Background/Early Life

• James Buchanan grew up in Pennsylvania, the second of 11 children. His father came to America from Ireland and became a successful merchant. James grew up to become a successful lawyer.

• Buchanan served in the War of 1812, where his regiment did not see any action. He then served in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, the United States House of Representatives, as an envoy to Russia and in the United States Senate. Buchanan became one of the most powerful senators in Congress before James Polk named him secretary of state. Buchanan also served as an ambassador to England before he won the presidency.

• Buchanan was the only bachelor president in American history. An early love of his, Ann Coleman, broke up with him amid rumors he was seeing someone else, and she died shortly thereafter. Buchanan was shaken by the experience and vowed that he would never marry.

How he defined the office

• Buchanan believed slavery was an issue for individual states to decide. Though he was a Northerner, this made him popular in the South.

• Many Americans hoped Buchanan would be able to steer the country away from civil war over slavery. He, of course, could not.

• In December 1860, after Abraham Lincoln had been elected president but Buchanan was still in office, South Carolina and six other states seceded. Buchanan chose not to act in fear of provoking the South, but his inaction allowed the Confederate government to start up.

Successes and failures

• Buchanan’s presidency was defined by the slavery issue that was dividing the country: Two days after Buchanan’s inauguration the Supreme Court issued the Dred Scott decision, stating that slaves were property and had no rights. Buchanan urged Congress to accept Kansas as a slave state, but they reached a compromise that would allow Kansas to hold an election, where it was decided Kansas would be admitted as a free state. During Buchanan’s presidency John Brown, an abolitionist who killed pro-slavery settlers in Kansas and went on the run, was captured and hanged. This was another in a long line of conflicts between North and South that brought the country closer to civil war.

• Though Buchanan had experience with foreign policy and an interest in expanding American influence over Central America, the issues on the domestic front prevented him from getting much traction in foreign affairs.

notable quote

• “I had hoped for the nomination in 1844, again in 1848, and even in 1852, but now I would hesitate to take it. Before many years the abolitionists will bring war upon this land. It may come during the next presidential term.” — Buchanan, shortly before his campaign for the presidency in 1856.