Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
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Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
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BUCHANAN, James, president of the United States 1857-61, was born in Stony Batter, Franklin county, Pa., April 23, 1791, and died at Wheatland, Pa., June 1, 1868. He was graduated at Dickinson college in 1809, and was admitted to the bar in 1812. He began political life as a moderate federalist, joining the democratic party in 1826-7. He was in the house of representatives 1820-30, in the senate 1833-45, secretary of state 1845-9, and minister to Great Britain 1852-6, (See OSTEND MANIFESTO.) Through all this period of public service he had maintained the character of a cautious and safe politician, who had made no slips or mistakes, and who was devoted to the favorite northern policy of ignoring the slavery question and stifling discussion about it. He was therefore chosen president in 1856. (The leading events of his administration are given under DRED SCOTT CASE; KANSAS; BROWN, JOHN; SECESSION; DEMOCRATIC-REPUBLICAN PARTY.) At the close of his term, having succeeded in keeping the peace until March 3, 1861, he retired to private life with the contempt of both sections, and devoted his leisure to the preparation of a defense of his administration. This book deserves the careful reading of any one who wishes to understand the history of the times, though public opinion in the north has become so fixed in attributing to Buchanan's cowardice and hesitation the disasters of 1860-61 that no defense of his administration will find any general attention for many years to come. His defense is, in brief, that both sectional parties, the republicans and the Breckenridge democracy, were determined on war, and were not to be baulked either by the president or by the Douglas democracy; that, while congress was in session, the inception of measures to suppress rebellion belonged to congress and their execution to the president; that congress, through the whole session of 1860-61, persistently and willfully refused to strengthen the army or navy, to fill the treasury, or to provide in any way for the common defense; and that all the blame for the first successes of secession and the development of a southern confederacy should fall upon congress and not upon the president. In the latter part of this there is undoubtedly more force than is commonly conceded; had Buchanan attempted to use, in December, 1860, the war powers which Lincoln used in April, 1861, he would perhaps have been impeached by a coalition of the anti-republican elements of the house and removed by the senate, and Breckenridge would have become president. But the effort was worth the risk. In 1832-3, congress being then also in session, Jackson "took the responsibility;" in 1860-61, Buchanan made no sign, and his memory must take the responsibility.


—See Buchanan's Administration on the Eve of the Rebellion; Horton's Life of Buchanan; 1 Atlantic Monthly, 745.


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