James Buchanan

15th President of the United States


James Buchanan, Jr. (April 23, 1791 – ) is the 15th President of the United States (1857– ). He is, to date, the only president from Pennsylvania.

He represented Pennsylvania in the United States House of Representatives and later the Senate and served as Minister to Russia under President Andrew Jackson. He was also Secretary of State under President James K. Polk. After he turned down an offer for an appointment to the Supreme Court, President Franklin Pierce appointed him minister to the Court of St. James’s, in which capacity he helped draft the Ostend Manifesto.

Buchanan was nominated by the Democratic Party in the 1856 Presidential election. Throughout most of Pierce’s term, he was stationed in London as a minister to the Court of St. James’s and therefore was not caught up in the crossfire of sectional politics that dominated the country. His subsequent election victory took place in a three-man race with John C. Frémont and Millard Fillmore. As President, he was often called a “doughface”, a Northerner with Southern sympathies, who battled with Stephen A. Douglas for the control of the Democratic Party.


Buchanan was born in a log cabin in Cove Gap, Pennsylvania, in Franklin County, on April 23, 1791, to James Buchanan, Sr. (1761–1821), a businessman, merchant, and farmer, and Elizabeth Speer, an educated woman (1767–1833). His parents were both of Ulster Scots descent, the father having emigrated from Donegal, Ireland in 1783. Buchanan had six sisters and four brothers. In 1797, the family moved to nearby Mercersburg, Pennsylvania

Buchanan attended the village academy (Old Stone Academy) and later Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Though he was nearly expelled at one point for poor behavior, he pleaded for a second chance and subsequently graduated with honors on September 19, 1809. Later that year, he moved to Lancaster, where he studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1812.

A dedicated Federalist, he initially opposed the War of 1812 because he believed it was an unnecessary conflict. When the British invaded neighboring Maryland, he joined a volunteer light dragoon unit as a private and served in the defense of Baltimore.

Democrats nominated Buchanan in 1856 as their nominee for President of the United States. He had been in England during the Kansas-Nebraska debate and thus remained untainted by either side. Pennsylvania, which had three times failed Buchanan, now gave him full support in its state convention. Though he never declared his candidacy, it is apparent from all his correspondence that he was aware of the distinct possibility of his nomination by the Democratic convention in Cincinnati, even before heading home at the finish of his work as Minister to the Court of St. James in the United Kingdom.

Former president Millard Fillmore’s “Know-Nothing” candidacy helped Buchanan defeat John C. Frémont, the first Republican candidate for president in 1856.

President-elect Buchanan stated about the growing schism in the country: “The object of my administration will be to destroy sectional party, North or South, and to restore harmony to the Union under a national and conservative government.”

James Buchanan

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