James Buchanan

Statesman

President just prior to the outbreak of the Civil War. Early Life and Early Political Career
The 15th President of the United States, James Buchanan was born in Franklin County, Pennsylvania on April 23, 1791. Growing up, Buchanan received a private education, and in 1809, he graduate from Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Three years later he passed the bar and established his legal practice in Lancaster. The same year, 1812, saw the outbreak of war between the United States and Great Britain, and Buchanan wasted no time is enlisting, serving in the Baltimore area. In 1814, he was elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and performed well enough to be elected to Congress in 1820, sitting in five consecutive Congresses, from 1821 until 1831. From 1832-1834, Buchanan acted as Minister to Russia for the Jackson administration. From 1834 to 1843, he sat in the United States Senate, and in 1845, left the Senate to accept the job of Secretary of State for President James K. Polk. As Secretary of State, he supported the Compromise of 1850, and opposed the Wilmot Proviso. In 1853, he accepted the post of Minister to Great Britain for Franklin Pierce and served in that capacity until 1856. It was as Minister to Great Britain that Buchanan coauthored the controversial Ostend Manifesto, a document which called for the United States to purchase Cuba from Spain, and if Spain would not sell, the take the island by force.

1856 Presidential Election
In 1856, the Democratic Party nominated James Buchanan for the presidency of the United States to run against Republican John C. Freemont and Know-Nothing Millard Fillmore. Buchanan won the entire South with the exception of Maryland (which went to Fillmore), as well as Illinois, Indiana, California, and his home state of Pennsylvania. He took 174 electoral votes and 45% of the popular vote. His closest opponent, the Republican Freemont, took 114 electoral votes and 33% of the popular vote and won the rest of the North. Fillmore received only 8 electoral votes (Maryland) and 22% of the popular vote.

His Cabinet and Term in Office
When it came time to fill his cabinet, Buchanan chose, to the consternation of Northern Democrats and Republicans, many Southerners, including Howell Cobb as Secretary of the Treasury, Jacob Thompson as Secretary of the Interior, John B. Floyd as Secretary of War and Aaron Brown to head the post office. He had made many Southern friends in the course of his public career, and sympathized strongly with the South on many issues. He supported the Dred Scott Decision, the Lecompton Constitution, the admission of Kansas to the Union as a slave state, and sent soldiers to quell John Brown's raid at Harpers Ferry in 1859. But the worst was yet to come.

The Road to Civil War

Abraham Lincoln, a Republican, was elected President in November 1860, but Buchanan still had five months remaining in his term. For the Southerners, Lincoln's election proved just too much, and began making moves to secede rather that live with the treat of the abolition of slavery. South Carolina was the first to go, seceding on December 20, 1860. Buchanan, now with about three months left in office, did not want war to start on his watch. As Union forces occupied forts located in the South (Fort Sumter and Fort Pickens primarily) Buchanan made deals or truces with officials from South Carolina and Florida, where the forts were located, to make sure there would be no hostilities as long as the troops in the forts were not reinforced. The truces held for the remainder of his term and war would not erupt until his successor, Abraham Lincoln, assumed office.

Birth Date: 
1791
Death Date: 
1868