Biography
 

The Biographical Encyclopaedia of Pennsylvania of the Nineteenth Century (Philadelphia: Galaxy Publishing Company, 1874), 384-385.

 
BUCHANAN, JAMES, Lawyer, Statesman, and Fifteenth President of the United States, was born near Mercersburg, Franklin county, Pennsylvania, April 23d, 1791. His father, James Buchanan, was a native of the county of Donegal, Ireland, and one of the earliest settlers of Franklin county, having emigrated thither in 1783. His mother, Elizabeth Speer, was the daughter of a respectable farmer of Adams county, a woman of remarkable native intellect, and distinguished for her masculine sense and rare literary taste. In 1798, James Buchanan, the elder, removed to Mercersburg, where his son received his academical education, and made such rapid progress in his studies that his father determined to give him the benefit of a collegiate course. He entered Dickinson College at the age of fourteen, and during his entire term of four years outstripped all his classmates in the acquirement of knowledge. He graduated in 1809. In December of the same year, he commenced the study of law with James Hopkins of Lancaster, the leading attorney at that bar. He was admitted to practice, November 17th, 1812, and at once took the front rank in the profession. When but a lawyer of four years standing, he was selected to conduct, unaided by senior counsel, the defence of a distinguished judge, who was impeached before the Senate of Pennsylvania. His defence on this occasion was a masterly display of legal acumen and forensic ability, that at once gave him a wide reputation; and from that period business poured in upon him. So successful was he, that when but forty years of age he had acquired means that enabled him to retire from the profession. He early displayed his patriotism by enlisting as a private in the company commanded by Captain Henry Shippen, which marched from Lancaster to the defence of Baltimore during the War with England, in 1812-’14, and with which he served till honorably discharged. In October, 1814, he was elected a member of the lower House of the State Legislature, and re-elected in 1815. His next step upward was his election, in 1820, as Representative to Congress. His first elaborate speech was made January 11th, 1822, and was deemed so important as to be published verbatim; it at once enrolled him as one of the ablest men in the nation, and gave him a national reputation. He was constantly re-elected to Congress, and although originally a Federalist, he changed to the Democratic faith and supported General Jackson for President, in 1828, being himself re-elected to Congress during the campaign, and made Chairman of the Judiciary Committee. On March 3d, 1831, he voluntarily retired from Congress, and was soon afterwards appointed United States Minister to Russia by President Jackson; in this position he concluded the first commercial treaty between the United States and Russia, securing to our seamen important privileges in the Baltic and Black Seas. In 1833, on his return to the United States, he was elected United States Senator, taking his seat December 15th, 1834. He advocated Texan independence, and its recognition by the United States, and afterwards the admission of Texas as one of the States of the Union. On the opening of the 24th Congress he was made Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations. During Van Buren’s administration he advocated the “Sub-treasury Act,” and aided the passage of the bill; and while Tyler was President he opposed the Fiscal Bank bill, and advocated the Independent Treasury. For four years, from March 4th, 1845, or during the Polk administration, he was the able head of the State Department, and then retired to private life. When Pierce succeeded Fillmore, March 4th, 1853, he was recalled from his retirement and created United States Minister to England. On his return to the United States he was nominated and elected to the Presidency, and inaugurated March 4th, 1857. His administration was begun under adverse circumstances, the country laboring in the throes of that great conflict which broke out shortly after his term expired, and which has passed into history under the name of the Great Rebellion. After March 4th, 1861, he retired to his residence at Wheatland, where he died, June 1st, 1868.