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President James Buchanan

President James Buchanan
James Buchanan
by Matthew Brady
James Buchanan was the 15th President of the United States.

Served as President: 1857-1861
Vice President: John Cabell Breckinridge
Party: Democrat
Age at inauguration: 65

Born: April 23, 1791 in Cove Gap near Mercersburg, Pennsylvania
Died: June 1, 1868 in Lancaster, Pennsylvania

Married: He was never married
Children: none
Nickname: Ten-Cent Jimmy


What is James Buchanan most known for?

James Buchanan is most famous for being the last president before the start of the Civil War. Although he tried to prevent war, many of his policies ended up dividing the Union even further.

Portrait of James Buchanan
James Buchanan by Henry Brown

Growing Up

James was born in a log cabin in Pennsylvania. His father was an immigrant from Northern Ireland who came to the United States in 1783. His father became fairly successful and this allowed James to get a good education.

James attended Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA. At one point he got in big trouble and nearly got kicked out of college. He begged for forgiveness and was given a second chance. He took the most of that chance and ended up graduating with honors.

Before He Became President

After college James went on to study law. He passed the bar and became a lawyer in 1812. Buchanan's interest soon turned to politics. His strong knowledge of the law as well as his skill as a debater made him an excellent candidate.

Buchanan's first public office was as a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. A few years later he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives where he served for many years.

Buchanan continued a long career in various political positions. During Andrew Jackson's presidency Buchanan became the U.S. Minister to Russia. When he returned from Russia, he ran for Senate and served on the U.S. Senate for over 10 years. When James K. Polk was elected president, Buchanan became the Secretary of State. Under President Pierce he served as the U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain.

James Buchanan's Presidency

In 1856 Buchanan was nominated by the Democratic Party for president. He was likely chosen because he had been out of the country during the Kansas-Nebraska debate on slavery. As a result, he had not been forced to choose sides on the issue and make enemies.

Dred Scott Ruling

Not too long after Buchanan became president the Supreme Court issued the Dred Scott ruling. This decision said that the federal government had no right to restrict slavery in the territories. Buchanan thought that his problems were solved. That once the Supreme Court had ruled, everyone would go along. However, people in the north were angry. They wanted slavery ended despite what the Supreme Court ruled.

North vs. South and Slavery

Although Buchanan was against slavery personally, he believed strongly in the law. He also wanted to avoid civil war at all costs. He stood by the Dred Scott ruling. He even went so far as to help the pro-slavery groups in Kansas, because he felt they were on the right side of the law. This stance only served to divide the country further.

Secession of States

On December 20, 1860 South Carolina seceded from the Union. Several more states followed and they set up their own country called the Confederate States of America. Buchanan did nothing. He didn't think the federal government had the right to stop them.

Leaving Office and Legacy

Buchanan was more than happy to leave the office of president and retire. He told Abraham Lincoln that he was the "happiest man on Earth" to be leaving the White House.

Buchanan is considered by many to be one of the weakest presidents in U.S. history. His indecisiveness and willingness to stand by as the country divided was a major factor in the cause of the Civil War.

James Buchanana standing
James Buchanan
by John Chester Buttre
How did he die?

Buchanan retired to his estate in Pennsylvania where he died of pneumonia in 1868.

Fun Facts About James Buchanan Activities

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Works Cited

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