If there is a head of state judged harshly by American history its James Buchanan, America’s 15th President. Historians don’t favor him in their judgment due to the fact that during his reign, he literally did nothing to stop the seven Southern states from seceding from the Union and the nation was torn apart by civil war.
Prior to ascending to power, the 1791 Pennsylvania-born had an impressive resume. Besides being a successful lawyer, Buchanan had made a name for himself as a respected Pennsylvania state legislature. His CV was further boosted by numerous gigs he did as secretary of state and ambassador to Russia and Great Britain.
He conducted his winning campaign in 1856 by endorsing the view that each state should make a personal decision as to whether to advocate for slavery or not. He basically removed the decision from the hands of the U.S. government and allowed residents themselves to make a conscience decision. A matter so gravely rooted in the country was being tossed by a head of state to be as though it want of any importance.
His challenger was the first ever Republican presidential candidate, Sen. John Fremont of California, and constantly called upon blockage of slavery.
The Dred Scott Case – James Buchanan
Barely weeks into Buchanan’s Presidency, The Supreme made a ruling that at no time would African Americans ever become U.S. citizens. The infamous Dred Scott Case further stated that the federal government could never outlaw slavery.
It is alleged that Buchanan influenced the case hoping that the slavery issue would be put to rest. But what happened was contrary to his expectations. The country became more divided as Buchanan continued to alienate antislavery forces. His actions continued to sharply divide the Democrats, particularly when he supported the controversial pro-slavery Lecompton Constitution in territorial Kansas. Eventually the document was rejected by voters and Kansa became part of the Union as a free state.
“James Buchanan earned the nickname “Old Buck” and “Ten-Cent Jimmy.” Republicans gave him the latter in the presidential campaign of 1856 after he said 10 cents was fair daily pay for manual laborers.”
The Abraham Lincoln Factor
In November 1860, a man strongly against slavery, Abraham Lincoln, won the Presidential race. Consequently, the Southern states seceded from the Union and formed the Confederacy. Their decision was enhanced by fear that President Lincoln would harshly treat because they were advocators for slavery.
Buchanan on his part held that the states had no right to quit the Union but felt he lacked the authority to block them. As he headed out of power in March 1861, he had an inheritance for the administration – the bitterly divisive slave problem. A month into Lincoln’s reign, Civil War erupted. Buchanan died in 1868 at his Pennsylvania estate, Wheatland as the only lifelong bachelor president.