• Born: April 23rd, 1791 in Cove Gap, PA
• Died: June 1st, 1868, Lancaster, PA
• Never married
• No children
• Other Occupations: Lawyer, Ambassador to Great Britain, Congressman, US Senator, Secretary of State
• Vice President: John C. Breckinridge
• Burial site: Woodward Hill Cemetery, Lancaster, PA
James Buchanan, this nation’s 15th president, was criticized as no other president had been because near the close of his administration, the southern states seceded from the union.
Buchanan, who was born April 23, 1791, near Mercersburg, Pennsylvania, had served long in the U.S. Senate and House and had been minister to Russia and England and secretary of state under President Polk.
He was elected five times to the House and, after service as minister to Russia, served a decade in the Senate.
Buchanan presided over a nation that was being split apart by the slavery question. His own party disintegrated into sections. A vigorous new Republican party rose. The Supreme Court in the Dred Scott decision upheld slavery. Kansas rejected statehood until she could have it without slavery. Minnesota and Oregon came in as free states. The south encouraged filibusters who promised to annex Cuba as a slave state, and John Brown staged his raid at Harper’s Ferry.
Buchanan sought compromise but to no avail. When Republicans won a plurality in the House in 1858, every significant bill they passed fell before southern votes in the Senate or a presidential veto. The federal government came to a standstill.
Then came the elections of 1860. The north united behind Abraham Lincoln and won against a divided opposition. It was the signal for the secession which the south had threatened for many years.
President Buchanan said southern states did not have the right to secede but also said the federal government could not legally prevent them from doing it. In the end, South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia and the rest of the states that were to make up the Confederacy voted to withdraw from the Union.
Buchanan took no active role in politics after he left office, and he died January 1, 1868, of rheumatic gout at Wheatland near Lancaster, Pennsylvania.