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James Buchanan
(1791-1868)

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 history.

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.

Researched, authored, and edited by John Osborne, Ph. D., and James Gerencser.


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