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James Buchanan

15th President of the U.S. During the Painful Prelude to Civil War

James Buchanan served as 15th President of the United States (1857-1861). In normal times he would have been an excellent choice for this high office. He had the broad experience of congressman, secretary of state in the Polk cabinet, and diplomat. He was also a successful lawyer. He was hindered, however, by the bitter, emotional slavery dispute which exploded in the violence of a bloody Civil War. ■ James Buchanan was born April 23, 1791, at Cove Gap, Pennsylvania, of Scots Presbyterian ancestry on both sides. His motherís people arrived in the colonies in 1756. His father was an Ulster Scot who arrived in the United States in 1788 and immediately went into business. ■ James Buchanan was educated at Dickinson College and admitted to the bar in 1812. He served in the Pennsylvania state legislature and the U.S. Congress. He was ambassador to Russia in 1832 and to the United Kingdom in 1853. ■ In the bitter dispute over slavery in the 1850s he was out of the country part of the time and avoided the bitter partisan hatred. On his return from London in 1856 he was nominated by the Democrats for U.S. President. Shortly after his election, a financial panic gripped the North and the slavery question became more heated. He tried to compromise the differences over slavery but in vain. A rift in the Democratic party added to the tension. It was also the time of the explosive John Brown raids. ■ The problems of the Buchanan administration were almost insurmountable. Civil War became inevitable. The times obscure the fact that President Buchanan was a man of unimpeachable integrity, highest patriotism and outstanding ability. ■ He never married and retired to his home near Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where he died June 1, 1868.

Wayne Rethford, President Emeritus
Illinois Saint Andrew Society
Scottish-American History Club
2800 Des Plaines Avenue
North Riverside, IL 60546