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Presented here is a brief biographical sketch of James Buchanan, touching on the major personal and professional moments in his life. Links to more thorough biographical sketches, taken from a variety of encyclopedic sources, are available at the bottom of this page.

James Buchanan

James Buchanan, fifteenth president of the United States, was born near Mercersburg, Pennsylvania on April 23, 1791. As a young man, Buchanan studied at the Mercersburg Academy. He later attended Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, graduating in 1809.

James Buchanan studied law in Lancaster, and, after being admitted to the Pennsylvania Bar in 1812, he quickly gained prominence. He was elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in 1814 and 1815, beginning his long career as a public servant. In 1819, Ann Coleman, to whom he had been engaged, died unexpectedly; Buchanan remained a bachelor throughout his life.

In 1820 James Buchanan was elected to the U. S. House of Representatives, where he served until he was appointed minister to Russia by President Jackson in 1831. On his return to the United States, Buchanan entered the U.S. Senate; he was reelected in 1837 and again in 1843. He was passed over for a presidential nomination in both 1844 and 1848, but he continued his public service regardless, being named Secretary of State under President Polk and minister to Great Britain under President Pierce.

In 1856 James Buchanan was finally nominated for the presidency, with John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky as his running mate. Buchanan won the election, but his presidency was filled with controversy and numerous domestic difficulties. By the end of his term, the slavery issue and states' rights problems had thrown the nation into turmoil. The election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 added fuel to the fire, and the outbreak of the Civil War seemed to cement history’s poor remembrance of President Buchanan.

Upon leaving the White House, James Buchanan retired to his estate in Lancaster, called Wheatland. In 1866 he published his memoir, Mr. Buchanan's Administration on the Eve of the Rebellion. He died at his Wheatland estate on June 1, 1868.

For more detailed biographies, please visit the following links:


From A Biographical History of Lancaster County (1872)  


From The Biographical Encyclopaedia of Pennsylvania of the Nineteenth Century (1874)  


From Men of Mark of Cumberland Valley, Pa., 1776-1876 (1876)  


From Appleton’s Cyclopaedia of American Biography (1887)  


From The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography (1897)