Presidents: James Buchanan

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James Buchanan was the President of the United States before Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War. He was also our only president who was a life long president.

young James Buchanan

James Buchanan, Jr. was the last president born in the 18th Century. He was born on April 23, 1791 in Franklin County, Pennsylvania to James and Elizabeth Speer Buchanan.

He studied at the village academy before attending Dickinson College. After a rough start, he graduated with honors. He then moved to Lancaster, PA where he studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1812.

In 1814, he began his political career in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives as part of the Federalist Party.

In 1818, James Buchanan met Anne Caroline Coleman. They would have an on-again, off-again relationship and brief engagement. She died on December 9, 1819. James Buchanan never courted another woman. Rumor still swirls regarding his sexuality.

In 1821, he was elected to the U.S. Congress, where he served for the next ten years. During this time he served as chairman on the U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary.

Under the administration of President Andrew Jackson

he served as Minister to Russia from 1832-1833.

James Buchanan

James Buchanan became good friends with William Rufus King, who became Vice President under President Franklin Pierce. The two stayed at the same boarding house together for over ten years.

He then served in the U.S. Senate, now a Democrat after the Federalist Party became defunct. Under President James K. Polk he served as Secretary of State. In 1845, he was nominated by President Polk to fill an empty space on the U.S. Supreme Court, but he declined the nomination.

In 1846, he helped negotiate the Oregon Treaty and establish the 49th parallel, which establishes the northern boundary of the western United States.

James Buchanan is the last former Secretary of State to become president at this time.

In 1852, he was named president of the Board of Trustees of Franklin and Marshall College in his hometown of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He served in this capacity until 1866.

In 1853, his closest friend William Rufus King died.

From 1853-1856 he was minister to the Court of St. Jame’s in Britain.

James Buchanan

In 1856, the Democrats nominated Buchanan as their nominee for president. He was elected president against former President Millard Fillmore and the Know-Nothing party. At the time he stated “The object of my administration will be to destroy sectional party, North or South, and to restore harmony to the Union under a national and conservative government.”

Sadly President Buchanan was unable to unite the country in the way he’d hoped. The Panic of 1857 brought on a depression, congressman became deadlocked on issues and the Utah War took place in the Utah Territory during his presidency. The states of Minnesota, Oregon and Kansas were added to the union during his presidency.

While he was president, his niece, Harriet Lane, whom he raised served as his first lady. Harriet’s brother, Elliott Lane, died from food poisoning at the Inauguration dinner of President James Buchanan.

After Abraham Lincoln was elected as the next president, South Carolina declared secession on Dec. 20, 1860. Fort Sumter opened fire in the Charleston, SC harbor on Jan. 9, 1861. In his last message to Congress, “Buchanan denied the legal right of states to secede but held that the federal government legally could not prevent them.”

James Buchanan

On March 4, 1861 Abraham Lincoln was sworn in as president and Buchanan left office. James Buchanan said to Lincoln, “If you are as happy in entering the White House as I shall feel on returning to Wheatland, you are a happy man.”

Buchanan returned to his estate, Wheatland, which he bought in 1848.

Civil War erupted within two months of his retirement. Many in the public blamed him for the Civil War, to which he attempted to defend himself.

In 1866, he published his memoir Mr. Buchanan’s Administration on the Eve of Rebellion.

After catching cold, James Buchanan died on June 1, 1868 from respiratory failure. He was 77 years old and buried in Woodward Hill Cemetery in Lancaster, PA.

James Buchanan was an active Freemason and became Master and Grand Master of the lodge. However, he’ll forever be remembered as the president that could not prevent the Civil War.


15th President of the United States
(March 4, 1857 to March 3, 1861)Nickname: “Old Buck”

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

Father: James Buchanan
Mother: Elizabeth Speer Buchanan
Married: Never married. The White House hostess was his niece Harriet Lane (1830-1903)
Children: None

Religion: Presbyterian
Education: Graduated from Dickinson College (1809)
Occupation: Lawyer
Political Party: Democrat

  • 1857 The Panic of 1857 resulted due to poor trade and brought a important depression to the United States
    1857 The Dred Scott decision by the U.S. Supreme Court: Dred Scott, an African American slave attempted to sue for his freedom. The Supreme Court decision was that African Americans had no rights
    1858 The Kansas Controversy in which a compromise between the House and Senate bills on the admission of Kansas to the Union.
    1860 Secession of the South

1791 Born on April 23, 1791 in Cove Gap near Mercersburg, Pennsylvania

1812 The War of 1812 which has also been called the second War for Independence, between the United States and Great Britain. Zachary Taylor served in the War of 1812, Black Hawk, Second Seminole, and Mexican wars

1814 Treaty of Fort Jackson ends Creek War

1815-16 Member of Pennsylvania House of Representatives, 1815-16

1821-31 Member of U.S. House of Representatives, 1821-31

1830 Indian Removal Act
Oregon Trail opens

1831 Nat Turner’s revolt

1832 Black Hawk War
Seminole War begins
Department of Indian Affairs established

1832-34 Minister to Russia, 1832-34

1834-45 United States Senator, 1834-45

1835 Texas War for Independence begins

1837 Battle of the Alamo

1838 1838-1839: The Trail of Tears

1845-49 Secretary of State, 1845-49 (under Polk)

1846 Mexican-American War begins.

1853-56 Minister to England, 1853-56

1857 James Buchanan became the President of the United States of America

1859 In 1859, John Brown seized the Southern town of Harpers Ferry in Virginia in a futile attempt to spark an uprising of slaves

1860 The Pony Express was established
The Southern States begin secession

1861 The Confederate States of America created in 1861

1861 The Presidency of James Buchanan ended

1861 The American Civil War, also called the War between the States, was waged from April 1861 until April 1865. The 4 year war was between the federal government of the United States and 11 Southern states that asserted their right to secede (withdraw) from the Union. Abraham Lincoln was the central figure of the American Civil War.

1863 Battle of Gettysburg

1864 Sand Creek Massacre

1865 Abraham Lincoln assassinated
United States Civil War ends

1866 Civil Rights Act of 1866
Ku Klux Klan founded

1867 Alaska Purchase from Russia

1868 James Buchanan died of respiratory failure on June 1, 1868 in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He is buried at Woodward Hill Cemetery.




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