James Buchanan (president from 1857-1861, 15th)
Richard E. Noble
James Buchanan was obviously a very intelligent man. This being blatantly exhibited by the fact that he remained a bachelor his entire life.
The Dred Scott case and decision rendered by Judge Taney was completed in the early weeks of the Buchanan administration. Buchanan agreed and encouraged Taney's decision and felt that this would settle the affair. He was clearly an appeaser to the slavery side of the issue, and was elected by a strong support from the South. He was the last of the pre-Civil War appeasers. I often wonder what decision a peaceful man could have made at the time to avoid a Civil War. It does seem upon reading that the only solution that would have kept white Americans from killing other white Americans would have been the perpetuation of the condition of slavery. And if this were the decision taken by white folk, would slavery have just faded away eventually, or would it still be with us today?
The black slave population even with help from free blacks certainly could never have freed themselves, not then and not by the 1950's or 60's either.
Buchanan (along with Abraham Lincoln and George W.) did not win the popular vote.
The Mormons in the Utah territory were acting up. They massacred a bunch of California settlers. So James went out there and had a private talk with Brigham Young, and somehow calmed things down.
John Brown and family had tired of murdering folks out in Kansas and decided to come back East to Virginia and murder a few at Harper's Ferry. He was captured and hung, which seems fair enough to me. John Brown became a symbol for lack of compromise on the issues in both the North and the South. If we can consider Harriet Beecher Stowe as the radical mother of the Civil War, then maybe we can consider John Brown as its radical father.
After Abraham Lincoln's election and before Buchanan's exit from the office, the South pretty much seceded from the Union. South Carolina seceded before Christmas and shortly thereafter Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas did the same. Technically the war had began, but Buchanan still hoped for peace. He counseled the South to take no further action and just wait and see what Abe might be up to. Maybe he wouldn't be as bad as they thought. By February 9th a constitutionally illegal provisional Confederate government had already been set up and federal forts and arsenals were being captured all over the South. South Carolina then attacked Fort Sumpter. So now the war was on whether Abe liked it or not.
Buchanan, because of his peacemaker status and temperament, and his inaction with regards to putting down the uprisings in the South before he left office and Lincoln took over, was somehow blamed for the war. He should have gone in, like Andrew Jackson or Zackary Taylor had promised that they would do at the first sign of an upheaval, and kicked butt. Even old Abe bad-mouthed him on that account. Buchanan's final words in a volume defending his presidency were..."whatever the outcome may be, I shall carry to my grave the consciousness that I at least meant well for my country."
Ah yes, I'm sure he did, and don't we all.