James Buchanan, fifteenth president of the United States,
was born near Mercersburg, Pennsylvania on April 23, 1791 to parents
of Scots-Irish descent. Buchanan attended the Mercersburg Academy until
the fall of 1807 when he entered the junior class of Dickinson College
in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Although he was at one point expelled for
bad behavior, he graduated with the class of 1809.
Buchanan began to study under the prominent Lancaster lawyer James Hopkins.
After being admitted to the Pennsylvania Bar in 1812, he quickly gained
prominence and was elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives
in 1814 and 1815 as a Federalist. Thus began Buchanan's long career
as a public servant. In 1820 he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
With the extinction of the Federalist Party in 1824, he joined the Democrats.
In Congress, Buchanan was an active opponent of John Quincy Adams and
the Panama Mission. He supported Andrew Jackson in the election of 1828,
and this support led to his appointment as the chairman of the Committee
on Judiciary. In 1831 Jackson appointed him minister to Russia. On his
return to the United States, Buchanan was elected to the U.S. Senate;
he was reelected in 1837 and again in 1843. By this time, he had gained
national prominence in the Democratic Party. He was passed over for
a presidential nomination in both 1844 and 1848, but he received prominent
appointments, serving as Secretary of State under James Polk and as
minister to Great Britain under Franklin Pierce.
In 1856 Buchanan was finally nominated for the presidency, with John
C. Breckinridge of Kentucky as his running mate. The campaign platform
was based on the finality of the Compromise of 1850 and the non-intervention
of Congress concerning slavery in the territories. Buchanan defeated
opponent John Fremont in the electoral college, though he failed to
receive a majority of the popular vote. Buchanan's presidency was a
stormy one, filled with controversy and numerous domestic difficulties.
By the end of his term, the slavery issue and states' rights problems
had caused serious divisions in government circles. The election of
Abraham Lincoln added fuel to the fire, and between December 1860 and
January 1861, numerous members of Buchanan's cabinet resigned. The attack
on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861 not only brought the start of the Civil
War, but also cemented Buchanan's poor remembrance in United States
James Buchanan retired to his Lancaster estate, called Wheatland, and
died there on June 1, 1868.
Please visit the following link for materials authored
by James Buchanan maintained in the Their Own Words database:
Buchanan, James, 1791-1868.