
November 4, 1856 Democrats James Buchanan and John C. Breckinridge defeat Republicans John C. Fremont and William Dayton and American (Know-Nothing) Party candidates Millard Fillmore and Andrew Donelson
  Election of 1856
  Millard Fillmore
  John Breckinridge
  John C. Fremont
  Republican Party
  Democratic Party
March 4, 1857 James Buchanan inaugurated President of the United States
December 8, 1857 James Buchanan announces he supports the Lecompton Constitution in a message to the Senate Kansas
  Lecompton Constitution
February 2, 1858 President Buchanan reiterates his support of the Lecompton Constitution to the Senate, which accepts the document 32-25 over the objections of Stephen Douglas Kansas
  Lecompton Constitution
  English Bill
  Stephen A. Douglas
April 3, 1858 Leavenworth Constitution is adopted by a Free-stater constitutional convention. It is opposed by the Buchanan administration because it does not represent the people of the state Kansas
  Kansas becomes a state
May 4, 1858 James Buchanan signs the English Bill
  Kansas becomes a state
  English Bill
December 4, 1860 Outgoing President James Buchanan sends a distressed State of the Union message to Congress. In it he states that secession is unconstitutional, says the federal government lacks the authority to prevent it and calls for a constitutional amendment allowing Southern states to retain slaves as property.
December 12, 1860 Lewis Cass tenders his resignation as Secretary of State over President Buchanan's refusal to reinforce federal troops in Charleston.
  Fort Sumter
December 20, 1860 Governor Francis Pickens of South Carolina demands President Buchanan relinquish control of Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie. South Carolina
December 23, 1860 President Buchanan, tipped to upcoming problems for Secretary of War John Floyd, requests his resignation.
  John Floyd
June 1, 1868 James Buchanan dies, Lancaster, Pennsylvania


James Buchanan

James Buchanan, President of the United States when the South seceded
President James Buchanan
Son of a Pennsylvanian merchant, Buchanan served ten years in Congress, switching parties from Federalist to Democrat during the Jackson presidency. After a brief stint to Russia as the United States Minister in 1832, he returned to the Senate in 1834 to serve two terms in the heavily Federalist/Whig state. During this time he voted for the corrupt Treaty of New Echota at the urging of Andrew Jackson. As one biographer put it, "He swallowed every doctrine of his party, and was an unflinching adherent of every notion originated by Jackson."

In 1839 President Martin Van Buren offered him the Attorney-General office, but Buchanan felt he would be more effective remaining in the Senate. He ran for the Democratic nomination for President in 1844, losing to James Polk.

Rather than simply going home, Buchanan worked hard to help the Polk campaign win the state of Pennsylvania and as a result, Polk made Buchanan his Secretary of State. Buchanan, a politically astute believer of compromise, seemed like a good choice for the position, but he would frequently upstage President Polk in matters of foreign policy. Polk once wrote that if he "could yield the government to his [Buchanan's] hands...he would be cheerful and satisfied."

In 1848 Buchanan lost the Democratic nomination to Lewis Cass, and Cass lost the race to Taylor, a Whig, so there was no room in the Administration for Buchanan. He retired to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where he worked on his recently purchased estate, Wheatland. Over the years the future president had "acquired" a family due to the death of his sisters. Miss Harriet Lane, and later James Buchanan Henry both lived with Mr. Buchanan. From Wheatland Buchanan opposed the Wilmot Proviso and supported the Compromise of 1850.

Once again the Pennsylvania Democrat tried for the Democratic nomination for President in 1852. Franklin Pierce, who won the nomination and became President in November tapped Buchanan to be Minister to Great Britain. It turned out to be an excellent role for Buchanan, not only for its social prestige but because it kept the next President out of American politics for the next 4 tumultuous years, but not out of controversy. He penned the Ostend Manifesto, which put forth a proposal to buy Cuba from Spain, and take it by force if Spain refused to sell.

At the 1856 Democratic National Convention "Bleeding Kansas" boiled over. Franklin Pierce and Stephen Douglas had both alienated large portions of the electorate over the issue while Buchanan had been in England. The divided party, meeting in Cincinnati, selected Buchanan by acclamation on the 17th ballot, after Pierce and Douglas withdrew. In November, against Republican John C. Fremont and Free-soil candidate Millard Fillmore, Buchanan only received 49% percent of the vote but won the election, running on a "Save the Union" platform. Ulysses S. Grant claimed in his memoirs to have voted for Buchanan because he knew if Fremont was elected it meant the South would secede. "Besides," Grant continued, "I knew Frémont as an officer." Buchanan combined a sweep of the South with key mid-Atlantic states and the West to win. Fremont won in the northeast, but did well in all non-slave states.

Two days after his inauguration, the Supreme Court ruled on the Dred Scott case. The ruling said that taking a slave to a free state did not make the slave a free man, easing tension in the South but pro-abolition Northerners hostile. Buchanan had played a major role in the outcome of the decision, wanting the court to define the role of Congress in slavery. The Supreme Court ruled that Congress could not legislate territorial rules, only approve or disapprove state constitutions. The ruling made the Missouri Compromise illegal.

The South took great satisfaction in Scott. It gave them the right to travel freely throughout the United States with slaves, without risking the loss of their property. The North was furious because much of the abolitionists gains over the last 30 years were wiped out. For example, the ruling meant that the Underground Railroad's movement of slaves to Canada did not free them, at least in the mind of the United States. They were now exiled.

Dred Scott was also quickly overshadowed by the ongoing war in Kansas. Free-soilers (now Republicans) easily outnumbered the pro-slavery faction, but they had foolishly stayed away from the polls in some areas and given control of the constitutional convention to "border ruffians." The result was the Lecompton Constitution, a pro-slavery document.

Free-soilers learned their lesson. When the territorial legislature was chosen, the free-soilers voted. When Territorial Governor Robert Walker, a pro-Union Mississippian threw out questionable returns the legislature ended up being free-soil and the South loudly protested. Still, the pro-slave Lecompton Constitution made it to the Senate, backed by Buchanan. He had succumbed to the threats of Southern senators to secede, and felt that getting a constitution through the Senate would end the fight in Kansas, which was his goal. All Lecompton would do was bring the Kansas fight to Washington.

Senator Steven Douglas felt Lecompton violated "popular sovereignty." Up for reelection as Senator from Illinois and with his eye on the Presidency in 1860, Douglas broke with his fellow Democrat Buchanan and denounced the Lecompton Constitution. In an attempt to get Douglas back in the fold, Buchanan reminded him of Andy Jackson's method of ruining fellow politicians. Douglas replied to an angry Buchanan, "...General Jackson is dead."

At the start of 1858, Buchanan demonstrated the power of the Presidency. He began firing Douglas supporters from the federal government in droves, then promised those jobs to anyone who would come out against Douglas. He had mail to the Senator destroyed or searched, giving some of it to newspapers.

Suddenly "Douglas Democrats" were combining with Republicans trying to block Lecompton. Although Buchanan got the constitution through the Senate, the free-soilers in Kansas put an end to Lecompton in a popular vote. But the power structure in the Senate changed after the elections of 1858 and the Douglas Democrats sided with the Republicans to stall Buchanan's political agenda.

Unwilling to support Douglas's bid for the Presidency in 1860, Buchanan threw his support behind his vice-president John Breckinridge, a moderate from Kentucky. Unfortunately, the convention broke over the platform and Breckinridge supporters walked out, eventually holding their own convention. With the election of Abraham Lincoln in November, Buchanan's mission became one of preserving as much of the Union as possible. He accepted that the Deep South would withdraw but worked to keep the Upper South in the Union.

Between November, 1860 and March, 1861, this became increasingly stressful for Buchanan. Most of his Cabinet ended resigning over pro-abolition or pro-Slavery issues or the lack of support for the U. S. troops in Fort Sumter. He had to threaten John B. Floyd with an investigation before he resigned as Secretary of War. Buchanan's plan for these four months was simply to hold as much of the country together to turn over to Abraham Lincoln.

To this end he got a great deal of assistance from an unexpected source: Jefferson Davis. The provisional President of the Confederacy did not want war and used the excuse of waiting until Lincoln was President before ordering an attack on either Fort Pickens or Fort Sumter. On March 4, 1861, with the country on the brink of The Civil War, Buchanan turned our Nation's helm over to Abraham Lincoln and retired to Wheatland.

Links appearing on this page:

Abraham Lincoln
Bleeding Kansas
Compromise of 1850
Dred Scott
Fort Sumter
Franklin Pierce
Jefferson Davis
John C. Fremont
Martin Van Buren
Millard Fillmore
Stephen Douglas
Ulysses S. Grant
Wilmot Proviso

Civil War Encyclopedia >> People - Other

James Buchanan was last changed on - March 24, 2006
James Buchanan was added in 2005




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