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    JAMES BUCHANAN

    ARTICLE VIDEOS PICTURES SHOP

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    James Buchanan (1791-1868), Americas 15th

    president, was in office from 1857 to 1861. During

    his tenure, seven Southern states seceded from

    the Union and the nation teetered on the brink of

    civil war. A Pennsylvania native, Buchanan began

    his political career in his home states legislature

    and went on to serve in both houses of the U.S.

    Congress; he later became a foreign diplomat and

    U.S. secretary of state. Buchanan, a Democrat who

    was morally opposed to slavery but believed it was

    protected by the U.S. Constitution, was elected to

    the White House in 1856. As president, he tried to

    maintain peace between pro-slavery and anti-

    slavery factions in the government, but tensions

    only escalated. In 1860, after Abraham Lincoln

    (1809-1865) was elected to succeed Buchanan,

    South Carolina seceded and the Confederacy was

    soon established. In April 1861, a month after

    Buchanan left office, the American Civil War (1861-

    1865) began.

    America and the Civil War5min

    America Divided4min

    TAGS CONFEDERATE STATES OF AMERICA JAMES BUCHANAN SLAVERY

    Home Topics U.S. Presidents James Buchanan

    JAMES BUCHANANS EARLY YEARS AND PERSONAL LIFE

    SENATOR AND DIPLOMAT

    ELECTION OF 1856

    JAMES BUCHANAN IN THE WHITE HOUSE

    SECESSION

    JAMES BUCHANANS LATER YEARS

    FACT CHECK We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, contact us!

    James Buchanan was born on April 23, 1791, in Cove Gap, Pennsylvania, to James

    Buchanan Sr. (1761-1833), a merchant who had emigrated from Ireland, and Elizabeth

    Speer Buchanan (1767-1833). The younger Buchanan graduated from Dickinson College in

    Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and then studied law. After being admitted to the bar in 1812, he

    opened a successful practice in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

    A member of the Federalist Party, Buchanan began his political career by serving in the

    Pennsylvania legislature from 1814 to 1816. In 1820, he was elected to the U.S. House of

    Representatives, where he remained for the next decade. In Congress, Buchanan aligned

    himself with the Democrats as the Federalist Party dissolved. After Democrat Andrew

    Jackson (1767-1845) was elected president in 1828, he appointed Buchanan the U.S.

    ambassador to Russia in 1831. The following year, Buchanan negotiated a trade and

    maritime agreement with Russia.

    Buchanan is the only U.S. president who never married. In 1819, he was engaged to Ann

    Coleman (1796-1819), the daughter of a wealthy Pennsylvania manufacturer; however, the

    wedding was called off that same year. When Coleman died unexpectedly soon afterward,

    rumors circulated that her death had been a suicide. During Buchanans time in the White

    House, his niece, Harriet Lane (1830-1903), assumed the social duties of first lady and

    became a popular figure.

    Did You Know?

    James Buchanan was nicknamed "Old Buck" and "Ten-Cent Jimmy." Thelatter was given to him by the Republicans in the presidential campaignof 1856 after Buchanan said 10 cents was fair daily pay for manuallaborers.

    In 1834, after returning from Europe the previous year, James Buchanan was elected to

    represent his home state in the U.S. Senate. He resigned from the Senate in 1845, when

    President James Polk (1795-1849) named him U.S. secretary of state. During Buchanans

    tenure in this post, which lasted until 1849, the nations territory grew by more than one-

    third and extended across the continent for the first time. The United States annexed

    Texas, acquired California and much of the present-day Southwest during the Mexican-

    American War and secured what would become the Oregon Territory after settling a

    boundary dispute with Great Britain.

    The question of whether to extend slavery to Americas newly acquired territories, as well

    as the moral legitimacy of slavery as an institution, became increasingly divisive issues

    across the United States. In 1846, Buchanan sided with Southerners who successfully

    blocked the Wilmot Proviso, which proposed banning slavery in any territory acquired from

    Mexico in the Mexican-American War. Buchanan later supported the Compromise of 1850,

    a series of congressional acts that admitted California as a free state but let the new

    western territories decide whether they would allow slavery before applying for statehood,

    a concept that became known as popular sovereignty.

    In 1853, President Franklin Pierce (1804-1869) appointed Buchanan as minister to Great

    Britain. In this role, Buchanan helped draft the 1854 Ostend Manifesto, a plan for America

    to acquire Cuba from Spain. Although never acted upon, the proposal generated protests

    from anti-slavery Northerners and others in the United States who feared Cuba would

    become a slave state.

    In 1854, President Pierce signed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which created two new

    territories and allowed settlers to determine whether they would enter the Union as free

    states or slave states. Pierces support for the Kansas-Nebraska Act hurt him politically, and

    in 1856 the Democrats opted not to re-nominate him. Instead, they chose James

    Buchanan, who was living abroad at the time of the controversial bills signing and had

    taken no position on it.

    In the general election, Buchanan maintained that slavery was an issue to be decided by

    individual states and territories, while his Republican challenger, John Fremont (1813-

    1890), an explorer and U.S. senator from California, asserted that the federal government

    should ban slavery in all U.S. territories. Buchanan received 174 electoral votes, while

    Fremont, the first-ever Republican presidential candidate (the party was established in

    1854), garnered 114 votes. Former president Millard Fillmore (1800-1874) of the American

    Know-Nothing Party, who ran an anti-immigration campaign that did not focus on slavery,

    earned eight votes. The popular vote was closer, with Buchanan capturing a little more

    than 45 percent of the total ballots cast.

    Buchanans vice president was John Breckinridge (1821-1875), a U.S. congressman from

    Kentucky. Breckinridge was 35 when elected, making him the youngest vice president in

    U.S. history.

    Once in office, James Buchanan appointed a cabinet composed of Northerners and

    Southerners and hoped to keep peace between the countrys pro-slavery and anti-slavery

    factions. Instead, the national debate over slavery only intensified, and the new president

    was seen by many people as being more sympathetic to Southern interests. Two days after

    he was sworn in, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its Dred Scott decision, which said

    the federal government had no power to regulate slavery in the territories and denied

    African Americans the rights of U.S. citizens. Buchanan hoped the ruling would resolve

    Americas slavery issue, and he reportedly pressured a Northern justice to vote with the

    Southern majority in the case. Far from settling the issue, the Dred Scott decision, which

    Southerners applauded and Northerners protested, led to increased divisiveness.

    Buchanan further rankled Northerners by supporting the Lecompton Constitution, which

    would have allowed Kansas to become a slave state. (It was later voted down, and Kansas

    joined the Union as a free state in 1861.) In 1858, relations between Congress and the

    president were further strained when the Republicans won a plurality in Congress and

    blocked much of Buchanans agenda. He, in turn, vetoed Republican legislation.

    In October 1859, abolitionist John Brown (1800-1859) tried unsuccessfully to stage a

    massive slave uprising by raiding the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now West

    Virginia). After Brown was convicted of treason and hanged, hostilities between the North

    and South continued to escalate.

    Upholding a promise he had made in his inaugural address, James Buchanan did not seek

    reelection in 1860. At their national convention, the Democrats were split over their choice

    for a nominee, with Northern Democrats selecting Stephen Douglas (1813-1861) of Illinois

    and Southern Democrats picking Vice President Breckinridge. The Republicans chose

    Abraham Lincoln, and the Constitutional Union Party nominated John Bell (1796-1869).

    Lincoln won 180 electoral votes (and a little less than 40 percent of the popular vote), while

    his challengers garnered a combined electoral 123 votes. On December 20, 1860, in

    response to Lincolns victory, South Carolina seceded from the Union. By the time of his

    inauguration on March 4, 1861, six mo