15th President: 1857-1861
Just the Facts:
- James Buchanan didn’t like being president.
- Some people think James Buchanan was one of the worst presidents we’ve had.
- James Buchanan was the only president to never marry.
- His nickname was “Old Buck.”
- He was the first president to have royalty sleep as a guest in the White House.
- He has one eye that was nearsighted and one that was farsighted.
James Buchanan was born in a log cabin in Pennsylvania. His father immigrated from Ireland and worked hard to create a new life for his family – he eventually became a successful farmer and merchant. James graduated from Dickinson College and then began to study law.
Before long, James went into politics (like may presidents before him). He served the federal government in many different positions – as a diplomat to Russia and England. He also represented Pennsylvania in Congress and was Secretary of State under President Polk. He was a respected statesman by the time he was elected president.
James Buchanan became president when the country was very divided over the issue of slavery. Above all else, he wanted to find a compromise that both the North and South would accept. There was a lot of unrest in the territory of Kansas, since the Kansas-Nebraska Act allowed the people in each state to decide whether to allow or ban slavery. And, the Supreme Court didn’t make his job any easier. At the beginning of his term, the Court decided the famous Dred Scott case – which held that slaves didn’t become free when they lived with their master in a state that prohibited slavery, and that slaves cannot become American citizens.
Buchanan hesitated to take action – he didn’t think the southern states had the right to secede from the Union, but also didn’t think Congress had the power to stop them by force. Likewise, Buchanan didn’t approve of slavery but believed that is was legal under American law. His interpretation of the Constitution and legal theories paralyzed him as a President.
While Buchanan was president, three states entered the Union – Minnesota, Oregon and Kansas. And, seven southern stated seceded from the Union.
James was engaged to his sweetheart, Anne Coleman. Then, she called off the engagement after they had a disagreement. She died shortly after their disagreement, and Buchanan was devastated. He vowed to never marry – and he didn’t. He did, however, adopt and raise an orphan – she served the role as First Lady while Buchanan was president.
Buchanan’s note to Abraham Lincoln on his inauguration day: “My dear sir, if you are as happy on entering the White House as I on leaving, you are a happy man indeed.”
“The test of leadership is not to put greatness into humanity, but to elicit it, for the greatness is already there.”
“The ballot box is the surest of arbiters among free men.”
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